Lily’s Class Summary 08/18/2021

On Tuesday, November 18th and 1:59 PM, Dr. Christopher Foss came into the hallowed halls of Combs, his hair freshly cut. Dr. Foss had an exciting quiz for the class, and judging by the facial expressions of my peers, it wasn’t just difficult for me. With the end of the semester coming, we have approached the last unit, focusing on Autism. Before diving deep into our discussion, Dr. Foss reminds us of the play about a boy on the autism spectrum, conveniently playing at the Mary Washington Theatre in conjunction with our Disability and Literature class.  

We began discussing Sinclair’s Don’t Mourn For Us in large groups, a piece that defines what autism is; and what autism isn’t. Sinclair details that autism is not an impenetrable wall, an appendage, and it is definitely not death. The class then  discussed the calling of a person on the spectrum “alien” and how this has grown to be potentially problematic in its way of making that person feel inhuman and an outsider. Kelly mentioned the irony that the website Don’t Mourn For Us was on an inaccessible large array of colors. The class discussed that this was a relatively old website, and some of Sinclair’s ideas are dated, such as the parent claiming their child was an alien. Sinclair’s points do have some virtue, and the class knew this. For one, he outlines that to wish someone to not have autism is to wish they did not exist at all. Autism is not an appendage- it is a personable trait that makes someone who they are. The class also used personal examples to explain the harmful expectations that parents can place onto their children, potentially relating the able bodied experience to the autistic one. The class concluded that it is eugenics and ableism that cause some parents to be unsupportive. Zeb makes an excellent point about the appendage piece, relating to person-first language. A person with cancer is not cancerous, so the falsity of this word structure cannot be used to describe a person with autism.

The class also discussed the importance of asking the community what they were most comfortable being referred to, outlining the difference between someone with aspergers and someone with autism; two disabilities often confused or unjustly connected. The class moved into small groups at promptly 2:40 PM to discuss the Ne’eman piece. Katy Rose, within two seconds of Dr. Foss released us into our groups, explained her fair hatred of autism speaks and the notion of “curing” autism and the image of a puzzle piece. Essentially, this piece is arguing the importance of omiting black and white thinking, especially when speaking on a child’s mental development.

After being in our smaller groups for exactly 19 minutes, me sneezing at 2:48 three times, we all directed our attention to the documentary playing from the projector. It was about a nonverbal person’s experience with our language- the “our” referring to neurotypical people. She explains that there is an unfair distinction between the deficit of her not knowing our language, but the natuaraily of us not knowing her. 

The class on November 18th had a rousing and essential discussion on the affects, personalities, and differences of conceptions of autism. 

Discrimination and Disability

The direction I decided to take my major project was that of mixed media and poetry. Throughout this course, we have discussed a great deal about disability and discrimination, which I have witnessed since some of my earliest memories. Because of this, I wanted to create poetry about these different experiences. As someone who has not ever been drawn to writing poetry, I found myself enjoying expressing my experiences in such a manner. This project aims to show that no matter what kind of disability a person has or how someone came to be disabled, discrimination does not pass over anyone. Further, no matter how old you are, there is no age limit to partaking or witnessing discrimination. I was inspired by Simi Linton’s “Reassigning Meaning” work. Focusing on the “Nasty Words” portion and having these words, as well as others we’ve heard throughout this course, surround the poems. 

The Process

Going in chronological order to the discrimination towards disabled peoples that I witnessed, I wrote: “Full Grown.” As a child, I was at a local market, and we passed by a couple who both had dwarfism. My little sister, not understanding what was wrong in the situation, shouted a name at them, and the mortification I witnessed from my parents and the couple’s reaction resonated with me. This is the earliest recollection I have of experiencing discrimination towards disabled peoples. The discussion my parents had with my sister and me later about never calling people names that you would not want to be called impacted me. However, as I got older, I became aware that not all people were raised similarly.  

            In the first grade, there was a teacher that everyone would talk about, and as the school was designed in resemblance to an outlet mall, everyone saw all the teachers. In “Childish Fears,” I wrote about such a teacher whose arm did not reach past her elbow. When interacting with other children while this teacher was in view, there would always be stories about how she lost her arm and the horrible things she would do to children. This instance reminded me of this course’s discussion on viewing people with disabled bodies as monsters. Children have very imaginative minds, and when one tells a story, it often gets passed on to others. However, in this case, it turns a woman into a monster. This carried on for two years of my childhood, always confused when seeing this teacher talk to my teacher and having other students tell more rumors. However, by the end of second grade, my parents encouraged me to ask the teacher what happened, knowing these were nonsensical fears. Looking back with the knowledge I have now, once I was informed of the reality of the situation, all these fears seemed meaningless. This was simply a woman with a history, and children filled an empty story with a monster tale. 

The poem “Taken Senses” is about my third-grade teacher who had melanoma on her nose, this caused her to lose her nose, and the process was a very long one. My class was the last one she taught throughout the majority of the year for the next three years, and in turn, I got to witness one of my favorite teachers be talked about in a bad light. These students did not know her when she was healthy and always present, and due to her always being in the hospital, I heard students and parents alike complain. However, what astounded me was during parent-teacher nights, she never had any parents present to say good things, and the only students who would visit were prior students of hers. In passing, you could hear students talk about her prosthetic nose, and there would be the occasional few that asked to see underneath. At first, she would show students, but this allowance was quickly gone after seeing their reactions. This experience is something that I never genuinely analyzed until this course. The impact that having a disability can have on someone who has lived their whole life healthily. 

Growing up, I knew many people who were color blind; however, I only knew one person who was partially blind. Except in this student’s case, he did not advertise that he was, and most students thought him odd, but he could see little to nothing. “Spilled Water” is a poem about this student and the fact that he was bullied since people could not see his disability. Most of the time, Collin did not participate in group activities, but this day he did; everyone was excited, and we all were assigned our own tasks, and we all rushed to complete them. However, as the poem depicts, not all tasks were assembled perfectly. The teacher we had for this course was not the most understanding of when mistakes occurred, and when water was spilled, she lashed out at Collin. Even though Collin did not advertise that he was visually impaired, it was something that the teacher was privy to. I related this poem to that aspect of this course’s curriculum. When someone is not viewed as disabled because of their appearance, they face discrimination of a different kind as there is no accommodation. 

