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Asperger’s

So the latest of the “fun” modes has started in World of Tanks. To the best of my memory the Chaffee race is the third fun mode in the game, following the success of KARL and the Football mode. Just like the previous two I am unlikely in the extreme ever to play the Chaffee race, for what may be the simplest of reasons: I just don’t get it.

Really. I scratch my head and cannot work out why people want to play them. Well that is not entirely true, I can appreciate on a very intellectual level that other people do indeed find these game modes diverting, a bit of a laugh, and generally a nice break from the usual grind. However, whenever I try to advance from that intellectual supposition to something approaching actual understanding my brain doesn’t make the leap.

One clear reason for my lack of comprehension is that if I want to do something a bit different than the daily tank grind I will … go and do something different. My Steam and GoG.com libraries are hardly as extensive as many, but there are a sufficiently wide range of diverting games to cover most of my modes, and if I don’t want to game I have plenty of other avenues of entertainment as well.

Ultimately I think this is a minor example of a challenge I do face, in life in general, and not just in gaming. It is a feature of my Asperger’s that makes it very difficult at times to understand other people except at a very superficial intellectual level, which really is no understanding at all. The thing is – that’s ok. I don’t have to understand the motivations of other people for something like this. It is there, and I am sure lots of people will enjoy the experience, and I am happy that they will. In return however I do want people to understand that these things hold no interest – but sometimes people don’t. They seem surprised, and it is not always easy to explain to people for whom English is not their first language the reason why.

That said I have not yet encountered any actual insults as a consequence of this, not even stretching the meaning of the term. The QSF community is generally pretty chilled. The world turns, but it turns slowly, but it does turn.

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On Monday morning someone a person in a mobility scooter was killed by a car very close to where I work, just up the street. Not very far up the street. It is quite remarkable how knowledge that someone was fighting, and lost, their life just outside had a sobering effect on the atmosphere. Something speaks perhaps to our common humanity. I must admit the effect has lingered a little longer for me – such things often do. One of the side effects of my Asperger’s is that things can sometimes linger. Generally I managed to deal with this tolerably well by playing games. I didn’t write a blog post because my thoughts kept going back to the accident, and to plenty of “what-ifs”. In my case sometimes I just do not process emotions very well, and that can mean things get “stuck” as it were. Like with all mental health conditions one seeks ways to manage this. Well, I coped with the immediate situation by distraction – be it Melian when she was awake, World of Tanks, or something else. Now I have a little temporal distance to be able to write this little intro to this post which hopefully will help discharge some of the intensity. Hence why this little intro to today’s post, that will hopefully allow me to move past it.

I have done a fair bit of gameplaying this week, mostly in just three games – World of Tanks, World of Warplanes, and Master of Orion 2.

World of Tanks

The Panzer VI Tiger is elited! The Tiger P has a little further to go. I am playing reasonably on both tanks, but nevertheless I do feel like I have struggled a little. I have had another mini-losing streak on the regular Tiger, and on the Tiger P. In most of my games in both tanks now though I am feeling I am doing at least “average”, and quite often significantly better than average. Bad luck in my teams, or just plain bad luck. Last night in particular was a very bad run over several tanks – originally I stopped playing with a 2-7 record. Later in the evening I fired up the game again and ended at 6-9, which was a substantial improvement!

My Marder II crew is now at 99% on the final crew skill – only between 26k and 28.5k experience to go (depending on crew-member). My SU-85 has also been elited and hit 100% – I am going to play it a bit more try and bump the experience on the crew higher a little so that when I retrain it for the next Soviet TD it starts closer to 100%. Also with the Ram-II I am continuing the train a American medium, most of which is now in the low 90s. I also climbed back into my KV-5 for the first time in a few weeks, and whilst the first game was an average loss the second game really reminded me of the fun I have in this tank. Will aim to be more play-time in it again.

I haven’t written about the special offer that has been running in World of Tanks this week for the reason mentioned above, but I have taken advantage of the 50% discount on consumables and equipment, spending just about 2.5 million credits. I was getting quite low on small first aid kits and small repair kits. Safe to say that is no longer the case. I also stocked up with some of the more expensive equipment.

