In an effort to help range and illustration in gaming, I’m writing a few matter close to and expensive to me: neurodiversity—particularly, neurodivergent characters in RPGs.
I knew this was a venture that will take a great deal of time and analysis. Add on the struggles and distractions that include being ADHD myself, and I started to query whether or not this text would ever come to fruition. However I pushed via. The outcome appears to be like a lot completely different than what I initially deliberate.
What does neurodivergent imply?
The time period neurodivergent is a broad description. Merely put, it covers any mode of mind operate or habits that deviates from the societal norm. This could embody a variety of circumstances, together with attention-deficit/hyperactivity dysfunction (ADHD), autism spectrum dysfunction (ASD), Asperger’s, dyslexia, obsessive-compulsive dysfunction (OCD), and extra. Individuals who operate inside the regular societal parameters are known as neurotypical.
It’s protected to imagine most of us know, care about, or are somebody who is taken into account neurodivergent. In truth, as much as 15-20 p.c of the world’s inhabitants has some type of neurodivergence. As talked about, I’ve ADHD and a daughter on the autism spectrum. The 2 of us share a love of video video games, particularly RPGs. Many different neurodiverse individuals share the same ardour. Video video games (and RPGs, specifically) will be very helpful in constructing social and motor abilities and have even been used as a type of remedy.
So contemplating the ratio and span of neurodiversity on the earth, it looks like discovering examples of neurodivergent characters all through RPGs can be straightforward. Sadly, this isn’t the case in any respect. The pool of candidates could be very shallow, even when extending the platform to incorporate all online game genres. Slender it additional to canonically affirmed characters, and the outcomes are barren. So what started in my head as a “Neurodivergent Characters Countdown” (as a result of all of us love a great checklist) grew to become one thing a lot completely different. By means of the writing and analysis course of, I noticed an evident lack of correct, correct, and various neurodivergent illustration.
Most neurodivergent characters fall into unlucky tropes or come throughout as an object of ridicule or comedian aid. A overwhelming majority of characters are coded to various levels. I may argue whether or not they have been meant to have neurodivergent traits in any respect. For this text, I’ve included each characters which can be neurodivergent based on canon and people who are extra neurodivergent-coded (exhibiting traits with out affirmation). A few of the commonest archetypes these neurodivergent characters are inclined to fall underneath are…
Many scientist characters in RPGs have neurodivergent traits. These embody obsession with their analysis, failure to learn social cues and lack of empathy. One such character is Dr. Patricia Tannis of the Borderlands sequence. She can also be among the many uncommon RPG characters confirmed to be neurodivergent in-game. If the participant accepts her Borderlands 2 quest, “Hidden Journals,” the mission briefing reads, “How did an insane introvert with Asperger’s handle to outlive in Sanctuary?”
Tannis is a scientist and archeologist employed by the Dahl Company to seek out proof of the mysterious vault on the planet Pandora. Initially skeptical of the vault’s existence, she develops an excessive obsession with discovering the vault, staying behind even after her employer abandons the venture. She has excessive social nervousness and would favor to keep away from all human interplay, and has skilled main traumas, together with witnessing the deaths of her fellow researchers. Because of these components, she develops relationships with inanimate objects (an ECHO recorder and two chairs) as a coping mechanism.
What’s problematic in figuring out her neurodivergent traits is that, together with having Asperger’s, she has indifferent from actuality. This muddies the waters a bit and will trigger a misrepresentation of Asperger’s by entangling it with traits of madness and PTSD. As an example, struggling to point out empathy is a standard signal of Asperger’s. Tannis (and different Mad Scientist archetypes) exhibits an excessive case of this, to the purpose she admits to feeling no disappointment in her recordings (even in probably the most brutal circumstances). This isn’t an correct portrayal of Asperger’s. Struggling to point out empathy doesn’t imply being incapable of feeling. In Patricia’s case, I’ll not less than concede that she is a Borderlands character, and almost all NPCs on this universe present some degree of madness.
One other instance of this trope is my favourite salarian, Mordin Solus. Shepard recruits this scientist in Mass Impact 2 to affix of their mission in opposition to the collectors. All through the sport, you find out about his previous involvement with the Krogan genophage–a organic weapon used in opposition to the species to restrict their copy via mutation.