            The poem “Senseless Noise” is about an experience that would make anyone-knowledgeable about disabilities or not- livid. In high school, the few who lived near me rode the bus with the disabled student’s home as no other bus came to the area. One afternoon, another student brought a friend with her on the bus, and they both began to mock and antagonize the nonverbal student in a wheelchair. This went on for a minute, and then they moved their attention towards another nonverbal student, and that was the end of it after a few harsh words were said to them. This relates more to autism than it does to the disabilities that we have discussed thus far in class. However, this instance was one of the most vocal I have heard in terms of “nasty words” being said to disabled people. The mockery and scorn that these girls had towards these two students demonstrated just how much they were impacted by being around other people they viewed as abnormal.

I hereby declare on my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work. 

Lauren Lemon

Word Count of write up: 1,062

Linton, Simi. “Reassigning Meaning.” Claiming Disability: Knowledge and Identity. NYU Press, 1998, pp. 8 – 33. PDF, Accessed 11 November, 2021. 

Major Project: Tristan Barber

Beyond Yesterday’s Grasp: A Disability Perspective

Project Writeup

In this project, I analyzed one of Watercress’ (my game development studio) previous games, Beyond Yesterday’s Grasp, from a disability perspective. Beyond Yesterday’s Grasp follows a disabled POC main character and her trans partner as they solve a ghost’s murder mystery. This project came in three distinct parts.

The Process:

The first part was an initial playthrough of the game, taking roughly three hours, with a write-up based on initial impressions and further breakdown with disability and intersectionality as the focus. While this is a choice-based game, for the sake of brevity, the “true ending” is the focus of the paper and the initial playthrough. During my playthrough of the game, I wrote down notes on certain factors of representation, with particular respect to dialogue and interpersonal interaction between the disabled, trans, and normative characters within the story. 

The second part involved an interview with one of the original writers and leadership on the project, over roughly two hours. This writer is a disabled trans person, offering unique insight into the intended final product and representation within Beyond Yesterday’s Grasp. This interview largely centered around the intent of the initial project, the development cycle of the game, the representation within the game, and the personal connections between the diverse team and the project they released. An abbreviated text write-up of the interview was included, and this interview helped inform the end product of part one’s game breakdown. For the sake of context, I will place the interview first before the analysis in this post.

The third part involved running through an accessibility checklist, which is also provided, with a short write-up on how the game rated, and on accessibility as a whole within the industry. This checklist was provided by GAG (Game Accessibility Guidelines), a website with numerous resources for making a more accessible gaming industry. The checklist was then modified by my studio’s programming department, removing accessibility requirements that do not pertain to visual novels. This primarily takes controls and content into consideration, and the ultimate write-up goes into further detail on the rating I give the game, and why the game came to have that rating. From there, I explore why many games have similar ratings, with a short explanation of how inaccessible games are, and why. I have also included a link to an accessibility talk I gave at an industry event last year, as a resource for all to use. 


My goal for this project was simple: Explore a project my studio produced through a disability perspective, gain further understanding of representation and intersectionality, and determine where the project may have fallen short, with the intention to use this project as an opportunity to improve disability representation and accessibility in all of my future projects. After much reflection, my approach to representation and accessibility has changed, with a greater focus on both factors for all future releases. In particular, ensuring the development of projects allows time for disabled workers, and that all games meet a minimum requirement of accessibility before the final release is even considered. Likewise, much of this was unknown to me until now – disabled voices are often unheard even unintentionally, and ensuring they are heard will be a prerequisite for all future projects of mine in the future.

Developer Interview

Can you give me a brief introduction to who you are, what positions you held on the project, and what parts of the development cycle you contributed to?

“I am Penelope X. Pilbeam, and I was originally a lead writer on Beyond Yesterday’s Grasp. I was eventually escalated to Co-Lead on Beyond Yesterday’s Grasp. I also did a lot of the scripting, some of the editing, really every corner of the game has some of me, for sure – including [some of] the art assets ’cause I did create a ton of those myself.”

This game follows a disabled woman of color and a trans man as they navigate difficult social and paranormal situations – was any of the narrative pulled from developers’ personal experiences?

“Yeah, obviously none of us have a missing limb – none of us are amputees that I know of, but Ginger [The Project Director] was someone that had a lot of chronic pain, obviously I have a lot of trauma in my own life that went into the character, so Alex as a protagonist had a lot of pathos from both of our lives that sort of blended together. Ginger talked a lot about how her health problems were pretty scary, her chronic pain that I don’t think at the time she had an explanation for – I don’t remember, but the only thing that she could do was take Ibuprofen, and eventually she’d become immune to Ibuprofen so it was a countdown, which was scary for her. So, that went into a lot of Alex’s characterization.”

“Chronic pain looms much larger in Alex’s life than the fact that she’s missing an arm, because the idea was that she was really fucked up by being in this car accident, and so, the trauma was more than just the visible, it was the invisible, it was her body and then her heart – she was genuinely fucking traumatized by this horrible accident she was in, so that was the idea. You can actually see in the game, very little of Alex’s pathos as a character is in the fact that she is literally missing her arm, outside of the fact that that’s how her powers work. Most of it is rooted in her unseen damage, that stuff that is unrelated to her amputation.”

In working on a month-long project, how did you and the other writers prepare for the topics and people you’d eventually be representing in the game?

“I think that obviously we wanted to design these characters, so Alex went through a lot of different permutations as we went along. We started out conservatively, we didn’t know how liberally we wanted to go with the framing of the story – obviously Ginger and I are pretty leftist, we were both on Tumblr a lot during 2014, so we didn’t want to do a story about a bunch of white people, we wanted a diverse cast, so we were trying to figure out how far we could push that envelope without it seeming overwrought or unbelievable. To some degree, Alex being an Indian-American was because she was based on an actual person – the actress who played Mara in House of Anubis, which Ginger drew from liberally to create her proposal originally. We wanted our character to look like that one, even though Mara wasn’t the main character of House of Anubis. That was the main reason why she was Indian, and not like Mexican or something like I am – because it was based on that character, a reference of that character.”

