Aspergers and Videogames: Everything in Moderation Jake Tucker September 16, 2014 Features, Opinion 8 I’ve always had a bit of trouble communicating with people. People’s motives felt elusive. Friendships seemed beyond my grasp. I grew up in a pretty shitty council estate. I’d had consoles growing up, chief among them being my beloved MegaDrive II (with the red buttons) and I’d loved them all. My love of videogames peaked when for my 7th birthday my mother saved up for the best part of a year to hook me up with a Playstation. I got the Playstation for my birthday in June, ‘96. It’d been out for around 9 months and I was one of the first in my town to have one. I was ecstatic. I was more than ecstatic: I was a 7 year old with a Sony Playstation. Listening to the opening notes as the Playstation came to life would just induce euphoria into every child in earshot. It was playtime. At 11 I was diagnosed with Aspergers and it answered a few questions for family members. Special schools were suggested, but nothing came of it. My odd behaviour was the equivalent of a bullseye painted on my chest for most of my formative years. No one told me. Playing video games with people was simple. The brilliant thing about playing videogames of that era was that the motive is literally given to you: Win the race, advance to the next screen, chuck “The Rock” from the top of the ladder and lock him down for the pin. All of my happiest early memories involved me sat cross legged at the Playstation with a friend or a family member, I was just a kid that was always a target. I wasn’t a sports guy, wasn’t particularly tough and lacked that certain something that marked me as a potential buddy. It’s quite a typical story, but when it was mine I couldn’t work out why everyone liked chasing me down the road so much. Now I had an expensive video games console and I was exceptional at videogames. I could complete Metal Gear Solid in 6 hours, build the scariest mech in Armoured Core and I’d beat everybody at CoolBoarders 2. As a result, I had a certain amount of “cred” with the kids who were into games. This was everybody who could get their hands on them. I started getting invited to sleepovers and things got better. I still got beat up a lot, but I had “people” now, guys to stand out on the playground with. I kept playing games, I kept making friends. I started playing Final Fantasy and Breath of Fire games to suck up more of my time. This kept me away from the somewhat mundane outdoors and was the price of entry for a hundred different worlds that I could dip into at will. I arrested terrorists, stole cars, slayed dragons… whatever I felt like. Eventually, the Playstation turned into an N64, a PS2, an Xbox360. I was famous as a teenager for the Red Faction matches at my house every Saturday when my Mother was out. Fairly well known locally for making Far Cry maps on my Xbox. Videogames had given me a social life and helped me to identify with people. There’s a lot of negative buzz around kids playing videogames, but for all of the people saying that growing up with games is harmful, I’ll respond as I always do: “Everything in moderation”. Videogames kept me busy and a love of gaming got me to get out and interact with people more. When going outside left me feeling drained, locking myself away with my PS2 helped make things more manageable. In my formative years, gaming was a force for good. I’m not suggesting we outfit every 11 year old with a headset, a copy of the latest Call of Duty and an Xbox Live account, but I am saying that getting together with friends and some videogames helped me out with some rough times in my life. I wanted to write an entirely uplifting blog post, but there’s two sides to the story. Catharsis is defined as the purification and purgation of emotions. Sometimes this catharsis can do more harm than good. I was in college when videogames started to give me tough times. I was spending a bunch of time staying with my first real girlfriend, and I was spending a bunch of time on the original Xbox. These often coincided. Things went south. You know how I got over it? I played a bunch of videogames. We split up via phonecall while I was playing a game (Timesplitters 2, of course.) It was around 2am. I remember why we broke up, but it’s not really important. It was the last time we’d speak for several years, and I don’t remember what she said, just that I hadn’t paused and my friend was screenwatching so he could hunt me down and take me out while I was on the phone. I was playing as Cyberfairy. I always played as the Cyberfairy. This mentality is toxic. I’d developing a coping mechanism that worked for me but now I was too quick to jump into it. Most of my relationships broke down entirely down to my propensity for Videogames, retreating from arguments into games, which causes more arguments. I didn’t realise it was a problem at the time. When I struggled to identify with people in my first job I’d come back every night and play videogames from when I took off my coat until 4am every morning. I’d fall asleep on top of my duvet and crawl out of bed bleary eyed a few hours later. There was a similar story at