Okay, so I had a much longer post originally, so I’ll attempt to be briefer.
I am on the autism spectrum, as is my partner. I got to thinking about an IF story where the player character has autism, and needs to manage intense sensory stressors as part of the puzzle mechanics and problem solving process (sorta like my time at my previous job lol). I already have the mechanics working, and got a tutorial puzzle in place, and it turned out more interesting than I expected.
Here’s the main issue, though…
Because life on the spectrum can so-deeply affect who you are as a personality and identity, there isn’t really a way to have an autistic player character that most people can slot themselves into, like they do with other player characters, so I think I’ll lean into that a bit, because I might as well. In this game, your character will have an assigned name and established backstory, and it’ll be more like the player is an film actor taking a role, rather than playing as themselves. (This, interestingly, might actually flip the script on my usual experiences in fiction, because I feel like I’m taking an acting role for most game player characters, as it’s so hard for me to relate to most fictional characters most of the time, books included. I am very rarely slotting myself in during a second-person perspective game.)
This next bit involves a lot of life experiences that I’ve had, so it may be that I’ve witnessed the exception to the average here…
I’m very reluctant to make the game use a third person perspective to accommodate a detailed/established player character with a neurodivergent brain/experience, because the problem my partner and I run into in real life is this: While most people understand academically that sensory overload and executive/social difficulties are the result of an autistic individual enduring environmental stressors, what tends to happen instead is–on a social/emotional level–that a lot of people habitually place blame on the person with autism (usually without realizing it), as though the person with autism had a choice to live through sensory/social/executive nightmares every waking day. Because of this, I’m worried that if this game used a third person perspective, a lot of players would just grow to resent the player character, and blame them for adding difficulty and complexity to the game’s puzzles. However, if I keep the second person perspective (immersion-breaking for some, but whatever), then the game will clearly frame stressor management as a problem from the environment that character and player deal with together, and the player will hopefully be more sympathetic and invested, as the perspective clearly shows it’s not the player character’s fault at all. It shifts it from potentially player vs player character, to player + character vs environment, if I retain the second-person perspective.
I feel like this sort of psychological framing shouldn’t be necessary, and most people will think that it wouldn’t make a difference, but even people who usually care deeply about me will blame me for being overwhelmed by bright lights and fans blowing air in a room, so I’m not so sure.
Thoughts? Any other forum members who are on the spectrum want to weigh in? I feel like I’m breaking a few cardinal rules here, but I also feel like this is an edge case that these rules aren’t really built for. Hopefully there’s a way to preface this to the player during the intro, so their expectations can be set appropriately.
I’m posting this more to discuss how to nuance/present/frame this for the player, and not so much if I should ditch the choice in perspective, because I’m pretty dead-set on second-person perspective with an established player character for the reasons listed above.
I feel like this game is important for me to make, if anything just to share my difficulties in problem solving against sensory overload, all packaged into a fun little game.