After my first article I got thinking about the importance of gaming, especially the era in which I grew up with, 8 and 16 bit. Like I mentioned previously, to this day gaming retro is great fun for all the family and offers people the opportunity to get together and socialise.
What I wanted to explore is what does this industry mean to certain individuals specifically, the neuro-diverse amongst us like me, my son, and my nephew.
What is neurodiversity?
In a nutshell, neurodiversity is a different way of thinking. It usually covers conditions such as autism just like members of my family has. I like to compare the stereotype surrounding this difference to 2D platformers. At first, you look at the screen and get thinking, ‘time to get from one end of the screen to the other’. Linear stuff, right? That’s how people like me are perceived, apparently, we can only take one path and stick to it; just like reaching the funky floating bar at the end of a level on Super Mario World.
Like all us Mario fans know, there’s a lot more to it such as secret items and bonus levels boosted by a psychedelic soundtrack. Medically, neurodiversity isn’t diverse, it’s linear (liked some misinformed peeps think of 2D gaming), only one way to complete a task or at least, one way to think about what you need to do. Our brains are sewn together by neural pathways, that circuit board in our heads that passes on information to our bodies and influencing our actions.
In neuro-differences such as autism, sometimes the information in that old computer perched on top of our shoulders takes a little longer or, takes a different route, like not feeling the shortcut vibe on the keyboards or, hitting turbo on the old Mega Drive pads (don’t think about it you cheat). So, to sum it all up, it’s about seeing and doing things differently.
Ready, steady, go (or stop or start or whatever…)
What does this have got to do with playing old computer or console games you ask? Well, turns out to be quite a lot. It’s like the old proverb goes, ‘he who collects all the rings on Sonic collects all the rings on Sonic’. If you do you do, if you don’t, well you don’t. It all depends on what you, the player, the one in control wants to do. That’s why I love retro gaming, not only does it mirror how I think it gives me the chance to utilise my unique strengths.
I want to know what happens when I follow a particular path, I want to explore extra content and see what happens when I complete each and every task. However, as I’ve got older, I’ve wanted to challenge the way I think and try gaming in a new way, going for enjoyment rather than 100% completion.
As the neuro-diverse amongst you will know, this is not an easy adjustment to make. In fact, the experts out there say that this is impossible. According to them, autism is a one-way street with only one entrance and exit. Thanks to the wonderful world of retro gaming, I can proudly prove them wrong.
So it seems that old school gaming and neuro-diversity have a lot in common. Both have oodles of charm even nostalgia and novelty value. This means people find vintage games and conditions such as autism as a bit of flash in the pan; something to glance at and eventually ignore like a leaflet about a major health issue. The huge problem with that is what they learn isn’t enough to gain a full understanding of what is on offer. Sometimes I feel that old consoles and people like me should be stuffed into a glass display cabinet at a local with a museum with a sign that reads ‘had its value but time to move on…’.
However, don’t fret as I’m not quite ready to visit the taxidermist thanks to what else science has to offer. Neuroscience has time and time again proven that the brain is flexible, like plastic or putty, happily able to be remodelled into different ways of thinking, much like a politician at an upcoming election.
Don’t mistake me into thinking that neurodiversity is a bad thing and conditions like autism can be ‘cured’. Not only is this nonsense why would you want to change it? Autistic traits have brought us so many technological advances and contributions to the creative arts (see Microsoft and Daryl Hannah). All I’m referring to is an ability for all individuals and groups of people to open up and see things in a new way.
Bend to trend?
With retro gaming and neurodiversity having a lot in common, brought together they can fight against the tide and prove that they still have a lot to offer. Wouldn’t it be worthwhile to show that 2D gaming and brain activity is not as simple as A-Z, there are many ways to solve a puzzle and more importantly, redesign it. Like I mentioned earlier, Mr Mario can make it (or not if he fancies a day off..) to face off with Bowser the boss man. I hope to see a day where retro gamers of many moulds come together as a community and play games as they want to play them, without fear of getting things done ‘in the right way’.
Maybe what we need to do is open our doors to share what we have, not just pictures of our retro pride and joys from online lounge rooms but in real 3d life and show off how we each enjoy gaming retro in our own unique ways.
The future is in the past
Talking about gaming in this way reminds me of surprise, surprise, ‘the good ole days’. My best memories of my childhood usually involve myself, my brother and some friends sitting crossed-legged on the floor surrounded by crisps and chocolate wrappers taking turns on the SNES to beat the boss (I wish I was the one to defeat Shao Kahn, maybe someday…).
Sure, I could try and replicate these moments but as we all know, they never feel the same. All we can do is try to make shiny new ones, not forgetting what made us happy but making sure we let in something different too. This could be, by chance, playing some classics in a unique way. I really think this is a great way to teach people that we all think individually and moreover, this is a good thing.
In time, I hope that playing in 2D can make everyone think in a 3d way, accepting and even celebrating neurodiversity so no one feels left out or unimportant.