Guest Post: On Attention Deficit Disorder, Video Games and Community

30 Nov

This is a guest post written by my amazing little sister, Catherine Thériault. She is a complete treasure.

I was seven when I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, although my parents had suspected since I was three or four that I might have it. I had all of the classic symptoms – difficulty focussing, poor impulse control, and a mind that was easily distracted by, well, anything. I had some of the lesser-known symptoms, too. For example, high-pitched noises really bothered me. Another behaviour that I exhibited, which my mother would often use to prove to ADD-non-believers (you know, the ones who say that it doesn’t exist, that it’s just kids being kids or else kids who have watched too much TV) that I did in fact have ADD was my ability to hyper-focus. I was especially good at hyper-focusing on video games.

School was tough. I couldn’t sit still. I constantly spoke to the people around me until I was moved to the very back or front of the room, where I couldn’t bother others. I struggled all day long trying to understand, trying to “get it”. My mom usually wasn’t there yet when I got home; our neighbour babysat me for a while, and then when my sister watched me when she was old enough. I loved the hours before my mom came home from work, because that was leisure time; after she got home was homework time, and I would have to spend hours on the “homework couch” trying to focus enough to get my assignments done. During leisure time, I would sit and play Mario, Tetris, or Looney Tunes on my NES. I could happily play those games for hours and hours and hours.

People don’t get it – they didn’t understand why I could focus on this one thing, but not other things. They would say stuff like, “How come you can’t even pay attention long enough to listen to the answer to a question you just asked me, but you can play video games without interruption for hours?”

The answer is simple: video games are my anchor. They are the one thing in my life that can make my brain settle down. The rest of the time, my brain is distracted by everything the world around me. Any sound or image that comes along, no matter how minor, sidetracks my attention. It’s a constant flood of things gaining my attention for seconds, then comes something else, and then something else, and something else. Think of it like this: my brain doesn’t have a secretary, but yours does. Your brain can decide that a conversation is more important than the bird that just flew by the window. Your brain will let you do a page of math problems without suddenly noticing that your pencil case needs to be rearranged RIGHT NOW. But when I play video games, it’s like I have blinders on. There’s so much going on in the game, and it’s all happening at once, and I get to pay attention to a lot of things at one time. So when I’m in my video game world, I am so deeply focussed on everything that’s happening in it that I can’t be distracted by the outside world. To be totally honest, it’s a complete relief. It feels like my brain finally gets to take a break.

I started an online game 6 years ago called World of Warcraft. You may have heard of it. The company that makes it, Blizzard, gets a lot of heat in the news, because some of their players take things too far, sometimes starving themselves or even killing themselves over the game. Sometimes people who play WoW get violent in real life. Some of the men who play treat female players badly. And this is the kind of stuff that makes the new – all of the awful stuff. So people who don’t play video games sometimes get the impression that games make you violent or make you hate women.

What you don’t hear about on the new are the average people who play video games. They have families, jobs, and lives outside of the game. I have a job. I go to college. I have a successful relationship. I also have a level 100 warlock that I use to kill in-game monsters and sometimes other players who have signed up for a fight against me. But what I really love is the player-versus-player aspect of the game. That part is all about teamwork, communication, and outsmarting other players. These are skills that help me in real life. That’s the part of the game that the media never really mentions.

When people speak badly about gaming, and the gaming community, I have a tendency to get defensive and take it personally. Because to me, it is personal. There’s a person I have played with in WoW almost daily for the last 4 or 5 years. His character’s name is Wilsons and he is a deathknight. He has helped me level all my characters to max level, helped me get items in the game. There are others who have helped me along the way too. Hawtsoss, a druid, helped me get better at player-vs-environment stuff (like killing the game-generated monsters). Evarella, a paladin, helped me get better at the player-vs-player stuff. These people are my friends. When you say bad things about the gaming community, you are speaking badly about these people who help me, and that I enjoy playing and speaking with. You are speaking badly about my friends.

You’re not usually speaking about me though, because I’m probably not what you would think of as an average player. I’m not some dude living in his mom’s basement; I’m a woman. Which is where the greatest failing in my community is. Women. People treat me differently because I am a woman. I have been kicked from groups requiring voice chat when they hear me and realize they’ve been playing with a woman. I have been told to get back to the kitchen. I’ve had people ask me for nudes. The list goes on I’m sure. But I just ignore those players. Literally, there’s an ignore button, and I use it. It’s not a perfect fix, and I know that there’s a lot to be done to improve how women are viewed in the gaming world, but it’s how I get by. I ignore the woman-haters, and then I prove them wrong by being really awesome at what I do.

