Videogames and Regression

I’ve categorized regression in autism into 3 severity types. Type 1 happens when an autistic person is under a lot of stress from a significant change in their environment that causes them a lot of distress which makes them regress into an earlier child-like state and they may preoccupy themselves with an activity that makes them feel safe and comfortable, and returns them to a state of order in an otherwise chaotic situation.

Type 2 is what I have dubbed ‘The Second Regression’ in the past which is a more serious and long term form of regression. It’s usually referred to as cognitive regression or a shutdown. Shutdowns in autism have their own terminology and have their own spectrum of severity and it’s something I won’t get into now because it will just deviate from the original point of me writing this post. This Type 2 regression usually happens when an autistic person pushes themselves beyond their own limitations and can result in a loss of developed skills. Since doctors don’t know much about this condition and even go as far to say it’s psychological hysteria they can’t do a lot in terms of treatment. Instead, the autistic person must re-learn all these skills over again. When their family members notice they’re a bit slower in communicating their thoughts, social understanding and basic skills they may have no choice but provide some accommodations for their struggling child, sibling or spouse.

Type 3 usually happens when a baby is 18 to 20 months of age and begins to show symptoms of autism for the first time. They may have already developed speech and hit their milestones on time or early but for reasons not clear to scientists their skills begin to regress.

I’ve gone through Type 2 regression around four times so I’m hesitant to push myself when I begin to feel anxious. I don’t ever want to feel helpless and dependent on others while trying to re-learn lost social and life skills which I’m all always trying to build more of. Recently though I experienced Type 1 regression for maybe only the second time. They may have been more but I feel so socially developed for an autistic person that this little set back really made a huge impact on my self-confidence.

It all started when I found out that my house’s lease was being terminated and my sister whom I was living with at the time had previously been looking for somewhere else to move, which I protested. But then we had no choice. We had to move. It probably took a week for my sister and housemate to agree to move to Katoomba but I resisted. I tried to find someone else to live with on Flatmates.com but after a few weeks of not really finding anything suitable for me and my small cat Lyra (not many places allowed pets) I started to lose confidence that I could move in with strangers at all. Eventually, I came around to the Katoomba idea but I was still anxious about it.

I was working in Western Sydney and I knew I had to stop working there days before moving to Katoomba. I’m also a gamer and around this time Quantum Break, a game I had been waiting years to come out finally did and I become wholly absorbed into the world of Jack Joyce, the main protagonist. I searched through every nook and cranny of that game world to uncover more of the story. It had become my new reality. Yes, time was breaking down and I had these cool time powers and Dominic Monaghan was my brother. There were these moments in the game called stutters and I guess I played the game for so long I started to see them outside of the game. There were TV episodes in between the levels or acts and I felt like I lived through every character in the show and game. When I was half-way through the game I started to take days off work just to play it, even after my flu symptoms started to dissipate. Then it was choosing playing that game instead of seeing Craig Nicholl’s from The Vines play a solo show at Newtown Social Club. I’m a live band photographer and go to quite a lot of gigs and consider myself part of the Australian live music scene so not going was even a shock to me. Craig also has Asperger’s syndrome so he’s probably the only person in the music scene I can relate to. My friend wasn’t impressed that I didn’t go to that gig. In truth I didn’t want to go out and risk getting sick again. I had already missed so many days of work it was impossible to catch up without risking a collapse. I’ve had chronic fatigue since I was 13 and last time I pushed myself I became close to passing out. It happened after I went to shoot a gig, spent two days editing the photos and went straight back to another gig. When things like that happen to me I become anxious about it ever happening again.

Another reason I was hesitant to go to gigs might have had something to do with feeling anxious and even suicidal at previous gigs I went to alone. The feelings lasted as long as I was alone and didn’t talk to the band members if I didn’t know them. Fortunately, at those gigs I did know some band members. These feelings were new and unusual and they may have also had something to do with my stress over moving.

