This piece contains SPOILERS for Spider-Man: No Way Home and Hawkeye, episode 6.
Insomniac Games excels at bringing Marvel superheroes to life. The team distils the essence of what makes a superhero and perfectly translates that power fantasy into reality. They’re not alone, either. With the announcements of Spider-Man 2, Wolverine, Wonder Woman, Gotham Knights and The Suicide Squad it’s now the era of the superhero game.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales established Insomniac’s dedication to disability representation, by introducing the deaf character Hailey Cooper who communicated using ASL to assist Miles Morales on a mission. Hailey was thankfully played by the actor Natasha Ofili who is also deaf.
As a disabled gamer, you rarely feel represented in games, so even an NPC with a disability validates your existence. Even now, disability in games is generally portrayed as negative – especially when wheelchairs are dropped into horror games to be “scary”.
My hope is that Insomniac can evolve disability representation in games, by transforming characters with disabilities from the role of an NPC to that of the central protagonist. The depths of the disability narrative needs to be mined to provide gamers with a fresh experience. Developers just need to work with accessibility specialists to dodge the trap of tired disability tropes.
The perfect superhero for the role of protagonist like this would be Daredevil (Matthew Murdock). Daredevil is blind and is also known as The Man Without Fear. As a child, he saved a blind man from walking into the path of an oncoming truck which spilt a radioactive isotope onto his face, blinding him. Whilst recovering he discovered his senses were amplified to superhuman levels.
“This costume makes me a bit more willing to believe other people can also have special abilities.” – Daredevil
Resilience is the central characteristic of the superhero, and it would resonate with most disabled people here. Personally, I relate to facing life-changing events and coping with losing your imagined future and having to pave a new future, just like a roguelike.
Daredevil has the power to change the disabled narrative in gaming forever. He illustrates that a disability does not make him weak; instead it has made him worthy of being a superhero. The interactive nature of gaming makes representation like this even more powerful. It’s the ultimate superhero power fantasy, but with the added depth of inclusivity.
Allow me to get carried away with this idea. The Man Without Fear defends Hell’s Kitchen. Hanging out in New York City means Daredevil has great links with Insomniac’s Spider-Man. A Daredevil game can introduce street-level heroes like Luke Cage, Echo, who is deaf and Moon Knight, who has dissociative identity disorder.
Another reason why a Daredevil game can advance disabled representation is that Matthew Murdock has a high-powered job as a lawyer with his own law firm, Nelson and Murdock (which already appeared in the Spider-Man game). This is important. Usually, a disabled character would not be portrayed as successful or academically inclined in this kind of media. Often disabled characters either only want a cure or require saving. Objections, your Honour!
“As Daredevil, I get to save the world. As a lawyer, maybe I can fix it. I need them both. The warrior and the lawyer. It doesn’t work if I only have one.” – Daredevil
I know how difficult game design is, so I’m not diminishing the incredible work done by game developers, but let me drop my ideas for a Daredevil game anyway.
If I was Insomniac, the most important aspects of Daredevil to focus on would be his heightened senses, combat prowess and fearlessness. However, Matthew Murdock is an important aspect of Daredevil, so the game needs a two-pronged approach to give players control of both narratives.
Daredevil is a superhero defined by his tenacity and fearlessness. It’s great to see that his blindness isn’t his defining feature, but is instead a small aspect of who he is. Matt is just a man living his life whilst happening to be blind, helping people both in the courtrooms and protecting the streets of Hell’s Kitchen as Daredevil.
Guardians of the Galaxy had one of the best friendship development mechanics, using choices that would alter relationships in unexpected but meaningful ways. The Daredevil game needs a similar system which should be used to strengthen or fracture relationships with his best friend Foggy Nelson, his girlfriend Karen Page, or fellow characters such as Elektra. This relationship-building mechanic is important, as Matthew Murdock has the tendency to act selfishly, drop off the map or be prone to fall into self-destructive behaviours. For example, imagine Matthew having to choose between honouring his promise to join Foggy in closing an important courtroom trial to convict the mind-controlling Purple Man, or choosing to protect people as Daredevil from Bullseye’s latest rampage.
I envision certain missions beginning in the law firm Nelson and Murdock. A character would require legal support, Matthew will then use his heightened senses to deduce if the person is telling the truth or pick up on their fear. Daredevil will then investigate the case, usually involving a minor henchman, but maybe it unravels into a bigger plot involving Wilson Fisk, The Kingpin.
Daredevil is an acrobatic and martial arts expert so he will require buttons dedicated to punches and kicks. This variety should allow you to build your own combos like in the game, Remember Me, for example. Daredevil’s senses mean that he can easily jump or choose to dodge attacks, quickly react to gunfire and detect attacks from all directions. This mobility is key to him surviving fights against villains like Bullseye, who can throw any item with pinpoint accuracy.
With a history surrounding boxing, Daredevil uses grabs often in combat, this provides players with choices to either hit an enemy or throw them into other enemies or environmental objects. This is usually where Daredevil’s fearlessness shows: he doesn’t mind closing the gap with enemies wielding bladed weapons, or getting hit with throwing stars. His resilience resonates with disabled people, as we have constant difficulties to cope with, but we keep getting back up and fighting through those knockbacks.
It’s the perfect time for all players of games to experience the fantastic world of Daredevil, alongside the elevation of disability representation. Hopefully, Insomniac is going to be the developer without fear.