[Originally posted on 9 July 2010, when the blog was on weblog.nl]
**WARNING! This post contains spoilersfor Mass Effect 2, specifically the DLC Overlord**
It doesn't happen often anymore.
I mean, we're all pretty much used to seeing portrayals of autistic people in the media ranging from problematic to godawful.
But today I encountered one of them that was so bad that I was actually still shocked and angered by it.
Unfortunately, it is in one of my favourite games by one of my favourite developers (Bioware, who have a reasonable reputation when it comes to accessibility in games, but who pretty much screw up in various amounts every time when it comes to disability portrayal).
I had installed a newly released DLC: Overlord, and had gotten to the point of playing it.
At first I kinda liked it even if the story was a bit corny and reminded me of Lawnmower Man. I was actually thinking it was nice to have a Lawnmower Man story without the 'lawnmower guy' being disabled in some way.
Then I got to the part where the scientist guy named Archer (evil doctor) started talking more about his brother David, on whom they performed the tests (lawnmower character). Turns out the brother is autistic. At first the scientist just mentions it casually in a short recording. Immediately though, I got this sinking feeling in my stomach: "Oh no..."
And it turns out I was right. The autistic character is every stereotype you've ever heard of; every disablist and disgusting attitude towards us is brought forward as completely natural and reasonable. As you get further along and hear more recordings and see more flashbacks, you see the autistic man doing math in his head out loud (square roots or something) pretty much 24/7 while rocking back and forth, and when anyone so much as says a word he starts screaming that there is too much noise. That is about all we see of the character itself, ANYTHING else we know about the autistic brother is provided by the scientist brother or other secondary characters. He begins by saying how much he will never be able to understand David's brain. How until now he was only a problem to him, but now he might actually be useful! (as a testsubject). Then he reveals him as a maths savant. Goes on to say how well he can get along with the Geth (a machine race) because of being autistic. Then he likens him to an alien. Later on he says he's basically nothing more than a human computer, which is why he can effortlessly understand and speak the Geth language (and also because of maths) and give them orders and stuff. He states the brother will probably enjoy being hooked up to the Geth interface (like their hive mind).
Then he of course hooks him up, with no consent asked or given, because of course an autistic man is not actually an adult, or even really a human being. He has no opinions and is completely passive. Then of course the brother goes berserk and kills tonnes of people with his Geth. In the end you can free him, rescue him with pity and all and have him shipped off to some institution with a nice name. Or you can even leave him there to be tested on further, because you know, it's just one of 'those people.'
The biggest problem is that it's very clear that it's not a criticism where only his scientist brother regards him that way - who is clearly evil - and other characters view him differently. It's clear that other characters feel the same way and/or pity him. What's more, it's clear that this is the way the developers/writers feel too. It shines through everywhere.
I sent an e-mail through the EA customer service, which seems to be the only way to reach them, if you can reach them at all through there. The other option would be posting about it on the forums, where then hopefully maybe a moderator would see it AND pass it on to the devs (if they can even do that), and the forums are a cesspit of intolerance and every kind of -ism you can imagine, and I apologise, but I just can't carry the responses I know I'd get right now, so I'm not posting there.
I would like to ask people, especially people who have also played the DLC or at least Mass Effect 2, to also write to them or contact them about this issue by any means they can find and are willing to use. You might even be able to address Bioware's other issues with disabled and traumatised characters in the same go (I managed to mention them shortly, my letter was already very long).
Crossposted to my other blog.