Autism, Gaming, and Me: How Video Games Helped

“Most people think time is like a river that flows swift and sure in one direction, but I have seen the face of time and can tell you they are wrong. Time is like an ocean in a storm. You may wonder who I am and why I say this. Sit down, and I will tell you a tale like none that you have ever heard.”  ~ Prince

Prince of Persia

Originally, this was supposed a simple a+b=c article, but it ended up being a period of reflection and research into not only autism and gaming but, most importantly, into myself.

Imagine: a tiny, stuttering, unfocused child unable to convey any real emotion. Not in an “I internalize everything” way, but in an “I don’t know how to express what I feel or think” kind of way. It’s like pressing A on your controller in Dead or Alive to kick, but instead you punch. Then you hit X and back to see if it blocks, and instead you do the cupid shuffle. So you feel nothing is going right, as you go left! That’s how I feel, all the time, internally.

My brain wiring is all jacked up. That’s the best I can explain it.

I don’t always have control over myself. I have much more control now than I ever have before, but it took a very long time to get here, and I experienced a lot of painful “training sessions,” so to speak.

Button Masher

But what helped me a lot in my quest was video games.

I realized that if I was going to write an article about an aspect of myself that I’ve worked so hard to keep hidden and controlled, I needed to confront it head on and, for the first time in my life, actually accept it – which started my eight-month journey of writing this article.

Asperger Syndrome

Asperger Syndrome attacks my social abilities and understanding, and serves as a catch-all for my other “autism-related characteristics.” I mostly have them under control, but occasionally I might let slip and display. Asperger is a highly functional form of Autism. It is diagnosed in people who have difficulty with social interactions, extreme clumsiness, and have repetitive patterns of behavior. I was diagnosed due to my inability to socially interact with the world around me. I’ve struggled most of my life with being obsessive compulsive, germaphobic, and agoraphobic. These were the basis for my diagnosis (but I fit right in with being extremely clumsy, just ask anyone who knows me). There’s no reason yet for why people have “Asperger” so there’s no set treatment, and no “cure.”

My “treatment” has become my own self-awareness.

Autistic doesn’t mean “retarded.” A lot of people commonly associate those two terms together. Despite being Autistic, I function very well, although it has taken a lot of time and a lot of hard work. It will continue to be both for what I can only assume will be my entire life. So the next time you hear someone call another person “retarded,” I beg of you to stand up and speak against that stereotype. Autism is a difference of mind, and I ask you not to judge us because of that one label.

Life is NOT a realistic rendition of The Sims 3 where you can micromanage EVERY single detail of who you are. There’s no character creation, so you have no say in who are you are when you are born.

Sims 3 Character Creation

Character Creation

Video Games and Autism

Did you know that people who have Autism are more likely to develop an addiction to video games?

My favorite statistic is that “children with Autism play video games on average more than two hours a day, which is double the amount of time their peers spend playing on their computers.” Just because Garrus and I have a good thing goin’ on don’t mean y’all need to get up in my space grill! Geez Tal-louis! Stop watchin’ my clock y’all!

Also, did you know: studies show that people with Autism tend to play more Role Playing Games than First Person Shooters?

I started playing video games obsessively in middle school with Final Fantasy VII. I went through the “I can relate to Aerith” phase, like most girls who play FFVII do. It’s a romantic idea, being Aerith. But what caught my eye with Aerith was what I wanted to learn from her. She was this weak girl, doomed to a horrible ending, but she still took up a staff and stuck it out. She was tough and worked hard. She showed me that delicate didn’t have to mean weak. Weak didn’t have to mean incapable. She was kind and lovable; I wanted to be like her.

Cloud Meets Aeris

Aeris Death

Fact is, with FFVII, I obsessively played the game, and played through EVERY possible line of dialogue, with EVERY character option, and what’s more, I was learning while having a lot of fun!

I was still in my “Press A but get Y” stage of life, but to have the possibilities and outcomes laid out before me in a manner I could control was…sexy. I wanted more of it. I wanted to understand. I hungered to learn.

I played every game I could until I realized I was an RPG gamer rather than a first person shooter player. RPGs offered more of a intimate investment. I had more to learn, more lessons to apply, more opportunities for personal growth, and more stories to invest myself into.