When I was close to finishing Quantum Break a free Destiny update came out so I gave the game another chance and I enjoyed it a lot more. I was one of those year 1 players who got sick of it and vowed never to play again, but the loot and upgrading points were very rewarding so I stayed. I entered into a new reality, a futuristic dystopian world in which I and other players were the last hope of humanity’s survival.  I became my Titan subclass throwing fiery hammers, ground pounding groups of enemies into oblivion or helping my team mates out by erecting a void shield. I dominated the Crucible (multiplayer) for a short while employing underhanded tactics to defeat my enemies. I played for full days to slowly upgrade my light level so I could play the final challenge. But it was all cut short when Starfox Zero came out and packed up my Xbox One and set up my Wii U. Three days later I wanted to throw that game and Wii U into the Sun. I also played a bit of Alan Wake: American Nightmare on my Xbox One in between Quantum Break and Destiny or whenever I couldn’t connect to Xbox Live.

Next was Ratchet and Clank I think so I set up my PS4 and packed up my Xbox One. Around this time I was beginning to suspect that I had grown some sort of a psychological dependence on playing videogames. I would never buy so many games in a matter of weeks. Usually, I would play a videogame to distract myself from depressed and suicidal thoughts. So, it was a form of therapy for me. I discovered this when I was anxious about going to a gig and I found playing Batman: Arkham City calmed me down. Since then, playing videogames works better than any psychiatrist’s advice ever has.

Not only did I have a psychological dependence to play videogames I also stopped hanging out with groups of people. People would come over to the house all the time and there was even a birthday party but I just didn’t care about socialising. It may have just been another way for me to cope with my stress. But in my head I came to the decision that I just didn’t want to do it anymore.

I did want to go to Good Game Live though but I felt nervous about meeting fans of Good Game Pocket show, the ‘Pocketeers.’ I’m not really good at meeting people and becoming friends. I’ve been bullied and trolled by people who were meant to be my friends so I was hesitant to go. When I sort of told one of my friends she made it sound like I wasn’t making an effort. We had a big row, a big big one. She told me I was making excuses even for my PTSD and this is from someone who has a mental illness themselves. Emotionally I couldn’t deal with it and I didn’t know how to handle the situation so I did what I always do when I hit a social brick wall – I tried to get her out of my life but she kept trying. Through my sister I realized she missed me and it was something that never occurred to me. I don’t often miss people. I can spend 6 months without seeing people and as long as I’m preoccupied with an interest it’s enough for me. I did try to make an effort to hang out though. I was going to go to a gig in her town and asked to stay the night but I was never really given an answer. I deliberately didn’t go to two gigs I knew she’d be at. Although, I had no real motivation to go. This was You Am I and Davey Lane – they were usually unmissable gigs but I just kept playing Ratchet and Clank and Modern Combat 5.

It took about a week but things are good between me and my friend again. I think. I’m not very good at keeping friends.

Then Uncharted 4 was released and yep I bought it day one. Now I was Nathan Drake, a thief/ adventurer in search of pirate treasure. Once again I was completely absorbed into the story and became so accustomed to the combat it began to feel like muscle memory. I would shoot one bad guy, take his gun, grapple to a rope, swing on that rope to another ledge, shoot another bad guy while still swinging in the air, land on him and take his gun and continue the process until the area was cleared of enemies. I felt so athletic while playing it even though I had barely gotten up and gone for a walk. I never wanted to stop playing it. I wanted to stay in that world forever.

I might have spent between 6-10 hours playing it daily and completed it in four days. I’m not the best player but I thoroughly enjoyed my time playing as Nathan Drake. I enjoyed the cinematic driven story so much that when I played DOOM on my Xbox One it felt boring but I eventually got comfortable with it. It was hard to feel like I was in the DOOM world so I tried to read up as much of the lore as I could but the days til I moved were getting shorter and I had to stop playing DOOM and pack my Xbox One into a moving box. I also really wanted to see Dallas Crane and I felt I had to completely put away my game console so I could be sure I could go to that show. I put N.O.V.A 3 on my phone and played it before the show. The A.I that was supposed to help me was buggy AF though so I eventually gave up on it. But I am glad I went to the Dallas Crane gig. I got to hang out with the guys, talk mostly about videogames with the drummer Steve and take some good photos despite having no confidence of my skills after months off photographing bands. I even forgot the differences between fast and slow shutter speeds.

