How Video Games Advocate for People with Autism
17-year-old Samuel Hookham loves to play video games, and last spring, he and his younger brother became obsessed with one called Overwatch. The game is an action-packed first-person shooter that Samuel plays with his brother almost every day. It’s a very popular video game, with over 30 million players from all over the world!
Samuel, 17 years old, loves to play video games, and he and his brother became obsessed with Overwatch. Samuel is an autistic child who was bullied for his odd behavior. He began seeking psychiatric help due to depression when he was 13 years old, and at the age of 16, he was diagnosed with autism. Samuel felt misunderstood and found it difficult to make friends. Finally, the diagnosis helped him.
Samuel learned interesting things about Symmetra, a female avatar in the video game Overwatch. He noticed that Symmetra did not understand the jokes her teammates made; she took them literally and would also miss a lot of social cues. Samuel felt that he identified and could relate to her. There were things she would do that Samuel also tended to do. So, he wrote a letter to the director of Overwatch asking whether Symmetra also suffers from autism. A month later, he received a reply stating that she is in fact autistic.
One in 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Often, these kids are bullied in school and are excluded from social groups. When making fun of other people, many kids use autism as an insult. Also, there are jokes and memes about it on the internet. The media has shown autism in a negative light in the past. Symmetra is one of ten autistic video game characters created in the last decade. In the entertainment sector, there have been other positive examples of autisms, such as Billy in Power Rangers and Julia in Sesame Street. It is good to see that the media is now advocating for people with autism.
Overwatch is a game that takes giant leaps to advocate not only for people with autism, but also others who feel sidelined by society. Many of the game’s characters disabilities, such as a sniper with a missing eye, a disabled explosives expert, and a gay time traveler. Thus, the game delivers the message that it is okay to be different.
The lead writer, Michael Chu, says that Symmetra was not supposed to be known as the autistic character; she was simply intended to be a heroine. They did not want her identity defined by her disorder. Chu noticed that, on the subject of autism, there was a lot of negative comments and cyberbullying. The main goal of creating this character was to change the way people feel about this spectrum disorder.
The main point of Overwatch was to make even different people feel accepted no matter what, and so diverse and unique groups of heroes were created.
Symmetra’s character made Samuel felt welcomed and accepted in his gaming community. Soon after receiving the letter from Kaplan, Samuel made a Youtube video about it. He shared with viewers the reply he got stating that Symmetra was autistic, too, and how excited he was to hear this. He felt emotional that his favorite game character shared his diagnosis. Samuel touched the hearts of millions and posted the reply he received from Kaplan on his personal Tumblr. Fans shared their views on the importance of stopping bullying as well as spreading positive thoughts on autism. A response thread on Reddit was posted by XeernOfTheLight expressing gratitude for the Symmetra character. He also said that he did not want the diagnosis to become an obstacle in life and looked at Symmetra as his role model.