The producer of Square Enix’s newest release, The Quiet Man, Kensei Fujinaga, says that he believes if one video game can change a person’s mind, then video games can change the world. How interesting then, that his game, the first to the best of my knowledge to feature a deaf protagonist, takes every ridiculous and damaging belief people have about deaf people and employs them.
The Quiet Man is billed as a game where players take control of Dane, a deaf guy, and explore a “soundless world” which is left open to their interpretation as they unravel deaf Dane’s mysterious surroundings in search of the masked man. This would all be fine and good if, weeks before its release, Square Enix hadn’t announced the release of a new game + mode dropping a week after the game’s initial release called, The Quiet Man-Answered-
As a deaf gamer who was really hoping that finally, a game might try to represent me and the community I am a part of as we are and dispel all the bullshit myths hearing people believe about us, this new game + seems incredibly tone deaf (all the puns intended). What this looks like to me, a Deaf person, is they’ve released an unfinished game forcing players to experience it in a not ideal fashion, a deaf character struggling to make sense of the crazy hearing world, then as a reward for suffering through the “soundless” game, players get their answers, finally, when they play through it again, this time properly, with sound. That’s right, deaf people bumble through the world clueless and dumb, until we have the good fortune of a hearing person coming to save us and give us the answers which we have been so desperately seeking.
Way to cement in that deaf and dumb stereotype Square Enix. Thanks for that.
I also found it interesting that the creators of this game chose to include sound on occasion, dictating what they, hearing people, believed was impossible to convey any other way but through dialogue and sound and essential for hearing players to have even a basic understanding of what was happening. In some scenes, speech is present and (quite largely) subtitled:
And in others, all players hear is some weird muffled electronic swoosh, which they said was done to indicate that Dane, even though he can’t hear and people rarely sign to him, can understand what’s happening. Other sounds made clear, in what I can only call a wildly distorted and laughable presentation of being hard of hearing, are muffled footsteps, distant sirens, and his own heartbeat. People sitting right in front of him talking to him? Completely muted. Background noise of cars and people on the street conversing with each other? No sound at all. Fire alarms that are often so loud deaf people can feel the sound they make? Nope, that’s muted too.
All of this begs the question, have the people that made this game ever so much as met a deaf person?
Yes! One. The one deaf man they consulted to ensure the very rare inclusion of ASL was done well.
That’s right. This entire game that is built around the experience of a deaf man was created entirely by hearing people who only felt the need to consult a deaf person for the ASL parts of it. The Quiet Man, in my opinion, is nothing more than a bad take on a deaf fantasy featuring the magical deaf Dane, from a hearing guy, and that is glaringly obvious the more I play this game.
But we need to discuss the biggest and definitely the most damaging stereotype employed by The Quiet Man: The conflation of ASL and gang signs. The creators say in the video I’ve linked to in the first paragraph of this piece, that Dane communicates and understands his world through a combination of ASL, lip reading, and gang signs. (Don’t even get me started on how an actual deaf person can’t rely on lip reading for one thing because it’s completely unreliable and damn hard to do.)
Let’s talk about ASL and gang signs. I wonder if anyone on the team that created this disaster bothered to research the long and awful history of being deaf in prison? Or if they just wanted to make their deaf character look bad-ass so they gave this guy his knowledge of gang signs. I wonder if they knew prisons are full of deaf inmates who are actively deprived of language and communication because hearing people insist that ASL and gang signs are interchangeable. Did you know that, dear reader?
This final point only solidifies my belief that there was not a bit of research or interaction with deaf people done in the creation of this game, but also that they’ve used deafness as a gimmick to be different, to make a cool new game, with not even a modicum of respect for those of us who have to live with the repercussions of all the harmful stereotypes hearing people believe about us being reaffirmed by one of the biggest game developers in the world.
Deaf people deserve much better than this mockery, Square Enix. And I hope that the very least they do is donate all the proceeds of this awful, awful game to some of the many organizations out there that try to bring justice to deaf people in prisons who don’t actually communicate in gang signs, despite what Square Enix seems to want you to believe.