Bleeding Edge Beta: Accessibility Win, Representation Failure

Disabled players eager to get into Bleeding Edge, Ninja Theory’s latest title, are in for a wonderful surprise. The studio has been talking about their game’s accessibility and they should be. It’s phenomenal. I can’t recall a game that has even attempted to be this inclusive. Have a look:

Bleeding Edge Accessibility Menu.

A wealth of options and something for everyone.

Start screen stating that communication is essential to success.

It’s funny, I launched the game and after the loading screen, the above screen was the first thing I saw. I’m so used to being disappointed by games that talk about the importance of communication/sound/listening/etc. and then go on to make it wholly inaccessible to deaf/hoh players, that I read this and got preemptively angry. Another one, I thought.

But then I got to the accessibility menu and saw that the chat was fully accessible for deaf/hoh players (provided other players enable it). I do have one suggestion regarding this feature in the options menu though. Instead of it simply being an option with an explanation about what it does, I think telling players why it’s important and who would benefit from it would encourage everyone to toggle it on. Perhaps a whole screen devoted to encouraging players to toggle it on even.

I found the gameplay wonderfully fluid and approachable, even with my fingers and hands going through a lupus thing right now. I wasn’t in pain after a few matches!

Illustrating the subtitles during tutorials.

One area I hope to see improved regarding accessibility is for there to be size options for the subtitles like those shown above. They’re presented wonderfully but only for those who can easily read modestly sized text.

The problem, for me, comes in the representation of the disabled characters in Bleeding Edge. There are several disabled characters (three, I believe?) and while that’s great– we’re being included as playable characters! Finally! The way we’re included leaves a lot to be desired.

I have lupus. It’s slowly damaging many of my organs and my joints deteriorate more and more every day. Eventually I will need to use a wheelchair (I don’t currently because I’m still stuck in a mind game with myself of “How much pain can I tolerate before I give in?” and yes, I know, this is not the healthiest attitude but that’s why I’m in therapy.)

I can’t speak for anyone but myself but I don’t spend my days wishing I didn’t have lupus, wishing my body wasn’t doing whatever weird or painful thing it’s decided to do that day, or wishing I could be improved or enhanced. In fact, I am enhanced with a few of my very own cyborg parts (or if you prefer to use the language of Bleeding Edge, augmentations). They don’t cure me, they don’t give me back the life lupus took away from me (mostly because that’s just not how I view my situation). Lupus and the state of my body are a huge part of who I am and how I exist in the world. Would I love for my kidneys to not be in a state of limbo from day to day as they decide whether they want to function? Sure. But generally speaking, I’m not sitting here pining after things I can’t have or that won’t ever happen.

Problem is, that’s exactly the way Ninja Theory has decided to portray all three of their disabled characters, which shocked me, as this is the team behind the tremendous effort to get the representation of psychosis right in Hellblade. What in the world happened to that intention between Hellblade and Bleeding Edge?

Buttercup's bio that explains that she became a paraplegic after an accident.
Buttercup character.
Maeve's bio explaining how she "succumbed" to a wheelchair in old age.
Maeve character.
Cass's bio explaining how she came to become paralyzed and had her limbs replaces with cybernetic ones.
Cass character.

All of the characters shown above have a wonderfully rich backstory but they all revolve around the tragic thing that made them become disabled and how devastating it was but then highlights how they were suddenly fixed because of augmentations and could once again be whole and content.

This is not the kind of representation disabled people need. Why? Because this is how far too many abled people view us to begin with. We don’t need any help reinforcing that.

Why choose to tell a story this way when it could just as easily be told in a way that celebrates disabled bodies? Why try to fix us instead of showing us as we really exist and allowing that to be a part of what makes us bad ass? I mean, I think I’d make a pretty great character in this game with my hip’s ability to suddenly dislocate itself and stop anyone near enough to see it happen in their tracks. Once they’ve approached me, concerned, that’s when I strike! I don’t need cybernetic ostrich legs when I’ve already got such a cool hip, do I?

Zero Cool character.

Ninja Theory could have put their disabled characters in some awesome floating wheelchairs like the chair abled character Zero Cool has, chosen to not to focus their augmentations on fixing a disability, and just let disabled characters be disabled. We’ve got enough games that make freaks and monsters, characters and NPCs to be pitied, out of disabled people. I expected better from the studio behind the brilliance of Hellblade and truly hope they will consider the ramifications of how they’ve chosen to represent disabled people in Bleeding Edge.

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Co-founder and EIC of Can I Play That?, captioner of many things, occasional writer of fiction. Any pronouns. courtney@caniplaythat.com