“Caelum, was again, based on some guy from the show originally – someone that Ginger liked a lot. That character was a major part of her original proposal, so it was always kind of a done deal that he was going to be in the game, but I was trying to figure out how to make him more interesting than just a straight guy, so we decided on him being trans because it just made sense for the character, especially given the overarching theme of traumatic pasts and baggage from “yesterday”. So, that was really important for us. I don’t think I would have enjoyed writing Caelum nearly as much if not for the fact that we did make him trans. So we did stuff like that, figuring out how we could persuade ourselves to like these characters and be interested in them, and it just went from there.”

“Basically, we had these characters, and we created Genevieve, she’s the one “normal”  person in the game – normal in the sense of privileged – the kind of person you’d expect to see in these sorts of stories, the person that’s always cast in any ghost story visual novel. She’s the one character that is a privileged, white, cis girl – of course, she’s a ghost, and she’s kind of a villainess in this story, so it’s interesting that way, and that dynamic is interesting, and comes into play in that story. It was really just a matter of hashing out these characters, their beef, their various traumas and such, and developing a story around them. It was meant to be a very character-centric story, we weren’t going to do just a ghost story, it was plotted more like how a CW show would be plotted. Lots of relationship drama, family drama, stuff like that.” 

What inspired the concept behind the project, and considering the month-long development cycle, how well do you feel that the finished product reflects the original concept?

Given more time, would you have changed anything?

“[It drew inspiration from] House of Anubis, it was a Nickelodeon show, part of the teen-targeted Nickelodeon programming, dealt with slightly more mature themes, but still very much a Nickelodeon show, paced and scripted like one. Ginger was, what 19? She was young. With our age difference definitely came different approaches to how we wanted to write the story, even though we were very simpatico. I had watched the show at her behest, to better understand her creative vision for this game – it was her proposal, I wanted to create something that she felt like she had been the architect of. I wanted to have a firm grasp of what she meant, what she was trying to accomplish, what vibe she was trying to go for.”

“I wasn’t trying to go into business for myself with this VN, I was trying to help Ginger make her vision reality. So, while I do feel like I wound up having way more of a practical role in making the game happen, the intent was always to make Ginger’s game. It was a matter of Ginger taking on more than she could handle as an 18-year-old who was doing college at the time, and me being a much more experienced VN developer, who was much older and had much more free time on her hands. While I do feel like I created most of that game, I feel like I created it to spec. It was never about me, it was about Ginger – so when Ginger had to withdraw towards the end of development because of her own health problems, and because of her life, I do feel like most of the game ended up being my creation – but again, I wasn’t trying to create my own VN, I was trying to make her’s. She was the lead writer, the director of the project, but it wound up being very different from how it would have turned out if she had done all of the things I had done for her, very little would have stayed the same.”

“If I had a year to work on this project, there would have been more characters, the gameplay aspect would have been longer, we created more for this game than we wound up being able to put into the game. We only had so many voice actors, so many artists, they could only draw so much – it wound up being a very self-contained game with a very small cast.” 

Alex, the main character, communicates through her missing arm into the realm of the dead. What was the inspiration behind this choice? Are there any other aspects of Alex (and Caelum) that you want to highlight?

“Actually, I will tell you what the inspiration behind that choice was, because it’s very interesting. A long time ago, many many years ago, I had a concept for a deconstructive Harry Potter fan fiction – it was a parody of what they call a Peggy Sue fic, which is when somebody goes back in time in their own body to do a choice differently. I had the idea of this character who was Harry Potter, who had gone back in time to inhabit his childhood body, but wound up not being incarnated into the right body – basically, it was a commentary on the ethical ramifications of killing your past self to take over their body, and so, he misaims his spell to go back in time to change the future, instead of taking over his own body, he takes over the body of Pansy Parkinson or something, ’cause that makes it more starkly clear how fucked up this concept is. At one point, he was going to try and acquire his old wand, and so he touches it, and he creates a paradox universe reaction, and his arm explodes – Pansy’s arm explodes – and leaves him with a stump. The moment he touched the wand, he killed the possibility of himself in the future existing. He destroyed that timeline, which killed him, which means he’s now a ghost inhabiting a body. The whole thing was that he was going to have an arm that was a ghost arm because he’s a ghost possessing a body.”

“Obviously I never wrote that fanfic for many, many good reasons, but I had had this idea of an arm that is thrust in the realm of the dead. They’re missing their arm, but they have a ghost arm, it’s vestigial, and it can manipulate the spirit world the way that a normal arm manipulates the physical world. This gives Alex the power to affect both – which is why she’s such a powerful character. That arm was reflective of the fact that even though she is alive, she has been through enough trauma that she’s partially a ghost. ‘Cause ghosts are souls left restless from trauma, she has enough trauma that if she had died, she would be a ghost. But she did not – she did blow her arm off – and she’s an aberration because of her being stuck in two different worlds. In the wall between the living world and the spirit world, there’s a hole and her arm is stuck in it and she can’t take it out. That’s how that idea evolved. […] I had actually written so much, I wound up drawing so many ideas from that outline for other projects that I have worked on, like ontological ideas of being alive, and death in the soul, strength in the soul, the qualities of the human soul, these are all things that I had been thinking about as a worldbuilding thing, and so, for Alex, I had had this idea lying around unused, so why not give her that power? That’s how she wound up having it.”

“Caelum was much more easy to design, ’cause Caelum was much more Ginger’s character, which is why Caelum is so simple, because Ginger doesn’t go as wonky into the weird ontological existential weirdness as I do. This is a genuinely good guy, who happens to be trans, and has a bad relationship with his parents, and that’s it. He was raised catholic, obviously that informs a lot of his pathos. The one thing I will say with Caelum is that, even though he was always envisioned as a trans man, it was a stroke of luck that he wound up being voiced by a trans man actor, because not even Maxi (Voice Acting Director) knew at the time that his friend was a trans man, so it kind of fell out that way. And we didn’t know it until after the game came out, and he was like, “this was my first time actually getting to voice a trans man like myself”, and were like, “wow, we’re really fucking glad you voiced the character.”

It’s been nearly four years since the release of this project, and a lot has changed since then – do you have any thoughts on contemporary media representation of underprivileged and marginalized groups?

