Since it is Autism Acceptance Month, I figured I can get this little rant out of my system. This has been on my mind for a while, like a nagging feeling that will not go away.
What is with the lack of explicit Autistic characters in video games?
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of characters that are Autism Coded in gaming, funnily enough, they tend to be my favourite. The keyword there being Coded. We have many great characters with Autistic traits but there are very few games that outright state that a character is Autistic.
We sometimes get very strong hints such as Brigid Tenenbaum from BioShock, but they aren’t confirmed in the story but by the creators. In fairness to BioShock, Autism wasn’t recognised until after the events of the game so they get a pass on that one. Another confirmed character is Symmetra from Overwatch. This was confirmed after Jeff Kaplan received a fan letter asking if Symmetra was on the Autism spectrum after her comic was released.
As far as I could find, there was only one game with a confirmed in-universe Autistic character. A survival horror game named Amy. In the game, you play as Amy’s protector Lana as you guard the young girl against the evil forces that want to use Amy and her supernatural power. Sounds pretty cool, I thought, maybe I should play it. Well, turns out the game is terrible, scoring the lowest marks I have ever seen on almost every site mentioning the game. Jim Sterling even called it “one of the worst games ever made”. Ouch.
I think we deserve better. I don’t think I am asking for too much here. Just a decently written character who is confirmed in the game to be autistic, not from the creator for from fans. Just a line maybe mentioning it once or maybe finding their dynamics paperwork while looting? I’m not even asking for Autistic leads, a side character now and then will do. Although if you do want to make a game where the lead just so happens to be Autistic, I will not complain.
Why are game developers so reluctant to have a confirmed Autistic character? The only thing I can think of is a fear of messing it up and getting ripped to shreds by the critics for it. Frankly, as long as you do a better job than Sia did with Music, you should be fine. The bar is that low, seriously. I was tempted to review Music, but I don’t want to torture myself. I’ll be blunt, I genuinely hate that film with every fibre of my being.
As an Autistic gamer, I would like to see some more representation for folk like me. Sure, Coded characters are nice and all, but we merit full-on representation, not hinted representation.
Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.