university, and it’s here where I’d like to posit that maybe games as therapy isn’t the smart idea it might appear to be. Just like the alcoholic who drinks to deal with things or the comfort eater sliding towards obesity, if you find yourself using videogames as a crutch like I have in the past, your life is going to be weaker for it. I didn’t realise I had a dependancy until the last argument I had with a former partner. It was November, 2013. In an angry rage she said that when she eventually decided to leave me, I’d just shrug and go back to my videogames. I rubbished the idea and smoothed things over. When we split up two weeks later, I poured myself a whisky and played Battlefield 4 until the sun came up. I had a problem. But what can you do? It’s sometimes easier to stay in a negative situation because it feels safe. I definitely found it safer to anesthetize myself against emotions I couldn’t fully interpret than try to struggle through. My brain was traitorous, years of depression exerting pressure to convince me to hide away. I’m still wildly all over the place on a mental level, but in terms of burying myself in videogames a certain balance has been achieved. I’ve not kicked the habit of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with videogames as a recreational activity, and if you say otherwise, i’ll fight you. I have instead taken it on as a career. I find writing about games to be a better distraction than playing them and It’s helped me to build relationships with a bunch of people that are as into games in all forms as I am. It takes a little active thinking to avoid coming home from a tough day and just plugging myself in, but I do okay. This has largely taken care of the problems. With recent events firmly in mind, there’s no doubt that from time to time Videogames can be an entirely toxic thing to be around, and my own personal dependency issues may not paint them in a positive light, but I think overall videogames and gaming in general have been a big force for good in my life, and with a bit of care they still will be, years from now. This was written for CritDistance’s Blogs Of The Round Table. This months theme was catharsis. There’s a snazzy Iframe that our theme doesn’t support, so click on the link and check out some of the other contributions. Panzar As another gamer diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome at a young age (7), there is a lot to this story that mirrors my own life. Thanks for writing article. It was an interesting read, one that sometimes hit a bit too close to home. Keep up the good work. Jake Tucker Hi Panzar, Thanks for getting in touch. I was a little unsure as to whether to write this up, solely because it’s a subject that’s close to home, but I also feel it’s worth mentioning that sometimes it can be a little too easy to socialise through videogames. Thanks for the kind words, J Panzar It can be and I am aware that sometimes it is too easy to ignore your partner to play a few hours of games in the evening. It is more attractive, engaging and immediately fun. Perhaps, eventually, the added perspective given in your article can improve things, or maybe I will write my own experiences. Jonathan Hartley Reminds me pointedly of burying myself in games as a child when my parents argued. Yeuch! Feelings! Do not want! Stormbringer The PlayStation was truly awesome. Armored Core (mentioned) and King’s Field (unmentioned) are still the best 3D game experiences available. That was the golden age. Mario Bros, Zelda, Castlevania, Metroid was the silver age. And Shadow of the Colossus and the PS2 platinum. Ever since, totally justified to write the whole medium off as a colossal waste of screen time (@stodgy parents; a book is a screen too) Lemon Pie Well, I’m not yet diagnosed with autism – I’m in the process of getting a diagnosis and it’s taking a really long time. But this article really resonates with me. I’ve heard a lot of people -including my parents- saying that games were an associal activity. I can’t agree with that statement : most of my friendships were built around videogame. Even when I went to spend the evening with friends, we’d play all together. Last time, we didn’t and the evening felt more awkward to me, it was the first time I noticed that talking with someone while playing a game was easier : no need for eye contact, an easy and clear conversation subject (the game). I don’t know where I’m going with that, but games never became an addiction because when I went to college I became depressed and stopped playing game altogether. I do it from time to time and I miss playing a lot. I feel like I can’t connect with games like I did when I was a kid and I miss it. Anyway, I’ve also decided on making games as a career, but I’m struggling with the anxiety induced by the idea that I can’tbuild a network, that I’ll never fit in with a team, that I’ll never be good at explaining or defending my ideas. I try to stay optimistic but it’s difficult, and it’s slowing me down. Anyway, I don’t know why I wrote all that, sorry. Thanks for writing a really nice article. Jake Tucker *hugs* Keep at it, you’ll get there. Lemon Pie Thanks!