Auckland Boys Grammar School is bad. Actually.

I’m getting pretty sick of seeing my alma mater constantly in the news. Pretty much my entire experience at Auckland Boys Grammar School (AGS) was awful. Starting before I even went there. Some of this is not entirely the schools fault – I was undiagnosed for ADHD and Autism and I also had vision impairment that wasn’t corrected until two years into my high school education, and I had a genius brother who I had to try and live up to.

To attend AGS you have to live in one of the richest areas in Auckland. A lot of the pricing for housing is set so that you may attend this prestigious and self-mastabatory school. It’s the rich boys public school – and it’s made this way through zoning laws. Fees here weren’t “optional” they withheld certain things if you couldn’t pay – and it was quite pricey even in my time for poor families. They are the least progressive school in existence, and their firm belief that theirs is the best way is something that is drilled into you constantly while you are there. The amount of times I heard from teachers and staff how lucky I was to go there was bordering on parody.

Their willingness to change or even critically assess themselves is non-existant and their subject options are the blandest boring academic shit ever… I mean look at these choices…

I’m going to list a few of the major problems I had with AGS. The first is the streaming system, it’s implementation, and the damage it does to young teenagers, and especially neurodiverse kids by constantly pressuring them into exams, and changing their routines when classes are changed due to restreaming.

Once you are accepted to AGS, every student who is attending will take a preliminary test to rank you within their class system which streams students according to their academic ability. I’m pretty sure it’s a standardised IQ test. I remember taking this through the last half of my second year at intermediate. I’m fairly certain this was the first ever “exam” I’d taken in my life. I remember one of my friends didn’t realise that there was double sides to the exam and only had done half.

The outcome of this exam is not discovered until you go through one of the most publicly humiliating experiences in your first assembly. They basically list the students off in alphabetical streamed order (3rd Form or Year 9 when I was there had streams from A-M). This process is incredibly stressful, the longer it takes for your name to be read, the worse off academically they perceive you to do, based on an IQ test.

My brother is a straight up genius, I don’t mean that in like a superficial way, he’s the smartest person I know. He was an A stream student, the best of the best. When I got streamed into my first class I was in G stream. Pretty much middle of the pack. This was a massive blow to my confidence and abilities, although a constant stream of negative feedback from untreated ADHD (remember kids who have ADHD experience on average 20,000 more pieces of negative feedback than regular kids), I expected it. The hard thing for me was going to be going home and explaining that I was in G to my mother.

But there are far more insidious issues with the streaming system, the quality of teaching is markedly different in the A and B streams (as they are basically put a year ahead) and from my view and experiences received all the best Grammar had to offer in terms of getting good results. I was just inside the cut off for having an additional subject in my course load – Latin was compulsory for students ranked G or above when I was there, with French and Japanese as your two options for different subjects. Then you get the standard white bread academic education subjects, in the first year the core subjects were English, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Latin (if graded high enough in the entrance test), and an additional language.

The 2020 curriculum is much the same but with some improvements.

The introduction of Te Reo Māori is a great thing to see, as is technology (which was like woodwork or something when I went), those lesser subjects you are not graded on per se but instead given effort grades for your work in their classes.

Everyday you go to that school, your basically constantly working toward another set of exams, the first set of exams in your first year is the most crucial in a lot of ways as you get re-streamed and have an opportunity to correct a bad one off result and to get into the A&B stream before it heavily changes in the second year and starts advancing more quickly than the other streams. The pressure to succeed at all times is brutal.

The way they referred to the class differences at my time was that it was expected that all the “Polys and Māoris would end up in the lower set of classes”, teaching resource and quality of teachers gets worse the lower you go down, they will sprinkle a handful of good teachers throughout the lower streams for some subjects but on average you will receive a lower grade of teaching the lower you go.

This racism was explicitly explained to me by multiple teachers, we we’re reminded we’d be dumb like them if we didn’t work hard and would graduate over the back fence (to Mt Eden Prison) like those Māoris and Polys in lower streams. They are expected to fail, which if you know anything about how teaching works, becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Teacher expectation is one of the biggest drivers of student success.

So returning to my first exam period, I was pretty demoralised, I knew I was smart, maybe not as smart as my brother (He never seemed to struggle at all with his homework and just was good at stuff). I worked incredibly hard, I had some teachers who were incredible, and I still retain most of my Latin knowledge from my first term thanks to Mr Kirby who basically figured out a way to cater to most people’s teaching styles, I’ll remember his “latercising” to remember “sum, I am, es, you are… etc” for the rest of my life.

