Games are great for allowing players to experience different perspectives. And I have some ideas about different perspectives in general. Wheelchairs need to be reinvented and celebrated as independence equipment rather than used as a prop in horror stories. Games would be perfect for this.
I’m not suggesting a ‘disability simulator.’ The wheelchair needs to be an interesting game mechanic, and one that can be used to explore how wheelchair users navigate their environment from a different perspective.
As a wheelchair user who has severe muscle degeneration, bumpy obstacles are uncomfortable and make it difficult to keep my body steady. Sometimes driving a wheelchair outside can be like a Trials game but without that safety net of hitting that restart button.
Driving a wheelchair outside is a challenging task, in other words. I’m constantly scanning the environment with my Iron Man visor to find the best route with the smoothest terrain, deciding how to get past obstacles, navigate around meandering pedestrians and most importantly stay alive.
There’s a clear risk/reward mechanic hidden behind wheelchair mobilisation. For example, imagine you had two route choices to navigate around a parked car blocking the pavement. Option one is to try to slowly squeeze past as Sam Fisher, secretly wishing that he could scratch the car. Option two is to drive against oncoming traffic to find a drop kerb, like a badass Doomslayer.
Every gamer has played a game from the lofty perspective of a biped, traversing environments using virtual legs, facing plain old crate puzzles or using a plank of wood to get over gaps. Games have been trying to disguise these puzzles in clever ways for years. Now, with a wheelchair, prepare for the miraculous reinvention of the humble plank-of-wood puzzle. Picture the scene: It’s The Last of Us Part Three, and a wheelchair using protagonist and Ellie are running away from the jaws of a horde of Clickers. Your only hope of safety is a courthouse behind a set of steps. What do you do? You miraculously spot a large piece of wood nearby to create a ramp – or…?
Now I’m thinking about it, game worlds could introduce how different surfaces affect wheel traction or bounciness. For example, in Watch Dogs Legion your sandbox is a facsimile of London, right? So evil cobblestones would be common! This could affect stealth, as cobblestones need to be traversed very slowly or completely avoided.
In other words, wheelchair using characters have untapped potential to increase narrative scope, but they can also allow us to explore new types of gameplay mechanics. You never know, 2021 in gaming could be the year of the wheelchair.