Displacement: A Twine About A Learning Disabled Experience

People almost always gravitate towards personal stories. I’ve probably said this already in some way or form, and I know if I haven’t many other people have.

For the longest time, even though I’ve been very busy, I’ve wanted to have an excuse to make another Twine story. I almost did a few times: such as when I was tempted to create a Twine called Bureaucracy Quest in which you have to go on a scavenger hunt of varying documents, while keeping labyrinthine and mandatory appointments, while running into dead-ends and recursive story loops which are specifically designed to make you shut off the Twine from complete and utter frustration. But, fittingly enough, I didn’t have the patience to make this game while living the experiences that inspired it.

It was one night, between other projects I’ve been attempting to work on, that the cynical idea came to me. I was still waiting to hear back from my legal counsel as to whether or not I was going to get on the Ontario Disability Support Program settled out of court, or if I were going to need to attend the hearing that was going to happen this month. The good news is that the community lawyer working on my case was excellent and got me onto this new system. But at the time, I’d been waiting to hear back from ODSP for about a year and I didn’t know what was happening at the time.

There was a series of muscles I must have been holding for over a year, and a few days before I finally heard the decision on the phone from my lawyer, a lot of different elements began to gather in my mind. It began with the first rejection letter I’d ever gotten from ODSP: essentially stating that according to their guidelines I didn’t have a permanent disability.

I had been diagnosed as being learning disabled, as being what nowadays might be called “non-neurotypical” since I was a child. I had to attend special kindergarten, then classes, and then alternate classes. I had an especially hard time in high school: as I only had one class that dealt with learning disabilities and I had to get extra help from the teachers themselves without much in the way of a department to back me up.

My plan was simple. I had gradually weened myself off and away from the programs that I had difficulty completing. I mean, you can imagine how disabilities such as dyscalculia, spatial difficulties, and even challenges in hand-eye coordination and mental focus — in needing finer instructions — can get in the way of mathematics, geometry, fine arts, geography, and even aspects of the hard sciences. Phys. Ed was especially bad for me due to physical coordination issues. So I got through them with the bare minimum. And then I replaced them with philosophy, sociological, historical, and literary courses. I focused on what I was strong in doing: and even then I needed special help with regards to tests and exams.

But I was told, and I hoped, that by University I could take the courses that I wanted and build the education that suited me: making me ready for a career in academics. I was going to focus on my strengths and leave my weaknesses behind. I was going to make it so that my learning disability was irrelevant and I wouldn’t have to identify with it anymore. I believed that I could succeed through sheer merit, through personal work, discipline, and sacrifice: and that, with some help and support behind me, I could excel.

What I didn’t understand, at the time, was that our society is not — and has never been — a meritocracy. It is a bureaucracy: with specific rules and procedures. Networking is also a social skill that is integral to navigating the labyrinth. And while I had instructors and academic representatives that told me about the importance of this element, I just couldn’t relate to it. Not really. Again, I thought it was about what you did and not who you know: or even who knew you.

Then there are the psychological factors to consider. Other kids are hyper-aware of differences and if you have trouble socializing, or counting fast enough, or telling directions, or the fact that you rock back and forth when you are excited or nervous and your hands fidget, or even when you talk to yourself they will notice. They will notice and they will laugh at you, or bully you, or avoid you.

And those are just the children: your peers. I’m not even talking about the adults. Between having my grandfather thinking of my math disability as a sign of laziness, and others snapping at me to stop fidgeting or talking to myself — for fear that I would “look ridiculous” — you can already understand why I’d want to leave that all behind me. You can also more than imagine where a lot of my anger comes from, and where some of my own present difficulties spring.

I was also lucky. My parents recognized that I had cognitive difficulties and got me as much treatment for them as possible. But as such, most of the family emphasis was less on me learning life skills as it was actually succeeding in school: as that was a major difficulty of mine. But it cost me: as by the time I moved out a few years ago, I didn’t really know how to take care of myself. I didn’t really have a stable network of people to help me with that, and I was left to figure out a lot of these things on my own, or deal with people and organizations that gave me basic — or bad — advice and nothing really of substance.

There was a lot of weight on my mind in getting through my Master’s and juggling real life: and I hated, absolutely resented the idea that my learning disabilities — that the make-up of my brain — was still affecting me despite all the calculators and GPSes of the world.

So you can imagine that when I finally swallowed my pride, the first time with Ontario Works, and the second with ODSP that when I got my first rejection letter telling me: “By our guidelines you do not have a permanent disability” that it was the equivalent of a slap to the face.

