In January of 1997, Final Fantasy 7 was released for the Playstation. At the time, I didn’t own a Playstation, still stuck with an old Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo my uncle had bequeathed to me when he shipped off to join the Navy. I was a fan of Final Fantasy 6, but at the time I was only nine years old and didn’t keep up with gaming news, so I had no idea a new Final Fantasy had come out.
Memorial Day weekend, 1997 I was in an ATV accident and lost my left foot. I spent my whole summer in the hospital recovering, but I was back in action the first day of 4th grade. My parents had bought me a Playstation because I was a kid and I had begged them for it. I had 2 games by the end of 1997: Croc and Final Fantasy 7.
In the opening moments of Final Fantasy 7 you meet Barrett Wallace, the leader of eco-terrorist organization AVALANCHE. He’s a foul-mouthed, bad-tempered, high-strung opinionated man who cares very much for his daughter Marlene and the world at large. He and his merry band of terrorists fight against the Shinra Electric Power Company, which occupies that murky space between megacorporation and totalitarian regime.
But to me, Barrett was more than that. He was an amputee, just like me. Only he had a cool gun-arm, which acted as his primary weapon. It isn’t until later in the game, at Corel Prison, when you learn the story of how Shinra was responsible for the loss of Barrett’s hand.
Barrett was a man who had chosen to turn his disability into a literal weapon. Rather than get a prosthetic hand, Barrett opted for a gun, which has some rather obvious uses but lacks the utility of a true prosthetic hand. In effect, Barrett chose to remain disabled because his devotion to his cause was more important than the ability he would regain with a real prosthetic.
More than anything else about Barrett, this tells you all you need to know about him. Aside from martyrdom, you don’t really get more hardcore than turning a part of your body into a weapon that you can’t remove or put away.
I understood Barrett’s devotion. When I was getting my first prosthesis, they offered me a cover: a layer of foam and latex matched to my skin tone, to give the impression of a whole leg. I turned them down. I wanted the metal and guts of my prosthesis exposed. I knew there was no going back, and I wanted to show everyone that I was comfortable with who I was. Barrett chose to attach a gun to his arm, and I chose to show my disability to everyone and take pride in it. Both carry a certain social stigma, though I wouldn’t realize that until later.
I always kept Barrett in my party. He was my favorite character because I could relate to him. I saw a bit of myself in him, because I was also impossible to shut up and I wasn’t afraid to speak my mind or show my prosthesis to people.
As an adult, it does seem very irresponsible of Barrett to use a machine gun prosthesis while also caring for his daughter. He won’t win any father of the year awards, and not just for carrying Marlene around with a loaded gun grafted onto the end of his forearm. But this once again reinforces the strength of Barrett’s beliefs, both in AVALANCHE and in making a better future for his daughter.
And Barrett gets a better future for himself as well. In the film Advent Children, made a decade later, Barrett appears sporting a prosthesis that mimics the function of a normal hand. To me, this is how Barrett moved on. The world was saved, Shinra was gone, and his fight was over. He let go of that grudge and with it went the machine gun hand.
As for me, I still go without a cover on my prosthesis. And I still like Barrett because he doesn’t hide or apologize for what he is. He’s still one of my favorite characters in video games because I see so much of myself in him, and he was a comforting character to see portrayed onscreen. Barrett didn’t let his disability hold him back, he turned it to his advantage and even saved the world. What more could you ask for in a representation of yourself?