'Don’t call me inspirational'

11 August 2021
Gamers with disabilities just want to slay
Digital cultures expert Dr Mark Johnson evaluated several livestreamers' attitudes towards themselves and their viewers. He found that not all gamers with severe disabilities want to be perceived as victims.

‘No hands, no problem’, is the inspirational attitude of some gamers with severe disabilities, yet not all want to be put on a pedestal.

That’s according to research by Dr Mark Johnson. A digital cultures expert at the University of Sydney, he studied the attitudes of eight people with severe physical disabilities (for example, missing hands or limbs, para or quadriplegics) who livestream their gaming. Many of these players have very successful channels, bringing in hundreds or even thousands of viewers.

Along with a colleague at University of St. Thomas (US), he found that while many live streamers with disabilities want to (and do) inspire others to overcome challenges in their lives, the idea of them being ‘inspirational’ can also be problematic. “It can present them as an ‘other’ and reinforce differences between them and able-bodied people,” Dr Johnson said.

By livestreaming their play, these gamers can demonstrate their abilities and gain respect and admiration from others
Dr Mark Johnson

A lecturer in the Department of Media and Communications, Dr Johnson also found that livestreaming built these gamers’ ‘gaming capital’, and therefore, could improve self-worth. “Gaming at a high level is generally technically challenging,” he said. “By livestreaming their play, these gamers can demonstrate their abilities and gain respect and admiration from others.” Many of these gamers also evinced that the activity and its associated benefits had helped them “manage” or “come to terms with” their disability.

Yet successful and highly visible game live streamers with severe physical disabilities are almost all men, leaving Dr Johnson pondering why this is the case, given 35 percent of Twitch users – the largest livestreaming platform – are female. “It seems likely that the challenges of these physical conditions, combined with the struggles that can face women in gaming, sadly exclude some gamers from the visibility that others are enjoying,” he said.

Hero image: RockyNoHands is full-time Twitch livestreamer. He is also a quadriplegic. 

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