Today is a very exciting day at Theology Gaming – a first guest post! Hurray!
Our contributor today is none other than Patrick Gann, video game writer extraordinaire! Gann’s writing career spans over a decade covering video game events and publishing reviews for RPGFan, as well as helming their enormous and exhaustive soundtrack section – it continues to be an excellent resource to find video games music reviews. Continuing in that vein, Gann remains a frequent contributor for Original Sound Version, a blog dedicated to “nerdy” music, where he is currently managing editor. His work at his personal blog with his friend Pete, Gameosaurus, is always honest and entertaining. He’s also been something of a inspiration for many years, having read RPGFan and OSV religiously and seeing Mr. Gann’s name everywhere until I finally got the courage to get up and start writing about video games for real. That he’s actually writing something for Theology Gaming is something of a miracle, but these things happen (with a little luck and a lot of prayer).
Without further ado, here is Patrick’s first post for Theology Gaming: My Special Special Week.
In 2007, I wrote an article on gaming and autism, based on an experience I’d had with a person roughly my same age who attended a summer camp I worked at during what’s called “Special Week” — for people with intellectual disabilities. I met this guy in 2002 and saw him many summers since then.
For further background, I should also refer you to this piece I wrote about my son and gaming for The Escapist. He was diagnosed at a young age with PDD-NOS, which means he may or may not fall somewhere on the autism spectrum of disorders (probably yes, on the mild end, in my opinion).
So … I play games. Way too many games for a husband and father, probably. For years I’ve been identifying myself as gamer (and game critic) first, and everything else after that. There are some very obvious drawbacks to this. I’m sure you, dear reader, can list every one of them. But let me tell you about the silver lining. I discovered it in a mental hospital.
Oh right, one more piece of background. I have my own set of “disabilities,” though they fall squarely on the side of “mental illness” instead of “intellectual disability” (the PC term for what we would have called “mental handicaps” in the ’90s). I’ve been treated for anxiety and depression for many years, and in March 2011, I attempted suicide. Well, sort of. I very seriously considered it and was on my way, but I didn’t jump.
What does any of this have to do with videogames or “Special Week” …? Why is this on the gaming and theology blog? I’m getting there. Bear with me.
With the exception of on-the-couch multiplayer, games isolate us. Even MMOs aren’t a flesh-and-blood social experience. So I’d become an expert on isolation. I’m very very good at being by myself, just alone with my thoughts.
For some people, isolation can be a spiritual experience. Think desert ascetics and other hermit-like religious folk of the ages. But there’s not much ascetic about the sensory bombardment that comes with videogames. I was shriveling. And a part of me kind of enjoyed it.
But after the attempt, that’s when I underwent the week of institutional care. And I met the most wonderful people there. The staff? The nurses and doctors? They were great too. But, no, I’m talking about my fellow patients. Those like me who had reached the end of their rope.
Some of them had issues waaaay beyond my comfortable suburban life. I’m talking about drug addiction, codependency, abusive relationships, PTSD, even paranoid schizophrenia. I had … “well I feel sad a lot and stopped talking to people about it, and then one day I didn’t want to exist.” There were a few others with me who had “just” that.
And though I will be reprimanded for blurring the mental illness / mental handicap line, I have to say, being institutionalized for a week felt a whole lot like being cared for as a “camper” at “special week.”
So, 15 months later, when I had the chance to volunteer my time and be a part of something I really love, I went for it. And it was a whole new experience.
Let me break it down for you in RPG terms.
Y’know those unwinnable scripted fights against super-overpowered guys, often placed at the beginning of the game? That’s how I feel about life — a lot of the time, anyway. It’s just this unwinnable fight, and I’m staying at level 1.
But, when I’m part of a community of belonging (in this case, a Christian community of neurotypical and not-so-neurotypical adults), I feel like the script flips and I can win. Or, at least, I can survive another round.
Consider this: I used to get paid (sparsely) as a college kid for my time at summer camp. Then I grow up, get married, have kids, get a big job paying big bills, go crazy, attempt to ruin everything, and then somehow I start back at square one: working with people at the summer camp, only this time, I’m making $0.
The silver lining of the time I spent with those games is that it’s given me a robust vocabulary with which I can draw metaphors that pretty much everyone can relate to, and which I can use to convey deeper meanings.
So these days, I don’t define myself primarily as a gamer. I still do a lot of gaming, and I like to think that the insights I provide are worthwhile to someone, somehow. But my primary identity these days is as a person in a web of Christian community. That may leave a bad taste in some peoples’ mouths, but after years of my primary community being in MMOs, I’d say it’s a big step up. And I feel good … healed, even.
And when I related to those “special weekers,” it was no longer the haves serving the have-nots. In a very real way, I was one of them. We were all just people. We are all broken in our own ways and we all go to the Great Physician for healing.