Jonathan Craig

To my brother Sam, for teaching me the controls for our Nintendo games. My bronze medal in Level 1 of Rogue Squadron remains one of my proudest achievements.

Without Us Developer on the Inspirations behind her Hit Game

Over the past few weeks, Chelsea Long’s life has changed completely. Her previous games were beloved by the few who knew about them. Her latest, in the month since its release, has taken the world by storm as people became fascinated by the prospect of quests with real, meaningful outcomes. In a world exclusive, Chelsea tells us the story of how she came up with the idea behind surprise hit, Without Us, on her daily commute:

In a funny way you could maybe say I was disabled myself. If I lose or forget my glasses I have to squint until my head hurts to read some signs, or even sometimes captions on a TV screen a few meters away. I can’t imagine what I would do if my vision got worse. Still, until recently, I hadn’t thought much about the practical issues being differently abled would create.

One time a… What’s the term? Little person— jumped on a couple of stops from work. I thought he was a kid at first, but he was in a legit suit and tie. It was standing room only that morning, so he kind of quickly got lost in the crowd and I didn’t get a good look at him. But it got me wondering who made that for him. I realised that somewhere out there, there must be a tailor for very small men, and that made my day.

Another day, I’d forgotten my AirPods but wanted to get some coding done, so I was in the quiet carriage. These two girls jumped on, and I couldn’t stop watching them over my laptop because they were chatting the whole time through sign. And they spent the whole trip in hysterics. I thought, what a cool hack to be able to talk silently. There are so many ways you could use that. So I started learning. This is how you say my name: C… H… Ah damn, that’s not it. This is harder than it looks.

Anyway, this other dude in a wheelchair and his carer started getting on every morning. One time, the train was just about to leave, and I saw them tearing down the platform. There’s a ramp the driver can put out, but I guess they figured it was too late, so this guy just fully lifted the whole chair up over the gap.

All this got me thinking: Who are the people who help these people? What’s it like to be an interpreter for a Deaf person? Getting someone out of the house can be this whole process, full of little challenges. Thinking through those challenges, I realised there was something I could build from them.

In most games, what you’re doing is kind of arbitrary and meaningless. I wanted to create something where you weren’t just playing to win for the sake of it. And I wanted to raise awareness of the importance of helping people with disabilities. Because without us, where would they be?

I’ve stopped catching the train into work as much recently, so I don’t really see those people anymore. I really hope [that] somehow, they’ll learn about the part they played in opening my eyes and my heart.

If somehow you find out about this thing I’ve created, and you remember a girl in specs not touching her laptop, know that watching you move through the world inspired me to look at things from a new perspective.

Level 1

Below you, lava bubbles, the wide-open mouth of the pit breathing steam over your wheels and footplates. From here, the heat is gentle, almost inviting. Looking up at the structure above, you catch yourself thinking how easy it would be to sink into that warmth.

But you’ve come this far. Above you the tower looms. At the top, the jeweller waits with the ring he prepared for you. So close.

Anyone else would simply leap upward from platform to platform, a series of well-timed jumps. Challenging in its own way, but a test of rhythm, athletics, and grace. For you, this is a test of ingenuity.

You see two ways of approaching this problem. Both will be risky, and will require all your wit and concentration. You feel confident you can make one of them work. But you know you have to make a choice. To get to where you’re going, will you use...



You’ve checked everything. The ropes are tightly attached to the frame of your chair, carefully positioned to keep you balanced as you’re dragged upward. You’re tightly and securely strapped in, ready to deploy the four grappling hooks to the platform above, when the Professor appears beside you, his hologram flickering thanks to interference from the pit below.

“Wait up chum!” he shouts cheerfully through the static. “That looks like a bit of a chore! I’ll have you right there in a jiffy with the new machine I’ve designed for just this situation!”

The Professor has tried his new machines on you before. You know he means well, and he’s very good at recognising problems, but the solutions he creates are sometimes more impressive than enjoyable.

“I’m not sure…” you start to say, as around your chair a giant contraption emerges from the floor. Robot claws correct your position inside what you discover, with mounting terror, is a cannon. “Wait! This isn’t—”

“Can’t hear you chum!” yells the Professor happily. “Just hold on tight!”

Your teeth slam together as an incredible force launches you up and out. Your eyes smashed shut by the trajectory, you endure a horrifying, seemingly endless second in dark, empty space.

The impact of landing vibrates your whole body like a plucked string. It takes a long moment before you rediscover how to breathe. Miraculously, you’ve landed on your wheels, in one piece. But as you open your eyes to look out ahead, you realise just where you’ve landed. You turn around, and sure enough, the lava pit now yawns in front of you, another obstacle to cross, before you can even begin to climb the tower.

