Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

Virtual Reality, Disability, and Futurity Cripping Technologies in Half-Life: Alyx

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2022), 16, (1), 59–75.


The article takes up Valve’s 2020 science fiction virtual reality (VR) game Half-Life: Alyx as a site through which to explore the complex relationship between bodies, technology, and disability. It discusses the way that VR inadvertently challenges both the fantasy of hyperable-bodiedness found in action-adventure, first-person shooter, and science fiction video games, and the myth of digital disembodiment—the idea that we can (and perhaps should desire to) transcend the physical body through digital avatars. Technology has an intimate relationship with pain, discomfort, and physicality, and this analysis of VR and Alyx foregrounds the messiness of embodied bionic encounters. Within the science fiction alternate reality of the game, technology plays a key role, often explicitly enhancing or augmenting the body. In an imaginative turn, the article takes up drones, gravity gloves, and the telephone headset as objects through which to fashion a more feminist and ethical future. Engaging in imaginative “criptastic hacking” (Yergeau in Hamraie and Fritsch 4), the article discusses potential ways of using technology as access aids, enacting a “cripped cyborg politics” (Kafer 106) and exploring the intimate relationships between organic and inorganic bodies.

Access Token
If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

Works Cited

Clare, Eli. Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure. Durham: Duke UP, 2017. Print. Google Scholar

Coleman, Beth. Hello Avatar: Rise of the Networked Generation. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011. Print. Google Scholar

Ellcessor, Elizabeth. Restricted Access: Media, Disability, and the Politics of Participation. NYU Press, 2016. Print. Google Scholar

Ewart, Chris. “An Arm Up or a Leg Down? Grounding the Prosthesis and Other Instabilities.” The Matter of Disability: Materiality, Biopolitics, Crip Affect. Ed. David Mitchell, Susan Antebi, and Sharon Snyder. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2019. 160-81. Print. Google Scholar

Fearn. Nicholas. “How VR Is Helping Visually Impaired Patients Regain Close To Normal Levels Of Sight.” Forbes. 8 Jan. 2020. Web. Google Scholar

Hamraie, Aimi and Kelly Fritsch. “Crip Technoscience Manifesto.” Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience 5.1 (1 April 2019). Web. Google Scholar

Hayles, Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1999. Print. Google Scholar

Hurley, Kameron. The Geek Feminist Revolution. New York: Tor Books, 2016. Print. Google Scholar

Jemisin. N. K. How Long ‘til Black Future Month? London: Orbit Books, 2018. Print. Google Scholar

Jerreat-Poole, Adan. “Sick, Slow, Cyborg: Crip Futurity in Mass Effect.” Game Studies 20.1 (Feb. 2020). Web. Google Scholar

Kafer, Alison. Feminist, Queer, Crip. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2013. Print. Google Scholar

Mejia, Robert. “The Epidemiology of Digital Infrastructure.” The Intersectional Internet: Race, Sex, Class, and Culture Online. Ed. Safiya Noble and Brendesha M. Tynes. New York: Peter Lang, 2016. 229-42. Print. Google Scholar

Miller, Toby. “The Price of Popular Media.” Disability Media Studies. Ed. Elizabeth Ellcessor and Bill Kirkpatrick. New York: NYU Press, 2017. 295-310. Print. Google Scholar

Noble, Safiya. Algorithms of Oppression. New York: NYU Press, 2018. Print. Google Scholar

Panzarino, Matthew. “Half-Life: Alyx Delivers the Watershed Moment VR Gaming Needs.” TechCrunch. 23 Mar. 2020. Web. Google Scholar

Park, Gene. “The Sensory Overload of Half-Life: Alyx Points to the Promise and Problems Of VR.” The Washington Post. 31 Mar. 2020. Web. Google Scholar

Piepzna-Samarasinha, Leah. Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018. Google Scholar

Puar, Jasbir. The Right to Maim. Durham: Duke UP, 2017. Print. Google Scholar

Rak, Julie. “Life Writing Versus Automedia: The Sims 3 Game as a Life Lab.” Biography 38.2 (2015): 155-80. Print. Google Scholar

Redden, Rebeccah. “VR: An Altered Reality for Disabled Players.” First Person Scholar. 11 Apr. 2018. Web. Google Scholar

Roach, Linda. “The New World of Virtual Reality.” American Academy of Ophthalmology EyeNet Magazine, Oct. 2018. Web. Google Scholar

Rogers, Sal. “VR Meditation: The Path to Next-Gen Health & Happiness.” Forbes. 28 Mar. 2019. Web. Google Scholar

Samuels, Ellen. “Prosthetic Heroes: Curing Disabled Veterans in Iron Man 3 and Beyond.” Disability Media Studies. Ed. Elizabeth Ellcessor and Bill Kirkpatrick. New York: NYU Press, 2017. 12-51. Print. Google Scholar

Schalk, Sami. “Wounded Warriors of the Future: Disability Hierarchy in Avatar and Source Code.” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies 14.4 (2020): 403-19. Print. Google Scholar

Toupin, Sophie and spideralex, eds. “Radical Feminist Storytelling and Speculative Fiction.” Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology 13 (May 2018). Web. Valve. Half-Life: Alyx. 2020. Video game. Google Scholar

VanFossen, Lorelle. “Accessibility, Disabilities, and Virtual Reality Solutions.” Educators in VR. 31 Mar. 2019. Web. Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here


Author details

Jerreat-Poole, Adan