I had a long time to think about this. It took a while but I had to accept that my disabilities, that my “non-neurotypical” brain are still parts of my life. It took me even longer to embrace the fact that I have to identify what is just another wiring of my brain and experience as a disability: in order to get the current social structure to help me survive it. I thought about all the people that have told me to “suck it up” or just tolerate what I can’t focus on in order to exist. I’ve had to fight against the idea that I am “coping out” when I identify as being learning disabled instead of “earning my place like everyone else”: whatever that means.

And so I decided to call ODSP on its punitive structure. I sent in my forms and my diagnosis from my therapist, which they rejected the first time. I had them do an internal review, in which they found no fault in their decision. And then I faced down a hearing in a game of “Chicken” to see who would give way first. I am a really stubborn person when I have a mind to be. In fact, I do extremely well when I have something passionate and real to focus on instead of settling for something less than.

I’m also aware of how privileged I am. Between my family that actually recognizes learning disabilities and finds itself there for me, to the community counsel that got my case settled out of court, to the best therapist I’ve ever had with or without Canadian OHIP, and a lot of Affirmative Action protocols, I have been exceedingly lucky. And I know that just as all learning disabled people aren’t the same, many others haven’t had — and don’t have — the backgrounds or resources that I do.

But there is one other thing that stuck with me after that experience of having my disability and experiences not acknowledged until I faced them head on. I thought about how we all experience and interact with the world. And that night, a few nights ago, when I was thinking about how best to communicate what it was like to be in the world with a learning disability, I came up with this idea for an interactive story.

I asked myself this: how would someone navigate a world if they had trouble reading maps or telling directions? What would it look like, in words, to see someone with dyscalculia doing equations or basic math? How would I portray the psychological baggage that comes with dealing with these issues since childhood? Can I do all of this and show they have something of a commonality?

And can I communicate my experience — my voice on this — through a creative medium with which I still have limitations? Can I express my story simply through the description of perception and emotion?

I realized, a few days before the bittersweet moment of finally having ODSP recognize that I have a permanent disability, that living with spatial, mathematical, and even body movement issues is like existing out of the same space-time as most people. You are somewhat out of synchronicity with the rest: both cognitively and socially. And that was where I eventually got the name for my story idea the following day.

Displacement.

It’s by no means an exhaustive story about all learning disabilities, or even the different gradations of the ones that I possess. It came out very rough in its first iteration — I had to par down the psychological elements — and even now I think I could have portrayed the experiences of the narrator more effectively: such as using that recursive loop of repeating hyperlinks I mentioned earlier to symbolize getting physically lost. But I also don’t know how accurate that would be and, honestly, I think right now this is as good as it gets.

This will have been my third post dealing with learning disabilities on this Blog: or at least the latest one after my experiences from this past summer. I hope, after this, to go back to writing posts about video games, comics, fictional universes, and projects that I’m working on. Those are the things which I want to be known by and remembered.

That being said, I would like to thank Gaming Pixie for looking over and providing input into the Twine story that I have linked above. Whatever else, I hope you find the story, and this post, educational at the very least.

2 to 3D Games, Strips and Alternative Comics: A Meditation on Perspective

And now for a bit of armchair medium theorizing: with a control of some sort in my hand.

I ran into something a little while ago now that I found really interesting. When I finally caved into the powers of darkness and bought myself a very discounted copy of La-Mulana, for a rainy day where I really want to be more of a masochist than the workaholic that I usually am these days, I came across something that its company NIGORO actually said with regards to the development of video games.

NIGORO states that it creates its games with one question in mind: “What if games had continued to evolve – but stayed in 2D?”

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/b0/La-Mulana_gameplay.png

This is a really interesting question to me on more than a few levels. I looked at the issue, to some extent, in my old post How to Turn a Medium into a Genre: 8 to 16-Bit Video Games but I never quite heard it phrased this way before because, in the end, NIGORO looks at this change from a different perspective. While my original article briefly looked at and defined a medium as something with direct limitations that, when overcome became a genre, this one thematic question on NIGORO’s part not only made me realize that 2D and 3D games can still be considered different mediums based on what they can or can’t do within their own guidelines, there was also a turning point where the emphasis of video games moved away from two-dimensions into the three-dimensional. And this changed things.

I know: that last sentence was very profound in all of its simplicity. 😛 Certainly there were many popular 3D games and attempts at 3D in the past, Doom and Castle Wolfenstein coming to mind, but they were on computers as opposed to consoles. The console systems themselves were becoming dominated by 3D graphics. I’ll admit that my personal exposure to many games was relatively limited growing up and when you add to the fact that I lost interest in many of the new ones after a time–and in video games themselves at a certain point in my life–it certainly showcases some gaps in my own knowledge.

