Trauma, Video Games, and Acessibility

I took a whole day off. A whole-ass day. I did some laundry, because I need clean clothes for after my day off, but I didn’t fold the shirts (which is what always seems like the most difficult part of doing laundry until I start folding them). I didn’t do any writing. I didn’t check my blog. I didn’t go on social media. I didn’t even spend time trying to get people to play online games with me. I just sat on my couch, caught up on The Adventure Zone, and played Ghost of Tsushima. The Iki Island expansion stuff is interesting, but it did make the game a bit more troubling for me since it takes all of the horrible, traumatic moments of this game about trauma, death, and the question of what is permissible in war, and has started playing them all out again.

You get “poisoned” by a new villain in the expansion and start seeing flashes of your past as the poison causes you to hallucinate about traumatic moments from your life. As someone who has experienced trauma, who has PTSD, and who has struggled with flashbacks, it can get uncomfortably real at times. Some of these flashbacks are triggered by interacting with objects, with presentations of deaths you’ve caused, deaths you’ve witness, deaths you’ve been unable to prevent, so they can be avoided. You can simply walk past whatever it is without interacting with it.

Other times, they happen when you sprint until you slow down to catch your breath, or when you get spotted and hide, or when you’ve waiting for a guard to move. Like actual PTSD, they’re common situations, things you’re doing constantly, that sometimes cause these visions to occur because the right combination of factors is present.

To that end, it is a valuable expression in a popular, well-made game of what life can be like for someone who is a trauma survivor. Even having the power you lacked when you were traumatized can’t fix things for you, only give you the strength required to reframe things in a way that will allow you to heal (which is sorta of what happens in the end, so at least it was consistent). This game addresses that fact. It never pretends that by being stronger now, being more capable now, you can erases what has been done.

In the post game, once you’ve defeated the BBEG, there’s still trouble to deal with. Ostensibly, this framing allows you to do the DLC or continue collecting this or play the Legends content, but it frames it in a way that describes the world you live in as forever changed and you as a figure that must continue to work on the lasting affliction that caused all this trauma to you and the world you live in.

Still, it is a difficult game to love despite being such a wonderful portrayal of survivorship and the way it can change you (it even directly addresses survivor’s guilt). As someone who has survived some awful stuff, who is working to process an entire life of it, it is difficult to really love a game that contains so many of my own triggers. I knew what I was getting into with this game. They made it abundantly clear early on and delivered on the promise they made. So I’ve been careful to take the time I need, to center self-care as appropriate, and never push myself too far.

All of which is well and good, but now that I’m playing through it again, I noticed one huge glaring lack in the game that would make it so much easier for me to play. Maybe it’s because I’m not doing a New Game+ or maybe there’s just no way to do it all, but being able to skip cutscenes would make this game so much easier for me to play. I know the story already, I know when something bad is coming, but I’m forced to let it play out on the screen in front of me rather than skip past it. Which is why I’ve been listening to The Adventure Zone. It gives me something else to focus on during those scenes, something lighter and more cheerful (generally speaking, that blink-shark bit in Ethersea was pretty creepy).

There’s been a lot of talk about accessibility in gaming and what that really means lately, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot as a result. Before this week, I never would have listed “skippable cutscenes” as an accessibility feature, but after being forced to watch something that brought up traumatic memories in me multiple times in a day, as the content of this game got heavier and heavier, I don’t think I want to play another game without them.

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