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In Session: Representing Disability in Japanese Videogames
4: Empathy for the Blind: Managing Disability in Final Fantasy XV
Friday, March 26, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
University of Delaware, United States
The Final Fantasy series of Japanese role-playing games (Square/ Square Enix, 1986-2016) regularly places its players in positions of ethical or moral discomfort, challenging their own values and breaking the ‘fourth wall’ of gameworld versus reality. Critical discourse in the series has engaged dilemmas of violence, war complicity, nuclear anxiety and bioethics, as well as religious schisms and racial tension. Players are thrust into narrative situations and interactions with other characters designed to highlight their own attitudes and feelings towards the Other. Physical manifestations of the Other have tended to take the form of mutation or genetic manipulation, with bioengineering under particular scrutiny in games of the 1990s. Main characters have been generally able-bodied, if struck down at times by mental or physical incapacity. Final Fantasy XV (2016) takes a new step with the permanent blinding of Ignis, a major character. This paper examines the game’s use of blindness in terms of its placement in the narrative development, player-character identification, and player immersion in the gameworld. I analyze ways in which the representation of blindness is successful, engaging strong feelings of sympathy and remorse, and also how it fails, undercutting the significance of the initial representation and introducing a sharp clash between gameworld and reality. The game ends with a miraculous recovery – not of Ignis’s sight, but his skills, in an unrealistic narrative resolution. Physical disability is thus explored in new ways in FFXV, uncritical in method, yet pushing the boundaries of the genre and the Japanese games industry.