I’ve learned a LOT of lessons from video games that I have never learned in my “reality.” I don’t see it as pathetic, just fact. The idea of having my communication options set up for me and a story planned out was incredibly attractive.

How Gaming Helped

So what did the story lines help prepare me for? Well, let’s see….

I learned about what’s respectable and what’s disrespectful in conversations. And also what would likely get me killed. Conversations don’t have a dialogue wheel that shows patterns of Paragon and Renegade conversational choices.

Dialogue Wheel Example

These conversations have taught me that I want to go the paragon route in my actual life. And not just because I’d look like a creepy satanic human bull if I went renegade, but because even in video games I prefer to be a kinder person who hopes for the best.

Good and Evil

I also know I don’t want to be Princess Peach. I don’t want to be saved all the time. Setting aside the Stockholm Syndrome I truly believe Peach has developed for Bowser, I want to be my own source of strength. I want to be brave, battle my demons, and save myself. I love having my husband come to my rescue, but even he understands the value of letting me work through my own battles in life.

I have learned that life is not a competition, nor is it a solo campaign. I need to socialize, and no matter how difficult it may be for me at times, not only do I NEED to do it, but I can do it!

In the few instances where I left my safe “I game alone” bubble, I dabbled in the Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) world. I spent my fair share of time playing Diablo III and Guild Wars 2 (never got into World of Warcraft, but you should look up The Guild on YouTube or Netflix. It’s an incredible web series based on individuals playing in a Guild and what happens when the team meets in real life). MMOs taught me how to co-operate with others, a very difficult challenge for me.

With Asperger, my brain-to-mouth filter sometimes disappears. Long before I realize it, I say what I’m thinking. I don’t mean any harm, but my brain is busy and my thoughts are unclear even to myself. It’s a difficult process to focus on what I’m thinking.

An example I can try to use is: I’m trying to read through a book at the speed of Sonic the Hedgehog, and my mouth is verbalizing at the speed of Tails. It’s automatic. This tends to make me the socially awkward one of the group.

Sonic and Tails

MMOs taught me the basics of doing group tasks and working with multiple people. It comes down to not being prideful and being willing to share your knowledge and strengths with the group. Owning your weaknesses, so another may benefit the group in the gray area if you can’t. It’s about teamwork – the good of the whole unit.

MMOs have also given me the chance to refine and work on my people skills before putting them to use in the “no save point available” reality. My social skills are better because of MMOs.

Most importantly, I learned that my life does not have a save, reload, or reset option.

No! You can't!

Every decision I make has a repercussion, and I have only one chance to make the decision that I will not regret making. It’s this lesson, and this lesson alone, that has inspired me to fight my fears, to push myself, and to try again when things maybe don’t go as well as I’d hoped or prepared for.

When I was seventeen years old, I found myself admitted into a mental institute. It was the first time in my life that I was tested for Autism, and the first time I had ever been treated as such. Sure, most of my close friends know that my life is anything but “functional.” I spent a lot of my energy on a daily basis struggling with my own inner self-control, battling germ phobias and OCD behaviors…oh yes, I was a regular Adrian Monk (only female).

Monk, cleaning your screen.

Stereotypically, an Autistic person is someone who is stunted in their growth, short-like, who has speech impediments, is a little heavier, and has a more difficult time with school and social settings. You would be the average person in this assumption. But, if you look at me, you would think that I’m awkward, clumsy, forgetful, and at times I’ve had the word “ugly” thrown at me, but in the end, I’m still Autistic.

Jessica Crosby 1

I’ve thought to myself, “Am I really like them?!” I’ve met a lot of Autistic people in my quest for acceptance of myself, and I’ve done the comparison.

I’ve had my share of cruel thoughts, and I’ve passed inappropriate judgements that left me feeling ashamed of myself. But thankfully, I got off my “I’m better than thou” high horse, let myself get to know my peers, listened to their advice, and grew from it.

It wasn’t until I was twenty-three that I was officially confirmed as “Autistic.” It was…not as much of a surprise as I probably thought it was. I was different. I didn’t know why, but I always knew that I was not like the people around me.