World of Warplanes

Played a bunch of Tier II battles with a friend. Had a sense I was getting a better hang of the game – certainly I seemed to end up on the tail of enemy planes a little more often. My own aiming is moderately poor however. I think when this goes live at the end of the month I will just restrict myself to one nation’s tree – probably the Germans (until the Brits are released). Since I have a premium World of Tanks account I get premium status in Warplanes too, which will make the grinding easier.

Masters of Orion II

Been indulging myself in this golden oldie. First game was a relatively easy victory. The second game had a tricky moment near the start, but in many respects the challenge of this game has been logistical. I am still playing it now, long past the point when I could easily win through diplomatic or military victory, just to have fun with the internal story I have.

Next week

Going to a wedding this weekend that will naturally impact my gaming. My priority is going to be World of Tanks of course, but no set plans after that.

This evening I lost two games in World of Tanks, pretty poorly, and shut the game down. I spent a few minutes completing a few tasks in a couple of other games, on one Facebook and the other on my smartphone, which took about fifteen minutes at most. Then I pretty much just started at my monitor screen. Occasionally I navigated to a webpage, even more rarely I read a story. This lasted for the best part of an hour.

Depressive episodes like this can be a little bit worrisome – they were very frequent during my descent to being ill. On the other hand episodes like this have always happened with me. Also to be fair a few things are going on right now which would make me a bit morose – the general disruption of routine that I mentioned previously, a continuing intensely busy situation at work, and then also over the weekend my mother had an emergency admission to hospital (back at home now convalescing, everything appears under control). In other words I have ample good reason to feel a bit “spaced”.

Nevertheless, they can be very vampiric, sucking life and light out of the moment. They are not periods of relaxation or restoration. There is no easy way of getting out of a dark mood for me once one has caught hold. It requires effort, work, and frankly half an hour to midnight is not when I generally have the energy to be attempting that.

Today though the mood interrupted by the sound of my daughter waking up, a bit unhappy. I went to her room, and as expected she needed some water. The weather continues quite muggy here, and so Melian needs an extra drink of water once or twice most nights. So in I went, felt around the cot for her (since my eyes do not adjust that quickly to the night-light we have in there), picked her up, gave her a cuddle, enabled her to have her drink, cuddled her some more, gave her a second drink at her request (lack of speech does not mean lack of communication) cuddled her some more again, and eventually put her back down. The entire time in the room, perhaps five minutes at most.

Yet it was exactly what I needed, a cuddle with my daughter to help me finish the day with a smile.

Now, Melian did not know her daddy needed a cuddle and so woke up – it was just a fortunate co-incidence. However, I have noticed since becoming a husband and a father it is amazing just how wonderful such fortunate co-incidences are – and how often they happen if one is aware to them. To be sure none of the reasons that contributed to my dark mood have dispersed – they are all still very much present. On the other hand, I have just had a cuddle with my daughter and helped her go back to sleep. It does not sound like much, but it has changed the entire perspective of the day.

Just one extra reason to love being a father.

Sorry for the lack of posting the last few days. The reason is simple enough – I have been incredibly tired. I have always had tendency to burn the midnight oil – even when I was as young as five and six I would go for spells when I would find it difficult to go to sleep. I used to be able to regain some sleep on the weekends – but of course just over a year ago a new person entered my life in the shape of my daughter who generally is awake between six and seven in the morning. Lie-ins are now a rare and precious commodity 🙂

Most of the time this is not actually all that big a problem. Going into Melian’s room, peeking around the door, greeting her with a happy voice and smile – these are not hardships or forced joy. No. Seeing me daughter in her cot, and watching her realise her daddy has come to get her up, and to see her often erupt into joy with giggles, laughs, legs and arms waving about – that lifts me in a way no energy drink can. Also Melian is generally very good at entertaining herself for a time, so after seeing to nappy it is often possible just to lie on the sofa dozing as she goes about her investigations and excavations of her toys – knowing that she will let me know if she needs me.

Sometimes however everything builds up. Melian, unfortunately, has suffered from occasional nightmares since she was only a few months old, and last week we went through a really bad spell. Add in a bad spell of nights for me, and a very busy situation at work and you have a recipe for tiredness. After all of that arrange two weekends in a row with social engagements – Melian’s two parties – and my ability to rest more or less goes out of the window.

