Boy’s life proves MMOs are ‘a gateway to wherever your heart desires’


I remember the first few years when MMORPGs were a going concern and how so many people back then used to justify their bad behavior in them by saying “it’s just a game.” I suppose some folks will always do that.

But a new piece on the BBC this week shows how wrong that idea is, has always been. It’s the story of a Norwegian named Mats, a young man with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, who blossomed as an MMO gamer when he became wheelchair-bound. Though his parents say they didn’t really understand his passion for games like World of Warcraft until he was gone, he was busy the whole time leading a rich social life inside Azeroth as part of a long-standing guild.

“I think Mats was lucky to belong to our time, technologically,” one of his friends told the BBC. “In [his guild] Starlight he was a key member. If he had been born 15 years earlier, he wouldn’t have found a community like that.”

After Mats’ death in 2014 – his disease usually claims the lives of its victims by their early 20s – his parents posted a message for the “avatars” he’d interacted with and were slammed with a long string of condolences and love. His guild then pooled money so they could all travel from all over Europe to attend his funeral and eulogize him. They were, as his parents belatedly realized, a whole lot more than “avatars,” and their son wasn’t wasting his precious and short life in “just a game.”

I’m not crying – you’re crying.

Source: The BBC. Thanks, Sixuality!
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Fenrir Wolf

One thing I’ll give Blizzard is that whilst I don’t enjoy playing their games, they’re good at creating a sense of place.

I’d be the first to admit that WoW can be pretty fun to experience as a place to be, even if it’s not especially the most fun game to play. I’ve had some enjoyable roleplays there.

I just wish we could have more MMOs like Free Realms. That might be a strange thing to say, but… I want to see online experiences which concentrate on that sense of place, freedom, and having fun. Free Realms didn’t care that I could wall-walk, get to places I shouldn’t, and whatnot.

Why? Because it wasn’t a game about grind, nor was it a game about RNG. It was about silly minigames and social interactions. It was bizarrely meaningful to me and I miss it sorely. Not something I should be enjoying at my age, but still…

On the topic, there were places in Second Life that evoked that kind of feeling. Which is why I spent years there scripting this, and building that; mostly developing anti-griefing scripts if I’m entirely honest but that was just the nature of it. An online arms race involving dynamic weapons of actualSi code isn’t something I think I could explain well to today’s youf.

Furcadia was another one that had a little bit of this sense of place, as was Ultima Online. There were a few. It was Free Realms that really nailed it for me, though. It was utterly ridiculous, and it had hidden depth. I still remember that one forest where the fairies were drugging folks with amnestic candy so they’d be “happy.”

That was bizarrely disturbing, more so than anything I’d seen in any “adult” MMO. I loved that. And I aided them in doing it because, hey, that’s what you do in an MMO!

It was nice being a dragon in Istaria, too. I just wish more games would focus on the experience and keeping it fun, though. The grind, the RNG, it’s not necessary and the more creatively inclined spods will lose interest.

I feel Champions Online could’ve been one of these, too, if only the developers had listened to us when we tried to tell them that the hardcore grinders wouldn’t stick with them (and they didn’t, it’s a ghost town now).

It’s funny, often I like the concept of an MMO, but I don’t like the execution. I’ll like the world, perhaps; the opportunity to revel in the experience of roleplaying a non-human character is welcomed; the sense of place, lore, and sometimes even the narrative are well loved.

That grind and RNG though always ruin it. I mean, sometimes the narrative does too if it focuses on tragedy and sociopathy too much (see: WildStar and Guild Wars 2), but far more common is that I don’t have the will or the constitution to bother with that much grind. I respect myself too much.


I miss Free Realms. It was the bits I liked about WoW, without the bits I didn’t iike, and with other bits bolted on that I did like. Like foot races! (Nice to see races in Path of Fire, I admit.)

Fenrir Wolf

One thing I’ll add to this regarding a sense of place. Whilst I’ve bounced off of many MMOs due to how I’m just not compatible with all of the grind, RNG, and whatnot? I like the concept of an MMO, I like the idea of it.

A fantastical world I can escape to and (relating to the comment I made below about autism and othering) enjoy being something non-human, around other non-humans, outside of the usual definitions of neurotpical interests. This has a deep and meaningful appeal to me, which is why some games do stick with me.

I mean, I can only imagine some have wondered what I’m even doing around these parts if I’m so very allergic to the RNG & grind (I can handle it, sometimes, for a little while!). And… well? That’s fair. I mean, that is fair.

I wouldn’t blame anyone for wondering why I do. Now you have the answer to that, though.

I guess I keep watching to see if there’ll ever be an MMO that’s truly more autistic than neurotypical, that focuses more on the experience rather than the dopamine-laden operant conditioning chambers. I’m not judging anyone for enjoying that (except for when it leads to addiction or delusion, and others are harmed by that), but rather it’s that… I can’t.

The grind & RNG elements just get in the way of it, for me. The closest I’ve come is the games I’ve mentioned, or enjoying jumping puzzles in Guild Wars 2 and trying to forget how much I dislike the unnecessarily tragic narrative.

