Adventures For Everyone

Even though she has never answered back, from time to time, I tell my twin sister that I love her. It’s a reminder, but not always for her. My sister and me were born equal in every way except one. I am autistic, she is not. We were born in 1993, three minutes apart on November the 17th one month too early through c-section. My sister’s breathing had become irregular and the decision was deemed safer than waiting the time out. Expecting two boys, the doctors handed her two baby girls.

I love my mother too. Every time we part I tell her that I do, and she answers back, “me too.” My mother claims she knew I was autistic from an early age, but I don’t believe she ever really knew what I needed because of it. But she tried and even if things went so wrong so many times I am thankful for how things turned out. Even if my life could be better, even though I need to remind myself that I love my family, I believe I am thankful for what I have.

Mother tells me that the early signs of my disorder was seeing my sister develop to seek other children out, while I stayed behind, trying to keep her to myself. Thankfully I couldn’t and eventually she could fight her way free and forge many important friendships and relationships. As for me, the world sorta learned to ignore me. I turned invisible, into background noise.

I know that I would not be the person I am today without games. I am sure there are many who can claim the same but I have never heard about anyone like me before. A long time ago, when I was young, ignorant and oblivious to the fact that as a woman, games were not for me, I played on my grandpa’s old NES. He had all kinds of games, Castlevania, Metroid even Duck Hunt with two working rifle add-ons. But the game I and my sister played the most were Super Mario Bros 3. We were too young to know English at the time, so we had no clue how to save the game, so everyday when we shut down the NES all our progress was gone. The next morning, we would start the game from the beginning, replaying all levels, trying to progress as far as possible before it was time for bed. At most, we came to world 4.

My sister and I were never able to talk to each other but she liked my adventures. Being alone I created my own friends in the form of play. I never intended for others to join in, but for the first time children and adults would approach me. It’s a powerful feeling to be able to tell a story so engaging people are drawn near you just to hear how it ends. Knowing this, it’s not surprising to me that PoC, women and the poor were once forbidden to write. Making people feel something, understand something, learn something, is power.

It’s fine for a child to play with dolls but when I reached my early teens even I understood that it might be time to put the toys down. So one day, I gathered up my favorite toys and played one last time with them, then I showed them under my bed in a drawer, and never looked back. The time to lead adventures were over. A few years passed without any adventures and I still remained lonely.

On a rainy school day afternoon, at a temporary special needs daycare center my mother had enlisted me in, one of the employees had brought something from home. An old Nintendo 64 console, with four included games. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Kart. My thumb was a bit too short to reach the stick so the way I had to hold the controller blistered my fingers, the other kids would constantly erase my save files so I had to start over from scratch and I barely spoke English at the time. But for the first time since I was a child, I could share someone else’s adventure.

I spent hours playing through the games. The first time I reached Hyrule Fields in Ocarina of Time the Stalfos Kids bursting through the ground at night scared me so badly I did not pick up the game again until I had played through enough of Majora’s Mask to realize maybe those Stalfos weren’t so scary after all. I am still to this day absolutely terrible at Super Mario 64. But maybe the more important detail, were Super Mario Kart. I played many games together with the kids and personnel there. There were no illogical, hierarchical society rules to follow. You picked up a controller, picked a character and whoever crossed the finish line first won. It was so simple, so easy. For the first time in my life doing something together with other people felt easy.

Through my life I played many games, perhaps not as many as someone not born in poverty, but all my savings went to games and all old games were sold to afford new ones. I found friends online through crappy free MMOs and found Zelda communities and fans to talk to. Finally, I had something I could talk about. I had an adventure again. Little did I know, but would eventually learn, that none of this mattered and that it would not be considered “real.”

I experienced sexism from this industry long before I played on that Nintendo 64. Even if I did not know it then. The best gift my autism has ever given me, was the social obliviousness over how unwelcome I was in the adventures I played. How little my adventure telling heroes, the game developers, cared for me as their audience. How little I mattered. When I was old enough to be aware of that, I realized that I was once again invisible.

There are few things more powerful than telling a story, to leave people feeling, thinking and knowing more from before they started listening in. Games spoke to me, because just like my play, it’s a story you take part in, a story you experience in person. The intimacy a game can give to an experience is like a child’s play. An adventure. It allowed me to feel what another character felt, to experience their loss and investments. Something no autism expert has managed before. Games taught me how to empathize with myself, how to show it to others and let me keep going on adventures. But the one thing I never understood, is why can’t everyone go on adventures? With all that power that storytelling lends, this industry is set on telling the same handful ones, to the same hateful people, over and over again.

I wish videogames could be for everyone.