As mentioned before I have Asperger’s Syndrome – but long before I was diagnosed I often described myself quite accurately as an introvert. One of the classic characteristics of being an introvert is that social gatherings are very tiring. The precise reasons for this vary, and for any one person there are likely to be a number of different factors. For me one element of my Asperger’s comes very heavily into play, and that is that I do not naturally read body language.

Think a moment about how you know if someone is sad, angry, happy, or even tired – without them speaking. How do you know if the person you are talking to is engaged or bored? It all comes down to those many tell-tale signs in stance, posture, body motions and facial expressions. Most folks pick up on these pretty intuitively, their subconscious doing the heavy lifting. Mine, on the whole, does not. Oh to be sure, over the thirty-odd years of being on this Earth my conscious brain has trained itself to try to compensate, and the person who diagnosed me reckons that this ability to use my intelligence as a crutch is one reason why I generally integrate with wider society better than many people in my situation. Since my diagnosis I sometimes catch myself thinking “this person’s mouth and eyes are twinkling – they are enjoying themselves” or (perhaps more often) “the person I am talking to is slouching a bit, their eyes look a bit tired, and they have checked the time thrice in the last few moments – probably should stop wittering on about history”.

This also has a negative side – in that it is extremely easy to over-interpret things as well, and start imagining that people are angry with you, or that you have upset them, when in reality they are just really tired.

Anyway, one-on-one this process of trying to get pick up on these social cues is relatively easy to maintain, but in a group it starts to take up a great deal of energy. The group does not actually have to be all that large either. All that energy expended trying to notice the changes in face and posture, and paying attention to the sound of voice too, is one reason why being social tires me out.

This happens even amongst those I have known my entire life. When my now wife started to introduce her then financeé to her family at a quite large family gathering, she mentioned that I might at times just disappear off for a while. She then explained that even amongst my own family I did this (she had seen me do so). Essentially I retreat to my own space, to try to find a little solitude to allow myself to regain a little sense of self. Likewise after a social gathering I often find it very difficult to sleep because I am over-stimulated, as it were, by tracking all this social data and I just need to time to relax before I can sleep.

Melian’s two parties were generally small affairs. The one the weekend before last was smaller, but did have an impact even so. Then came Melian’s nightmares, including one particular bad night where I only got through the next day at work thanks to a tin of Monster. This weekend just gone my brother unexpectedly stayed with us on Saturday, which on one level is very enjoyable. On another it was something of a surprise (even pleasant surprises require me to take some time to adjust, unpleasant surprises can have much more negative reactions). Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed having my brother around for the night. We had a very good time, but good times sometimes later present a bill.

Then on Sunday the party itself, which was a great success. Melian had a really good time. We did a massive Sunday Roast, more or less. Both my brothers and their families, and my father and his second wife, and one of our friends who is turning into an “uncle” for Melian were all present. Three pork leg joints, masses of roast potatoes, roast parsnips, carrots, cauliflower, leeks, stuffing, and a delicious creamy mushroom sauce kept everyone well fed – not least of all Melian. My little girl ate her way through two whole plates of food. Seriously, this is a lady who REALLY likes her roast vegetables – especially if they have been dipped in aforesaid mushroom sauce. Then later in the afternoon we all had cake. Really a very great time, but I realised towards the end of it I had not “timed-out” at all, and then later that evening, and yesterday, I paid the price.

So over the weekend I played a bit on my new game, yesterday I played a little World of Tanks (I did not get to take much advantage of the special), and mostly I just did very little caught in a half-way state of being very weary but not actually sleepy. To some degree I am still wrapped up in that – it is now 2330 where I am and I still do not feel sleep calling, despite the fact that is what I pretty desperately need. Indeed in writing this article I am in fact being quite selfish – I am partly hoping that by writing about all of this I do enable myself to get some sleep – though there is a serious point as well in trying to explain at least one element of my Asperger’s.
Oh, and another which is to tell a little about how wonderful it is to be a father, and how much fun Melian had at her party. Nevertheless, hopefully I have not bored anyone still reading this to tears, and I think you for your indulgence.

Hopefully good night.

I did.

Just last night.

I installed the XVM mod.