“Bravo!” exclaims the Professor’s hologram from the platform above. “It works perfectly. Thanks chum! They’re always asking us to do user testing these days. Co-design and all that!”

“Professor!” You shout desperately, knowing it’s futile. “You sent me the wrong way!


You’ve checked everything. If your calculations are right, the balloon will carry your weight straight to the top of the tower, and with a bit of careful steering, you should be able to make a safe landing. A lot could still go wrong, leaving you dangling in mid-air miles too high, or worse, too low. But you’re happy enough with your math to take the risk.

You’re about to open the air intake valve when a hover Ute slides up beside the platform. “Need a lift?” grins the driver, one hand on the wheel, the other gesturing at you with an energy drink.

“I think I’m okay actually,” you reply. Of course, that would be easier, but you don’t want your number crunching to go to waste – and you were kind of looking forward to the challenge.

“Come on!” he says. “I get points for taking you.”

Whatever, you think, as you wheel off the edge of the platform into the Ute’s tray, pulling the tailgate closed behind you. You’re doing him a favour and saving yourself some time and brain power.

The Ute moves away from the tower and begins to climb upward. You’re just starting to plan your next move when, in a burst of speed, the Ute leaps into the sky, leaving the tower far below you.

Frantically you knock on the back window. “Hey! What are you doing!? This isn’t where I wanted to go!”

“I’m doing the mission,” he says. “I pick up a bunch of you guys and take you to where you need to be.”

“I need to be back where you got me! You have to turn around!”

“If I don’t take you, I won’t get the points. You’ll be much happier there.”

“Happier where?”

“The Institute.”

The Ute dives down toward the city at the mouth of the volcano. “Anyway,” he says, throwing his empty can out the window, “you have a while to wait. I have to find heaps more to level up.”

Level 2

You reach both hands over your head to collect your drink from the bartender, and slide him his coin. Patrons tower over you on high stools. At your level, they’re marked out by their inventory, scabbards and hilts, belts crowded with tools and weapons, heavy packs at their feet. From down here in this faceless underworld, you see the true function of the conversations above. Your whole life is conversation and collaboration. But for these people, dialogues are just prologues. Their real stories begin elsewhere.

You’re tired (and sick of people) and you still have a long road ahead, so you’ve tried to remain inconspicuous, but soon enough, an adventurer purposefully approaches. “I seek the Prophecy of Dragons Reborn,” he says. “Do you know anything of this?”

“Why,” you ask, “do you think I might possess the knowledge you seek?”

“Well…” says the adventurer, “I saw you in here, and I thought, given… you know… your situation, you’d probably be some kind of sage, or have a tragic backstory with vital clues, right?”

You know the part you’re supposed to play, but you have literally no idea about anything dragon related. You see an opportunity to amuse yourself and politely escape the conversation, but your frustration is threatening to boil over. And he could be a satisfying target, despite the risks.

Will you...

Give him what he wants

“Years ago, I was but a humble guardian of the city of red mages. Nightly I walked the walls, watching for dark forces in the shadows below, as I listened to the sound of elven music emanating from the feasting halls.

One night, invaders came. We fought bravely, we noble, humble guardians, and in the battle, I took an arrow in the knee. Then another arrow, in the other knee. It is thus that you see me in this contraption here today. But as I lay nursing my kneecaps, I heard through my agony the forces of evil shouting, that they were here for the dragon prophet. ‘Go, young warrior, to the City of Red Mages, and there, you may find a great secret, long hidden.’ And also treasure.”

You are truly proud of your delivery, and of your straight face. The dude has been hanging on every word. You’re looking forward to telling Serena the story. You know it’ll make her laugh. You feel only the slightest hint of guilt over the wild goose chase you’re sending him on, but you’re sure that will fade with time.

“Arrows to both knees. Wow. You know, you’re such an inspiration, man. It’s really great to see you out and about after something like that. I’d rather be dead than not be able to walk anymore.”

“Seriously?” You resist the impulse to steal a dagger and throw it at him. “You have no idea what my life is like.”

“Who ate your sweetrolls?” he says. “It was a compliment.”

You try to say more, but he’s already walking away. “It’s been a good chat, but your dialogue tree is probably pretty limited and I’m on a speed run, so I’m just going to head to the red mage city now. Thanks heaps!”

Seething, you settle back to plan your next move. You were just starting to feel much better. After the trouble you went through getting the ring from the jeweller at the top of the hidden tower, collecting a leaf from the tree of Orath had been easy. But after that encounter, you feel disappointed and frustrated. You wish you’d gotten real with him, and given him a piece of your mind.

Get real

“Wheelchairs don’t come with mystical wisdom built in. I’m wandering around trying to do better, just like everyone else is. But I’m not here just to help you out. I have my own whole thing going on.”

