The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing an Autistic Character

In a world where autism is often portrayed in a negative light in media, a lot of people (myself included) create autistic headcanons to give to popular, positive characters who exhibit some characteristics of autism without being overly stereotypical. Yet canonically confirmed autistic characters do exist.

Here’s a (possibly incomplete) list. What really sticks out to me right away is that almost all of them are white men.  One of the biggest problems of autism in the media is that it’s portrayed almost exclusively as a white male thing. This results in autistic girls and boys of colour getting misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all, and raises stereotypes.

Some of the portrayals vary widely. Sheldon Cooper is a stereotype and his autism is often treated as a joke, so that’s not good (and his show is extremely unpopular, so that doesn’t help). Gil Grissom (from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation) is brilliant. He’s smart, a competent leader, is able to look at things from a unique point of view, is shown to be capable of loving others, is a hero, and is a multifaceted, layer character. When I read that he was on the list I was so happy.

When I saw Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) on the list, I was surprised, but then I realized it did make sense. That said, his character can be a huge asshole (there have been a lot of instances of him being a shitty husband to Sue), so, not the best representation.

Two literary characters that are autistic include Christopher Boone (from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a book I read for school), and Jacob Hunt (from House Rules). Christopher Boone is very stereotypical (if you find a find a checklist of autistic characteristics he fits every box), and his parents treat him like shit (they lie to him and tell them to his face that he’s driving them to an early grave), BUT I ultimately did feel for him, and I liked how the story was told exclusively from his point of view. I consider it a mixed bag. On the other hand, I could not get past the first chapter of House Rules because Jacob is 18 but treated like a child. No thank you.

But two characters that I want to bring to attention are Symmetra (from Overwatch) and Peridot (from Steven Universe). These characters matter to me because they’re both women/female-aligned (like me) and from series that are the most popular at the moment.

Symmetra is canonically autistic, and Peridot is very strongly implied to be so. There is an entire tag dedicated to Peridot being autistic. Some of the evidence of Peridot being autistic is her lack of social skills/inability to understand social cues, hyper focus, is easily frustrated, uses comfort objects, can be abrasive, needs a routine, etc. At first, she was a likable character! She was funny, she was unique, and a great foil to the crystal gems. What happened?

The show infantalized her.

Ever since season 3, she’s been described as a ‘gremlin’. She has been behaving more and more childlike, always shouting, always running around doing weird shit, not being allowed to show her technical skills. What’s worse, she’s had her comfort items broken (her recorder) or threatened to be broken (her tablet), there was one point where she was put on a leash, and in a deleted scene Amethyst tried to show her how to eat by putting her in a fucking high chair. Ultimately everything that made Peridot interesting is gone.

By contrast, we have Symmetra, a canonically autistic character who is not infantalized or treated like shit at all. She’s beautiful, talented, and capable. She’s allowed to be a hero. She has a desire to do the right thing, even if she’s doing it the wrong way (but is starting to realize something’s up). We can tell she’s autistic (the need for order and routine, black and white morality, special interest, smart but not very social) without relying too much on stereotypes. She’s a breath of fresh air.

Basically, if you’re going to create an autistic character, 1) don’t base them off stereotypes, 2) don’t overly infantalize them (having some childlike quirks and interests is okay, but constantly behaving like a toddler is not), 3) don’t have them seen as a joke or constantly treated like shit by the narrative or other characters, 4) let them be heroes and have them save the day, portraying their unique ability and worldview in a good light, and 5) try to make them something other than a white man.

Basically, WRITE US AS PEOPLE! And if you’re still having difficulty, research and ask people on the autism spectrum for help. I’d be more than happy to help. (You can look up some traits of autistic people HERE.)

Also, if you’ve seen, read, or played any of the media featuring canonically autistic characters, let me know of how you think they’re portrayed, and if it’s positive, I’ll be sure to check it out! In the meantime, I’ll make more posts on autistic headcanons to give visibility to characters who have characteristics of autism that are ultimately positive potential portrayals.

Thoughts on Overwatch’s New Hero

A few weeks ago the Overwatch team began posting pictures and information on a new character, an 11 year old African technology prodigy named Efi Oladele. People were curious what this was leading up to, since it was unlikely she’d be a playable character (there are laws in other countries prohibiting child characters in violent fighting games).

Well, today it was revealed that Efi was the creator of Overwatch’s newest tank hero, the robot Orisa!