Now, I know many people regard XVM as a bane upon the game. I have generally resisted installing it for a long time because I disliked the idea of gettings odds before a match started (even though I knew one could turn that feature off). Inertia can be a powerful force. Three things have happened to make me take the plunge however.

The first was installing Jimbo’s Crosshair mod following the 8.5 update – which had some elements of XVM in it (the extra statistics in the Service Record screen and after-battle report) and I must admit to being very pleased with them. The second element has been a slowly increasing desire for more info, with the third being knowledge that it is widely used out there, especially by more experienced players.

Tackling those last two in reverse order – for a while now I have been aware, especially in higher tier battles, of other players using XVM. It was really noticeable that as soon as my efficiency rating turned me green people would occasionally talk to me in game (follow me etc.). One those very rare occasions when I mention a plan of action in chat, I have noticed it gets listened to with a little more seriousness now. Finally, on one rather notable occasion after I died an enemy crowed in open chat that he had just killed the best person on our team. Additionally the more videos I have watched make it very clear that XVM is widely used. Given other people are using it, and given that more information does grant an advantage (if used properly) it started to feel like I might be hindering myself.

The thirst for information was the final, and in many respects most compelling reason. This is one aspect of my Asperger’s, in that generally I want to know. It has proved difficult with some of the medical professionals whom I have dealt with over the years, who kept trying to simplify things for me – and by doing so to deny me proper understanding. Fortunately there have always been a couple who have been able to either provide me with documentation or point me in the direction of relevant sources. This same desire is why I record on a spreadsheet my record with each tank. Left unchecked this can actually become almost debilitating – one spends so much time recording and absorbing information one stops being able to do anything else – but funnelled properly it is actually a strength. Ultimately as well one has to funnel it, rather than denying it – denying it is a bit like trying to stop a river.

So far, interesting. Far too early to tell what overall impact it will have, but I am intrigued to see what I think in a few hundred games’ time.

As readers of this blog should probably realise by now, my wife is Danish. As anyone who has ever had an international relationship will know that this means you encounter many situations where traditions for the same thing are different to a greater or lesser extent. One of these differences between the UK and Denmark is Mothering Sunday and Father’s Day. In particular, Mothering Sunday / Mother’s Day and Father’s Day occur on different dates. We had a long discussion about which date to observe for these little events, and have chosen to honour both the British and Danish days. This has the wonderful side effect of getting two sets of presents each 🙂 .

So it was that last Wednesday – Father’s Day in Denmark – my wife let me know that she and Melian had decided to give me a very special present – a trip of Tankfest that is being held at the Bovington Tank Museum at the end of this month.

Now, I had asked for a trip to the museum as a birthday present later in the year, but I was not expecting to go to Tankfest. So this was a really great surprise, and I have to say I am really very excited. The present includes a ticket for myself and my brother (I cannot drive, he can, but we all agree probably best not to take Melian for actual Tankfest given the numbers and expected loud noises!). So on Sunday 30th off down to Dorset to indulge in gaming and history at the same time – a perfect combination!

However, as mentioned I am expecting a lot of people. This can create some problems for me – I do not always react very well to crowds and have had minor panic attacks sometimes in busy places. I am hoping, however, that given the circumstances I will be able to keep engaged enough on what is going on and with stuff to look at rather than focus on the crowd.

Meanwhile I am immensely chuffed.

As I write this, exactly one year, my wife and I were in the Maternity Unit of our local hospital. Our baby (we did not know if our baby was a boy or a girl) was a few days late. Our midwife had visited us (a planned visit) to check on my wife, and to go over a few details for an induction if our labour had not started by 42 weeks. During the visit however she became concerned that my wife might be entering pre-eclampsia, so she arranged for us to go in that afternoon. Indeed, we were in hospital within an hour of her visit, and the decision was made to induce. The process of induction can take a long time, and the midwife who initiated induction fully expected to the midwife delivering our baby the next morning. Life, however, had other plans and the labour kicked into high gear very rapidly.

