My life as a writer has been defined by all the times I’ve been told that my voice and the stories I choose to tell are too much. Too angry. Too uncomfortable for the majority of readers. Sanitize it, make it more approachable, softer. Make your voice, your reality, something that the majority won’t be made uncomfortable by. This has happened in every social circle I’ve written about and every industry I’ve written for, from gaming to the publishing and literary world to my fiction manuscript that I completed for my MFA thesis.
Can I Play That? was born from this. I often joke that my partner, Susan, and I started CIPT out of spite and as a joke. While this is absolutely true, that spite and that joke were in response to having been told time and again by the major gaming outlets that pieces focused on gaming while disabled, told from the experience of a disabled person, were not of interest to their audience. We were told this countless times, only to see the experiences of disabled gamers told by abled writers in those very same outlets.
We don’t want your truth, your words. We want your stories but in such a way that we are not made uncomfortable.
Our society has been designed to keep those in the majority comfortable and those of us who exist in ways outside of that have been cast out, denied privileges and rights, simply because to give us those rights and privileges would make those in the majority, those dominating our conversations, uncomfortable. It would cause them to take a hard look at the things their apathy (at best) and their actions (at worst) have done to us, to every marginalized group, and it would make them very uncomfortable. And so in response to this, we create our own spaces, our own communities and cultures, and we thrive when we come together to make our voices heard and give ourselves a seat at the table.
It’s this amazing ability to make ourselves heard and make change happen in the disabled gamer community that has led me to my biggest disappointment in the six years I’ve been a part of this community.
The murder of George Floyd and the sudden support for the Black Lives Matter movement by the majority of the games industry in response to his murder has brought about the very beginnings of change in our gaming spaces that is long overdue. And yet, far too many in the disabled gamer community, a group with undeniable power to force change in an entire industry, have remained silent, or worse, balked at what they see as games and those of us who play them suddenly becoming political.
In just five years, the work and advocacy of disabled gamers has caused a massive shift in video games. We have fought for access, for our rights, and to be visible and acknowledged and we have been successful in an unprecedented way. And yet there are those within our community, now that they’ve had success in making themselves heard and having their needs acknowledged, that are upset that the conversation is shifting and that our spaces are “suddenly” becoming political.
Our community has always been political. Can I Play That? is a political site because disabled bodies are political. Access is a political matter. Should this be the case? Should we have to qualify our lives and needs? No, absolutely not. But we do. Daily. And while none of us fight this fight by choice, we fight it nonetheless and we do so with success.
How then can we be winning our battles yet being silent when the lives of Black people are at stake? How can any of us not be using our voices and our platforms to help this urgent scream for help and end centuries long oppression of an entire population of people? How can anyone, in good conscience, fight for their own rights, win many of those fights, and carry on with the mindset of, I got mine, you’re on your own?
“None of us are free until all of us are,” is what Cherry Thompson said in response to a tweet I sent and while it may seem like a stretch to equate our fight for access in video games to freedom, that is exactly what we’re winning. Freedom to access. Freedom to be seen and counted. And yet there are those in our community who would not fight to extend that freedom of access, freedom to just be alive and enjoy things to others?
Our community has always been political because our lives have been made political. Not only is it our responsibility to share our stories that make the majority uncomfortable and bring about change, we must support and fight alongside other marginalized people as they do the same. Anything less and we are not deserving of what we’ve won.