What I like right away about this character is that it’s a female coded robot (fembot) that ISN’T sexualized or a maid. In a lot of media robots are mostly gender neutral (but still meant to be read as male) whereas the more gendered robots are highly feminized and often put into sexual or subservient roles. So, to see a female-aligned robot being big and bulky and as a fighter/protector is a real refreshing turn of events. It’s also nice seeing more bulky women (human or not) in the game, Zarya was looking kind of lonely there.

What we know about the character so far is that she is concerned about protecting people and keeping them safe, but still has a lot of work to do. It would be really neat if we could see her interact with Bastion and Zenyatta and what their dynamics would be like.

People are already drawing parallels between Orisa and Efi and Hiro and Baymax and I think that’s adorable. I think we need more stories of robots being helpful and caring (rather than just mindless drones or usurpers). Overall, definitely looking forward to this character and what role she has in the overall lore.

I Kind of Want An Overwatch Doll

The Overwatch game is rated T for Teen, but the rest of the franchise is actually pretty kid friendly. Which is probably why I can’t stop thinking about how Overwatch would make for some really awesome toys.

The merch available is pretty generic. They’ve got shirts, Funko Pops, stationary, mugs, plushies of Winston, posters, other clothes, and the like. But mostly shirts. Not much else.I mean, come on, think of all the action figures you can make of the characters. What kid wouldn’t want to play with these characters? If a kid is interested in Overwatch but is too young to play the game, I think making toys of the characters is a great alternative.

And I know it’s unlikely to happen, but I would love to see dolls of the female characters. I know dolls for Zarya, Mei, and Ana might be a little harder to make, but I still think all the women would make beautiful dolls.

Now, there’s a market for adults that sells collectible dolls. Those with a lot of detail and care put into them. I wouldn’t be too surprised if there are some Overwatch fans who wouldn’t mind having them to collect.

But also, I feel like they could be great for little girls too, even if they aren’t interested in the rest of the franchise. The women of Overwatch are all diversely beautiful. I can totally imagine a little girl looking at a doll of one of them, getting excited, and wanting to have it. I can especially imagine a brown and/or amputee girl (yes they exist, look up the War Amps) loving a Symmetra doll.

At any rate, there’s a goldmine of opportunity released by this game. I do hope we get a better variety of merch soon, even if they’re not toys, because the current slate is kind of underwhelming. I’m hoping eventually we’ll get an animated TV series of movie, and when that comes, they’re definitely going to need a better quantity of merchandise to market the film and make it a success.

But more than anything, I want a Symmetra doll.

 

Tracer Comes Out and Proud, Korra and Asami Remain Stable

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Short post because it’s been a long day (I’m starting my Christmas vacation) but I needed to talk about this now. This has been a big week for queer women.

December 19th marked the two year anniversary of the series finale of Legend of Korra, where it was revealed that Korra and Asami are bisexual and in love with each other, and will go on to be happy together. The fact that people have been celebrating this on social media proves just how major this was, and how many lives it touched.

And just a day later, Overwatch (which never fails to impress me), as a warm Christmas gift, released a comic confirming that Tracer, the face of the hit franchise, is gay and in a happy, healthy, explicit relationship. Tracer was the first announced gay character from Blizzard (they had teased that at least one of their characters was gay), and hopefully this will pave the way for further LGBT characters in the franchise and for others.

This is huge. Two significant series that have given representation to the LGBT community. Not minor characters. Not offscreen relationships. Nothing that ended in death or misery. But main characters in loving relationships.

In a world where LGBT representation (especially for women) is rare and not well developed, it’s wonderful knowing that we’re getting closer and closer to showing happy, living characters together in mainstream media. And in our current troubled climate, lots of young LGBT fans will take comfort in knowing someone cares.

Merry Christmas, my wlw friends. You are valid and you are loved.

 

Sombra is here!

 

After lots and lots and lots of teasing, Blizzard Entertainment finally unveiled their newest major character, Sombra!

I love how we already know so much about Sombra and how much of a complex character she is. She’s definitely youthful (and a bit of a troll) and spunky but also a genius who is very diabolical. She works with the main villains of the game but goes behind their backs to get their target to work for her. This is clearly a confident and powerful woman who knows how to get people to do what she wants (and of course, her design is excellent, reflecting her personality and skills very well).

It was a lot of waiting, but it looks like the reveal was worth it, because we know Sombra plays an integral part in the worldbuilding of the game. I’m totally invested in this character now and want to see where she takes us!