Then I was going to go see Olympia two or three days later, so I hastily edited the Dallas Crane photos, ignored the support act photos and was off to another gig. Then some more symptoms showed up. I completely lost my appetite yet still felt hungry; I just didn’t want to eat. The kitchen was a mess because of the move so that may have been one reason why I couldn’t eat.  I ended up surviving on Shapes and crackers. My sister was convinced that Olympia went to our church when we were kids. I didn’t really believe her.

The night of the Olympia gig I had some anxiety about getting in at all because my sister had my ticket but it passed and I met up with my sister (not the one I lived with) and we got together to excitedly talk about a house that we were approved to rent. I ate a meal for the first time in days and I was looking forward to seeing my friend Pat at the gig who plays bass in Olympia.

I was distracted and unfocused at the gig. Maybe it was because I kept talking to my sister when I’d usually be alone and hyperfocused on what was happening on stage. I yet again had zero confidence in my ability to take photos but I eventually remembered what a slow shutter speed does to photos taken in low light, so I corrected that. It was a good night. I got to talk to Pat and meet Olympia and my sister asked her if she was the same person that went to our church as kids, and she was and it was kind of strange but nice. I was an extremely quiet and weird child and I’m so different now that it felt good that someone knew me back then. It’s like that child actually did exist. I didn’t really have much to talk about because I had been playing videogames obsessively for the past month and being around a 35 to 40 something year old crowd I didn’t want to make myself seem any younger by mentioning that.

So, despite all the stress and weird regressive symptoms and anxiety about everything and near starvation I still had a good time and took some great photos and just got to do what I had been missing out on for months. It was enough for me to want to do it again. A couple of weeks ago I had feelings of giving up on my photography because I just couldn’t get out to the shows, and also those suicidal feelings. Every now and then I think about giving up on my band photography anyway.

I hastily edited my photos of Olympia too because I planned on seeing The Matches that night. The Matches were amazing and energetic as usual but I didn’t feel like I belonged in that scene anymore. And that was once my scene. There was a time when everyone knew about my photography and at least two people at that gig knew me. I met the guitarist of The Matches but it didn’t go as great as it did at Olympia.

I’m in my new house now and I haven’t played a video game for about two weeks, maybe more. I’ve been watching a whole lot of Good Game Pocket and following gaming news. I’m waiting for a gaming monitor to be delivered and DOOM is sitting on a desk of dresser drawers in the lounge room waiting to be finished. I don’t think I’ll become dependent on videogames again, not to the extent I was. I think it all had to do with the stress I was feeling over moving. Sure, I’m going to be picking up a controller when I feel deeply depressed or even anxious but I don’t think I’ll choose it over going to a gig. I’ve been trying to work on my social skills – AGAIN! Sorry, but this is like the fifth time. I pretty much know what to say to people but don’t say it. It’s going to take time and practice but it will happen. The nervous impulsive speaker will return.

I still enjoyed my time playing videogames. I felt like a gamer for the first time. I’m not saying they’re as broken as I was. No, they seem to be able to balance playing games with work and socialising in a way that I never could. I’ll still continue to play games but I won’t have much money to buy them day one or pre-order collector editions ever again. They’re still the best therapy I can ever get and the only way I can make friends, outside of the music scene of course.

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4 thoughts on “Videogames and Regression

  1. Well done on the break from video games and being cognizant of it sometimes being a problem. I use the internet excessively for sure (one of my many soft/behavioral addictions) but its very, very hard to stop using my laptop and surfing the net when I work from home AND write TV pilots.

    • TV pilots? That sounds like a very interesting job. I hope to become a novelist and screenwriter. Watching films on Netflix is both for research reasons and also because I’m addicted. Well, it’s now a part of my routine.

      • It’s not a source of steady income for me yet so I don’t consider it my job but that’s the nature of the business. I’m also not in LA anymore which is essential for staff writing gigs so while out of state I collaborate with friend/manager who is pitching our pilots to studio folks.

        Watching stuff is half the battle, do you want to write just movies or TV as well? If you want I can point you toward some writing assignments and material to study the necessary formats, structures and beats.

      • It’s just film scripts at the moment.

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