Mass Effect trilogy gives us a perspective of a possible future where the disabilities haven’t been written off but are still present, existing among futuristic technologies.
In the article, Sick, Slow, Cyborg: Crip Futurity in Mass Effect, Adan Jerreat-Poole examines how disabilities are represented in the sci-fi action-adventure game series Mass Effect 1-3. The author utilizes the term ‘Crip’ to define subjects with impairments and sicknesses. ME 1-3 can be interpreted as embodiments of ”Crip futurity”, which means the disabled are either cut out of all imagined futures or left behind as the neo-liberal able-bodied pace of society marches forward.
The used methodology is Crip negotiation, meaning that the author adopts a disability perspective when interpreting the game narrative. Jerreat-Poole seeks to look for futures where technology has not eliminated disability but exists in a cluster of complex relationships with Crip embodiments – disabled bodies exist alongside technologies such as spaceships or AI. Furthermore, the author aims to examine the intersections of gender, race, and disability as well as how these influence access to futuristic technology and treatment in ME 1-3.
Mass Effect 1-3 is a Sci-Fi RPG trilogy where players control the protagonist Commander Shepherd who fights to save the galaxy, make companions, and form romantic relationships with various genders and species. The game series extend contemporary cultural ideologies into the future through fetishizing hyperathletic, hypermasculine able-bodies. Both pathologize disabled bodies, rerouting societal discrimination and fear of disability through the desire for technological augmentations.
Sci-Fi futures tend to offer techno-medical advances as the solution to disabilities. These genres also contain supercrip stories of disabled people overcoming disabilities and moving beyond the capacities of normal bodies. Supercrips present augmented bodies as better, while their narrative fetishizes the disabled body/cyborg as exceptional bodies since they started as embodying deficiency.
The absence of disabled bodies in space defines Sci-Fi’s habits of ableism and violence. The author states that if we want to change the future, we must imagine it first, and utilizes ME 1-3 to examine future where disability still exists. The paper explores three strategies for producing alternative Crip futures.
The first strategy is the representation of willful bodies and speeds. The most apparent representation of disability in ME is a character named Joker who is the player’s pilot throughout the series. Joker has a fictional disease, similar to brittle bone disease. However, even though being disabled, he isn’t stereotyped or defined by his disability but has a distinct, rich personality. Moreover, in a world full of bodily enhancements and advanced technologies, Joker aggressively and vocally refuses to wield them. His presence gives a context of the future that continues ableist and invested in hegemonic masculinity; however, Joker’s body, movement, and narrative are willful, giving resistance to these ideologies. His presence and actions act as the Crip killjoy, killing the joys of ableism through his refusal to hide or transform.
In ME 2 there is a sequence where the spaceship is under attack and the player needs to navigate Joker through the ship. Joker moves slowly, limping the whole time and cannot run. Players are even punished if they try to move too fast when controlling joker. The slowness isn’t represented as a drawback, it just forces players to slow down.
The second strategy is cripping the cyborg, which can mean the ways how technology can be disabling. Kaidan Alenko is a companion in ME helping the player if needed. He’s a white, hyper-muscular super-soldier. However, he has integrated himself controversial implants that cause him migraines, which according to the author, can be extremely debilitating. The implants have consequences that represent the messiness of bodies and the limitations and pain of physical bodies. The side effects problematize the usually uncritical relationship between bodies and technology.
The third strategy is interdependence, contagion, and deconstructing ”the human”. In ME 1-3 there are a humanoid species, the quarians, that created a race of AI robots that became sentient, conquered, and banished the quarians. Due to a lack of microbes on their home planet, the quarians have compromised immune systems and are forced to live in enviro-suits. Even though they rely on technology, they are chronically ill. The continual cycle of illness and wellness produces an interdependent community, where illness and disability are always present. The quarian society represents a rejection of the ideology of cure, where they rely on technology to live, but the technology doesn’t cure the illness. The enviro-suits acts as an extension of bodies, as a prosthetic skin.
Jerreat-Poole concludes that ME trilogy offers ways for reimagining the relationships between disabilities, bodies, technologies, and community. While the series mainly focuses on hegemonic masculinity, whiteness, war, and supercrip exceptionalism, there are moments of friction disrupting these narratives and signaling towards different paths – towards futures where the disabled aren’t written off or dead.
The featured image portraying Joker is taken by Jenny Karlsson, @soulsurrender in Twitter.
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