Featured ArticlesLearning To Use Your Hands: Surgeon Simulator & DisabilityFeatured Articles - RSS 2.0
As a child and, later a teenager, I refrained from dramatizing my inability to write a legible sentence. My parents were supportive, but there's something uncanny about growing up in a small South Carolinian town that can overpower the support of loved ones. A communal, hyper-masculine hostility hangs in the air that often breeds the internalized belief that expressing an anxiety is the equivalent of exposing a weakness. The process of accepting my disability was filled with angst, mostly stemming from my refusal to acknowledge the condition: It was my fault that no one could read my handwriting while my peers had beautiful hand script. I was lazy, stupid. Teasing from my classmates didn't help the matter, but, as is often true of people dealing with insecurities, a lot of the damage done was self-inflicted.
It was my fault that no one could read my handwriting while my peers had beautiful hand script. I was lazy, stupid.
Surgeon Simulator uncomfortably brings up the consequences of that damage several times in a single surgery session. The game wants me to laugh when I fumble and drop a tool inside a guy's chest cavity. I do, but there's nervousness behind each chuckle. With each mistake, my frustration builds and then all I can think about is how pissed off I get when I can't accomplish a simple task in real life, like holding my hands still, or wondering if an application I just filled out is readable. That isn't to say that I think Surgeon Simulator is insensitive or offensive; on the contrary, I feel kinship between the titular surgeon and myself. The frustration caused by being unable to accomplish such a simple, mundane task is an occasion for deflation-it's also one for self-deprecating humor. We laugh at ourselves when we fuck up. We have to have that joke at our own expense; otherwise, there might be nothing to get us back on our feet. In its own absurd way Surgeon Simulator embraces this procedure: screw up, laugh at yourself, keep going.
Surgeon Simulator 2013 caught me off guard and became something more than a goofy game: an occasion for reflection. It's this element of surprise that reminds me games are capable of establishing meaningful, if unintended, connections to their players. When I pop the thematically heavy Spec Ops: The Line into my disc drive, I'm expecting to have a miserable time, but for such an absurd bit of entertainment to make me angry enough to confront my anxieties and fears is unexpected. It's an accident, but it doesn't make the effect that Surgeon Simulator had on me less powerful.
I explained my disability and asked Luke how he felt about someone coming away from Surgeon Simulator with a positive reaction that had little to do with the game's humor:
Luke: I guess that's why games are pretty amazing: people can have such varying experiences from each other....These controls may have affected you in such a way because we essentially make players relearn how to use their hands. It's interesting that we may have lead players to experience something similar to your motor disability and give them a real understanding of how simple tasks can be very difficult in certain circumstances.
The greatest novels and films I've ever experienced have made me feel more whole as a person, as if the simple act of reading, watching, and reflecting has laid bare some aspect of my personality. Surgeon Simulator has helped me examine an integral, embarrassing component of my being and come to an uneasy peace with it. That a game like Surgeon Simulator could make me feel this way is a testament to the idea that all games can engage in significant interactions with the player. Regardless of its quality, the possibility of that accident, when someone's personal experience collides with game design in an unexpected way, exists. That's why we keep playing.