“It’s trickier than it used to be – it is less obvious, now. People want representation in games, but they won’t simply go support somebody’s work just because it has marginalization in it. So, that’s a thing. You can’t simply market a game based on, “oh hey, it has a trans man character in it” because that’s not enough to motivate people. You have to do that, you can’t opt out of it either, but you have to do more than that – that on its own is not enough to impress people. It’s hard especially because, I want to write stories about trans people – absolutely I do – but I don’t want to write stories that are about just being trans and transitioning, as my transition was almost a decade ago – I’m over it. I just want to see characters like me doing cool things in stories I like, I don’t want to read my one-millionth trans character figuring out they’re trans, coming out of the closet and doing all of the shit I did ages ago that I’m over, I want to see trans people be heroes and shit, I want them to be in genre. I don’t want to just tell transition narratives, ’cause they bore the shit out of me. I know that a lot of people are less far along than me and they want to read those, and maybe they will never be tired of those, but for me, I’m done.”

“We’re coming up now on a very electrified third rail, about the proportion of trans male representation in games and in fiction versus trans female. Look at the new Star Trek show – “Hey we’re adding two trans characters to the cast!” and both were assigned female at birth, one was nonbinary but both were AFAB actors. It’s like, okay, you’re not representing me. These are characters that are self evidently not trans women. But you think you have completed your obligation to represent us with these characters who are not us, and obviously trans men frequently believe the opposite, they believe that trans women are hyper-visible – they’re right, but we’re hypervisible as boogeymen that people want to murder. It’s not really like we’re getting positive representation. When a trans man is represented in fiction, it’s usually fairly well – you simply cannot say the same about trans women. I think that’s part of the problem that’s been going on, part of the discussion. What is good trans representation? No one is ever going to be happy with trans representation because none of it is enough, but there’s a lot more intra-community strife based on the subject. I didn’t mind in 2018 when we did Beyond Yesterday’s Grasp, I was like, “Hell yeah I want Caelum to be a trans man” and I wasn’t thinking like, “well yeah let’s have a trans woman”, like “there must be one”, I want this character to be a trans guy. Nowadays, I don’t know if I’d do that – I love Caelum – I just think that my priorities would be different, my sense of what I would feel comfortable writing about would be different, so, it would just be different – I would be coming at it from a different emotional place, with different objectives as a writer.”

Lastly, do you have any writings or projects in the works, or anything you would want to point readers to?

“I do have my Patreon, but the next big thing I’m hoping to get done for Watercress [our studio] is that anthology series, I still plan on doing that as a Christmas present – it’s a fun exercise to write fanfiction essentially for these old games, these epilogues basically, that celebrate the past. I’m working on Avitus, and that’s basically it for now.”

[Note: The anthology series is a series of epilogues for old games we developed in the past. Avitus is our flagship project, of which more info can be found on our studio Twitter, linked below.]

Links to Penelope’s Patreon here:

Watercress’ Twitter here:

Impressions and Breakdown

Beyond Yesterday’s Grasp, a game developed by Watercress, is an excellent case study in the interaction between disability representation and the individuals who write such stories. The game follows Alex, a disabled Indian-American, who reaches into the spirit world through the use of her amputated arm. She, alongside her trans-masc friend Caelum, solve a murder mystery in their dorm, ultimately fighting off a dangerous wraith and living to enjoy their lives together. In reading this narrative, and in deconstructing the representation therein, the representation of each of the characters is ultimately progressive. This is determined through the interpersonal relationships within the story and the narrative operation of the prosthetic arm in the plot – all given great perspective by the individual experiences of the writing staff.

When exploring the relationships between the two lead characters and the rest of the cast, three points of contact are worth deconstructing: the relationship between Alex and the dorm mother Jianmei, Alex and her co-lead Caelum, and Alex and the ghost Genevieve. Each serves to highlight different perspectives on disability, race, and gender, culminating in a diverse representation of the problems trans and disabled people experience in contemporary society.

The interactions between Alex and Jianmei, the house mother, represent the “well-meaning” normative reactions to disabled people. Their very first interaction, where Alex arrives with luggage at her new dorm in Act 1 Scene 1, follows as such:

Jianmei: "Do you need help with your bags?"
Alex "N-No thanks; I've got it."
Jianmei "No, seriously! I can help! It must be hard with that arm, so I can assist you!"
Alex "You don't need to, please! I'm used to it."
Jianmei "...Are you sure?"
Alex "Yes, absolutely."

From the moment Alex arrives at the dorm, Jianmei pushes this idea that Alex needs to be helped because of her physical disability – her missing arm. While not many would openly talk about the arm – and perhaps giving Jianmei a bit more credit, she does back off eventually – her insistence that Alex needs help because of her disability betrays an infantilization perspective of the disabled. This is largely accurate, something that many people with disabilities must suffer through, despite their ability to exist as adults. This is later expanded upon later in the narrative with Alex noting that Jianmei frequently stares at her arm.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Caelum and Alex gets off to a similarly awkward start, but one that shows the difference in perspective between Caelum and Jianmei. Meeting in the hallway, Alex uses her prosthetic to waive to Caelum, and he responds “I like your… arm?” (Act 1 Scene 2). This faux pas is something quickly worked around by both students, as Caelum eventually normalizes disability and relates with Alex through his own experiences with his catholic family. This is explored through a certain camaraderie – both are underprivileged and marginalized people. Importantly, Caelum, a trans male student, is forced to live in the women’s dorm due to the university’s poor management. This relationship portrays the intersectionality of gender and disability, with both groups being heavily underprivileged and abused by society.

As the story progresses, they confide in each other, with Alex talking of the traumatic death of her parents in a car accident (the same accident that took her arm), and Caelum’s experiences living with parents that hated him for being transgender. When Alex eventually explains to Caelum that she can feel ghosts with her missing hand, rather than doubting her immediately, Caelum jumps to action, asking what he can do to help. This display of trust, and this ability to suspend disbelief for the sake of his friend, shows a deeper understanding between the two characters than they have with the other members of the game’s cast. This is a progressive approach to their portrayal, as both characters avoid tropes and cliches while supporting each other with realistic approaches to their problems.

