Liam is a 15-year old lad from Rochdale. I sat down on the big leather sofa at Moss Street Youth Base to chat with him about video games and living with Asperger’s.
“Hmmm” – Liam ponders for a moment when I ask him the best thing about living in Rochdale – “Easy access to good takeaways,” he replies, with a cheeky smile. Liam is straight-talking but always has a warm sense of humour with his brief answers. I decide to ask him about his main interests. “Primarily science,” he says. “Also gaming & anime”.
His ultimate aim is to work as a doctor. He is currently in his last year of high school, about to move into college to do A-levels in Biology, Chemistry and Maths. But in-between his studying, he still finds time for a blast of Enter the Gungeon, his current favourite video game.
Liam tells me that it is a “Dungeon Crawler” which I later learn is a genre of game that involves battling through a labyrinth environment, fighting monsters and collecting treasure. Liam tells me that Enter the Gungeon is based around weaponry, has a diverse setting and is very challenging.
Personally, I’m unfamiliar with the current crop of video games, but being twice Liam’s age, I do fondly remember the 16-bit era of the SNES and Megadrive. I ask Liam if he ever dabbles in retro gaming; “I have played the old Sonic and Ecco the Dolphin,” he replies. He tells me that he thinks video games have become better in this modern era due to more funds and better level design. My nostalgic heart doesn’t quite let me agree, but Liam does make a fair point – the gaming industry has grown massively in the last 15 years, technology has improved, and much more money can be pumped into the development of games. The 2D, low-resolution side-scrollers of yesteryear seem primitive when compared to the sprawling worlds and cinematic presentation of today’s titles.
When I ask Liam what his favourite genre is, his response is “Roguelike”. I have no idea what this means, but he explains that it is a style based on the 1980 video game, Rogue. According to Wikipedia, “Roguelike is a subgenre of role-playing video games characterized by a dungeon crawl through procedurally generated game levels, turn-based gameplay, tile-based graphics, and permanent death of the player-character.” I certainly feel like I’m being schooled on gaming terminology!
As well as enjoying a good challenge, Liam also enjoys the “power fantasy” element of video games. He is a big fan of the Just Cause series for this reason; “Flinging people off an airstrip in the middle of an ocean… It gives you that action-movie type of feeling!”
I feel that escapism is a big part of what makes video games appealing – the ability to play as an alter-ego and lose yourself in another world. We all have problems in our everyday lives that we sometimes need to get away from; Liam tells me that living with Asperger’s can sometimes be a real challenge. But what is Asperger’s? “It’s a higher functioning form of autism”, says Liam. “I’m more with myself than my environment. Generally, that’s the definition of Autism. A bit of an isolated feeling.”
Despite his struggle to sometimes relate to people around him, I can see that Liam is a well-loved member of the community at Moss Street Youth Base. He has an openness and humour about him, even when I quiz him on difficult topics. He tells me that the challenges of living with Asperger’s are, “Mainly social. Academically things are reasonably stable. If emotions are kept intact. But social issues don’t always allow for that.”
Having Asperger’s, like any form of Autism, can be challenging. But it can also be the thing that makes individuals unique, interesting and talented. Liam tells me that his Asperger’s gives him a different outlook than most of his peers, and means that he pays a lot of attention to small details. This certainly helps with his studies, and means that he picks up on things that other people miss.
But Asperger’s is not what defines Liam. He is a smart, sociable young Rochdale lad, a video game fanatic, and a hard-working student who is looking forward to a career in medicine. I for one wish him all the success in the world as he moves into college, and in all his future Enter the Gungeon sessions!
Words and interview Martin Stannage