PAX Australia last year showcased tons of new indie games to the public, some of which brought to light issues surrounding accessibility and inclusivity to the forefront. The PAX Rising area was even brought to the entrance of the show floor instead of the back, encouraging attendees to try out some games from a few lesser known developers.
One of the indie games that really stood out to me was An Aspie Life published by EnderLost Studios, which was presented in the main concourse of PAX as part of the NEXT Exhibit. This particular exhibit displayed games from some underrepresented developers that touched on subject matter that isn’t necessarily as prominent in mainstream video games as it should be.
Bradley Hennessy is the eighteen year old game developer behind An Aspie Life and the main inspiration for the game comes from his own personal experience on the spectrum. He lives with Asperger’s syndrome and wanted to show his representation of how he and many other people diagnosed with similar disorders navigate the world.
An Aspie Life has the player control a young boy whose roommate has just left him and tasks them with completing objectives that are written in the characters journal. The tasks are reasonably mundane such as getting groceries and buying a video game from the local shop, but it’s the interactions with the people you come into contact with where the real challenge lies.
Other people in the game are shown as black figures and your responses with them are limited to mostly yes or no answers. Your character’s happiness and comfort levels will be affected depending on how your conversations play out with each character and will also determine how they react to you, so its important to listen to what they’re saying. Each objective also has a time limit to it, as Bradley wanted to touch on the element of routine and schedule that is so present in every day life for people on the spectrum.
Bradley did mention that he has received some feedback from people about the game, some of whom are on the spectrum themselves, saying that this representation of Autism and Asperger’s isn’t accurate enough or doesn’t depict what the conditions are actually like. The criticism is valid, as people are going to have different opinions of the game, but Bradley expressed that an An Aspie Life is just one perspective that resonates with him.
It’s incredibly difficult to cater to the masses, especially when developing a game that touches on such a personal topic. In my opinion though, I think An Aspie Life does a great job of articulating the challenges a person on the spectrum faces in everyday situations and makes the player uncomfortable in all the right ways.
The game really hits close to home for me, as my older brother is on the Autism spectrum. I always find myself wishing I’d approached a situation better or said something differently with him. Even now after living with him my whole life I still make mistakes and become too abrupt or annoyed with my responses, it’s always something I’m conscious of and it’s why I think games like this are so important.
It really inspires me when I see people on the spectrum becoming successful and genuinely enjoying what they’re doing in life. It can be extremely difficult for those people to even obtain work in a lot of cases, let alone do something they love. A 2015 statistic showed that 50% of people aged 15-64 that are diagnosed with autism and still living at home found difficulty changing jobs or getting a preferred job. A further 47% claimed they felt restricted in their type of job and 29% were permanently unable to work due to their condition(s).
Those statistics, while quite staggering aren’t just made up out of thin air, there is a problem within our culture that prohibits us from understanding people on the spectrum. Whether it’s a lack of understanding or exposure or simply not caring enough, educating people is the only way there will be any real change. Games like An Aspie Life are a huge step to furthering that education and getting people to see life from a different perspective other than their own.