But it’s fascinating to consider that once we used to interact with two-dimensional realities with elemental sprites, always from a distance, and after a while three-dimensional games–successfully or no–attempted to expose us to a more immediate reality. Think about it: 3D games and their approximations allowed us first-person shooter games such as my previous examples and exploration scenarios such as those found in the Myst games. The discovery and approximation of 3D changed many of our gaming experiences and perspectives in various ways. Can you imagine any of these games in two dimensions? As side-scrollers? As platformers?

File:Doom gibs.png

Yet other things changed in the meantime. I do remember playing Mario 64 for the very first time and, while revelling in the advanced polygon graphics of the time, finding the controls extremely difficult to use. Perhaps that early period of adjustment, combined with the reliance of more detailed graphics to wow players, changed some gameplay mechanics. In many ways, these mechanics became more simplistic and remained that way. I do remember the time that Nintendo embraced three dimensions there was also a lot less emphasis on games with storyline, player reflexes and, again, gaming mechanics.

This is of course a generalization and one based on my own limited experiences, but NIGORO’s comment that there was a point where 2D games became very advanced and then all but stopped being created really resonated with me. For a while the 2D game, as a medium of game-play, became associated with “retro” games and recreations of said classic games. NIGORO, however, argues precisely what I just mentioned: that 2D games are not vintage classics, retro-games, or 8-bit dreams of lost nostalgia, but are rather representative of its own art form.

And I agree with this. It still makes me wonder though. It fact, it makes me look at parallels. It is no secret that one day I want to do a creative Comics Vs. Games project with a collaborator. The idea of comics and video games, comparing and contrasting them, has always intrigued me and all the more so ever since I found out about those exhibits. And NIGORO’s question makes me wonder: what would have happened if comics had remained solely in the comic strip form? Or, better yet, what if comics had never moved on from that experimental period very few people ever talk about.

Allow me to elaborate. While the developing comics industry focused on political caricatures, followed by compilations of strips into books and then superheroes and other stories, there were artists that experimented with what the form could actually do. There is a misconception that comics as a medium was inspired by film when, in fact, not only has it sometimes been the other way around but comics itself as a medium has its own unique characteristics. Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900-1969 compiled by Dan Nadel is an example of the above and it makes you wonder what would have happened if many of these artists, some of whom didn’t even create traditional or linear panels and plots had been encouraged to continue their work: if, in most cases, their experiments had not been interrupted by financial concerns, industry-trends, and time. Certainly, newspapers used to afford a lot more space for the comic strip (which makes me wonder if 2D games might not, in themselves have space to do other things that 3D ones can’t). And while Underground Comix alternative movements grew to contain some of these ideas and different modes of graphic storytelling, it still makes me wonder “What if?”

Perhaps that isn’t even the best parallel. Of course, we know at least Alan Moore and his Watchmen’s idea of what might have happened if the Comics Code had never been enforced or created in the mid-1950s: specifically with regards to how comics could have evolved at that point. However, in the case of 2D games giving way to 3D it seems to be more a factor of marketing than changing social and political climes. Both mediums remained after these changes, but they were sometimes watered down compared to what they used to be: with some exceptions.

Of course, 2D games never really died out. They remained on computers and now they exist as phone games. And these are not remakes of classics, though they might be based on their designs, but entirely new games in themselves. Even as the Oculus Rift is being developed to take 3D further into virtual reality, perhaps the resurgence of 2D games is motivated by a sense of nostalgia in the 21st century: much in the same way that NIGORO’s decision to create games like La-Mulana was. It is also interesting to note that Stephanie Carmichael in her article Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime takes Chris Ware to outer space, whether he wants to go or not determined that the creators of the Spacetime game had actually been influenced by Chris Ware’s experimental comics art aesthetic with its basic elemental shapes, and a sense of space and loneliness. In fact, if you look at the game itself, it almost subverts the trappings of a 3D aesthetic in a 2D world.

 

But still, I do wonder what kind of world we would have had if only comic strips existed, or there had been no Comics Code, or if comics that told alternative stories and presented its art-forms in non-linear ways had become mainstream far sooner in our history. Oh, and if all we had ever played or known were 2D games: 2D games that didn’t necessarily remain 8 or 16-bit (NIGORO’s decision to remake La-Mulana‘s aesthetics in a manner reminiscent of Super NES graphics in no way takes away from its old-school feel in my opinion) but just kept changing mechanics wise, and story wise alongside of us. It’s really amazing how things turn out when you think of it in that way. It really is all about perspective.

I Am Asking For Your Help

Sometimes, I can’t believe I’m doing this.

After almost a month of few updates, lots of stories, reviews and even more review writing on G33kpr0n and for Sequart, I feel as though I haven’t touched base with you guys in a very long time. There are so many things happening now, and while not all of them have been what I expected, or even what I had originally been looking for: most of them are very exciting.

