Healthy Living

Teen with Autism Creates a Video Game About Living on the Spectrum

Photo: YouTube user mebradhen

At only seventeen years old, Brad Hennessey has found a way to let others into what it is like to have autism - his new video game, "An Aspie Life."

Brad's story

Brad has lived with Asperger's syndrome his whole life, and describes the condition as, "one of the categories on the autism spectrum and basically you have a lot of different issues with how you socialize and see the world."

Of course, there are many varying forms of autism, but Brad believes that there are key factors that bring everyone together, giving them a similar experience. He says, "with autism everyone's a little bit different, so we all have traits that are pulled from a pool. Some people might be able to tell body language, while others may not. But, in general, we all see the world the same way."

“An Aspie Life”

Unfortunately, it can be very difficult for those with autism to relate to others in their community or classes at school. That is why Brad Hennessey wanted to find a fun way that others in his life could better understand him. He did not want to just make people watch a video, or explain his life to them verbally, but enable them to truly experience it in an interactive manner. So, his video game "An Aspie Life" was born.

In the game, players can go through the world in a manner much like the way Brad does, and others with autism do, every day. By putting them into the first person, he believes they will be better able to understand the experience than any type of explanation could offer.

Now, he is launching the game so that not only his friends and family will be able to play, but others that may be interested in what it is like to live your life with autism. He is optimistic that his game will have an impact on the public perception of what it is like to live with autism.

Starting the game

Hennessey was inspired to begin the game after repeatedly seeing many people using the word "autistic" as an insult, often even as a synonym for stupid. He himself knew that these people were wrong, but instead of getting angry with them and writing them off, he decided a better idea would be to show them why they were wrong, and hopefully they would change their minds and not use such insults again. He even saw autism used as a scare tactic occasionally, which has no merit.

He explains, "the best example of this is [the idea that] vaccines cause autism, which is not true. I just thought, 'Why?' After doing some research, I discovered that it was from a lack of knowledge. I was alarmed at the lack of information and resources trying to show people what autism truly is! There's endless information available for people with autism and about it, but the general public doesn't want to read a scientific report."

For such a young man, he has presented a tremendous amount of maturity, both in his willingness to be patient and educate those who insult him instead of turning against them, and in his recognition of people's disinterest of reading scientific information, and accommodating them instead of depending on research that simply won't be done.

Playing the game as a character with autism

Within the game itself, players will be a character who is on the spectrum. Instead of having to save the world, fight, or navigate obstacle courses, like in many other video games, they simply have to complete everyday tasks. However, as they go through their journey, they have to maintain optimum levels of emotions and health. They are faced with obstacles that those with autism endure daily, such as being extremely sensitive to sounds, and operating on a limited vocabulary. It is difficult to communicate with others in the video game, offering insight into the constant frustrations those with autism face. For example, one obstacle in the game involves a police car driving by with its siren going off, and the player will have to handle how their character copes with the unbearably loud noise.

He knows that others do not have his struggles in their daily lives, and may be confused by the game at first. He notes, "for most people, it's not difficult to go out in the world, going to the shops, going to meet people, but with autism every small thing you do that's different to your normal routine, that's different to what you're used to, is a massive issue and you get very anxious ... At the shops, whenever I go to purchase something or go to the cash register I get really, really anxious. I just don't know if I'm going to stuff up. What are they going to think of me? And of course, at the end of the day they don't think anything, really, but it just starts building in my head. That's represented in the game through little battle scenes where you have to try and talk to the person but you can't see them because they're just a black outline."

Another difficulty within the game that players have to face is that the other characters they encounter are undetailed, and only are given outlines. This is supposed to show how hard it is for those with autism to understand body language like others can, instead only being able to address them in what they personally interpret, which may not be the intent.

Of course, every person on the autism spectrum has a very personal and individual experience. Hennessey tried to account for these variations within the game, and he explained, "everyone with autism is a little different. How I see autism might be different to another person, but, in general, we see the world the same way. 'An Aspie Life' is how I see the world through my autism."

The game is still being developed

The game is still in its final stages of development, as Hennessey wants it to be absolutely perfect before its release. However, it should be available soon.

He explains what his ultimate goal is for when the game is released, "when a player stops playing, I want them to at least have learned something. Something about autism they never knew or did not understand. If that's what they get out of it, then my mission is a success." You can check out some of his trailers for the game that are available now!

Many others are likely to follow in his footsteps, as his idea of letting someone into his life via a fun interactive platform should prove to be groundbreaking.

Breaking boundaries

Unfortunately, at the moment, those with autism have very little representation in the entertainment world. This spans everything from movies to video games. However, Hennessey is optimistic that his game will be the beginning of changing that.

Fortunately, some others have been moving forward with the initiative as well. Recently, it was announced that a key character in the game Overwatch, called Symmetra, is autistic. However, other instances of inclusion have not always been positive. Some video games have given poor representation to those with autism, often using stereotypical portrayals. Now, people are beginning to criticize these incidents of ignorance, and pushing for more positive forms of inclusion.