On Telltale Games’ Ableist Treatment of Sarah

For those who aren’t a fan of this once-amazing series, The Walking Dead Game has always been lauded for its character diversity (with a wide range of different nationalities and racial backgrounds represented, well-written female characters and characters of all ages and body types featured prominently throughout the game).

In Season 2 we encountered Sarah, a Hispanic 15-year-old girl who is neurodivergent and has trouble coping with the horrors of the new world around her.

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Now of course, being a female character and being disabled, she was immediately despised by the majority of the fandom. Slurs were tossed around, people frequently referred to her as “a liability”, and there were frequent posts made on Telltale’s forums, Facebook, Youtube, and elsewhere wishing her dead and hoping for a chance to kill her. This was nothing new - we had seen much of this before, with other female characters in the franchise. However, the ableism was rampant, and people would write essays about how she was “bringing the group down” and why her death would be a “good” thing for the other characters.

(spoilers) Her death came after the player was told several times by a pragmatic character that Sarah was dragging the group down, that she was a weakness, and that she “clearly” didn’t want to live (despite the fact that she screams and cries for help the entire time she’s being eaten). Instead of subverting that character’s pragmatism and showing that people with disabilities can still survive an apocalypse, she is killed even if the player chooses to save her (in a horrible manner, where she is partially crushed under a fallen balcony and then devoured alive by walkers as she screams for help). Her death served to further the already-prevalent fandom belief that disabled people are unnecessary weights holding survivors back, and makes total apocalyptic pragmatism look like a justified belief.

Of course, that made us (Sarah fans) angry and upset, especially considering many of us are ourselves neurodivergent (and several autistic teenage fans headcanoned her as being autistic) and the belief that characters like us are just liabilities is extremely hurtful. But that’s not what’s spurring me to make this post today.

Yesterday, Greg Miller of IGN released an episode of ‘Playing Dead’, a web series where he interviews employees of Telltale Games (the studio that makes TWDG) about various choices and events from the previous episode. This is where things went from bad to absolutely atrocious. 

Greg Miller spent the entire segment on Sarah putting her down.

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(“Was it really a choice if I was gonna save Sarah? Fuck Sarah, man. I’ve been looking to get out of the Sarah business for quite some time.” “Why?” “Cause she sucks!”)

He talked about how glad he was to be able to leave her behind, and how happy he was to watch her get eaten.

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(“I saw her get torn apart. I was like, ‘Yes. Excellent.’”)

Now, this would be bad enough. But we know Greg Miller is an asshole to female characters. He has been since Season 1. Where this went wrong, was this part:

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(“…there’s just so many people like in the office, on the internet who were just like y’know, ‘Sarah, Sarah, Sarah, I can’t wait to get rid of her.’”)

The two Telltale employees publicly stated that people at Telltale were excited to kill Sarah. That they were waiting for a chance to do so. And that they listened to the ableist casual fandom who hated her and used that to go forward with her eventual pointless death. 

They then go on to make a joke about the fact that, in order to save Sarah, the player has to physically assault her while she’s in the middle of a shut-down. They joke that people who hated her wanted to slap her, but that would mean saving her, something they didn’t want to do.

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(“So it’s just like, ‘Oh so you wanted to slap her, but in order to do that you had to want her to be around at the same time.’ [Mark laughs]

The final nail in the coffin for the fandom’s tolerance of this bullshit came from this part of the interview:

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(“We meet her for the first time in Episode, I guess at the end of Episode 1, right?” ”Yeah.” “Where [Clementine] gets to talk to her. Something’s off about her.” “Something’s off. Yeah.” “This isn’t right.”

"And I thought at first it was that Carlos [Sarah’s father] was just sheltering her, right? And it was going to turn out that ‘Oh, she’s a normal child.’”

"And then it’s like, ‘Oh, you’re still not normal.’”

"I was like, ‘Well, I hate you even more now.’ ‘Right.’ ‘And the time has come.’”)

He tells the Telltale employees how he feels about Sarah “not being normal” and that he wants her to die for it - and they agree!

This is unacceptable. It is disgusting and unprofessional for a studio to speak openly about how much they were looking forward to killing a disabled character, and to let shitpiles like Greg Miller speak in such an ableist way about her without saying a word in her defense - even agreeing with him. Telltale just posted this interview to their official tumblr an hour ago, meaning they obviously have no remorse and see nothing wrong with how it went.

Disabled and neurodivergent players all over the internet are hurt by this. Several have tried to contact Telltale, to try to get some sort of apology or acknowledgment out of them, to no avail. So many players, myself included, are disappointed that this company - known for diversity and well-handled diverse characters - has botched the treatment of a disabled WoC so badly.

We need to make them aware that this is unacceptable. If anyone could take a few minutes of their time to send Telltale an ask here on tumblr, or better yet, email them (feedback@telltalegames.com) calmly explaining why this is unacceptable and how it harms actual, real disabled people, it would be so greatly appreciated.

The Sarah fandom has been put through so much already. The last thing we need is the creator of the game spewing ableist bullshit that propagates the belief that disabled people are “burdens” and “liabilities”. It has real-world implications, it harms real people, and it needs to be acknowledged.

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