Tranquillity in Chaos – A Personal View About Gaming With Aspergers And ADHD
I am not completely sure how relatable this is going to be, but here is my personal take and thoughts behind being a gamer with Aspergers and ADHD:
When I started gaming as a kid my favourite game was Sonic. Somehow the high speed of the game was calming to me, even then. I loved the fact that when you were on a roll in this game everything else kinda blurred into the background. And this somehow remained throughout my entire gaming history – though in different forms.
Quite a few people I know are confused by the fact that I genuinely play something like Overwatch “to relax.” And I can sorta understand that. From the outside it doesn’t look like a particularly relaxing game, but it totally is – for me. I’d go further and say the most relaxed I can be in this game is when there is a team fight going and I am playing Tracer, Sombra or Lucio. It does something to my head, my mind that helps me completely focus on one thing.
People familiar with ADHD or Aspergers (the symptoms relevant for this article are somewhat fluent) can probably guess why this is but for everyone else: I have immense trouble focusing on things. And staying with things. Repetition is a path to mastery, yes, but it is also incredibly boring and tedious for me. I have my moments where I do the same thing over and over again for what feels like an eternity and literally can’t stop. But those are far and in between. This is one side of ADHD that almost everyone knows about: The problem of something not holding your interest long enough. I am easily bored and when I am bored I lose absolutely all interest in what I am doing. So anything that has a high input of information going on keeps me engaged. In terms of Overwatch it is what many would probably call an information overload – but it feels just right to me.
When I first started the game that was different though. Because I had never played a shooter or such an action oriented game in general. Meaning I was taking much longer to process all the information thrown at me. I started playing Mercy mostly in the beginning because lots of things where overwhelming. But once my head got used to this completely new input it started to get incredibly boring quickly. And it has been the same with other games throughout the years.
When I switched to PC I stuck to tactical and building games though, I was overwhelmed by everything else. Too many buttons, too many possibilities. When I got into RPGs with combat I stuck to playing Mages or Archers because I was busy enough with understanding how this particular type of game worked in general. After a while, once I got used to it, the idea of playing a stationary character became more and more unappealing. To a point where I have to force myself nowadays if I want to do that for narrative reasons. (My sniper in swtor was the hardest character for me to level simply because you have to stand still while doing damage and that irritated me so much I took about 2 years to level her.)
The more I’ve been playing different games though, the more comfortable I got with the basic game mechanics, the more speed and action addicted I became. Not for speed’s sake though. It was just… Slow characters that stand still became underwhelming because they gave me too much time to think. I process everything I have to do and if the character/game takes too much time to translate that into action after I am done thinking I get distracted. In short: If I have time to think about tomorrow’s lunch in between the time it takes to issue the command “Fireball” to my mage and the moment it actually hits someone and I have to think about the next move it completely throws me off my game. Literally.
Tracer in particular appeals a lot to me here. Because if I am in good form I am constantly busy with soooo many things.
- Counting my cooldowns
- remembering where I was 3 seconds ago at all times
- calculating the distance of enemies for my blinks
- factoring reload times into my rhythm
- keeping track of the cooldowns of the enemy team (or at least their supports that I am after)
- keeping track of my own supports and their health
- tracking enemy ultimates
And I am probably forgetting things right now. But all this is stuff I am constantly thinking about when playing her. It’s a challenge and it leaves no room for anything else. And that is the moment when, like in the old Sonic game, everything around the game goes blurry and fades into the background. That is when I can finally completely focus on one single thing – playing – without being distracted by twenty other things.
At the same time it makes it super hard to talk to others about what you are doing while playing. And sometimes I get frustrated with my teammates because they do things that they should not be doing. Or don’t notice what the people next to them are doing. Like when an obnoxious Soldier main brags at the end of the game the he “totally carried” because he has gold elims but never even noticed that Ana was behind him, healing him through all his crazy stunts and that me and Genji made sure the enemy support was almost always down. Small example, but I notice how I expect my teammates to have the same awareness I have – and that often isn’t the case. (I noticed this slowly getting better at Diamond level and above – but still not to the amount that I would like.)
