ThunderLotus, the team behind management sim Spiritfarer, has released a statement regarding a plotline centered around a character named Gustav, a spirit who was a wheelchair user in life.
News of the controversy began earlier this week after Twitter user @PunkinOnWheels pointed it out, specifically for its use of a common trope in writing characters with disabilities, claiming that death was a kind of freedom from their disabilities, with Gustav specifically wanting out of his wheelchair.
Are you fucking kidding me?? I can’t even play FUCKING SPIRITFARER without some bullshit about how “only in death was I able to be free from my dreaded wheelchair”? Seriously?!
— Kayla Whaley (@PunkinOnWheels) September 2, 2020
Similar storylines have come under fire in other pieces of media, such as the 2012 novel turned 2016 film Me Before You, where Will, a man who was paralyzed in an accident, turns to an assisted suicide as he feels he can no longer live a fulfilled life in a wheelchair. The book and film were heavily criticized by disability activists, with activist Ellen Clifford calling it “dreadful,” in an interview with Buzzfeed News.
“The message of the film is that disability is tragedy and disabled people are better off dead,” she said in the interview with BuzzFeed News. “It comes from a dominant narrative carried by society and the mainstream media that says it is a terrible thing to be disabled.”
This kind of plotline is even played up in some family-oriented stories, including last year’s Detective Pikachu, which had a villain whose entire deal was that he wanted to transfer his consciousness into Mewtwo to live an able-bodied life again. Wack.
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After the criticism started circulating on Twitter, ThunderLotus responded with an apology on its social channels, saying it would be making changes to “correct the lack of sensitivity and good judgement [the team] demonstrated.” The full statement reads as follows:
To the players of Spiritfarer,
It has been brought to our attention that some of the writing in Spiritfarer is ableist, especially in the case of one character’s description of their own wheelchair. We, the developers of Spiritfarer, would like to offer a sincere and heartfelt apology, and pledge to correct the lack of sensitivity and good judgement we demonstrated.
We understand that we unwittingly perpetuated ideas and language that have traditionally been used to exclude and discriminate against people with disabilities, while reinforcing ableist views of what they should find empowering. This directly undermines the empathetic spirit that we wished to infuse into every aspect of the game, and we regret this failure.
We therefore choose to take this as a necessary opportunity to grow our collective perspectives, and to use that wisdom to correct this mistake. The Spiritfarer narrative team pledges to reexamine their work for this or any similar/parallel perspectives or words that run counter to the inclusive values that we’ve built our company around, and correct this as warranted.
To any and all that may have felt judged or unwelcome while playing our game: we’re sorry. We’ll fix it, and strive to do better from now on.
Thank you for your support and understanding.
For more on Spiritfarer, check out Fanbyte’s review.