The last relationship to explore is between Alex and the ghost that plagues her dorm life, Genevieve. As a rich young girl murdered by her father in the early 1900s, she shows the vindictive, capitalistic approach to disability. Alex is a means to an end – only useful due to her ability to interact with the spirit world, and therefore capable of freeing her from her purgatory. When Alex proves to place her own life over the “life” of Genevieve, they have a physical confrontation, with Genevieve attempting to pull Alex away from her work. Here, the intersectionality between race and disability comes to the forefront.

Alex takes a stand against Genevieve, enforcing her agency, and tells the ghost off: “Did you simply assume that because I had brown skin, I’d just be another one of your servants? Piss off.” (Act 2 Scene 6). Genevieve backs off after this, allowing Alex to command her own life, but the damage is done. The ghost, and much of the world around Alex, sees her as something to be used, or thrown away – the worth of a life defined by their use to society at large.

While each of the character dynamics is important for the disability representation in the game, the real meat comes in what the prosthetic arm itself represents. The crux of the story revolves around Alex’s ability to sense and communicate with spirits through her “ghost” arm. In the interview with one of the lead writers, it was revealed that this was a specific choice to highlight the seen and unseen – how the most visible disabilities are not always the most debilitating or life-changing.

Chronic disability is an often underrepresented side of the disability spectrum, one that is incredibly hard to handle respectfully. Media stigmatizes it as drug abuse, depression, suicide – only a sliver of what disability covers. Here, the missing arm is a physical representation of the traumatic event that disabled Alex – the car accident. In this car accident, both of her parents died, and her arm was taken from her. In the same way that ghosts are created by traumatic deaths, a part of Alex was likewise killed, leaving her in the in-between, living in both realities while holding neither as her true home. This representation of disability is progressive, highlighting the importance of disabled voices, as they share unique perspectives that cannot be understood otherwise.

This representation goes deeper than just the narrative. Many of the writers on the project were disabled, especially in the case of the Project Director, Ginger. Suffering through chronic pain from an unknown source, the anxiety over her own worsening condition and her growing immunity to painkillers informed the position Alex would eventually take within the story. Disability, and becoming disabled, can be a terrifying experience, especially if it is the result of an already-traumatizing event.

This holds true with the transgender experience as well. Like disability, it isn’t something that can be “treated”, it’s a unique experience, it’s part of who you are. Like with disabled communities, transgendered people face limited access to important community resources, and have been historically marginalized and silenced. Both Alex and Caelum see this in each other – as did the developers of the project – and the narrative allows them to speak their experience into reality, to gather agency in a society that wishes to remove it.

Works Cited:

  • Watercress. Cautionary Tale: “Beyond Yesterday’s Grasp”. Windows PC version, April 2018.

Accessibility Write-Up

In playing through the game, I took extensive notes on how accessible the game is to greater audiences, with particular respect to the disabled community. While I believe the narrative is an excellent representation of disability and intersectionality, the game itself falls woefully short in how accessible it is to a wider, non-normative audience. While I have included a checklist going through much of the accessibility options needed in modern games, I will expand upon it here and relate it to general, informed observations of the gaming industry at large. For the sake of brevity, I will explore two important aspects of game accessibility: motor access and cognitive access. This means that I will not be talking on subjects like content warnings and options thereof – albeit those are incredibly important as well.

From the very first interaction with the game, it becomes apparent how poor the accessibility is. The intro cinematic is unskippable, the main menu requires a left click of the mouse to even access, and the UI is poor and visually unappealing. It is a general rule that games like these – visual novels – need to have mouse-only and keyboard-only functionality, and it’s becoming a greater necessity to include gamepad-only functionality as well. This game is marginally accessible with mouse-only, and is completely unplayable in other modes. 

For cognitive access, it isn’t much better. There are no font-change options, and while the text is relatively dyslexia-friendly, allowing for increased text size is a must. Some events in the game include flashing lights that cannot be disabled, and some of the transitions involve fast-moving objects, which also cannot be turned off. Accessing each individual game is an entirely visual process, with no subtitles for each game (as Beyond Yesterday’s Grasp was part of a three-game anthology). Buttons don’t have visual indicators for selection, and some important narrative portions of the game are done through audio only, which is particularly bad.

While contemporary Watercress games handle accessibility better, this serves as a great example of how accessibility is often considered in game development – it’s a stretch goal. Some studios can afford it, but accessibility is often not taken into consideration for pre-flight or pre-release standards. People with disabilities cannot access all of the games that normative people can, and this isn’t something we can blame on the disability – in many cases, if the developers spent more time on accessibility and considered it a foundational part of the game, it would be accessible.

From a personal standpoint, going through the game for this final project was a great exercise. I’ve had the opportunity to see how our games used to be, what our games are like now in comparison, and what we can do to better ourselves in the future. Watercress is already undergoing an accessibility patch for Beyond Yesterday’s Grasp and the anthology Cautionary Tale as a whole, and I hope that other game developers will take the time to look at what they can do better as well.

Link to Accessibility Sheet:

And, as promised, here’s a link to the accessibility talk I gave last year:

“I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work.” ~Tristan Barber

Chy’Nia Johnson Major Project

Word Count: 503 (TW: Full Nudity)

For my project, I chose to create a piece of artwork that shows four disabled persons and their bodies to talk about the subject of Sex and Disability. Each body is in a different color to talk about in an easier manner for this write up. I will start with the Red. Red is a feminine body that is displayed in lingerie and is sitting “provocatively” in their wheelchair (their legs are spread apart further than normal). Yellow is a feminine body this is displayed wearing only underwear with their breasts visible but also slightly covered. Yellow is also a person that uses a colostomy bag (the lighter color blob located in the lower right quadrant of the abdomen, left for the viewer). Green is a feminine body that is standing and wearing lingerie and is an amputee (amputated right arm, visible from our left side). Blue is a feminine body but could also be a nonbinary body, the display is of their backside and also with a view of their prosthetic leg.

