ataköy escort mersin escort eskisehir escort kayseri escort gaziantep escort
Feed on
Posts
Comments
A digital artwork with slices of five images arranged in a fan. From left to right they are: a photograph of a character sheet with blue dice and a green pencil, The International Symbol of Access (a blue background with a white stylized image of a person in a wheelchair), a chaotic pile of dice in many colors and styles, splattered rainbow paints with a black and white drawing of a brain on top, and miniature houses with figurines of people in action poses.

A digital artwork with slices of five images arranged in a fan. From left to right they are: a photograph of a character sheet with blue dice and a green pencil, The International Symbol of Access (a blue background with a white stylized image of a person in a wheelchair), a chaotic pile of dice in many colors and styles, splattered rainbow paints with a black and white drawing of a brain on top, and miniature houses with figurines of people in action poses.

 

What it Is

Traits associated with specific disabilities are regularly used to make monstrous and evil creatures seem more creepy, frightening, or disgusting. For example, disability associated traits like hunchbacks, non-normative limb shapes, and joints that bend in unusual ways are often used to make demons appear misshapen and deformed. Giving monsters traits associated with real disabilities sends a negative message about what it means to have those traits. This is particularly so when the disabled trait is being used to make them the monster or villain more intimidating.

Not only does this reinforce negative ideas about disability, this also results in harassment and mistreatment of people with these traits. For example, Elsa S. Henry, a prominent disability activist and game designer, grew up being called “an evil witch” by her classmates because of the stereotypical association of cataracts with evil (story recounted in “Accessibility with Elsa S Henry” on the Modifier podcast).

The following are traits associated with specific disabilities that are commonly applied to monsters and evil beings as a way of making them more intimidating. I want to be clear that these traits aren’t inherently negative. They are fine traits for characters to have, but treating them as monstrous is stigmatizing.

  • Cataracts or white eyes
  • Joints that bend in unusual ways
  • Limbs with non-normative shapes
  • Hunchbacks and other atypical body shapes
  • Stigmatized body types, such as being fat or gaunt
  • Labored breathing
  • Medical technology, such as respiratory equipment
  • Diseases
  • Large scars, sores, or growths
  • Neurodivergence/mental illness
  • Sapient creatures with cognitive, developmental, or learning disabilities (this is often disguised by the term “low intelligence”)

I want to recognize that some the above categories are broad or have gray areas. There may be things that fall into these categories that aren’t a problem. For example, a monster that has both crab legs and octopus tentacles could be said to have non-normative limbs. However since those limbs are clearly not intended to be similar to the limbs of a human this isn’t furthering stereotypes about disability and is fine.

The goal of this to list is to serve as a starting point for examination. Any time a monster trait falls into one of these categories, the next step is to figure out whether that trait is connected to a real-world disability or stereotype about a disability. If it is, then it is a good idea to replace the trait with something else.

When checking for ableist monsters, here are some additional words and concepts to be aware of. These words draw upon negative stereotypes of disability when they are applied to people or animals. Any time these words or concepts come up, it is a good idea to carefully examine what is happening. Note that the following words are generally considered offensive in this context.

  • Misshapen
  • Twisted
  • Broken
  • Deformed
  • Disfigured
  • Insane

In addition, any trait intended to seem “unnatural” should be checked for resemblances to real disabilities. If a monster is going to be unnatural then that should mean going significantly outside the realm of what is actually biologically possible.

 

What to Do Instead

So what do you do if the monster you want to use has a trait associated with a disability? At this point ableist depictions of monsters are so common that my recommendation is to error on the side of caution and remove that trait. For sure any disabled trait whose purpose is to make the monster more intimidating should definitely be removed.

It is possible to give monsters specific disabilities, but I recommend extreme caution. With villains and monsters it is all too easy for those disabilities to be portrayed negatively. For example, visually impaired and blind monsters are often depicted stumbling around their environments the way that a sighted person who temporarily couldn’t see would. This is a stereotypical and untrue depiction of what it means to be blind.

When removing a trait, it can be helpful to add in a replacement trait. For those wanting a little inspiration of intimidating monster traits that can be use to replace ableist traits, here are some ideas.

  • Traits which mess with the characters’ ability to perceive the monster, such as traveling underground or glowing so brightly they can’t be seen (the unknown can be more frightening than the known)
  • Body horror that not based on disability, such as things that would only be possible for dead bodies
  • Incongruous and innocent-seeming traits which give contrast to the monstrous traits (this is probably why creepy children are so common in horror movies)
  • The ability to harm protagonists in unusual ways, like draining their energy
  • Weapons like claws, fangs, and spikes
  • Armor, toughness, regeneration, or some other form of resistance to harm
  • Enhanced abilities like extreme strength or speed
  • Strong poisons that mean that even a small scratch is dangerous (I recommend avoiding infectious diseases)
  • Clear advantages such as not being hindered by a particular type of terrain or having a way to reach the protagonists from a position where they are protected (for example, the protagonists can’t get to them without going somewhere that is dangerous to them)
  • The ability to grab, envelop, or surround someone (for example, swarms, packs, and oozes)
  • Camouflage or disguises that allow them to hide or mimic something appealing
  • Traits from unusual real-world animals (be sure to double check that aren’t too similar to traits associated with a disability)

 

This is the second article in the Addressing Ableism in Tabletop Role-Playing Games series.

 

6
Leave a Reply

avatar
2 Comment threads
4 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
3 Comment authors
bwgustafFayOnyxT.J. Recent comment authors
newest oldest
T.J.
Guest
T.J.

Hi there!

I was linked this article by a friend, and I’m struggling to understand some stuff.

As a preface, I’ve been gaming for around 5 years now. I struggle with major depression.

I’m having a hard time understanding how ableism affects TTRPGs.

Thanks in advance!

bwgustaf
Guest
bwgustaf

So how would you handle the classic sci-fi brain in a jar? I was planning on having moving brains as heroic figures and static brains as villians. Do you have other suggestions that don’t lean too heavily towards existential philosophy (which where the whole disembodied head thing started to change into the horror archetype).