Acceptance and Growth

“Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune,” said author William James.

Acceptance, there’s a powerful concept. I’ve never been very accepting of myself. Change doesn’t come easy to me. In the time I’ve spent trying to write this article, I’ve made it a point to work on accepting who I am. I realize I’m always telling people, “I like you just the way you are!” and “You’re great just as you are!” I wish I spent more time telling that to myself. But, I got there.

Jessica Crosby 3

My husband, Eric, asked, “When did you become Aerith? Going from who you were, the small scared girl, to being who you are right now?”

I wish I could tell you the moment I decided, “This is it, I’ve had enough, things need to change. I need to accept all this nonsense and move on!” The truth is, I don’t know when the moment happened. It happened so gradually and so slowly that it kind of snuck up on me.

It was partially because of you, Eric. Those two years we spent online chatting before we finally met in person, you didn’t let me make excuses. You awakened something in me that made me determined to see in myself what you saw in me. It was the first time in my life where I was challenged to do things for my own gain.

I started making little strides from there. I’ve seen and lived the crippling effects Autism can have on a person, and I want to be Aerith. I want to be brave, optimistic, and full of a love for life. She may be fictional, but she’s always a constant reminder of the woman I aim to be: kind, caring, capable, brave. I used to not be able to see those characteristics in myself, but in reflection, I feel like I do now. 🙂

My Life To-Do List

My to-do list in life is short. I didn’t want a lot of things, and somehow, at the young age of twenty-five, I have achieved ALL of them:

1. Accept who I am.
2. Leave the United States.
3. Overcome my Agoraphobia
4. Meet my role model in person.

That was it. And I have.

1. I am Jessica Crosby. I’m Autistic, and video games have been a big source of guidance and experience along with valuable life lessons that I have had the honor and privilege of playing and learning. I have two baby teeth and a gap in my smile. I love my red hair and freckles, and all the taunting I endured as a child no longer bothers me. I was a young violinist who lost her way but have discovered a new love for the film and photography industry. I am married to an incredible man who I met on the internet (no lie!). I am a geek, a girl who enjoys video games, and although I’m not the brightest light bulb in the pack, I’m learning to stand out, in a good way. I’m confident, and I know who I am and who I want to be. I’m not a pessimist. I am a realist. I love who I have become, and where I plan to go in life. I accept who I am.

I love my life and who I am!

2. So, remember when I told you I met my husband on the internet? Well, he was stationed in Japan for the Navy, and I was at the time still residing in Maryland. When I FINALLY left the country, it was so that I could go to Japan. It was meant to be a vacation; I would clear my head, work some things out, go home. I fell in love though. You can’t say no to a man who has done as much as he did and continues to do for me. I am in large part where I am because of him. And just for the record, Japan is amazing. You should all go and experience their culture. And their sushi. It’s totally awesome!


3. As far as my Agoraphobia goes, I still get nervous around large crowds, but I leave my house and don’t hide from them. In fact, THIS past San Diego Comic Con, I braved the crowded streets and experienced what the outside of the convention center had to offer. And not ONCE did I break down. I’m still very introverted, and I don’t see that changing, but I am not crippled to the point of staying inside of my home. 🙂 Did I mention that I was dressed up as Aerith at Comic Con?! See adorable picture below!

Aerith Cosplay

(PS – I’m still looking for Optimus Prime, does anyone know who he is?!).

Sarah, Optimus and Aerith

4. I met Felicia Day. For maybe two minutes, and I think all I managed to clearly say was “May I hug you?” But I did it. I waited in line, nearly had a panic attack, and ran out of the building, but I did it!

I was introduced to The Guild, starring Felicia Day, by my husband during a time in my life when I was learning that it’s okay to be a girl who likes to play video games. Felicia was slaughtering the stereotypes of females in the gaming industry. I followed her progress, and she gave me a sense of hope, pride, and acceptance of myself. It didn’t hurt that she has red hair (I have red hair), she plays violin (I play violin)…small things that made me feel like we had some common ground. She’s been an inspiration in my journey of acceptance of my geek self, which in turn has helped me accept other parts of myself that I had not accepted – like being Autistic.