At the end of the day, I love video games, especially World of Watrcraft. I have over 100 days of time spent playing the game. There are more good players then bad, and the good ones make it worth it every time. The ones who explain stuff, who help you out. They are the ones I consider a part of the gaming community. Communities help people. Communities are accepting and inclusive.

The problem isn’t video games; it’s the vocal minority of people who use death threats and bomb threats to scare off women in video games. These are the guys who tell you that you can’t be a nerd of a gamer because you’re a girl. These are the guys who tell you that you must be bad at gaming just because you’re a girl. These are the guys who think girls are only useful if they’re sending them nudes. But these people are not a part of my community. They are a cancer, making things bad for all of us who aren’t like them. Please fight this cancer and not my community. They may be sexist, racist, cruel. Fight the sexism, fight the racism, fight the cruelty and the bullying. But don’t say that “all gamers are ___”. They aren’t. Yes, some of them are terrible. But they’re people like me, who turned to gaming as an escape from the exhausting cycle of ADD thoughts and through that found a place where I felt like I belonged. They’re people like my boyfriend, who shares my passion for WoW and will spend hours talking about stupid little details in the games with me. They’re people like my friends, who have helped me and been there for me and who feel like part of my family. That’s who gamers are, too.

Catherine Thériault, right, with sister Anne Thériault

Catherine Thériault, right, with sister Anne Thériault

24 Responses to “Guest Post: On Attention Deficit Disorder, Video Games and Community”

  1. Jessica A Bruno (waybeyondfedup) November 30, 2014 at 9:10 pm #

    Reblogged this on Jessica A Bruno (waybeyondfedup).

  2. Belladonna Took November 30, 2014 at 9:43 pm #

    Interesting article! And I have a question… I need to spend some time playing an online game as part of research for a story I’m writing. I’m looking for a game that’s reasonably accessible – can’t spend a lot of money on equipment, etc, and I’d like something I can access online if possible. And ideally I’d like one that has a strong fantasy element – magic, mythical creatures, quests, etc. I dislike violence and black magic so would prefer something that doesn’t have a strong leaning in those directions. I’ve never done any gaming, ever, so I don’t even know where to start. Do you have any advice to offer?

  3. Lizzi Newton November 30, 2014 at 9:56 pm #

    This is a very insightful post. Good for you for finding an “anchor”. And I am tired of people blaming video games for the behavior of already mentally disturbed gamers. I used to play Vice City with my son and I haven’t killed anyone nor has he.

  4. Jessica November 30, 2014 at 10:23 pm #

    Catherine, whenever you meet people who think that ADHD (or any other mental disorder) doesn’t exist, you can enlighten them of the fact that ALL of our behavior is a result of chemicals in our brains (neurotransmitters). While external sources can trigger our brain’s chemistry, it also has to go through the “filter” of our genetic make-up.

    You’re article is great. People can learn from self-aware individuals like you – learn about how to feel empowered by knowing about both the pros and cons of ADHD.

  5. pippa baddeley November 30, 2014 at 10:40 pm #

    Loved your article – thanks for explaining how ADD affects you and the way videogames can provide a respite for you. So good to hear something positive about videogames for a change.

    I play a lot of videogames – not generally online because for me they are a respite from other people. But I sometimes play with my sons and I hope I’m bringing them up to accept girls as gamers right from the off – after all it was my hobby first and they joined in.

  6. AmazingSusan December 1, 2014 at 12:04 am #

    In case you haven’t heard of her, which I doubt, here’s a woman gaming wizard role model:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jane-mcgonigal/watch-now-1up-your-life_b_3876195.html

    Jane McGonigal rocks.

  7. Wilson December 1, 2014 at 3:12 am #

    Jesus do you blame bad weather on the patriarchy? God it was an interesting article until you reverted to the cliche soma thats spoon fed on this blog. Ugh.

    • AMM December 2, 2014 at 3:35 pm #

      And … Lewis’s Law strikes again.

    • pheonix2013 December 4, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

      If you don’t want to read it, don’t read it, but please don’t be rude. Maybe this blog just isn’t for you, but the writer worked very hard on this article and you aren’t being very nice.

      • Wilson December 5, 2014 at 3:00 am #

        I read it and thought the first few paragraphs were great, poignant and insightful into how video games allow the author to take a break from her add. Thats the story thats interesting, but then I kept reading on and sure enough, the evil misogynistic men pop out from under the bed to ruin her experience. At first I was like why not just write about the men who help her in the game, but then I was like aww shit this is the belle jar blog, gotta find somethin to blame men for.

