Written by Suzanne Roman
Even the older generation was at the forefront of adopting and using technology as soon as it became available. My parents arriving home with our first 386 computer in the 80’s (with something like 5mb of hard drive storage) was a huge deal and provided us with many hours of family entertainment.
When the internet first became available, text based, role-playing games lured us into their world for hours on end, way before the amazing graphics, special effects and lightning-fast internet connections that we take for granted today.
It seems that somehow this is our calling. We all immerse ourselves in games for different reasons.
My young adult daughter plays to be part of a community. She has made some amazing friends this way, from her earliest experiences with Gary’s Mod through to her current Overwatch phase, her friends remain in her life.
My sister plays games like Rocket League to feel a sense of accomplishment that can be so elusive and time consuming in the real world.
“You can accomplish so much in a relatively short time,” she tells me. “Sometimes you need to wait for years before you see the results of your hard work in real life.” These fast results can be a real self esteem booster when not much else may be going to plan offline.
I, on the other hand, play simply to tune out for a little while. To escape.
Before I knew anything about autism, I felt like a perpetual outsider no matter where I was. School, work, social outings – everywhere that involved socialising was difficult and exhausting. Aside from a small group of friends that I loved and felt safe with, I would usually prefer to be alone. I have always had a knack for attracting unwanted attention, sometimes in the form of bullies and sometimes from well-meaning people, policing my mannerisms (“Smile darling! It’s not the end of the world!”) – there were always so many rules to learn and I felt that I was simply never good enough to learn them all. My life seemed like a neverending string of social blunders followed by beating myself up for weeks on end, about each one.
I wasn’t a weird outsider when I was playing games, I could relax, be myself and quiet my forever chattering mind. There were no obscure social cues to look out for, no need to concentrate on making eye contact for just the right amount of time nor controlling my facial expressions.
Autism is defined as a “developmental disorder characterised by impairments in social interaction and communication, in addition to restrictive, repetitive patterns of thoughts, behaviour and interests”. So it is no surprise really that gaming can be such a big part of our lives. It gives us an escape from the difficulties of a world where we sometimes feel like we don’t really belong in, while it appeals to our love of routine and focused interests.
The interactive nature of video games, with their structured rules and predictable patterns, often resonates strongly with Autistic individuals. They can provide many benefits on gamers (both young and old) – they improve hand-eye coordination, give us a community where we feel we belong and make us feel like we are achieving something. Games are even used in various health-related contexts, like physiotherapy and occupational therapy, cognitive rehabilitation and even treatments for anxiety disorders.
In one study, for example, Autistic adolescents reported that gaming helped them:
But let’s face it. There is a fine line between healthy gaming and letting it take over our lives. We all know someone who appears to dedicate their entire lives to gaming, only stopping to eat and occasionally sleep.
So why does this seem to happen? More often than not, it can be a symptom of something not being right in our lives. Too much time spent online can be a sign of burnout or some other kind of overwhelm.
Not coping at school, work, socially, or sometimes even a fear of growing up and having to start adulting, can be a reason for burying ourselves in too much gaming.
But of course, it’s hard not to wonder – would I be happier or more successful if gaming didn’t exist? Would I have achieved more? The answer is “maybe”, I suppose. But many good things have come out of my gaming and internet enthusiasm too. It piqued my interest in graphic design, programming and web development which led to my first business in my early twenties. I was not doing well in regular, paid employment – a large office environment can be the socially awkward persons absolute nightmare – and being self-employed was the greatest thing ever for me.
My sister is engaged to a partner she met in her online community, where it seems much easier to meet a likeminded person than in the real world of dating. So, we keep going each day and continue trying to find a good balance between the real and virtual worlds, our families, pets, finances, responsibilities and, of course, our love of gaming.
Suzanne Roman is an Autistic writer. To hear more on her experiences, read her guest blog on living with misophonia.
The Reframing Autism team would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we have the privilege to learn, work, and grow. Whilst we gather on many different parts of this Country, the RA team walk on the land of the Birpai, Awabakal, Wattamattagal, Whadjak, Amangu, Bunurong and Kaurna Yarta peoples.
We are committed to honouring the rich culture of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of this Country, and the diversity and learning opportunities with which they provide us. We extend our gratitude and respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and to all Elders past, present, and emerging, for their wisdom, their resilience, and for helping this Country to heal.