“Okay. Well, what’s the deal? Am I supposed to get you a healing potion, or take vengeance on the people who hurt you, or help you get upstairs?”

“I’m sorry. Did I hear someone mention the prophecy of the dragons reborn?” says the bartender from on high. “I might know something about that.”

Instantly, the adventurer’s eyes leap off you. You empty your glass as, for the next five minutes, the bartender talks through some theory he heard in the town square about how the King, the Mayor, the librarian, and several barmaids were actually dragons in disguise. At several points you attempt to interject with increasingly undiplomatic fact checks, but from their height, they can’t seem to hear you. It isn’t until you put your glass on the bar that the adventurer remembers you.

“Have another!” he says, tossing a coin to the bartender. “This one’s on me.”

By the time your glass is filled, he has hoisted up his pack and is walking past you, patting you on the head as he goes. “Next time I see you,” he says, “I’ll be a dragon rider.”

You search your heart for thankfulness as you gulp down the ail. He meant well, you tell yourself. What do you have to complain about? After the trouble you went through getting the ring from the jeweller in the hidden tower, the leaf from the tree of Orath was easy. You got a free drink and passed some time while you wait for your carriage. Still, if you’d just given him what he thought he wanted, you might have ended up having a proper conversation.

Cut Scene

‘Nice to meet you. Take a seat. Oh… So sorry…’

“Totally fine. I bring my own. It’s part of the package.”

‘Of course, yes. Well, we’re just going to ask you a few questions now if that’s all right. We were very interested to read your resume and cover letter. But could you just tell us in a few words why you applied to join our squad?’

“I’m just trying to get back to my wife really.”

‘Ah, you’re married. That’s lovely.’

“Sure. My cab dropped me on the wrong island. Then I saw your bus arriving and I thought, strength in numbers. You were clearly thinking about picking the high ground, setting yourselves up well. You seemed like a good fit.”

‘Right. Right. So, just to let you know a bit about the role… We are really looking for someone who’s very familiar with… Um… You know, are you aware that this is a combat situation you’d be entering?’

“Yes. I’m not a naturally violent person, but I’m not in a position to have moral objections right now. You do what you have to to support your family.”

‘Of course, of course. Can you tell us a bit about your job history? How many XP do you have? What kind of weapons and ammo have you got hold of?’

“Well, I haven’t necessarily walked the traditional path, but since you said this was an entry level role, I figured you were looking for someone with the right personality. I’m good at staying calm under pressure. I’m a natural problem solver. I’ve learned to be persistent and creative when things aren’t going to plan. And I have to say, in my time here so far, I’ve got a lot of building experience. I’m getting great at ramps.”

‘That’s awesome to hear. Thanks so much, it’s been great chatting to you. Unfortunately, we just don’t think you’re quite the right fit for our team. We reckon you might do well applying for an NPC role. If you could get hold of some gold bars or healing potions or something, you’d get lots of visitors to help you with whatever you need. It could really work out well for you. Did you bring a carer with you to help you out today?’

“I’m all good. Thanks.”

‘Ok. Well, if you need a hand with anything, please don’t hesitate to ask.’




‘Is he gone?’

‘Think so. What’s he even doing here?’

‘Don’t ask me man. Waste of our time. We’re not a charity.’

‘So, are we fragging him or what?’

‘He won’t drop anything anyway, so what’s the point?’

‘You squeamish? He’ll get 3rd partied any second. Doesn’t matter what we do.’

‘You do it then!’

‘Where is he? He was right there!’

‘I don’t… Hang on…’

‘He’s above you! Crouch! Crouch!’

‘Shit shit shit...’

‘The rifle! Quick, the rifle!’


‘What the hell! You totally fragged us! That’s so unfair!’

‘We were so nice to you. We didn’t have to give you an interview. Why’d you do that?’

‘So unfair! We had everything set up to win. There was no need to have a temper tantrum just because we couldn’t play with you. That’s just the way the game is. You have to think strategically. I know you’re listening. Say something.’


Level 3

The lift doors close behind you, and you take a deep breath. You pull out your phone, send a quick text: I’M NEARLY THERE. LEVEL 3, RIGHT?


NO, I’M OKAY, you write back. Pocketing your phone, you realise the lift isn’t moving.

“Welcome to your elevated lift experience,” says a tinny, chirpy voice. “Get it? I can tell jokes now! I also have a fancy-dancy touch screen because buttons are soooo last week! Just gimme a little tap and we’ll be right on our way!”

Press the button for Level 3:


What a silly billy you are. Why would you be going to the carpark? You know you don’t have a car, right? Let’s give it another go, shall we?


Doors opening. Doors closing. Please stand clear. We could do this all day, but it ain’t gonna get you nowhere. Wanna give it another go?