      • mgpcoe December 5, 2014 at 6:29 pm #

        Because if she only wrote about the men who aren’t complete assholes, that would be intellectually dishonest.

    • mgpcoe December 4, 2014 at 4:57 pm #

      …Is your Ctrl-F broken, or something? “Patriarchy” doesn’t appear anywhere in the text of the article, you dumb shit. Fuck off.

      • Wilson December 5, 2014 at 3:29 am #

        Save the tough guy talk for the coffee shop. It was a good article that could’ve been great had it focused on the positive men the author encountered in her game. Its just too bad that it couldn’t be left at that, but positivity doesn’t generate hits.

      • mgpcoe December 5, 2014 at 6:28 pm #

        Awww, boopsiekins. It’s just -snif- so sad that someone else’s lived experience doesn’t satisfy the narrative you want it to.

        Again, fuck off.

  8. aqilaqamar December 1, 2014 at 4:03 am #

    Reblogged this on Iconography ♠ Incomplete and commented:
    “The problem isn’t video games; it’s the vocal minority of people who use death threats and bomb threats to scare off women in video games. These are the guys who tell you that you can’t be a nerd of a gamer because you’re a girl. These are the guys who tell you that you must be bad at gaming just because you’re a girl. These are the guys who think girls are only useful if they’re sending them nudes. But these people are not a part of my community. They are a cancer, making things bad for all of us who aren’t like them. Please fight this cancer and not my community. They may be sexist, racist, cruel. Fight the sexism, fight the racism, fight the cruelty and the bullying. But don’t say that “all gamers are ___”. They aren’t. Yes, some of them are terrible. But they’re people like me, who turned to gaming as an escape from the exhausting cycle of ADD thoughts and through that found a place where I felt like I belonged. They’re people like my boyfriend, who shares my passion for WoW and will spend hours talking about stupid little details in the games with me. They’re people like my friends, who have helped me and been there for me and who feel like part of my family. That’s who gamers are, too”

  9. mumadda December 1, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

    hi how are you?

  10. oldmine December 2, 2014 at 9:42 pm #

    I have five blog sited ’cause I run out of focus after I write five or six hundred words. When I switch to another of my sites, I feel refreshed and do another few hundred words. I feel great about it, even if my writing is of no particular interest to anyone. I always wished I could write more and longer in a day – having five sites seems to help me be more productive.

  11. missynyx December 3, 2014 at 3:42 am #

    Very well said! From one gamer to another, good on ya! 😄

  12. susielindau December 3, 2014 at 5:02 am #

    I discovered I was ADD at 55 years old! It explained everything. I find writing slows my brain down and am so grateful to have found my passion. I have never been into video games, but can see how that would make you focus too. I’m probably a lot more borderline, but put me in a crowd and I find it very hard to carry on a conversation.

  13. pheonix2013 December 4, 2014 at 3:24 pm #

    I identify very strongly with this article. I’m not a gamer myself (though I used to very much enjoy playing WoW), but I was also diagnosed with ADD at a very young age. My parents decided to medicate me rather than personally work with me to help me, so I spent much of my childhood in a fog. The drugs may have helped if anyone had bothered with a correct dosage or a drug that worked. My doctors didn’t seem to care, and no one listened to me. My escape was through books. At age eight, I found my way into the world of fantasy and adventure literature and I never left. I couldn’t focus on homework, but I could focus on my books as the worlds within them unfolded in my imagination. I completely understand what you mean about having multiple things to focus upon making it easier to focus entirely. Today, I am 20, totally unmedicated, and working on my concentration on my own, with familial support. (That isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with medication for ADD; though it has done wonders for others, it just doesn’t work for me personally)

    Thanks very much for an informing and interesting read!

  14. Rachel December 4, 2014 at 7:00 pm #

    I just wanted to let you know Thank You for this blog post. I just read it and have found it very interesting and helpful in my struggle to understand the issues my son is experiencing, he has recently been diagnosed with ADD. Thank you again!

  15. Calamitygem December 5, 2014 at 4:03 pm #

    ive wondered if my 7 year old son has ADD. He shares so many of your characteristics including a love for and a real talent for games. I’m wary of getting him diagnosed for fear it will label him for life, and I fear he plays games too much so try and keep it limited. Its hard how best to support him. Still, your article was great to read, thank you.

  16. Dominic March 19, 2016 at 4:30 am #

    Acquiring multiples of the exact same discount definitely makes it
    worth paying a tiny payment for them when you are able merge these using sales and refill.

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  1. Weekly Recap| Nov 30 – Dec 6, 2014 | Oh, the Books! - December 7, 2014

    […] Catherine discusses ADD, video games, and community. […]

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