They Need To Talk: representing stuttering characters in games
- April 17, 2019
Jess Gates is a game designer with a huge passion for accessibility. They have supported people with disabilities in accommodation and community settings, and run camps and activity programs for young people and families experiencing disadvantage. Jess enjoys creating games about ethical and social issues, and enabling creators of games, things and spaces to actively and intentionally include all kinds of people.
We need to talk about stuttering in games. And yes, this is partially because when you search for “stuttering in games”, you’re most likely going to get some articles or videos about frame rate before you get anything about stuttering character representation.
There aren’t many strong, nuanced representations of people who stutter within games. They’re the shy, nervous character who’s terrified of people, or there the shocked, surprised or taken aback character who’s just been caught out. Neither of which covers the broader population, who stutter for reasons beyond nerves and surprises.
But even beyond that, there are limited associations about what stuttering actually looks and sounds like. I could guess with 90% accuracy that if I asked you what a stutter is like, that many of you thought of someone repeating the start of a word, over and over.
There’s several different types of stuttering: from blocking to prolongation, to cluttering, to using filler words. Each of these looks and sounds differently than the next, and each person who stutters will sound different.
We need to stop making characters who stutter solely from surprises or nerves. Firstly, many people stutter through neurological conditions, or several other reasons that persist throughout their life – not solely those moments where they are scared or taken aback. And our representations should reflect this variety and nuance as much as it can.
But, even more so, we need to stop because both of these situations emphasise a fragility, a fearfulness, a moment of helplessness and often of weakness. They perpetuate concepts of people who stutter being weak. Being afraid. Being fragile. Being uncertain. And being helpless.
And far out, people who stutter both are and deserve to have more empowering role models than that!
Forget the person who stutters only while blushing and shaking and staring at the floor. Forget the person who stutters when they’re blown away after a surprise. Give me some stuttering characters who are confident and ready to kick butt. Have them stutter when they give their rousing battle cry to their other party members. Have stuttering NPC’s who give you important instructions for your next quest, or guide you towards the next monster.
Let’s make stuttering characters who explore the experience of stuttering. But also, let’s make these as diverse and varied as the people who stutter existing in the world today.
Let’s create stuttering characters who stutter is never mentioned in their storyline. Let’s have stuttering characters who are more concerned with the much bigger conflict of how to find enough tea to serve everyone at the cafe, or how to slay a ferocious hamster that’s slowly taking over the pet store. Or whatever weird quirky things happen in your games.
Let’s make stuttering characters who still stutter at the end of the game, because it isn’t something that magically gets cured when you’re not anxious or surprised. Let’s have stuttering characters who stutter differently through the game, because stuttering isn’t always the same every day.
Let’s have our stuttering characters be actively present and nuanced in our games. Let’s make space for them to tell their stories, whatever they may be.