So many dead dragons. Good dragons. Bad dragons. Just lots of dead dragons. Blargh.

I keep wondering when there’ll be an MMO focused around the experience of life and adventures in a very fantastic, alien world; one with an upbeat story, diverse and eccentric characters, and a focus on optimism and overcoming diversity rather than just slowly sinking ever further into a pit of ennui-coloured doom.

Phantasy Star’s efforts come close (especially Portable), but still… so… grindy…

Brown Jenkin

I remember reading about this recently, definitely a nice and uplifting story. What’s weird is that I’m sure it isn’t an unfamiliar one to many of us. Over the years I’ve had plenty of MMO guildmates that suffered from one form of disability or another, and used MMO social play as an outlet and way to stay socially connected with folks who care about them. Its easy sometimes to focus on how crappy MMO players can be (seriously lots of us/them are horrible) but it is important not to forget we can be really great also :)


…something about when you know you lived a full life when people show up to your funeral to remember you. Very inspiring and sad at the same time.


I read this earlier and posted about it. In verbatim :

Most people I interact with nowadays have no clue, because I keep it to myself, unless I’m being venturesome. You really can just ‘fit in’ with others in these worlds and people are totally oblivious unless you tell them.

I recently began posting to my game news website and have ‘outed’ myself there as someone who is disabled in real life. There is currently only a very tenuous connection between my profile there and myself, and you’d probably have to do some pretty hard searching to find me…but I can post about issues that need addressed while maintaining most of my anonymity that I cherish.

I have found that when you do tell some people, they become extremely nasty towards you. Others begin ‘kid gloves’ handling you.

Why people can’t just treat others as another person even with something ‘different’ about them, I’ll never really understand.

“Treat others the way you wish to be treated.” is a pretty good motto.

Kevin McCaughey

I would love to see more disabled gamers play as I think these worlds truely bring equality closer and help disabled people be more integrated into society. I am disabled and I get a good feeling out of being part of a community online.

Fenrir Wolf

You’re talking my language.

I mean, I’m disabled too. There’s that. I have incredibly poor sight due to septo-optic dysplasia, I get the shakes, I have terrible anxiety and balance problems. I can have trouble wrangling a controller if I get too nervous, these are just things I’ve sadly had to learn to live with.

The most prescient experience I could share here though is in my autism. It’s easy for someone to see that a person is autistic, we’re very… different. And where neurotypicals prefer to focus on what makes people similar and homogenise? Well, it doesn’t work that way for us. We’re too individual.

Special interests and all that, yes?

Plus, when you’re focusing on similarities you need an “other” to provide a parallel. You wouldn’t really recognise light without dark, that sort of thing. And as you might’ve already guessed, the other they use as a foundation for their similarities is usually autistic people.

It’s… gotten bad for us. Despite mountains of evidence that we don’t lack Theory of Mind, that we’re actually more empathetic than neurotypicals (we’re just worse at expressing it due to poorer affect), and that we’re just as worthwhile as any neurotypical? We’re still undervalued. I’d go so far as to say it’s invariably that NTs view us as sub-human troglodytes.

I’ll get to my basis for this in a moment.

The truth is is that we’re a very maligned group of people. If a neurotypical parent has an autistic child they’re horrified, they’ll act as though their life is over. They’ll abuse the child, then blame the child for being traumatised. They’ll try to “cure” their kid’s autism with bleach. This is why Russian espionage groups have been so successful in selling anti-vaxxing to the American peoples, that’s how pathological this fear of autism is.

Many of the “cures” for autism which have often been lauded and praised had severe side-effects, not least of which being neurotoxic in some way or another leading to brain damage. Still, it’s better to be a brain-damaged extrovert than autistic???

And then there’s that gulag for autistic children, where they’re physically and verbally abused, electro-shocked, tortured, forced to vomit, and worse in order to “cure them of their autistic behaviours.” Which is entirely okay because we autistic people have been dehumanised.

We’re subhuman troglodytes. That make it okay, see?

Just recently an autistic child died in a school because they had a panic attack and the force that was used to hold them down was far greater than that which is used on neurotypical children. Why? Apparently autistic kids are Superman, or that subconsciously the person holding them down just didn’t care whether the kid lived or died.

I genuinely, really worry sometimes that the future of autism is that it’s only going to get worse and we’ll be designated to such a low, inhuman status that we’ll be enslaved to our betters by way of indentured servitude.

We’d just be paying them for them helping us to learn how to behave in their society, of course. The payment would be with our unwilling servitude.

I really do worry about that. I’m not joking. I don’t feel all that safe.

Neurotypicals are so obsessed with their own kind that they think anything else is alien, and that it must therefore be unhappy or wrong and needs to be cured or culled. Which also makes me concerned about any first contact scenarios! I mean, a little tongue-in-cheek, yes, but when we first encounter aliens you’d better hope for the continued survival of the species that they send an autistic diplomat.

The neurotypicals would just start a war with our new alien friends over how they’re so offended that the aliens didn’t have hands to shake or backs to pat when they went to shake their hands and pat their backs. This is hyperbole, but it’s also far, far, far too accurate to the neurotypical condition.

