Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla has come under fire for some ableist language in one of its character descriptions, referring to a burn victim as “disfigured” in-game.
The use of the term was pointed out on Twitter by Courtney Craven, the founder of Can I Play That?, a site dedicated to issues of accessibility and ableism in the games industry, where they called the use of the word disfigured as “absolutely unacceptable.”
GF, who is a burn victim and spent many years ashamed of her scars, was sitting beside me when I came upon this bit in the game and the look on her face…I was embarrassed that this was her impression of this industry I love so much.
— Courtney Craven (@CyclopediaBrain) November 9, 2020
In a response tweet, the official Assassin’s Creed account apologized on behalf of the development team, and said that the phrasing would be changed in a future patch.
Thank you so much for pointing this out – we apologize for unintentionally reinforcing ableism through this language. We will remove this language in an upcoming update.
— Assassin's Creed (@assassinscreed) November 9, 2020
Issues like this come up fairly frequently in all media, not just video games, but recently Spiritfarer developer ThunderLotus also came under some controversy for an entire storyline dedicated to a character viewing death as an escape from their wheelchair. The studio issued an apology and said it would be working with the writing team to re-examine and alter the character in question to not perpetuate these kinds of views.
“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.”
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Even outside of storylines and the language seen in the writing, issues of ableism and accessibility features have become more prevalent in the games industry as developers become more aware of just how prohibitive video games can be without proper accommodations for everyone. Things as simple as the inputs you can use during a sequence, like repeatedly pressing a button to push a rock out of the way, can be impossible for people with certain disabilities. While it doesn’t seem like it’s been made into a requirement at big companies, some studios like Naughty Dog are really leaning into accessibility features in games like The Last of Us Part II, which has over 60 different options to pick from to accommodate different playstyles and needs. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a universal push for these, even within Sony and Microsoft, and developers are having to go out of their way on their own to ensure these options are available to anyone who might need them.
Even the PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller is bringing up questions about accessibility due to features like haptic feedback and adaptive triggers. For more on that, check out our feature on the topic.
For more information on how games can be accessible to everyone, be sure to check out Can I Play That’s site, where they post reviews based on what features games have that can be attuned for people with various disabilities, such as those who are hard of hearing, blind, or have mobility issues.