Overcoming Fear

I worried for some time about what might happen if I wrote this article. “What if people find out my secret?” “What if this gets back to my place of employment?” “What if this? What if that?”

The fact that I’m standing where I stand, having achieved the achievements I have, is a testament to my dedication, determination, and the pay off of my hard work and continuous efforts is proof to myself and to the world. If it isn’t, nothing I do ever will be.

I’ve spent a lot of time these last couple months trying to find my voice. I’m still fresh out of the “This is who I am, deal with it or get lost” closet, and I just want to say how grateful I am to everyone who has supported my growth and learning.

My life lately, feels peaceful. I feel like the noble dwarf warden from Dragon Age who, after defeating the Blight, married Alistair, and all my companions have survived, despite my putting them through very difficult battles against deadly foes on a suicide mission to slay an Archdemon! Now, for just a little while, I get to sit back and enjoy the calm. And cake! Oh…wait…

The Cake is a LIE! Dragon Age :)

Today, I work in the professional broadcasting industry. I’m a writer for Nerdy But Flirty, a website about being a gamer and a geek. I live in California with my husband and our two cats. I have friends who accept me, awkwardness and all!

Sarah the Rebel and Jess!

Five years ago, I couldn’t see any of this for myself. Five years ago, I thought I was doomed to hide in a basement, left alone and stuck in fear of anything and everything outside my front door. Five years ago, I had no plan for my future, no goals, and no aspirations. So to say that I’ve changed is an understatement.

Aerith meets Steampunk

Reality has become my game of choice. The characters are of my own choosing. The dialogue, a reflection of my own choices (nothing predetermined). Punch has become A. B has become kick. X has become block, and Y still doesn’t do shit. You know what, some things makes sense now. Finally I’m somewhere I can focus, allowing for growth, and I’m learning everyday.

“Hope is what makes us strong. It is why we are here. It is what we fight with when all else is lost.”
– Pandora, God of War III

13 thoughts on “Autism, Gaming, and Me: How Video Games Helped

  1. Amazing and inspiring.
    I have a 10 year old and 7 year old high Functioning Autisic girls who are utterly obsessed with minecraft. My older sounds just like you. This last week she wrote a paper on herself titled “my Autistic brain”, to read to her class as they are studying brains at present. I wasn’t sure this was the right thing to let her do but this is her so why not let her put it out there. I love who she is and wouldn’t change her for the world.
    Well done I commend you
    Thank you for being you Jess
    Regards Natalie (Australia)

    • I’ve never met your daughter, but I already admire her! She sounds incredibly brave, and she’s very lucky to have you 🙂 I’d love to read her paper sometime if it’s available anywhere!

      Thank you for coming by to read my article. I commend you for being such a strong supporter in her life!

  2. Pingback: Autism and Gaming – Boston Bastard Brigade Interview |

  3. Great article! You seriously never cease to surprise me. In the good way. I remember in college it was like I was meeting a person that I should have put more effort into meeting earlier because we were similar and you were brave. I am so happy for you and your life! This article has given me some very good insight.

    • Thanks Elly! That really means a lot! I wasn’t always the way I am now (which could be said of anyone I suppose!) But I think things happen in due time! We know each other now more than we did then, so I’m pretty happy with that, but I’m happy you were able to gain some insight!

  4. Pingback: Autism: How Video Games Helped | REAL OTAKU GAMER

  5. Hello Jessica, I’m the quiet, awkward guy you’ve seen on the quarterdeck once or twice when you came to visit Eric. We’ve never actually met, but your article has hit home in virtually all possible ways (though I am male and haven’t played some the games you’ve referenced). I recently discovered my Asperger’s Syndrome, which brought brought about a taste of the comfort I’ve been trying to find for years, but the next to step is to pick the brains of my autistic seniors, such as yourself. Before I leave San Diego, I would love to meet you in person, if only just to thank you for writing this great article.

    • I will make it a point to come in and say hello when he returns! I’m really glad you said something, it’s good for us to speak up to each other. And you’re always welcome to pick my brain! I’m not always the most articulate, but I’m always happy to try and help in any way that I can. 🙂

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