I remember when I used to touch base with all of you a lot more often: when I had time to think and ponder and reflect much more on the past. I had, and I’m sure I will always have enough, past experiences to process but sometimes you just need to … act and continue moving forward. I don’t even need to tell all of you: those of you who have existed in my life before this Blog, who were here at the very beginning, and who followed me for some time now know how far I’ve come.

I feel like a certain man in a blue box who has run almost his whole life–or at least from 2005 to 2013–and finally, soon, he will begin to stop running. I might still have youthful good looks reminiscent of Doctor Eleven but these days I can’t help but feel like The Unknown Doctor. I can relate to him so much more. After a lifetime of running, he decides to go all-out in the Last Great Time War: still doing things in his way and how he feels they should be done, but still doing it in his way.

But I think the title of the episode “A Good Man Goes to War” suits me as well: though it is debatable how good a man I exactly am. Whatever the case, where I was once focused on one or two projects and then wandered around restless and empty, I am literally bombarding myself with multiple writing assignments. Ideas–old and new–are blooming constantly inside of my mind in a way that I never thought possible.

I am writing articles for two magazines. I am working on two Twine games on and off. I am even working on two substantial short stories coming dangerously close to their deadlines. And originally, I endeavoured to keep staying in my home until I got all of this done: but now I am starting to realize that if I do that, I will never get out of here. And life is not leaving me alone. It is harder to remain a hermit now that I am more out there and my friends and loved ones also want my attention.

It seems as though, completely going up against my original metaphor I am actually getting something of a life now. And sometimes I confess, I think to myself that I can’t believe this. I think I wasn’t built for this: for approximating journalism when I was so vehemently against doing so in the past for feeling out of my depth, or delving into scholarship again after promising to stay as far away from it as possible, or daring to write an upcoming article on something truly great and having the gall to think that I have anything new and exciting to say about something like that.

I have times when I’m tired. Every day, I sit in front of this computer and go into a world of music and chatting and writing–constant writing–and putting myself out there. And with every article I finish or come up with or that decides it is important, I have two projects that aren’t finished yet and are so close to those deadlines. And I think to myself: I don’t know if I can do this. I wasn’t built for this. What if I don’t succeed? What if I keep taking down these smaller units and the large ones loom over me? What if I fail?

But as I write this, I look at what I have done and what I am doing. And I realize that despite all the aggravation and fear and outright exhaustion, this is actually one of the happiest times in my life. It is a battle, yes, and in the spirit of video games I keep taking more of opponents down with a growing sense of power but I am tired, and I realize that this game is reality.

And I need your help.

Yes, you. I need your help. It has come to my attention that my current material situation cannot last forever and while I have already planted some potential seeds for the future, I’ve realized that I need to do more. I’ve realized that I can’t do this alone. I never could. In fact, even now I’m not. There are people who have always been there for me: through all of this. And in order to proceed further, I will continue to need you and those of you who have found and like the work that I do.

So here is what I am going to do in my epic battle and I am going to be clear right now. I am going to ask you to Like this post if you are willing to help me. Let me be clear: if you know me, or you’ve just gotten to know me you will know that I won’t ask anything unreasonable from you and I will return the favour in the ways that I am capable.

I will post more details when the time comes, soon, and you can definitely change your minds then and there will be no hard feelings but right now I am more interested to see a show of hands and Likes as to who is willing to help me and believes that I will make something truly special.

I want to take Mythic Bios–and everything I have been making–and expand on it. I want to make it into something that will support me, that will give me more resources to work with in order to make better quality work, and get my name out there to do the same. There are some burdens that I need lifted and some that I need to adopt to get the freedom that I need to continue my work and my life. I suppose I can be even more melodramatic and raise my hand and shout, “Who’s with me!” but really I just want to know who is curious about what I want to do and, besides, I’m comfortable with the fact that I won’t end up like Theon Greyjoy after his speech in the Game of Thrones television series.

Essentially, all of you 1,198 Followers, I want to know if you believe in me and what I am capable of doing: just, as I already said, to see that show of hands. Comments are a bonus too: advice even more so. But right now, all I want are Likes on this one post.

I realize now that I am at the part in the game where I do need to go all-now but, with all of you beside me–physically or in spirit–I would like to see just what over a thousand people are capable of doing: especially something as modest as I am proposing.

It is said that a thousand cats can change reality. I wonder if over a thousand humans can help affect one writer’s life. Think of it as a Challenge for myself and all of you. If not, well, it was a good experiment. Take care, my friends. I love you all and, no matter what, I am now looking forward to what comes after.

Looking Outward