Usually, the Digital Human programme on a Monday afternoon doesn't do it for me at all. They're often wandering or lacking in a definite thread. But on this occasion, the rather touching story of a young man with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy who lived out a much fuller, more complete life online through the medium of gaming was thoroughly engaging. His father spoke with great insight into his son's life, but that insight came heartbreakingly late. It came only after his son died, when the father updated the son's blog with the message that the son had died as a result of his illness, and was contacted by a raft of people with whom the son had a relationship online. Mats - the son - had been housebound for several years, and had spent a great deal of time gaming online. What the father had failed to understand during the son's life was that the relationships he had formed were real and fulfilling. The father perhaps underestimated the possibility of having real relationships through the computer, but even more so, the restrictions placed on Mats' ability to engage in what we might term the normal range of human relationships meant that he couldn't do those things in the real world. What he could do was form those relationships through his character online, and because that character wasn't disabled in the way he was, he could live out a life in that online space that was his real life, the life in which he was fully engaged.
The way the father talked about how he as a parent had come to assume that because of his son's disability, the fact of him being housebound, he wouldn't be able to become important to anyone, to matter, and that there had been a sort of process of grieving for that loss when the muscular dystrophy was revealed. And then, through the gaming, Mats was able to do exactly that, to come to matter to people, to form the kind of intimate relationships - not physical, perhaps, but intimate nonetheless - that his father had assumed he wouldn't access.
I have written before about being broadly fed up with my own inability to hear anything moving without descending into tears. Yes, again... Of course. Even though I had nothing invested in it, even though I never heard Mats' own voice because he died before the programme was even conceived. It can be desperately hard to get across to people who matter to you that they matter to you, and sometimes life has a way of conspiring to make it next to impossible. But it was only after the son died that the father had any sense of his son's value in other people's lives, and their value in his. Those people who were involved in Mats' online life were not part of his 'real' life - note the shift to 'real' as opposed to real - but knew him and spent much more time with him than anyone did in person. Some of them managed to show him that he mattered to them, even through the perhaps distorting medium of the games that they were playing. Mats was aware, even if his father wasn't, of his place in the world. For him, that world was the online, gaming world. It's where the fantasy, the role play, overcomes the threshold of whatever it takes to be reality and becomes the reality. It's tempting to dismiss this, to say that the online world somehow is inherently less valuable than the physical world. And there's a bit of me that agrees, but I am able to take part in, to engage in, the physical world (in some ways!). So who am I to judge?
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When to the sessions of sweet silent thought