In Guild Wars 2 it is the same sometimes. I need to dial myself back because when I play in a larger group (like 5+ people) I tend to overanalyse everything. I “learned” group play in LOTRO at a time when the endgame content was very challenging. And I am still not 100% sure just how much you can get away with in GW2. So when I am in a group I get the desire to to everything at the same time. We’re in a fight and my mind goes: “our damage spikes are not high enough given by whom the enemies attack, oh and two people next to me are loosing health rapidly, I should heal, ok let’s do this. No, why are they running away from my heals damn it? Also: Is someone else healing? It’s hard to tell. Should I tank? Because this looks like it needs a tank…”
The fact that GW2 has no clear role attributed to your character while almost every other MMO adheres to the regular DD/Tank/Support Trinity makes it sometimes incredibly chaotic. Sure, everyone can potentially do something from every role – but there is a constant danger of group play not actually being group play but rather 5 people just doing their solo thing next to each other. And mostly you get away with that so it’s fine. But in other cases it’s suddenly not enough anymore and it can easily lead to people being either overwhelmed or plainly frustrated. There are pros and cons to this system and I do believe the pros outweigh the cons, but still it makes someone like me who overthinks absolutely everything really stressed out sometimes.
As a player I tend to thrive under fast and chaotic circumstances – but not because they are super random or overly punishing – but because I am good at preparing for every eventuality. As Tracer I think about a dozen different scenarios I deem most likely to happen once I round that corner and usually one of them is close to what is happening once I do. So I am prepared for it and can react accordingly.
In GW2 this leads to me wanting to absolutely optimise my characters. “As long as I don’t die” in PvE absolutely doesn’t work for me. I need to know what every single passive trait does, all the time. I want to know the exact result I get when I combine certain abilities. I need to know all buffs and debuffs by heart to be able to see at a glance what conditions the enemy now has and how I can exploit or add to them. I want to be prepared for all different kinds of scenarios (honestly, in a game like this they are infinite) and that leads to me putting hours into build optimisation, gear and rotation. And this may at least partly also come from me playing games where you were absolutely reliant on the right gear for endgame content for such a long time. And partly on my need to be able to say “I did the absolute best I could” if something doesn’t work. Not to justify my playing to anyone else but rather to myself.
And I know, I can hear the “you shouldn’t care about being good at something as long as you have fun with it” calls already. And I agree on principle. If that’s how someone feels about it: More power to you! The thing is: I ENJOY being good at something. Of course I can be happy with things I am not good at. YET. But after a while I always tent to want more. I enjoyed playing the piano as a kid when I barely even knew how to read sheet music. It was slow and probably sounded like crap most of the times – but I had loads of fun with it. But I enjoy getting better at something just as much as generally doing it. Something that translates throughout all things I do. And this is probably a part that many people can relate to. I just tend to do the whole “I wanna get better at something” in a rather intense way.
The day I decided I wanted to get better aim in Overwatch I started practising with bots and with a little game called OSU. And then I practised. For about an hour each da, over several weeks. Until I felt I was getting somewhere. This is the other side of ADHD – the Hyperfocus. Is aim training for an hour each day tedious and boring? Totally! But the hyperfocus suddenly doesn’t care, because there is an important goal behind that. (The trouble is that you really can’t pick and chose what things to hyperfocus on – it just happens.) I had the same thing when I wanted to learn how to draw. I got myself supplies and 3 books on how to do digital art and how to learn general drawing practices and then I did exactly that: practising. For about a year and half before I let anyone see even the tiniest bit. (Sometimes this leads to other people constantly saying things like “you are always good at everything you try” or “I wish I could just be immediately good at this thing like you are” but honestly this is literally never the case. I’ve failed at more things than I am good at in my life, I just never did those publicly.)
The hyperfocus combined with lack of being able to focus at all sometimes also leads to me sometimes abandoning a game for weeks. If I am in a bad “can’t focus on anything” phase I start 15 new games in 3 days and nothing can keep me for more than an hour or two. If I am hyperfocusing on something I have trouble enjoying anything else in the meantime. It has to be that one thing, all the time. That is why you see me online every single evening in the same game for weeks/months at a time and then not at all for a few weeks.
I am not generally unhappy with how my brain works and how I do these things. As I said, I am definitely having fun. Sometimes I have just as much fun theory crafting with a build generator than I have actually playing the game. (I have an actual build collection for GW2 by now.) The thing I would wish for though? The ability to direct what I am focusing on a bit more. The things I feel I could do if I could influence this more… But it is what it is – and in gaming as in regular life I keep trying to make the best out of it.