My vision isn’t delineated entirely by the autistic experience, though. I see other areas in which NTs are becoming increasingly more narcissistic and less empathetic. If you look at web and software design, accessibility that we developed through the ’90s and early ’00s for people with motor control issues, poor vision, and colour-blindness is now being ignored in favour of ‘make web site pretty.’

I see this all over the place though with NTs. Just… pushing for homogeneity. Which brings me to my point. Had it ever occurred to you how terrifyingly pathological a concept “normal” is? It’s a ‘default-state defined by a superior group of people.’ It’s essentially just the Aryan ideology, fashioned in a way that’s more palatable to a contemporary audience.

Autistic people are pretty good at accepting differences. I’m unshakeable in that regard, it’s one of my points of pride. I love reading about diversity, of people who’re different. Whether it’s ethnicity, real world culture, or even Internet subcultures such as vampyres or otherkin. I always keep an open mind and I’m fascinated by what I find.

And the more you move away from NT homogeneity, the more you’ll find people who’re focused on caring and being kind. That’s always been my experience. I suppose that if all you’ve known is constant bigotry all your life (hello!)? You’re probably going to end up being very kind, you wouldn’t want others to suffer in the ways you’ve suffered.

And believe me… I have. It’s not something I’m going to talk about, here, but outside of war (which is an experience I thankfully haven’t had and likely will never have), I’ve seen so much of the worst aspects of the human species.

That’s why I’ve pretty much ended up with species dysphoria, myself. I’m always being told by NTs that I’m an alien so… why not??? I know that’s come up in posts, before. I tend to refer to other people as “humans” because this is so ingrained. I don’t ever think of myself as human. I’ve been told so often that I’ll never be, and when I observe humans, witness what they are, and consider?

Maybe that’s okay.

Not being human isn’t so bad, really. It just means you can be more kind than a human, and more of an individual, or anything you want to be because you’re no longer being defined by overly strict and shallow NT categorisations.

I think that not being human is one of the most freeing things as you no longer have to ascribe to any NT standards. You can pull back and realise just how pathological NTs are, especially with their very supremacist default-state. They’re “normal,” I’m not. They’re “human,” I’m not. And that’s okay.

Because when you’re a human, it’s a never-ending fractal of bigotry. Even groups who’re supposedly vulnerable and targeted by bigotry will turn around and be bigoted against others. No, I’m not talking about “reverse-racism” (why is that even a thing?????????), but rather… well, situations far more nuanced.

One example? Notice how redheads are being replaced with black people. I’m absolutely for more representation, but isn’t it funny that it’s never a blond~, brown~, or black~ haired person who’s replaced? It’s always a redhead.

Wally West, Mary-Jane, Jimmy Olsen, and so on. And entertainment sources don’t exactly treat redheads well. Why bring this up? Well, redheads experience a lot of bigotry, too. That they’re often called soulless, ugly, and stupid is just the very tippity-top of that iceberg.

If they object to this? Well, they’ve made themselves a target. So they have to quietly accept it alongside all the other bigotry they endure.

This is a worthwhile read:

It’s how trans people, for example, will use the argument of the gendered brain (disproven back in 2015) to claim validity and “normalcy,” except when they do this they invalidate genderqueer people and many — when confronted about this — are happy to say that genderqueer people don’t exist.

Then you have the TERFy side of feminism and…

It just goes on and on and on. In the pathological pursuit of “normalcy,” people exposed to bigotry will become bigots because they’re too shallow or lacking in self-awareness to realise what they’re doing.

I’ll see a trans person react in a negative way to Trump erasing them and I’ll empathise, vehemently. Then I’ll see that same trans person turning around and saying that genderqueer doesn’t exist, and all genderqueer people are anti-trans trolls.

Not sure where I’m going with this, really. Just.. I’m kind of glad I’m not a neurotypical, and it’s nice not being human when this is what human means. See, it seems like it’s inherently a part of the human condition to judge people for the “sin” of looking different, being different, or behaving outside of what they expect.

And the punchline? I’m physically disfigured, too. Whoop! You can just imagine how neurotypicals react to that on top of autism.

I’m just that inhuman.

So, yes, I relate to this.

Footnote: Something you can take away from this is that one way to recognise an extreme case of autism is to see just how outside of bigotry we are. Since we seem to be able to perceive the hierarchy of bigotry, and NTs cannot.

Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
Kickstarter Donor
Dean Greenhoe

Thanks. +1


This was a very moving story.

Toy Clown

I love that he found happiness before his untimely death and it’s entirely possible the connections between him and his friends will pass onto his family.


I was going to submit that too.
I read that whole thing this morning, it was really heartwarming and inspiring.

Mats will be missed; isn’t that the most of what we all can hope for from our lives, long or short?

Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor

Glad his parents recognized it was important enough to him that they thought to notify the “avatars” he’d been playing with. Not all families would.

Patreon Donor
Loyal Patron

Or even know how to do so.

Rolan Storm

Truly beautiful and sad.