Inspired by a recent article by IGN’s Ryan Clements about gaming with OCD (great article by the way, I highly recommend it) I thought I would follow up with an article of my own about gaming with a different condition that effects the way I perceive games when compared to others around me. I am talking today about gaming with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Asperger’s Syndrome is often thought of as a mild form of Autism by many, the distinction actually comes more down to language and intellectual development. Often a child with Autism will likely struggle with verbal communication for a long time compared to a child with Aspergers who will often start speaking very early, and often seem to be developing very quickly in those early years. With that out the way, here is some excerpts from an explanation of Aspergers Syndrome from Web MD:
“Although there are many possible symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome, the main symptom is significant trouble with social situations…. Children with Asperger’s syndrome may not pick up on social cues and may lack inborn social skills, such as being able to read others’ body language, start or maintain a conversation, and take turns talking.”
“[They may] dislike any changes in routines, appear to lack empathy be unable to recognize subtle differences in speech tone, pitch, and accent that alter the meaning of others speech. [They] may not understand a joke or may take a sarcastic comment literally and his or her speech may be flat and hard to understand because it lacks tone, pitch, and accent.”
“[They may] be preoccupied with only one or few interests, which he or she may be very knowledgeable about. Many children with Asperger’s syndrome are overly interested in parts of a whole or in unusual activities, such as designing houses, drawing highly detailed scenes, or studying astronomy. They may show an unusual interest in certain topics such as snakes, names of stars, or dinosaurs.”
“[They may also] have delayed motor development. Your child may be late in learning to use a fork or spoon, ride a bike, or catch a ball. He or she may have an awkward walk. Handwriting is often poor.”
So how does this come back to gaming? Well, for me it has effected my life in several ways relating to each of the different ways the condition has effected my life. During the years before I started school I already had several obsessive interests ranging from Thomas the Tank Engine to Power Rangers, but the first one that has significance to my gaming life was when I discovered the Pokemon anime. I was drawn to the anime because of the over the top expressions of the characters, something very common in anime and likely the reason I’m still so into anime. My older brother who could see how obsessed I was with the TV series gave me a floppy disk with a Pokemon red emulator on it and I became truly obsessed. I had to catch every Pokemon, chart its lv’s out, memorise what level it gained what stats, eveloved, learnt what moves, which areas it could be caught in and which areas it was most common in. I memorised every Pokemon’s pokedex number, I knew what levels it would appear at in which zones, I knew the lv of every Pokemon every trainer would use and the move-sets it had with that trainer, I knew it all.
For a while that helped me making friends. I was the go to girl for Pokemon questions. When the other kids wanted to know how long it was until there Charmelion would evolve and how to teach it Fire Blast I was there to answer for them. That quickly faded when they realised that all I wanted to talk about was Pokemon. Their interests changed and my “safety topic”, the topic I could retreat to when I was struggling socially, was no longer of any use. It didn’t take long for my short lived social circle to dissapear. But Pokemon remained.
In Pokemon I could save the world, I knew how people would react, what they were going to say. In fact, I probably found it easier to talk to NPC’s in Pokemon than real people for a long time. They were people who said what they meant rather than relying on facial expressions, they always wanted to talk to me about Pokemon and I always could tell what they wanted. If someone walked up to me I knew they wanted to battle Pokemon. If I talked to them, I knew they would talk to me about Pokemon and I could predict what they would talk to me about. Pokemon was my world, and I lived there for a very long time.
I also used to have a lot of difficulty with co-ordination. Up until a few years ago my writing was completely illegible, and now it is only just legible due to years of dedicated hand writing lessons. I still don’t use a knife and fork correctly and the last time I tried to ride a bike was a disaster too. Gaming too used to be a huge struggle. When I got my Gamecube, and entered the world of Dual analogue, I felt completely alone. I found myself unable to use both sticks at once and had to move myself, then the camera, then myself again. I played through the entirety of Wind Waker never using both analogue sticks together, just alternating between camera and movement. It took me years or practice to get the hand of dual analogue, and I still am not terribly good with it, so I tend to avoid online multiplayer shooters and stick to the easiest difficulty on first person games. It’s not that I’m bad at games, as many people have suggested, I know every detail of what’s happening and have strategies that could allow me to win, my body just cant keep up with my brain.
In recent years I have started to gravitate towards games like mass effect as being my favourite games to play. In all my conversations with others about their experience with the Mass Effect trilogy I have yet to find anyone who took quite the same away from them as I did. For me it was never about saving the universe, it was about having a group of honest and loyal friends by my side. I could help them with their problems, have conversations with them that flowed naturally, I could have a relationship and saving the world with them was more of an adventure with friends than anything else to me. In games like Mass Effect I had choice, this was my adventure not the characters, and I got to do all the things that I struggled to in the real world.
Lastly there is the obsessive tendencies I display in games. No I do not have OCD, which is a separate diagnosed disorder, but due to my condition I have mild obsessive tendencies. These are the sort of thing that in real life manifest as needing doors to be closed if I am in a room, only being able to eat foods separated, not being able to wear clothes with tags in ect. In games it comes out in the way I play. I find myself spending hours combing areas checking I have not missed anything, trying to inspect every element of the game. The number of hours I have put into replaying games because I felt I needed to make all the choices and see all the endings is ridiculous. I will keep playing a game long after it is fun because I feel uncomfortable if I don’t.
I also found the same problem Ryan Clements talks about in Mass Effect 3 where my Paragon pure character started with a small amount of Renegade points which really bothered me, making me uncomfortable every time I opened that menu. The same problem came up when my Renegade character had some Paragon points from the start. While that might not bother most of you, every time I opened that menu I was suddenly ten times more nervous and uneasy about playing.
Gaming has been both a blessing and a curse for me living with Asperger’s. It has served as a great escape for me when I can’t handle social situations, it’s pushed me to improve my co-ordination as far as I can, and the knowledge I have accumulated has helped me to be an informed video games writer online. On the other side it has taken hours from my life in trying to prevent myself from feeling like I have missed something and it constantly reminds me I will never be the best in the world at games that require fast reactions and co-ordination. What do you think about this? Do you suffer with Asperger’s Syndrome or another condition? Can you relate to any of these? How does your condition effect you? Let us know in the comments below.
(Disclaimer) This article does not cover all aspects of Asperger’s syndrome, nor is it meant to be a representation of every person with Asperger’s relationship with gaming. Some aspects of my condition I have left out as they do not apply to gaming and not everyone is effected the same way or to the same degree with the condition.