I wanted to try to express further knowledge on Sex and Disability with these paintings. In the introduction of Robert McRuer and Anna Mollow’s Sex and Disability, there is a section called Lives and this introduces the three chapters that will be talking on the analysis of the writers’ experience with sex and disability as well as the ableist viewpoint of sex and disability. The specific sentence from the introduction that my project was produced on is, “If there’s disability, according to ableist logic, then there can’t be sex (hence, the “tragedy” of a “beautiful woman in a wheelchair”); and conversely, if there’s sex (a casual encounter initiated in a park), then presumably there is not the insertion or removal of a pair of hearing aids…,” (McRuer and Mollow). I interpreted this sentence as from the ableist viewpoint and then came up with my counter argument. The ableist way, which is something I have heard more times than enough is “You’re too beautiful to be in a wheelchair” or one that I and Anna, one of the writers, have heard personally “You’re don’t look disabled so why would you park in this designated spot?” I oppose this way of thinking and think it is very belittling and deprecating of the person being attacked.

My counter argument was to show that you can be pretty or sexy and disabled. Each person in each piece is expressing their sexuality and sexual desires along with their disability. Each persona that was created in my artwork would, in my views and opinions, be able to have sexual desires and sexy time with people if they wanted to. The ableist way to say it would be Sexy or Disabled however the way I’m portraying it is Sexy and Disabled. I purposefully chose visible disabilities as a way to show my vision but it is known that you can also have invisible disabilities and be/feel sexy or beautiful or whatever adjective you would want to use.


Mollow, Anna, McRuer, Robert. “Introduction.” Sex and Disability. dis/lit fall 2021, Accessed 2021.

“I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work.”Chy’Nia Johnson

Miranda Colbert’s Class Summary for 10/26/21

We began the class with a reward quiz, its questions based on the readings assigned for the week. There were protests and theories on what would happen if the entire class just refused to take the test but overall, the class was compliant. During this class period we mainly discussed the differences in relationships between persons with disabilities and vice versa, bringing up the question if it was even possible for a person with a disability and an ablebodied person to even have a healthy relationship. 

The first poem we analyzed was Jillian Weise’s “The Old Questions” which was assigned the class prior, but never discussed.Throughout the poem the speaker is trying to have an intimate moment with the potential partner but is interrupted by the partner’s intrusive questions. After reading, Dr. Foss explained that the purpose of this poem was to explore the idea of curiosity vs intimacy. When asking what the class thought of the poem it was mentioned that the partner seemed to have more interest in the prosthetic leg rather than the speaker as a person. They also mentioned that the potential partner felt as though they had the right to know everything about it, as if it was an expectation. Their points were connected to real life examples when persons with disabilities are only connected to their disabilities rather than their personalities. For example, a female who is blind only referred to as “that blind girl.” Another point that was brought up was that the wall in the poem could represent a barrier for an experience the speaker could never have, a “love without prerequisites.” Dr. Foss interjected and mentioned that the reader could have that kind of love but just not with the partner the speaker is currently with. He also mentioned that there had to be some sort of connection prior to the start of the poem because they are in an intimate situation at the start. The discussion on this poem then ended with the point that the questions being asked to the speaker were nothing new, hence the title “The Old Questions”, as well as able bodied people feel as though they have the right to have their questions answered in exchange for something else such as an intimate moment.

We then moved on to focus on this week’s poem, Laura Hershey’s, “Working Together.” After reading, we concluded that the poem focused on the idea of relationships either intimate or not and the feeling behind them. Dr. Foss stated that the poem could’ve been read two ways, with a negative or positive feeling towards it and both versions had different messages to them. The negative view on the poem came from the phrases and words “sneer”, “heft”, and the job “no one thinks of doing.” Half of the class took that as the caregiver seeing the speaker as a burden and inferring that people with disabilities are nothing more than that. Just the job “no one thinks of doing.” It also implies that the speaker doesn’t like the way they are getting taken care of. The word “heft” feels as though the speaker is a burden that needs to be hauled or that the caregiver has to be reminded where certain limbs are, and they have to help the caregiver “forget”. The positive side saw the two sharing a bond and they each had their own jobs to do. The class saw the two in the same way as a parent helping their child; with lots of care and concentration. The interaction between the two inferred that there was no problem between able bodied persons and people with disabilities, that it wasn’t a burden or strange at all.

Anna Mollow and Robert McRuler’s, “Introduction” from Sex and Disability was our next topic. We broke into our first small group of the day where my group decided to focus on Anna’s experiences. We discussed how society has certain views on what disability is and how it should look like. For example Anna getting cat-called where the male told her she was too pretty to be disabled. Society feels as though disabilities are more physical than mental and there has to be something wrong with you for you to fit that standard. We also discussed how having a physical disability takes away the right for the person with the disability to tell anyone. Dr. Foss compared it to coming out and never having the chance to come out to whoever you want. He explained it as frustrating as well as extremely disrespectful. When getting back into large group discussion, the topic shifted on how people with disabilities were not seen as desirable in both intimate or work related situations. A classmate’s example was assigning parking spots based on socioeconomic class but then calling someone out when they dont look like the class they park in. Another classmate brought up the point that when it comes to the workplace, employers turn away people with disabilities because of image and the idea that an able bodied person would be more efficient. The action enforced the stereotype that people with disabilities are helpless and cannot be able to work and do better than an able bodied person. 

Finally, we talked about the two fiction pieces that were assigned, Keith Banner’s, “The Wedding of Tom to Tom ” and Susan Nussbaum’s, Good Kings Bad Kings. When discussing Banner’s work the group focused more on the ending. With the main character, Anita, taking Tom and Tom to the motel after their “wedding” Dr. Foss asked the group if the action inferred that love between people with disabilities was seen as a joke. As if they were throwing the couple a bone. The class was split between answers, half of the class seeing Dr. Foss’ point after the statement while the other half still seemed to believe it was a kind gesture. The negative half of the class thought that the story was trying to focus on the obsessive behaviors of Tom and Tom and infer that people with disabilities cannot desire one another without the obsession. The other half of the class pointed out the relationship between Anita and Archie was the obsessive one, not Tom and Tom. Dr. Foss then asked that side if that meant that it was able bodied relationships that are seen as obsessive and unhealthy rather than the other? The class could not come up with an answer and could only ask another question: was the story actually progressive or just disappointing? When Nussbaum’s novel came up in discussion, my group focused on what we enjoyed about the story and what caught our attention rather than the deep topics. A classmate brought up how in the story Joanne just wanting human interaction was the reason she got her job, but at work she was put on display as a “role model.” We found it interesting how she was fine with that even though to us it seemed as if she was being used. Class ended before we could come to a conclusion.

