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Picking Up the Controller: IH and Video Games

When I was a kid, I loved playing video games. The first games I can remember getting my hands on were Barbie Horse Adventures and Sims 3: Date Night.

My family mostly adhered to typical gender norms, sadly, so I didn’t get many games of my own as a kid. I had to play whatever my mother bought for my brother or hope that a new game came out that was made for girls. I would beg for a turn on our consoles to play after my other family members. Then, around when I started first grade, I finally got a Game Boy, and I was able to branch out into more games that were catered to young girls.

Acquiring my own collection of games

Since my family followed those gender norms when I was younger, this bled into what I was able to play, so getting my own game system opened me up to games like Nintendogs, any Barbie game variation, Hamtaro, and the biggest one — Pokémon! I finally had more of a collection for myself and got deeper into playing. I remember trying to play Pokémon secretly on school nights by hiding under the covers to avoid being caught by my mom for staying up.

Even as an adult, I’m still a really big gamer. I got a tattoo of my all-time favorite video game, Kingdom Hearts, after graduating from high school.

How idiopathic hypersomnia impacts my gaming

Sadly, my idiopathic hypersomnia (IH) keeps me from playing video games as much as I would like to. While gaming, I’ve found I can only last around 2 hours before my body decides it's nap time.

Two hours in the grand scheme of gaming is basically nothing. My favorite series, Kingdom Hearts, is a whopping 219 hours to beat the main story of all the games. This is without aiming for trophies or doing any of the extra missions. So, it ends up taking me months or years to complete games, while the average person takes a few days or a couple of weeks. As of writing this, I’m stuck on the Pirates of the Caribbean world in Kingdom Hearts 3, even though I got the game on release day, January 25, 2019. It sucks to be years behind on my favorite game series.

Missing out on the social landscape of games

It’s a struggle to deal with being behind on beating a game. I want to finish games around the same time as my friends do so we can talk about the game, but I’m always the one who hasn’t finished the game yet.

Then there’s the chaos of avoiding spoilers online. It's so hard to avoid spoilers because people only spoiler-tag newer games. Even then, online, after the newness runs out on a game, the only place that spoiler tags are used regardless of how long the game has been out is in game reviews. I also miss out on all the online game theories and conversations surrounding the game, since the social landscape changes so fast.

Microsleep and automatic behaviors during gaming

IH causes me to microsleep a lot as well, which leads to another set of problems while gaming. IH comes with additional symptoms for some; one of those, for me, is having automatic behaviors while experiencing microsleeping. Automatic behaviors are tasks that are performed without thinking or while half-asleep. People often have no memory of doing them. This is also a symptom of narcolepsy, but people with IH can experience it, too.1,2

For me, I could be playing a game and start to doze off without realizing it, but sometimes, instead of my hand dropping the controller (stopping the game), my hands continue to play without my mind as a guide. When I wake up, my character is farther than I remember them being when I fell asleep — which sucks, because then I’m confused and disoriented, and I have to figure out what I did while I was asleep.

Dealing with memory issues and sudden sleepiness

Then there's the combination of memory issues and falling asleep. Memory issues are another symptom of IH that I have. Because of my memory issues, when I am gaming, I forget to save... a lot.

If I'm playing on my consoles and fall asleep, my progress is pretty much safe, besides the potential for my console to overheat from running for hours. But if I'm on one of my handheld devices? I'll be waking up to a dead Nintendo Switch and all my earlier progress lost from forgetting to save. It's happened to me on more than one occasion and causes me a lot of grief from losing all my progress. Although, thankfully, most games today have an autosave feature.

Even with all these problems, I still love gaming. It will always be one of my cherished pastimes.

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