In 2000, doujin artist RAITA released a sketch depicting a game set in a high school for kids with disabilities. In 2007 the sketch was posted on 4chan. A few months and a couple brainstorming sessions later, 4 Clover Studios was formed by volunteer developers looking to make that game idea a reality.
In 2012, they succeeded. Katawa Shoujo (“Disabled Girls”) is a traditional Japanese dating sim that tells the story of Hisao Nagai, a normal boy who suffers a heart attack and gets transferred to a special school for the disabled. Once he arrives he has three months to court one of five different (and differently-abled) girls by talking to them during breaks, taking them on dates after school and visiting with their friends and family.
So far, if you disregard the disabled bit this game seems to be basic visual novel/dating sim fare. While a lot of other blogs are making a point of saying that you can disable the adult bits, the truth is that in these games if you don’t see the adult bits almost immediately, they're really more of a reward for reading hours of text and making a few decisions along the way. Make the wrong decisions, and you’ll have more hours of clicking through text ahead of you.
But the fact that Katawa Shoujo is a stereotypical dating sim is what makes it so impressive; the physical, mental and social disabilities you encounter are handled respectfully as facts of the girls’ lives. And even if you disregard the outrageous potential for terrible, horrible twists in a disability-themed dating sim, this project is a fantastic success story because it actually got made. Given that 90 percent of game projects initiated on Internet forums end in failure, the fact that Katawa Shoujo is even playable is a miracle. Even more, it’s completely free to play on PC, Mac and Linux.