Sayonara Wild Hearts and autistic masking

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Recently I played the game Sayonara Wild Hearts and I was totally unprepared for the emotional journey I went on. There’s a story that unfolds through the experiences of the character you play, in a way that reminded me of Journey, another game that had a big emotional impact on me. It’s open to interpretation and I feel that the player brings a lot of personal story to the game. Someone might play it and enjoy it for being a fun little music game. Others, like me, might be emotionally exhausted by the end. Like a music album the game affects everyone differently.

What is the game about?

Sayonara Wild Hearts is a dreamy arcade game about riding motorcycles, skateboarding, dance battling, shooting lasers, wielding swords, and breaking hearts at 200 mph.

As the heart of a young woman breaks, the balance of the universe is disturbed. A diamond butterfly appears in her dreams and leads her through a highway in the sky, where she finds her other self: the masked biker called The Fool.

It’s a music runner type game. You play as a young woman who is dropped into an alternate reality to defeat the bad guys. That’s it. The levels are inspired by a whole series of vintage/retro (cries at being old) games like Outrun, Tetris, Asteroids, Pilot Wings and so on. The colour palette is all purples, violets and magentas. The graphic style is wonderful and the music is inspired by CHVRCHES. It’s fun to play. Really fun.

I’m not going to go into a deep analysis of the levels or story. You need to experience the game for yourself. You need to bring yourself to the game and think about how it affects you after it. What I would like to talk about is my experience as an autistic straight male human.

I absolutely loved how unapologetically confident, cool, classy, positive and upbeat the game is about being a woman. Yes it is a game about heart break and fighting demons but damn I felt cool playing as the main character. A character wearing a mask. The mask looks great but it’s hugely symbolic.

Autistic masking

Masking is a social behaviour that “helps” autistic people “fit in”. It is a behaviour that results in fewer women being diagnosed as autistic than men. It’s acting. It’s pretending to be “normal” like everyone else. Maintain eye contact. Smile. Laugh. “Get” the joke. Make small talk. Maintain eye contact. Act human even though you never got to do the tutorial levels. Read between the lines. What lines? There are lines now? I thought I’m meant to be maintaining eye contact but now I have to read between the lines too? Don’t seem picky or be pedantic. I know when someone says “I just came over to say ‘hi'” doesn’t mean they actually came over just to say ‘hi’. They really wanted to talk and now I have to stop myself from leaving because it would “appear” like I was being rude even though we have achieved the desired outcome of “saying hi”. Blergh

It takes energy to do these things and if you’re doing it constantly you’re going to be drained. Eventually you might burnout from doing this every day. The alternative plays out like a scene from early seasons of Star Trek: TNG with Data being frequently told “Enough Data” when trying to offer useful information.

For me, any time I’m forced to hold back who I am results in depression. I cannot afford to live that way anymore. I’ve spent 40 years doing that. 40! Forty whole years actively hating who I was and trying to be someone else. So what if I’m weird? That just means I’m different, less trendy, unique and technically have more worth because there are less people like me. Unfortunately being myself has resulted in losing most of my friends over the years. So there’s that side to it. Of course I was unaware of my issues and they were uneducated in spotting them so can I really blame them?

What can be done? Oh I dunno. Maybe. Whacky idea here. Maybe if we just accepted everyone for who they are? ducks from incoming veg throws (be kind to veg pls) I know it’s a totally bonkers idea that’ll never catch on but imagine if we were able to accept everyone and accept ourselves? Imagine not having to deal with all that mental processing time. You would no longer have to fear saying or doing the wrong thing. You could… get this… look away mid conversation without fear that the other person thinks you’re not listening because you actually listen better when not having to think “Eye contact! EYE CONTACT!!!” all through the conversation. You could talk and the other person would forgive and accept. It’d be bliss.

So… the game?

This brings me back to Sayonara Wild Hearts. There is a point in the game where I went “OMG!” It was the point when the main character removed their mask, forgave their demons and accepted who they were. They returned to their life transformed and able to get back “into their groove.”

They unmasked and accepted themselves resulting in a transformation.

I was emotionally drained as the credits rolled. This game was a journey (eh eh… its a PS4 game I literally referenced at the start). It felt like so much of this game had been crafted for someone like me to enjoy and yet not crafted for me at all? By the end of it I was almost in tears of joy. I mean I wasn’t because I’m a man so I punched a wall instead, did 20 pushups and had a bubble bath with a Cadburys flake. Then I cried.

A game that ends with you feeling great for wanting to try and accept who you are, knowing that it can lead you to being healthier mentally. A game that makes you feel confident about who you are, because even though you are living with demons it is possible to live. The game doesn’t go on to discuss the wider picture of worldwide acceptance for who you are but it doesn’t need to. It’s a fun electro-pop reminder for you to be you. It’s ok not to be ok and it’s ok to forgive yourself for that.

I am 100% here for these style of games over the mundane FPS games I grew up on. More of these. More interesting and diverse stories. More stories that can be accessible to many and interpreted in many ways that helps empower minority voices.

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This weeks photos are from Paris over the years. I miss going there for proper eclairs. Choux pastry filled with chocolate cream not stodgy bread and boring cream as they do in the UK.


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