The Quiet Brilliance of the Latest ‘Overwatch’ Short

To help build the world of its hit game, Blizzard had released four Overwatch shorts: Dragons (focusing on Hanzo and Genji); Alive (focusing on Tracer and Widowmaker); Recall (focusing on Winston and Reaper); and Hero (focusing on Soldier: 76). All of these shorts have garnered millions of views and hype for the game. Now, Blizzard has added another short, called The Last Bastion. 

While the other shorts have ranged from good to fantastic, this short is a masterpiece. In just over seven minutes with no dialogue (but with brilliant use of sound effects) we are told a simple yet compelling story. The character of Bastion and its relationship with the bird are fleshed out, and the story effectively uses the slow burn method of contrasting Bastion’s life during and after the hell of war. It is also one of the most chilling portrayals of PTSD flashbacks and triggers; the calmness of the forest helps the intensity really hit you.

It also makes you excited for more to come. What else will we learn about the war, and how it’s effecting the characters? Will Bastion be accepted in a post-war world? At any case, we’ve definitely come to care for it.

I’m definitely looking forward to more Overwatch shorts, and I hope they get better and better (and maybe nab an Oscar or Annie award). Till then, The Last Bastion is proof of Blizzard’s skill of being great storytellers and filmmakers in addition to fantastic game developers, and I look forward to supporting their further efforts.

Junkrat and Roadhog are Mentally Ill

One of my fave things about Overwatch is that it shows how, no matter who you are, you are capable of being powerful and awesome and worthy of being a playable character. It’s one of the many reasons why this game is such a huge hit.

Two of the game’s most popular characters are Junkrat and Roadhog (especially Junkrat). As you can see, Junkrat is an amputee and Roadhog is very heavyset, yet that doesn’t stop them from being fun to play as. While they were originally created as grimy, dangerous criminals, they often come across more as lovable rascals.

While fandom debates which character interpretation is more accurate, I think people forget something very crucial about both characters: they’re both mentally ill.

We all know that Junkrat is a little, well, mad, and very obsessed with explosives (and can forget rather important things and not be totally alarmed when he remembers it), but why is he like it? From his official character bio:

The attack on the Australian omnium’s fusion core forever altered the landscape of the Outback. After the detonation, the area was transformed into a harsh, irradiated wasteland, littered with debris and the twisted fragments of the ruined facility, and unlivable to most.

But there were some who survived. Calling themselves the Junkers, they scavenged the husk of the omnium and formed a lawless, cutthroat society in its shadow. Junkrat was one of them, eking out a living reclaiming metal and components from the ruins. Like many others, he was affected by the lingering radiation. This touch of madness made him ideal for handling dangerous explosives, a love which he turned into an obsession.

I feel like people forget this important detail. Junkrat is suffering from brain damage because of radiation.

As for Roadhog, he was at least partially responsible for this happening. He literally “watched as his home became an apocalyptic wasteland, and he was forever changed”. Now he barely speaks, always wears a mask, and has essentially abandoned his old self to become his new identity. The implication here is that he is suffering from immense guilt and trauma, which suffered a devastating blow to his mental health and sanity.

So when we discuss whether these characters, it isn’t a matter of “they’re evil, dangerous criminals who just happen to be charming” or “they’re lovable goons who just happen to be able to kick your ass”, they’re literally sick, can’t make the best decisions, and need help.

I find it a little odd how fandom goes on and on about the need for mentally ill characters, when we have two characters who are blatantly mentally ill, no one talks about it. They appreciate them, sure, but they don’t acknowledge the fact that they’re not mentally well. Maybe they needed to have anxiety and depression?

Now I’m not saying they’re the ONLY characters who are mentally ill. I mean Reinhardt suffers from delusions (he’s described as being a Don Quixote type and quite literally imagined dragons in the form of his opponents), possibly from old age and from having fought in the war for so long, Widowmaker is literally brainwashed, Genji suffered (and possibly still does) from body image issues, Ana has PTSD, and it’s possible that the reason why Tracer is so hyper all the time is because she’s suppressing her own depression after having nearly died. (Symmetra is autistic, but that is not a mental illness, and I think most fans are aware of that and remember that when talking about her.) They all deserve to have their mental problems acknowledged, and I’m kind of shocked that’s not the case.

I’m very happy these characters are popular at any rate. I’m especially happy that Junkrat and Roadhog are mentally ill/disabled characters who are allowed to be likable and fun (and not just dangerous and evil). At the same time, when we discuss these characters, we need to remember that their brains are not wired the same way as most people, which explains why they are what they are, and how that can or should be resolved.