Text Adventure Game Represents Disability

Liz Henry is the creator of ‘Transitory,’ a text adventure game in the Bay Area. Liz is sighted, hearing, and uses a power chair, and she has made the game experience accessible to people with a variety of disabilities.

“It’s a powerful experience to see representation,” she shares. “Your connection to your experience of reality is somehow more real when you also put it in the imaginary world.”

Watch the video with audio descriptions below. An audio description is the spoken narration of a movie’s key visual elements, such as the action, settings, facial expressions, costumes, and scene changes (American Council of the Blind).

Video Transcript

Narrator: Meet Liz. Liz Henry, a white game designer in a power wheelchair on a subway.

Liz Henry: My dream of having this chair was that it would help me get from my house to the BART station and that I would be able to go further afield without hurting myself.

Narrator: 9:17 AM. Examine self, as fantabulous as ever. You are sighted, hearing, and wheeling. A BART train pulls up. Liz’s game, “Transitory,” explores the Bay Area Rapid Transit system.

Liz: There are puzzles to solve and mysteries.

Narrator: Liz boards. Another chair user and several people on foot also board.

Liz: You have some choices of how you want to start to play. You can be walking, you can be a power-chair user, you can be blind or visually impaired, and you can be deaf or hard of hearing. I haven’t implemented the low-vision and hard of hearing parts, but it’s going to just be subtle, more subtle. Blind — I have to rewrite the code in the game differently so it doesn’t say, “You see X,” or whatever. If you try to take the stairs in your power-chair, it would be a short and brutal trip.

BART is fairly unique. Early on in the 60s when it was designed, they designed it specifically to be accessible for everybody, and every station has elevators and every station has level boarding. You don’t have to do any special little dance to get on the train or off the train. I want to make it clear that you can do all these things as a person with disabilities, that you’re in the city and you’re living and you’re using transit, and the world is accessible. The game is an appreciation of access.

Narrator: 9:14 AM. Ah, level ground. Feels great. Swanlike, you sail across the smooth ground. Liz’s chair is decorated with stickers. They roll through the tile-floor station.

Liz: People want to put a hero on a pedestal and say, “That’s your representation.” Here’s this extraordinary human, and it’s going to be your hero, your rock star of wheelchair users. But that’s not actually the representation that I’m going after. Mine is more just about recognizing the experiences that we might have. You have to have these other dimensions in your mind to allow you to have the possibilities — not just of being Stephen Hawking or whatever, but just being a person doing whatever it is you do. It’s a powerful experience to see representation.

Narrator: Writing in a notebook on BART.

Liz: Your connection to your experience of reality is somehow more real when you also put it in the imaginary world.

Narrator: Liz rolls toward the elevator as BART leaves the platform, credits roll, a white screen with the movie playing through cutout letters. A text says, “Love your neighbor, Grotto Network.” Liz glances out a BART window, in the train, and back out the window. Text: “Subscribe.”

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