There are a lot of reports and articles which discuss the merits of video games when it comes to hand eye coordination, the merits of video games and problem solving skills, and even the social merits of video games.
But can games be a useful recovery device for people who have been injured? This is a question I have been asking myself repeatedly over the past several months as I ponder whether to keep playing or if my MMO days are over for good.
I am an injured military veteran suffering from multiple traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Because it pertains to the discussion, here is a list of some symptoms that someone with TBI may suffer (by no means a comprehensive list) which may affect their gaming, particularly in MMOs:
- Inability to plan a sequence of complex movements needed to complete multi-stepped tasks
- Loss of spontaneity in interacting with others
- Loss of flexibility in thinking
- Inability to focus on task
- Mood changes
- Changes in social behavior
- Changes in personality
- Difficulty with problem solving
- Inability to express language
- Inability to attend to more than one object at a time
- Inability to name an object
- Inability to locate the words for writing
- Problems with reading
- Difficulty in distinguishing left from right
- Difficulty with doing mathematics
- Inability to focus visual attention
- Difficulties with eye and hand coordination
- Defects in vision
- Difficulty with locating objects in environment
- Difficulty with identifying colors
- Visual illusions - inaccurately seeing objects
- Word blindness - inability to recognize words
- Difficulty in recognizing drawn objects
- Inability to recognize the movement of object
- Difficulties with reading and writing
- Difficulty in understanding spoken words
- Disturbance with selective attention to what we see and hear
- Difficulty with identification of, and verbalization about objects
- Short term memory loss
- Interference with long term memory
- Inability to catagorize objects
- Right lobe damage can cause persistent talking
- Increased aggressive behavior
- Difficulty with organization/perception of the environment
- Loss of ability to coordinate fine movements
- Slurred Speech
I like the way one person put it (to put it in terms gamers can easily understand): "it is like someone has taken out your quad core processor and replaced it with a Pentium, then also took your 4 gigabytes of GSkill or Corsair RAM and replaced it with a 1 gig stick they bought on clearance at Office Depot."
As recently as two or three years ago, I was very good at my chosen games, to the point of being listed by other players in an informal forum poll as one of the best players on my server in the game I played at the time. As recently as six or seven months ago, I was acceptably good enough to have been invited by those who knew me to almost every raid in the game I currently play. A few months ago, that all changed as the symptoms of my injuries began to manifest themselves more profoundly.
I couldn't remember something as simple as the 9-6-9-6-9 Pally rotation and couldn't tank effectively. I couldn't pay attention in simple heroics like Violet Hold (turns out that it was partly the brain injuries and partly a type of seizure called an absence seizure, also caused by the brain injuries, that was causing the attention issues). I refused to speak on vent (and still do) because my speech slurs and I have trouble finding the words I want to say (for someone with two college degrees and a Master's Degree-level education in the English language, there are not words to describe how that feels). I used to be a big fan of number crunching and couldn't do even simple math - nothing on Elitist Jerks made a lick of sense to me (and still doesn't) anymore. Hell, I couldn't even remember that I had been in certain dungeons and raids before (and sometimes still can't without checking my armory).
Now, my guild is a good guild. I have been gaming with these people for years now in multiple games and these people are friends outside the game that I talk to daily. Their goal is to help me get back on my feet in life as well as in the game and they have the concern for me as a person and the patience to work with my cognitive and memory deficits to help me do that - loot or no loot, repair bills or no repair bills. They are good folks who know that the brain will rewire itself over time and that gaming is good for coordination, memory, and for problem solving.
But what about other gamers? The fact is that games - especially MMOs - are a big cross section of the world and the other fact is that there are a lot of veterans, many of whom are probably suffering from TBI, who are gamers. My guess is that those veterans (and non-veterans) suffering TBI are facing the same challenges and frustrations that I face and that, while none of us who are even remotely sane and reasonable expect anyone to make accommodation for us so that we can also have fun, we end up dealing with a lot more jerks than we do wonderful people like my guildmates. Gaming, especially in games like World of Warcraft, is a very closed society despite the fact that it is rapidly growing. The majority of people tend to expect you to be at the top of your game at all times and are not interested in having fun and learning. And that, to me, is a real shame. I do not want my gaming to be a job that I pay to go to and I do not need my gaming to be an additional stressor in my life. I don't care how many times I wipe or what my repair bills are; I want to have fun with good people and I don't give a royal damn what your gearscore is so long as you put forth a good effort and aren't a complete killjoy.
I'm relearning to do everything I once knew how to do in the games I like to play and I'm finding it hard to have a good time outside of my guild. My pride compels me to state for the record that I don't want anyone's pity or any 'handouts,' as it were, and I am certainly not whining because I know for a fact that there are many, many people in the world who are a lot worse off than I am...but my compassion for other human beings also compels me to say that the only time we should ever look down on someone is if we're giving them a hand up. My "internal computer" may be a little slower these days, but that doesn't mean I'm not looking to have as much fun as everyone else, nor does it mean I can't do/am not willing to learn to do the same things - it'll just take me a little longer to figure it out and I might need you to calmly and slowly explain what's expected of me in the fight in easily digestable chunks and be a little more understanding if I make a few more mistakes than the other guys in the group.