Monocular Characters: Strength in Representation
Golden light flooded the screen and cabaret music played in the background, I was three chapters into Yakuza 0 from Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios. After traveling through the streets of fictional Tokyo as Kazuma Kiryu I was having a fairly average experience in my first time with the series. Then, in a moment regarded by some as one of the best introductions in a game, the music cut and I was introduced to the ever-famous Goro Majima, the other protagonist in the game. What struck me, as someone clueless to the character before Yakuza 0, wasn’t the dramatic introduction but Majima himself and our shared disability.
If you’re not familiar with the game or series, this character maintains a friendly rivalry with the series’ main protagonist Kiryu and has become beloved among fans. He has a notable appearance with his leather pants, snakeskin suit jacket, intricate tattoos, and a missing left eye. Throughout the series of Yakuza titles, Majima’s lack of a left-eye is often referenced in passing due to the events surrounding its removal or as comic relief in a tense moment. In Yakuza 0, Majima, while referring to a damaged stuffed animal, provides an optimistic outlook on his own missing eye by saying, “One eye’s gone, but I’m doin’ just fine!”
Even without his left eye, Majima remains a force to be reckoned with throughout the Yakuza series. Frequently fought by Kiryu and other characters in the story, Majima is known as an unstoppably powerful force. Even when faced with criticism for his distinguishing disability, he brushes it off and uses it to his advantage while smashing in the faces of friends and enemies alike. It’s this confidence and moxie that makes his character so endearing, but it’s his ability to do all of this while being monocular that helped make Yakuza 0 my favorite game of all time.
I was born with amblyopia, a condition that causes my brain and my left eye to stop communicating. In my case, this communication is all but non-existent to the point where my doctors and I have joked about removing the eye entirely to alleviate the disorientation it causes. My particular form is different than the more common “lazy eye” or “wandering eye” that is typically corrected before amblyopia sufferers enter their teen years. If we met on the street you wouldn’t know I’m monocular. I have none of the physical symptoms of amblyopia, my own best friend still forgets I’m monocular after nearly a decade of knowing each other. But if you’re around me enough, you may notice that I run into walls, drop things a few inches short of where they should be, and I’ll probably ignore you if you stand to my left. All in all, I’ve been made monocular by this condition.
So when I first encountered my first rude, drunk customer of The Grand in Yakuza 0 and discovered a quick-stepping, one-eyed character that could beat even the most physically capable enemy, I was blown away. I found the jokes or remarks made by Majima himself regarding his left eye heartwarming because they were jokes and remarks I’d used myself over the years. I felt, for lack of a better term, seen by a game that I never expected to tackle the topic of a visual disability. As I made my way through the following titles of the series I felt attached to a character I’d never really found in a game before, someone who was “normal” while having my same disability.
After bulldozing through three more installments in the series, I decided it was time for a break. I’d recently seen some buzz around Spike Chunsoft’s AI: The Somnium Files and was sold the moment I heard it referred to as Ace Attorney meets Danganronpa. To my surprise, I started up the game and found the protagonist, detective Kaname Date, was monocular. However, in this case, Date’s missing left eye was replaced by an artificially intelligent robot sidekick named Aiba. While it was a bit of a different take on a monocular character, I was still overwhelmed by finding not one, but two characters back-to-back that were equally capable without their left eyes. Again I found myself steamrolling through the game, enjoying every moment I could with a quick-witted character who wasn’t held back by our shared disability, though I do envy Date’s replacement eye.
Growing up I really only saw pirates and villains with missing eyes. When I would open up to people about my disability I was either questioned or made the butt of rude jokes, leading me to wonder if I was destined to be a bad person, just like the fictional characters I saw on television or in movies. Maybe there are other strong, monocular characters out there that I haven’t discovered but it wasn’t until I was introduced to Goro Majima in Yakuza 0 that I had seen a fair representation of my condition in games.
Seeing someone like you in a game, someone who has the same problems or life experiences is a feeling I cannot properly describe. It’s something I never expected to see, but always hoped for, and I surely never expected to experience it in two different games. What both Yakuza and AI get right is the fact that, even without two eyes, these characters can be more than their disability. They laugh, fight, feel, and are regular people (for the most part) without their disability taking over their identity. This is something that, with many disabilities, is lost in the little representation that’s out there. You can have a disability and also have a personality, motivations, and a sense of humor, which is something that gets forgotten in the backstory of many disabled characters.
For me, this representation made a huge impact on my life. It gave me a wave of confidence in being true to myself and allowed me to accept my condition in a way that I really hadn’t before. I cannot look at the covers, trailers, or fan art from these games without having a huge smile on my face in knowing that there are regular people out there who think that someone like me is cool. That someone with my same disability is strong, funny, or even a good person. I want everyone who has ever felt left out or inappropriately represented in games to get this same feeling I have now.
I could truly go on about this forever, just ask my friends and family. But if you have any doubts about the importance of good representation in games then please take one thing from reading this. We need more badass, or even just normal, disabled characters. You never know who might find themselves in your game.
Michelle is a freelance writer in Northern California. She specializes in content and creative writing, with a passion for games and the games industry! You can contact her via her website at www.michelledoes.com or on Twitter @michelle_does.