In 2010, I was asked to write about my freshman year experience at UCLA, when I discovered that my roommate, Jimmy, had Asperger Syndrome.
Jimmy was a brilliant Computer Science student in high school — and he became one of the highest ranked World of Warcraft players in the world while we lived together at UCLA.
We literally had people calling our landline from every continent, hoping to speak with Jimmy to discuss World of Warcraft strategy.
During our 3rd quarter at UCLA, World of Warcraft took over Jimmy’s entire life — to the point where he failed to attend a single class.
My story below was included in a collection of stories exploring Asperger Syndrome called Growing Up on The Spectrum, published by Penguin Books.
My freshman-year roommate at UCLA never really showered. California droughts and a liberal campus — I guess this made sense.
Unfortunately, Jimmy never had a friend or family member around to give him feedback on his body odor.
As far I could tell, Jimmy had no friends at UCLA— and quite often, he went days without leaving our dorm room.
At the time, I knew little about AS and only diagnosed Jimmy’s condition after noticing an Asperger’s self-help book on his desk.
His quirks and social particularities started to make more sense, and I started to understand why Jimmy never left our shoebox of a room.
A perfect SAT score and a knack for the trumpet had landed Jimmy at UCLA.
His parents remained in San Jose, California, a city that was, as Jimmy casually proclaimed, 318 miles away from Los Angeles.
Jimmy marched in UCLA’s marching band — the Solid Gold Sound — and performed mental math calculations that surpassed my own abilities with a TI-89 calculator.
He was, quite literally, a genius.
In March, UCLA silenced Jimmy’s beloved trumpet because he was flunking out of school — he was kicked out of the band indefinitely.
After being kicked out of the school band, Jimmy rarely left the room, and he retreated into the virtual enclave known as World of Warcraft.
The multiplayer online role-playing game hosts over ten million adventure seekers hoping to slay monsters and goblins.
Out of ten million players, Jimmy ranked in the top 100.
I often invited Jimmy to come to events and go on outings with me, but he always declined.
Apparently, World of Warcraft fulfilled Jimmy’s social aspirations and he was now spending 60+ hours a week in this virtual world.
Jimmy ascended the virtual WoW rankings and became the Captain of an online clan that practiced every day for twelve to eighteen hours.
He often commanded his army for days without sleep and would not shower or change out of his pajama pants.
The pajama pants were Jimmy’s war uniform — and he only had one pair.
Jimmy’s reputation for strategic innovation and wartime practicality were making him a legend within the virtual world.
Phone calls from fanboys became more frequent and Jimmy was starting to become famous amongst his online peers.
His real-life heroics became legendary too.
Jimmy once walked six miles to Best Buy for a computer microphone, which was a very encouraging moment, because I had never seen him leave campus for anything.
Armed with his new microphone, Jimmy turned our dorm room into a World of Warcraft command center.
While leading his team in battles, Jimmy would shout “advance! advance!” and “retreat! retreat!” in a voice that reminded me of Mel Gibson in Braveheart, but much less cool.
This happened during all hours of the day and night. I literally felt like I was living in a war zone in the middle of Westwood, California.
Jimmy’s virtual promiscuity started to frustrate me, and after much thought, I decided to ally with the internet cord beneath my bed.
In the early hours of the morning, when we both needed sleep, I began unplugging our broadband cord — killing our internet connection and Jimmy’s ability to command his World of Warcraft battles.
Thankfully, Jimmy never discovered my status as the secret operative responsible for the assassination of our broadband connection.
The last thing I needed as I pursued my English degree was an angry virtual clan targeting me.
During these new off-line hours, Jimmy and I began to talk more and we started to have real conversations.
At first, I talked and Jimmy listened.
Eventually, Jimmy did most of the talking, and his chosen topics revealed the interests of a typical UCLA student.
Coed girls intrigued Jimmy — and quotations from Top Gun and The Big Lebowski were typically followed by “goddamns” to USC.
We were becoming friends and I could tell that Jimmy loved our conversations.
Sometime around May, with classes winding down and finals approaching, I unplugged our Internet cord at 3:00am and shut my eyes, ready for a good night’s sleep.
To my surprise, Jimmy responded differently this time.
He began pounding his microphone against the computer keyboard.
I had no idea what to do — Jimmy had never reacted this way. His desperation turned into melancholy and a discernible loneliness.
Even so, I didn’t revive our Internet connection; Jimmy needed to live in the real world — and he needed to sleep, I thought.
And then I heard something new — the sound of a box opening, followed by a low pitch attempting to find higher tones.
I opened my eyes to see Jimmy playing his trumpet, an instrument he had not touched since being suspended from the band.
I listened intently for hours as the melodies grew optimistic with the night. He played beautiful music that you would expect to hear at the Juilliard School, not in a UCLA dorm room.
The concert explained everything: Jimmy, like all of us, just needed a companion to follow and sometimes conduct — his just happened not to be another person.
Instead, Jimmy found companionship in World of Warcraft battles and playing his trumpet.
On the last day of classes, Jimmy and I were finishing up packing and getting ready to depart for the summer.
I told Jimmy that I listened to his music that night he played the trumpet — and that it was the best moment of my freshman year.
We hugged each other, which we had never done, and I asked him to keep in touch.
I never saw Jimmy again.
© Penguin Books 2010