Traits of autism and ADHD are identifiable when interacting with Mordin. His fast, uneven speech patterns can point out somebody on the spectrum. Moreover, he usually jumps shortly from one thought to a different, suggesting ADHD tendencies. A lot of his parting dialogue within the Normandy tech lab displays this, usually in humorous methods. He dismisses actions others might even see as immoral. Like Tannis, he usually comes throughout as missing empathy and may seem surprisingly ruthless at instances in his angle towards killing others. In contrast to Tannis although, he believes that the ends justify the means—science above conscience.
What separates Mordin—and the place I really feel the writers did a wonderful job—is that regardless of his outward angle towards ethics, he’s conflicted and typically struggles to deal with his previous actions. You’ll be able to see this in him throughout his loyalty mission in Mass Impact 2, the place he should confront his previous. He even appears to be like to faith to seek out peace and which means (very uncommon for a science-driven thoughts). It’s a refreshing tackle a personality trope that usually depends solely on science and knowledge to make selections. Displaying ethical dilemmas creates a extra profound, multi-faceted character and is an instance for writers of future neurodivergent characters to observe.
One of the vital overused and inaccurate means to painting neurodivergent characters is making them a savant. In brief, a savant is sensible in a single space whereas having main social or mental weaknesses in different areas (see Rain Man or Forrest Gump for mainstream depictions). Varied types of media have examples of savantism, and video video games aren’t any exception.
Essentially the most memorable RPG instance of this archetype is Sandal Feddic from the Dragon Age sequence. Those that have performed Dragon Age: Origins or Dragon Age II little doubt recall Sandal because the younger adoptive son of a dwarven service provider, whose dialogue consists of 1 phrase….“Enchantment!” Sandal and his father Bodahn journey together with your celebration all through each video games and act as a vendor and–you guessed it– an enchanter.
Based on Bodahn, Sandal’s enchanting talents impressed the Circle of Magi to the purpose he feared they might attempt to hold him there as their enchanter. His start and early childhood are unknown, as Bodahn discovered him deserted inside the Deep Roads at age 5. His father speculates that publicity to the damaging mineral lyrium is the reason for his habits, although that is solely a concept. Sandal displays the signs of a extreme mental delay and is usually handled equally to a younger youngster. Twice through the Dragon Age video games, you discover Sandal alone, inexplicably surrounded by a gaggle of lifeless enemies. On every event, if the participant questions him on what occurred, he replies with one-word solutions (“Growth” and “Enchantment”). This has led Dragon Age followers to invest that there could also be way more to Sandal than meets the attention.
Sandal displays each good and dangerous points of neurodivergent depictions. You possibly can argue that Sandal promotes inclusivity and exhibits that even these with mental impairments will be distinctive. Alternatively, you might view him as simply one other instance of an overused trope meant to be an object of ridicule.
Relating to the savant trope, I might be remiss to not point out the Fool Savant perk in Fallout 4. It’s a luck perk that offers the participant a random probability to get multipliers to any XP positive aspects from actions, together with enemy kills, should you put money into all three ranks. Right here’s the caveat: the probabilities of triggering the multiplier enhance based mostly on how low the character’s intelligence stat is. Decrease intelligence = greater probabilities.
First off, I really like the Fallout sequence, so I don’t wish to sound like I’m attacking the writing or content material of the sport. Having offered that private disclaimer, the inclusion of this perk is problematic. To begin with, let’s name it as it’s. The time period fool savant is an outdated (and offensive) time period as soon as used for savant syndrome. Secondly, many individuals who show savant attributes possible have one other associated neurodivergent situation, reminiscent of autism. These items thought of, this perk can promote a false concept that neurodivergent means unintelligent. It additionally doesn’t assist that when the perk triggers, a picture of Vault-Boy seems with crossed eyes, and certainly one of three unflattering chuckle sounds is performed (starting from what I might describe as a maniacal clown to Patrick Star).
I may go on about different tropes and coded characters, however this text is already lengthy. So I’ll wrap up with my largest takeaway from researching and writing this text…
There are vital alternatives for sport builders and writers to create extra various, correct, optimistic, and express depictions of neurodivergent characters. Neurodivergence features a huge vary of traits. I’ve spent an excessive amount of time round individuals with autism and different neurodivergent traits, and no two persons are the identical. Why, then, do depictions so usually fall into the identical patterns? A plethora of RPG characters can have neurodivergent traits to some extent. Why, then, are canonized examples so uncommon? There are a lot of RPG followers (each neurodivergent and neurotypical) eager for well-written neurodivergent characters which can be depicted precisely and positively. Neurodiversity must be promoted and celebrated. Neurodivergent doesn’t imply much less than, however merely completely different than.