Limbs are now a currency, and humans are genetically programmed such that they fall off at regular intervals, turning body parts into a currency of their own. Playing as a worker in a limb factory, your character must navigate their way home and try to navigate the social ladder, hoping to not lose a leg in the process. Limbphomania is a 2D platformer/side-scroller where a player attempts to get home from work, but is constantly spoken to by those he passes.
Disability theorists argue that “disability tends to be figured in cultural representations as an absolute state of otherness that is opposed to a standard, normative body” (Snyder, Brueggemann and Garland-Thomson, 2002, p. 2). From this perspective, “the ‘problem' is not the person with disabilities; the problem is the way that normalcy is constructed to create the ‘problem' of the disabled person” (Davis, 1995, p. 24). Limbphomania seeks to make explicit the dominance of ableism in videogames. As mentioned, it is rare to see protagonists of videogames that are disabled. This is accomplished in two ways: first, through the narrative world, and secondly, through mechanics.
We depict a dystopian reality through the narrative world of Limbphomania. Disability is not a state of normalcy by nature of the world, yet the disabled still deal with disability harassment. In a world where limbs decay over time, the amount of limbs one has is not the state of otherness previously mentioned, but instead a state of existence that occurs everyone. This normalcy of various bodily forms are intended to force the player to reconstruct the “longstanding associations of stigma with bodily difference” (Snyder and Mitchell, 2006, p. 168). To further push this reconstruction, Limbphomania subverts the cultural conditioning of movement mechanics. If the player ends up with a limb from those in the lower class (differentiated by limb color), the movement keys are reversed, throwing the player out of their conditioned mindset and force them to rethink what controls they are using. In addition, the characters in the lower class slightly blend in with the background. The dialogue triggers when the player walks past them, however, creating the experience of color-blindness in video games.
With this reconstruction, we hope that the player will be able to empathize with the experience of the disabled, and think more about implicit ableism in other forms of media. In addition, we hope that the irrationality of ableism is made clear when the disabled are not considered in state of absolute otherness, but rather as a human being in another state.
Limbphomania was made for Dr. Patrick Jagoda's Critical Videogame Studies class with a group of students (Huston Mazard Wallace, Sonya Wang, and Matthew Zehner). It was the first videogame I ever made, so looking back, there were a lot of things I wish I did differently. At the time, I was learning about trees in my algorithms class, so I was gung-ho about using them to implement dialogue. This was a huge mistake, and it was extremely tough and time consuming to keep track of what node followed which. Leesson learned! For future projects, I used text files and parsing. I have also really improved in focusing on Game Feel, and making things look and feel good!
One of the biggest things that stuck with me from this project was having clear communication about my limitations as a programmer, and our ideas as a design team. Two days before the due date of this project, I was asked to implement a combat system when there was no architecture for such features beforehand. I agreed to do my best, but hours of work and very little progress, I told my team that this would not be possible. I should have just been honest with them, and myself, about what I was going to be able to acomplish.