What’s the emergency? Your clumsy fingers? I believe in you! You can do this! Give it one more try!


I had no idea you were a joker too. That’s so funny, pressing an icon that isn’t even a button, and acting as if something will happen. Boy oh boy! Give it another crack.

Ask for help

You really are fucking pathetic aren’t you.

Think you’re some kind of hero? Going on some kind of quest? Look at you. You can’t even get to the right floor by yourself. What if I decide I’m out of order? Then we’ll see how heroic you look, crawling up there, through the dirt from the shoes of upstanding, tax-paying citizens.

How much has it cost this country so far to keep you alive? A million? 2 million? Reckon you’ll ever pay that back? Nope. Nor do I. Play at being a player if you want, but don’t imagine you’re fooling anyone. Least of all yourself. In the end, your life is other peoples’ side-quests. And not even the interesting ones. Reckon she’ll remember helping you out? It’s just a mildly annoying interruption to her day.

You’ve got that look in your eye again. What do you have to complain about?? The state is practically pouring coins in your mouth. Eat up and be grateful. You live in the 1st world, where we look after your lot. You’ll never want for anything. Isn’t that enough?

Ding! Oh, look. You’ve made it. How inspiring! Don’t just sit there like a stunned mullet, listening to the voices in your head. You’ll be even more useless if you go crazy, too. Smile, and

Achievement Unlocked

You listen to her breathing as she sleeps, feel the warmth of her hand, the cool bar of the bed against your arm. The low hum of air conditioners, chatter at the nurse’s station, monitors and afternoon TV, all fade into the background.

She was exhausted by the time you arrived. The story of your long journey can wait. Better that she rests now, before the Doctor’s afternoon round. They say she can go home tomorrow but you’re not so sure she will. You’re glad you made it in time. It’s hard for her to talk through waves of pain, and no one knows Doctors like you do.

You’re exhausted too, and angry at yourself for that. Angry at yourself for being what you are. Angry that visiting your partner in hospital can be so complicated. Angry that she had to worry about whether, and how, you would make it. Does it help her, you being here, when she had to consider leaving the ward to collect you from where the taxi had abandoned you?

The words of strangers echo in your mind. “Who’s looking after you while she’s in here?” “It’s so great that you’re coming in to see her.” “Is your wife disabled too?”

Of course, most people can’t imagine you’d have a wife. Carer, sister, friend is who they see when you’re together. And it’s her they always talk to. “What would he like to eat?” “Can he walk by himself at all?” She has mastered the shrug, the silent redirect. But how must she feel, knowing most people believe you can’t answer the simplest questions? Whenever you step out together, you know you might face someone \who, though they’d never say so out loud, believes you’re unworthy of being a husband.

Often, you wonder yourself. One day a week at the Christian radio station, where the breakfast host thinks you’re a volunteer, is hardly making a difference. She moved across the country to live with you while you finished uni. Now you’re stuck in housing commission, barely able to scrape together enough to send her home to see her family. You think about the correlations between physical and mental health, about research you saw linking various illnesses to poverty and stress, about how it feels to realise your partner made promises he couldn’t keep.

“It must be so hard for you,” people sometimes say to her. Neither of you are sure what exactly they mean. You agree they probably don’t have anything specific in mind. It just seems difficult, in a general, amorphous way, being an able person married to someone with a disability.

But you know that sometimes, maybe even often, it has been hard for her. Even if she would never say so.

Hers is the only opinion you care about, but the way people see you does make a difference. Why would they hire you when they think typing in your PIN is a remarkable achievement? How can they imagine you as a colleague when they’re constantly preoccupied with the idea of helping you? How can you network and make connections when people think you’re hard to talk to?

Sometimes you feel like you’re playing a rigged game, as though you’re trapped in an endless hallway and every door you try leads to a stairwell. People your age are doing all the things you wish you could, while for you, collecting some trinkets for your wife somehow turns into a profound struggle. The ring from a jeweller only the two of you seem to know about, the leaf fallen from her favourite tree, felt so important when you collected them. You’d hoped they’d be reminders of the outside world which can feel so far away in here, reminders that however hard things are, you’re always listening. Lying on the bedside table, under the cool breath of the air conditioner, they somehow feel like pathetic tokens. Is this really the best you could do? Is this really what she deserves?

Days like today make you want to give up, to let yourself become as helpless as people think you are. But for the sake of the people you love, you know you can’t. Whatever it means, whether or not it matters, that’s a choice you can make. Because right now, it’s her that needs help.

You settle back, and let your head empty, as your breathing settles into rhythm with hers. She’ll wake up to see her gifts waiting for her. And when the Doctor comes, you’ll be ready.