When I was a kid (I believe I’m old enough to say that now), I was addicted to and obsessed with video games. Even after my parents limited my freedom to play so that I was only allowed to play on the weekends, I would still play four to five hours straight on Sunday afternoons while my parents passed out (for a long nap) upstairs. While that may not actually seem like a long time to some very dedicated gamers today, this was before a time when playing video games as entertainment on YouTube and getting payed for it was a thing.
Through long video game fasts that typically lasted six months to a whole year, and even going so far as stowing the Xbox away in the garage, my parents were successful in influencing my addiction. Today, I currently only play two games (Minecraft and Tomb Raider), and even so I only play them once a week. I’m still not sure if its because of a subconscious restraint or because I simply get bored with games fast. I still love certain video games and I love some of the work and effort that’s put into making them. These days however, I watch other people play video games on YouTube more than I play video games myself.
In an article from the National Autistic Society you can read in full here, obsessions, repetitive behavior, and routines ‘can be a source of enjoyment for a person with autism and a way of coping with everyday life’. There really is no limit to the items and things that autistic people can be obsessed with. An interest in collecting is quite common too which can sometimes be hell for the person’s bank account (refer to Living With Autism Part 5).
Now, video game addiction is absolutely not just something that autistic people can have a problem with, I understand that. But it wasn’t enough for me to just play them. Sometimes if me and my brother had to visit Dad’s office at church, we’d take the video game manuals (remember those?) with us to look at the pictures or reread certain sections even though we pretty much knew how to play the games inside and out. Video games would take up quite literally about 80% of my thought process, and as you can well imagine, it drove me nuts whenever video games were taken away from me. I was a pretty rebellious guy, so getting that taken away from me was fairly common.
But it didn’t end there. One obsession always seemed to be able to replace another, and it has been that way to this day. It’s not something that I was able to grow out of, it tagged along with me. When I wasn’t obsessed with video games right around that same time, I was obsessed with Spongebob Squarepants (I know). I’d watch the episodes on a very consistent basis, read Spongebob books, write my own Spongebob books, get toys, and even have a good number of dreams about it. It would typically dominate my thoughts and it was mostly what I’d talk about. Still, despite all that, I have to give Spongebob massive credit for being what brought me and a good friend of mine together. Can’t argue with that.
Through the years, the obsession went from Star Wars to Lord of the Rings to a web series called Red vs Blue and so on and so forth. For some reason I was always into the big franchises. I’d want to discuss everything with myself as well as with others who have seen and experienced that stuff themselves. My dad would comment that I never seemed to ever get enough and he spoke truth. How many times will I rewatch the same fight scene in The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug before I feel like vomiting because I can’t stand to look at it anymore? How many times will I repeat the same lines of dialogue to myself over and over again to practice the voice and delivery before I feel like trying to practice a new impersonation? When will I realize that there’s simply nothing more to analyze in the ending from the game The Last Of Us? When will I stop asking nerdy questions right now?
I think a question a lot of people ask is why do people like me have this odd, obsessive fascination for stuff that, to a lot of you, doesn’t matter? Well, the answer is very simple but would probably be disappointing to you. The answer is: I don’t know. That’s it. I don’t really know why I have these strong feelings towards stuff. If I was to give you another answer that’s at least semi-satisfactory, I’d say the reason for having these odd obsessions is connected to the fact that it’s a method in coping with real life. It’s actually relaxing. Very rarely am I transfixed on my obsessions and feeling like I want out. It’s an escape from the chaos of the world that I want no part in. Having a very particular thought process and a very particular structure in routine every day helps me stay focused and hopeful.
Does it sound like a comfort zone? It definitely does, but that’s something that autistic people are very fond of, and they typically don’t want it any other way. There are autistic people like Raymond from the great movie Rain Man that wants everything set in a particular way, and it’s harder to try and get the person used to a new schedule. It’s something that needs to be dealt with with patience and understanding. The link I put in the third paragraph offers some very helpful ideas in helping autistic people sort out those issues, especially if you’re a parent raising an autistic child.
To visit the National Autistic Society’s full website, click here