Guest Post #4: AutisticScienceLady – “The internet gave me space to exist in my own skin”

Lots of stories of ours are about our social challenges in life.

I want to tell you a happy story.

When I was 13, I started playing Day of Defeat, an online first-person shooter. I really enjoyed it but was terrified of using a microphone. When I finally used callouts in the game, people would call me a pre-pubescent boy and all other kinds of things, mostly college or high school boys. But at least I knew they were obnoxious and not to listen to them – not like in real life. I even joined a clan of genuinely nice people. They were WWII veterans and were super nice! We had a few clan matches but it ended after a few months.

During this time, my brother and I started playing another game, an obscure half-life 2 mod. It was an objective-based first-person shooter team game. There were a lot of people playing this game who were also in junior high. I ended up getting to know the community through playing and found a lot of friends through typing and talking in chat while playing. It was the only place I could be myself. I wasn’t scared of the microphone anymore since I knew the community. We had a league, created clans, analyzed team composition and loadouts, and scrimmaged with other teams. I moved states right before high school and never really made friends there but was still supported by my online friends. I was having fun with a group of people who understood me and didn’t judge me (and made banter-y jokes to everyone). Many of them also deal with social anxiety, agoraphobia, or just plain awkwardness, so I didn’t worry about “seeming weird.” We kept the group together after the league ended, and started playing other games together, just to hang out really. I got to know one person particularly well throughout high school, and we started dating long-distance in college. We’d watch TV shows and play Minecraft together. After college, we moved in, and it’s been a pretty great 4 years so far. We’ve met quite a few of our online friends at gaming conventions and continue to meet up every year. I was actually the driving force of those meet-ups.

People think of online games as silly and online friends as not real friendships. I have gotten pity hugs when I tell someone I have “online friends,” but they cannot fathom the community that I am talking about. What I really mean: I am going to interact with some of my best friends that I’ve known since junior high. I am going to go socialize and be accepted for who I am. People often see me as “retreating” into my shell, and still, sometimes I feel bad that they missed out.

The internet gave me the space to exist in my own skin. It still does today. And I wouldn’t be where I am right now without it. So thank you, friends.


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