Given I have been quite harsh about health visitors, I should say that our experience of the midwives during my wife’s pregnancy, and whenever we were in hospital, was generally exemplary. Our main midwife could be the very example of how to help make a husband/partner feel involved with everything that was going on. She always spoke to me, taking an interest in how I felt about becoming a father. She was also perfect given my mental health. She said from the start “I do not know very much about mental health, so you are going to have to tell me what you need”. It was just so refreshing an attitude. So we talked through various scenarios, and she arranged that I would be able to stay with my wife on the Ward in a separate room (usually they kick fathers out at 10pm, but we were very concerned that in the emotional overload of just being a new father I might have a panic attack if I were told to leave, or have one at home, or otherwise have difficulties). Indeed the entire attitude was just perfect, respectful, open, and wanting to help. During labour itself, and on the post-natal ward the team were also excellent. This was even more so after we were told that my wife and Melian would have to stay on the ward for 48 hours instead of the 12 or so I was expecting – for reasons that they could have communicated to us in a meeting we had with the doctor months before the actual birth. In a tired, overwhelmed state, I basically shut down for several hours. The staff on the ward just accepted my wife’s word that it was nothing they had done, until I was able to come to terms with the situation. They just gave me space, and it was an amazing kindness. I doubt they understood precisely, but they took my wife seriously and accepted her word, and for that and other reasons we later made plain our thanks and admiration.

From that night I have a number of clear memories. Being worried when labour started, much earlier than anyone expected, when we did not really know what was going on. Helping my wife with the gas thing to help alleviate the pain of contraction. The moment of actual birth. The sense of chaos, but never panic, as Melian entered this world, was whisked of to the special table they have to do all the immediate things that ensure there are so few deaths in child-birth these days. Cuddling Melian on my bare chest for a long while after the MCA took my wife to get washed. That memory in particular is very special – and in a sense all cuddles since are just the next stage in that cuddle that started when she was perhaps two hours old.

Melian has grown a very great deal in the last year of course, but right from the start there was something. A while back I posted a photograph (below the fold) of Melian when she was about seven hours old – awake and curious. The expression she has on her face then, looking out, trying to make sense of things – I see it all the time even now. Back then though she was so small. She wanted nothing more than the snuggle on my wife or myself and sleep. Those first few weeks were very sleep-deprived, but were also full of joy (health visitors and the only incompetent midwife we ever had notwithstanding). I had resigned myself to probably never being a father – of never getting married – and here I was both married and a father – and it was wonderful.

It is still wonderful. When I get home after work, and see Melian smile when I enter the house … or even sometimes when I have just been to a different room, my heart sings. Being a father to Melian is just incredibly natural. I will not always say easy – there are still times when I go to work and the first thing I do is acquire a can of Monster or something similar to help get me through the day, for example. There are also plenty of times when I worry about being a good father, of the examples I am setting from the small (just good personal habits) to the large – and of allowing Melian even now the space she needs to be her own person. After all, Melian is Melian first, and her parents’ daughter second. Even at one year she is still a person, and needs to be allowed a space to choose or her own thing, even if at other times we are more directing.

One of the great things about being Melian’s father is that she has helped me look at the world anew. I have written of her joy in her first visit to an airport, but the truth is that she gets fascinated by just about everything. Her enthusiasm encourages me to take a moment to look at a horse, for example, and just consider for a moment truly how magnificent horses are – or how delicious a sausage is – or the simple joy and passing a ball back and forth. Melian laughs, but she also claps now – especially when she is very excited at having done something. It is a sure sign she is enjoying herself, and she claps often.

She is no longer the little baby I first cuddled, even if in my mind she is still my little baby girl. These days she is starting to get properly mobile – in the last 3-4 days she has just started to crawl forward short distances. It feels like a whole new period of discovery is about to begin, a new chapter in her life, and I am awed, honoured, excited, and a little scared to be able to share it.

So many people remark “enjoy it while it lasts”. Part of my gripes a little at this, though I know there nothing ill intended. It is just a statement of fact that Melian will grow older, will become a toddler, go to school, enter double figures, become a teenager, and in due course enter into adulthood. The entire process is one of change, and change is naturally unsettling. On the other hand part of me thinks there has to be a little bit of false-cynicism in all those comments – given how enthused many parents seem to be about their children even when fully grown, and all the stages inbetween.

However, all that is for the future. Tomorrow my wife and I are going to celebrate the birth of our daughter, and hopefully we have planned something that she will enjoy. I think she will. She is too young to understand birthdays yet, or why she is getting presents, but she is old enough realise the day is special – and it is.