When Jay Tholen and A Jolly Corpse released Dropsy into the world, people immediately gravitated toward the game’s unique style and twisted point-and-click world.  But while Dropsy is filled with an atmosphere which is the equivalent of a pixelated acid trip and filled with characters both bizarre and interesting, Dropsy himself is the biggest part of the game that stands out to me.

There’s no particular moment where the game outrightly says Dropsy is differently abled, but given the context of his lifestyle and social interactions, I couldn’t help but suspect this might be the case.  As someone who grew up with a cognitively disabled family member Dropsy shows a lot of the same social struggles I have seen first hand.  For the sake of privacy I’ll refer to these family member as Alvin.

Throughout much of my youth, Alvin struggled to make friends.  I spent more time with Alvin when I was younger.  We would play as most children would; in my youth I was hardly aware that he was differently abled.  As we grew older his struggles with social etiquette were more obvious.  His comments weren’t always appropriate, his inability to focus interfered with our time together.  In my teenage years, I often had difficulty knowing how to best communicate with and understand Alvin.

dropsy-chicken

Many of us don’t know how to respond or react appropriately to people with cognitive disabilities, especially if you don’t have any prior experience with these kinds of disabilities.  Most people tend to feel uncomfortable and would either ignore Alvin or laugh at him.  It hurt as I grew older and would see other members of my family engaging Alvin in conversation and then laughing at his responses.

Some people would use Alvin’s lack of social skills to their advantage.  There were always stories of kids who manipulated and humiliate him, taking advantage of his disability.  This can be brushed off as the cruelty of school children, but many people today still struggle with how to best interact with differently abled individuals.

Dropsy has numerous traits which would indicate he has an cognitive disability.  He has difficulty communicating with people.  He rarely speaks and often attempts to communicate through touch that makes the people around him uncomfortable.  He’s kind-hearted and solves complex puzzles with the help of his animal friends, but it’s clear that he has trouble understanding certain social norms.  For instance, he breaks into a building and steals a miracle cake to help his sick father.  The game doesn’t portray any moral dilemma for Dropsy, so it stands to reason he thinks this is something which is perfectly acceptable.

Whether it was intentional or not, it’s difficult to create characters like Dropsy.  The fear of characters like Dropsy is similar to the same uncomfortableness many people have interacting with those who have cognitive disabilities.  Many of us don’t know the appropriate way to communicate or what would be in poor taste.  Because of this people with cognitive disabilities are widely underrepresented in all media and when they do sneak their way into a story they are often misrepresented.  Many people can likely recall Robert Downey Jr’s crass monologue in the film Tropic Thunder about such characters and while the language isn’t appropriate, the point of the rant is well taken.

Dropsy

Differently abled characters are especially difficult in games.  Often video games are about empowering the player, and the idea of taking away from a character sounds almost blasphemous from a design standpoint.  There are, of course, exceptions.  This year we saw Beyond Eyes explore the world of a girl who had lost her sight.  But one game a year hardly counts as representation.  And while certain disabilities create design challenges, making a game about those who are cognitively disabled presents a larger challenge to developers.

Creating characters with cognitive disabilities should be handled the same way as interacting with these individuals and this is why Dropsy is a successful representation.  The game treats Dropsy like they would any character.  He’s flawed, he’s human, and he’s someone you can root for.  Dropsy doesn’t focus heavily on what it’s main character can’t do, nor does it spend it’s time laughing at him.  Instead the game focuses on what he is capable of, how his good heart and problem solving abilities can help those in need.  

Differently abled people are often very good at many things.  My mother worked with students like this throughout her career as a teacher and constantly sung the praises about how many students with disabilities were the smartest kids she had worked with.  Alvin was a great guitar player, someone who knew more about the Beatles than I could ever hope to remember.  When games, or other mediums, highlight the strength of these characters they lay out a road map that remind us how easy it is to connect with people like Dropsy or Alvin.  Hopefully we’ll see more characters like this in the future.

About The Author

The Glorious Predecessor

As I write this, I am listening to Striking Matches and eating a blueberry muffin. The music is good, the muffin is even better. I dance when I drink and have been known to occasionally free-style rap, none of which benefits society.

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