The Greatest Computer Game Of All Time And Its Wheelchair-Bound Role ModelGregory Lobo | November 6, 2018
It’s been nearly two months since we sold our house and moved into my grandparents’ house, and there will be a little more time before we move out of their house and into a new one. It is not like home entirely and there are stairs so I very seldom go up, but I have figured out my setup. The best part about my setup and of this whole experience is that my grandparents have a really old computer that still has a disk drive and they have the Greatest Game Of All Time, Backyard Baseball. When I don’t have any work to do, I’ll just play it all day. For those who had terrible childhoods, Backyard Baseball is a very simple point and click cartoon baseball game first made in 1997. The 21st anniversary of the first game actually just passed a few weeks ago. Backyard Baseball is older than me. My grandmother told me that she has had that game since I was an infant. Anyway, it is a cartoon game aimed at children who are probably about 5. It would probably be more appropriate for my little cousins to play it than for me to play it, but I grew up on it, and I’m a little bit obsessed with it. Anyway, I fired it up again this weekend and I fell in love with it again. I love the way I can hit 600-foot home runs. I love the powerups (it’s a cartoon game, so of course it has powerups). The thing I love most about Backyard Baseball, though, is the characterization. The original game has a roster of thirty fictional characters who are kids, nine of whom you can pick for your team. A lot of the kids are based on standard character archetypes, and they are fantastic. One thing that is incredible is the diversity of the characters. It is evenly split between boys and girls and there are characters of all shapes and sizes (even Ricky Johnson’s absurdly shaped head). My favorite, along with everyone else, is Pablo Sanchez, a short, fat, Hispanic kid who doesn’t speak any English but knocks the cover off the ball, is the second fastest runner in the game, and plays a really solid game in the field. Pablo is what would have happened if Alex Rodriguez had Ty Cobb’s batting average. He is the best video game character of all time and I’m not entertaining any arguments to the contrary. Pete Wheeler, a dumb redneck modeled after Forrest Gump, is the fastest runner in the game and he can mash. He’s pretty much what would have happened if Mickey Mantle hadn’t gotten hurt and addicted. But neither of these characters are the ones I want to talk about. The character I want to talk about is Kenny Kawaguchi, the best pitcher in the game.
Kenny Kawaguchi is another character I love. He’s the best pitcher in the game. Not only is he the best pitcher in the game, but he can hit for a high average, and his speed on the basepaths is something integral to the game. He is one of the three characters I always build my team around. Not only that, but his theme music is probably top 5 in all of the game. All the characters have their archetypes, and Kenny is the character in a wheelchair, so as long as I’ve been playing Backyard Baseball, which is pretty much as long as I can remember, I’ve kind of identified with Kenny. I don’t pick him because I identify with him because we are both in wheelchairs. I pick him because he’s the best pitcher in the game and he’s not a liability at the plate. At the same time, I still have a soft spot for Kenny and I would pick him when I was young because he was in a wheelchair, before I learned the intricacies of the game and learned that he’s worth picking regardless. Growing up with a disability, I always liked Kenny because he gave me a model to show that kids in wheelchairs can do awesome things. Kids in wheelchairs can be the best pitcher in a game of GOATs like Pablo Sanchez. I have been very open in the past and I will continue to be very open about the world I grew up in, where I knew–even before I learned about the abortion statistics–that there was something wrong with the way people talked about disability in this country. Playing Backyard Baseball as Kenny Kawaguchi improved a lot of my self-esteem and helped me understand that living with a disability was not such a bad thing and people with disabilities could be a really cool character and play really well and be one of the best characters in the game. Kenny was such a cool character that he wasn’t pitied for being in a wheelchair, he was admired for being the best pitcher in the game and for being a great OBP guy with great speed. One thing I actually noticed about Backyard Baseball is that the characters slip a lot on the bases. Kenny, being in a wheelchair, doesn’t slip. This is his little hidden superpower that gives him an advantage. One way to improve the cultural discourse is to portray more characters with disabilities in a positive way. Give us a positive model to strive for. It is incredible that the best character with a disability of all time was created over 20 years ago. It is incredible, but it is also, in a way, tragic, as the world needs the message from Kenny Kawaguchi and Backyard Baseball more than ever, and I fear that today’s youth may miss out on that lesson.