Duck Joke Count: 4

“I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work.” -Miranda Colbert

Brian Cruz-Lovo’s Class Summary for 10/19/2021

On October 19th, 2021, we started class with Dr. Foss’ short five questions quiz about the readings that day. The questions were about “The Secret Garden”, “Comrade Luxemberg and Comrade Gramsci Pass Each Other in the Congress of the Second International on the 10th of March 1912”, and finally Kenny Fries “Beauty and Variations”. After the quiz, Dr. Foss announced an extra opportunity that involves an author we have been reading about for some time now. Kenny Fries was going to speak at Mary Washington and Dr. Foss encouraged us to attend and was going to make sure if a recording of the zoom call was going to be posted or not. After clearing through that, we began class where the main topic was how society and the environment can impact people with disabilities. We began this topic with small groups talking about the first 10 chapters of “The Secret Garden”.

In my small group, we discussed a lot about Mary, Colin, and the Garden itself. With Mary, there was lots of talk about how she was described when she was born. She was described as ill, sickly, yellow, and even malnutrition. With her attitude in India, we agreed that Mary traveling to India can be seen as a place to “cleanse” her and problematic that is. We also discussed how Mary’s attitude towards the servants. In India, she was rude and seemed unbearable to the servants but once she arrives in England, it shifts, and we watch her develop a friendship with Martha. Overall, Mary was having a better life in England since she was being “cleansed”. We moved into Colin and noticed that was a parallel between him and Mary when she was in India. We also mentioned their disabilities and how they are both physical ones. Finally, we noticed that The Garden can be depicted as this heal-all magical place and as a comfort zone for those whose mental health needs help. First, the heal-all aspect, we saw this as very problematic since having a place to heal everything isn’t progressive and one just can’t cure everything with magic.

After small group discussions, we came back as a class and Dr. Foss started by asking what we thought about Mary. As a class we talked about how Mary is physically ill, spoiled, self-absorbed in addition, she can be described as ugly both on the inside and outside, but it is problematic, to say the least. Dr. Foss then raised the question about how class can play into Mary or even Colin. A fellow peer mentioned Mary’s attitude but also how she isn’t independent enough which ties with the class she’s since can’t fully be independent with servants at her aide. We moved on to Colin and how The society around them has made them believe they are less than what they are, claiming that Colin needs “fresh air”. In Colin’s case, we talked about how he may have a psychological disability that makes him believe that he is physically disabled and how Society makes him worried making him disabled by his environment. We then mentioned Chapter 15 about the gawking and staring at Colin and how the people pitied him. The people from the outside respond to him as if he was physically disabled which another student made the comparison of Colin to Boo Radley both have this “ghostly” figure in their communities. We ended the conversation of “The Secret Garden” talking about the garden itself. As mentioned, the garden is seen as a place of comfort especially for those whose mental health isn’t at its best, it is a place of warmth and freeing.

As we wrapped up that discussion, we continued over to Kenny Fries’ “Beauty and Variations”. Since the poem is in 5 parts, Dr. Foss decided to break each part down and ask what we thought. In the first part, we see how the speaker is questioning himself where the partner is beautiful and abled in contrast to him in their relationship. We dug more into the line “Can only one of us be beautiful?” (Fries 107) and how this creates a complexity of love. There was a mention about how inner and outer beauty is always together but when disability comes in, it creates a complexity of beauty. We were able to start tying back to society and how the speaker may feel that society has raised him to think of himself to be not beautiful in contrast to his partner. As we continue, we saw that in Part 2 they seem to feel different, part 3 speaks on smooth skin and secrets, Part 4 talks about self-love and/or the partner understands that he’s beautiful while ending on Part 5 where he starts to see himself as beautiful.

To wrap up class, we decided to end in small groups talking about Anne Finger’s Comrade Luxemberg and Comrade Gramsci Pass Each Other in the Congress of the Second International on the 10th of March 1912”. With the little time we had, we were able to mention how society is always quick to judge on appearances and make assumptions without interaction with those with a disability. We all agreed that it is such an issue that in our society we have plenty of people who judge those just by appearance and how that can negatively affect those with a disability.

Word count: 896

“I pledge”- Brian Cruz-Lovo

“Both end’s the same” in Of Mice and Men

For some reason, the quote where George answers Lennie’s question about the cards stuck out to me: 

“‘Both ends the same,’ he said. ‘George, why is it both end’s the same?’ ‘I don’t know,’ said George. ‘That’s jus’ the way they make ‘em,’” (52).

I saw connections to “both end’s the same” throughout the rest of the novel. It seems as if Steinbeck wants us to consider whether the continuation of Lennie’s life, following George from ranch to ranch, is really any different than the ending of the novel. Would Lennie’s life have ever been better had he lived? I also saw this “both end’s the same” mentality in the conversation Crooks has with Lennie when he stops by his room: 

“‘They come , an’ they quit an’ go on; an’ every damn one of ‘em’s got a little piece of land in his head. An’ never a God damn one of ‘em ever gets it. Just like heaven… Nobody ever gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land,’” (70). 

Here, Crooks reaches even beyond physical disability to a state of social debility like Puar explains in “Preface: Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!”. No one in this story is able to make something different, something better, out of their lives. It all just ends the same. Even with the “far rush of wind” in the opening of the final chapter, “As quickly as it had come, the wind died, and the clearing was quiet again” (95). 

Just something I found interesting. 

Katy Rose Price’s Class Summary for 9/14/21

Word Count: 813

On September 14th, our class was almost entirely focused on the novella, Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck. After mentioning the University’s new COVID policy regarding seating, we moved into a large group discussion of the novella, which lasted the entirety of the hour allotted for class. To get the discussion started, Dr. Foss began by prompting us to think about the title of the piece. The title is an allusion to a poem called “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns and parallels can be drawn between the themes of the novella and the poem. Both are centered around the harsh nature of life for those who are most vulnerable and how people have hopes and dreams that often don’t come to fruition. Dr. Foss then asked the class who’s read this work before and to what extent it’s been used to talk about disability, in everyone’s personal experience. While the majority of the class had read Of Mice and Men before, it had only been utilized to discuss race and gender, with the exception of a couple of people.

The large group discussion then moved to converse about Lennie’s character and its representations. We began with material from page eight of the novella in which Lennie is compared to a dog. Similar comparisons are seen throughout the novella, in which Lennie is likened to a dog or a bear. Although people felt that it was a dehumanizing comparison, there are similarities, in that Lennie is often subservient and does not have his agency. Furthermore, more similarities can be observed when looking at the relationship between George and Lennie. In many ways, George holds power over Lennie, as a dog’s master would over a dog. However, it could be said that Steinbeck is prompting readers to see that others may perceive Lennie as an animal but to critique and question that perception.

In discussing Lennie and George’s relationship as it pertained to the dog comparison, that allowed us a segue to have a more in-depth conversation about Lennie and George’s relationship and George’s overall treatment of Lennie. While many of us saw their relationship as extremely toxic and George’s treatment of Lennie as problematic, we also realized that the time period the book was written and set in must be taken into consideration. There was far less knowledge regarding disabilities, which can be seen in how George did not understand Lennie’s disability, nor did he know how to properly communicate with Lennie. While it appears that George loves Lennie, he gets extremely frustrated at times and we eventually came to the conclusion that George’s approach was flawed but his intentions may have been in the right place. We also concluded that, as Steinbeck portrayed their relationship, it was inherently problematic.

The conversation then moved to the disturbing final scene of the novella, which took up the remainder of the class. Dr. Foss asked the class to consider how it would feel to be Lennie and to have that kind of ending. Likenesses can be seen between Lennie’s death and the death of Candy’s dog, as both were supposedly “put out of their misery” and shot in the back of the head. Additionally, just as Candy remarks that he wishes he was the one to have killed his dog, rather than letting a stranger be with his dog in his last moments, everyone else wanted to kill Lennie, but George makes sure he is the one to do it. This raises the question: is Steinbeck ultimately wanting readers to sympathize with George and having to kill his companion or does he want readers to pause and consider that Lennie’s death is not the same as that of a dog’s?

We then discussed a question that Dr. Foss raised, about how the ending would change if it was Crooks that George shot, instead of Lennie, without warning. If that changes readers’ perception of the ending, what does that mean for how we view Lennie? Does that mean we see him as less than? It’s a difficult question to answer and the class was unable to come to a clear consensus. However, we did agree that Lennie should not have been killed for something that he didn’t understand was happening, especially considering the accidental nature of Curly’s wife’s death and Lennie’s lack of ill intent.

Overall, the class had a fruitful and thought-provoking discussion about Of Mice and Men that offered insights into Lennie’s status as a disabled character and how he was perceived and treated as such. What readers draw from this novella depends on how they interpret Steinbeck’s portrayal of Lennie and Lennie’s death, as well as his portrayal of Lennie and George’s relationship. This class functioned as an introspective view into the identity of disability in this time period and offered a valuable portrayal of characters who could be considered disability aligned.

Chy’Nia Johnson Class Summary for 9/7/21

Word count: 740

On September 7th, Dr. Foss began our class session with one of his classic witty jokes, this one about Labor Day (I love these jokes, by the way). After his joke, we started class in a large class discussion about the conclusion of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the author’s portrayal of disability, and some thoughts and comments were spoken about the progression of both characters, Victor Frankenstein and the Creation. Through the analysis of the large group, it was noticed that there were mixed reviews on the progression of both characters, there was more progression in the Creation because of the development of the Creation throughout the book; having turned into a character that readers could fully sympathize with, identify as, or disagree with and Victor having his sort of progression with being more persistent with finding the Creation after the death of Elizabeth and showing more obvious signs of a form of disability according to the book.

The floor was opened to comments about Victor and the Creation’s progressions, and it was recognized that Victor had progressed to a more neurotic and frantic personality as he was trying to hunt down and find the Creation. This was a change to his personality as at the beginning of the book he was more indulged in creating something that was out of the ordinary. Once the Creation was created, he seemed like he was crazed and dealing with a mental disability, he fell ill and feverish and was taking medicine to help with this “fever”. It was depicted in our discussion that Victor was suffering from sociopathy and psychopathy and showed narcissistic values. When Victor received his threat from the Creation about his wedding night, he thought that the Creation was going to attack him. He neglected the fact that Elizabeth would also be there with him, meaning that he was only thinking about himself in that situation.

The other side is the progression or development of the Creation. Throughout the book, we saw a huge development of the Creation, from being created and learning the aspects of life to becoming a lonely murderer that wanted revenge. The Creation showed signs that he was susceptible to being loving and affectionate, this was shown when he would clear the pathway from the house of the blind man and his children and get them wood for their fireplace. The Creation is also shown as an extreme caricature or representation of disability. He just wanted to be accepted in the communities that he went through, but the people or society saw him as ugly or a freak or a monster because of his appearance. Even Victor saw him as a horror and did not want to help him when in need. This can be portrayed in the disabled community, especially those with physical disabilities. They want to be treated the same way able-bodied people are treated but society does not accept them that way. Society creates a stigma that creates a barrier to block disabled people from being accepted. This also compares to the other story that we had read for the day called The Birthday of the Infanta. The dwarf, in the story, was treated terribly in a sense but he was oblivious to this until the end of the story. With these comparisons, readers can empathize with the Creation because they would feel bad for the way he is being treated. The Creation developed into a murderer only because he was hurt over the fact that he was not accepted, and that Victor would not help him be able to not be lonely in his life. I suspect that he did not want to murder those people, but he wanted to make sure that Victor suffered the same way he was suffering.

To wrap up this summary, the class had some mixed answers and comments to the progression of both Victor Frankenstein and the Creation, because both have pros and cons and complexity to their progressive ways. It all depends on which aspect is picked up when the reader is reading. They could empathize with the Creation at one point in the book and disagree with his development and how this is displaying the representation of the disabled community, whereas you could disagree with Victor at the beginning and then understand his representation in the disabled community. The complexity of the two characters shows the similarities and differences in the disabled community.