I came in near the top of the School in Latin, and was devastated with my 90+~% result. I struggled and studied harder than I knew I could, I mean I was doing consistent 4-5 hour nights of studying trying to make sure I could get into A or B stream to make my Mum proud. (She’d sacrificed a lot to get us in the zone to go here). I did well in most other subjects except Mathematics (I am pretty sure I have dyslexia for numbers – dyscalculia). Mathematics is especially hard for my brain to do, but I can remember sequences of numbers fine…

After all this effort, I moved up to stream C. C. Fucking C. I was so fucking mad, I felt cheated, I felt like I would always be incredibly dumb. But this compounded heavily when nearly all of my teachers were changed, each with a new way of teaching, and some were absolutely fucking rubbish who just showed up drank liquor under their desks and threw books at my head when I was being disruptive (Shout out to you Mr White).

I didn’t really recover from not making the grade to be honest, I am pretty sure that with medication and proper understanding of ADHD I would have been an A stream student. But trying so hard, and falling just short of being able to progress into a better stream killed my motivation. I didn’t do the massive amounts of study required to just do a good job. Teachers generally hated me, I was disruptive. In some classes I was ok, in others I was bored to tears at how slow the material was taught and what the point of learning stuff like math even was (this fucked me up real bad later in life when I did software engineering – that was a mighty deficit to overcome).

Disruptive students were punished by being generally excluded from the classroom. I was excluded a lot, I missed out on a lot of teaching, I had detention often. Self-depreciation was my main defence mechanism to survive at this school and I relied on it everyday to withstand getting bullied, you become the class clown so that you get a rebel attitude and the meaner kids are less likely to make your life hell.

I think during my time at AGS I drifted started in G moved to C fell back to E then F, then H in my final year where I dropped out to attend University instead. My time management for assignments was near non-existent, unless I was immediately at threat of losing grades I didn’t start until the night before. All nighters were common. This is common with all ADHD kids. Things are either an immediate threat or not a concern.

This too became my exam preparation after years of being told that I would succeed more if I focused more, or that I had such potential. After trying so hard constantly at school only to fall short, I developed a why bother attitude. My Mum was disappointed, and the comments in my report cards directly reflected the fact I had ADHD, but no one knew what it was really – so I constantly was trying my hardest but couldn’t because ADHD doesn’t let you tackle stuff that way untreated. I was burning myself out constantly trying to be just average due to inattention and focus issues.

Now let’s move on to the massive problem no one wants to talk about at AGS that I believe based on everything I’ve seen in the media recently about this stain of patriarchy. Women were lesser, the culture around masculinity and academic success was always to show that we were better than women.

The only interaction you get with girl’s at AGS is if you do a few special extracurricular activities such as Drama. I did this, so I got to hang out with girls a lot. I was a theatre kid, went from being an extra in my first year to cast as a lead in the last year I stayed a full year.

I think I got inoculated against the vast majority of sexism (but still had a lot being honest that took as recently as four-five years ago to finally process out of my system) that occurred generally if you were a sports guy. Those guys are basically bred into being sociopaths embracing the worst of toxic masculinity. Women were conquests, losing your virginity at that school was a badge of honor. Homophobia was built in. The F slur for gay people was the most common insult.

You couldn’t show weakness, and I remember bullying one kid in particular who was lower on the pecking order than me. We were savagely ruthless to this kid. I feel awful looking back, I remember at camp he broke his arm, and we mocked him for being a “pansy” for a full week. He came back the week after camp with a cast having had a broken arm untreated for 5 days. The “Be a Man” thing was super true here and showing any kind of emotion at all would make you a target. Teachers at Camp joined in savaging this kid (except for like that one teacher or parent who came along and was like horrified and looked after them as best they could – I ended up being nicer to him later in the week away from other kids if I could – delicately balancing my need to not be like this with my need to survive).

Status and by that I mean wealth and power were always major dynamics at the school. People knew if you were poor and that made you less than. Status symbols when I went here was the cellphone, and in particular the best status symbol one could have was the indestructible and cool looking Nokia 3310. Texting/calling was expensive as shit back then, like 20 cents per message and like $1 a minute to call or something crazy.

I remember once going round to a very famous NZ celebrities house as I was friends with his son at the time. I went there once and I was hated pretty badly by this guy, they made it perfectly clear that their son shouldn’t associate with someone like me. This happened with all my “richer” friends who quite often lived out of zone but got in through string pulling somehow. My experience with parents was always negative, having ADHD is kryptonite for being someone parents like.

By the time I was 15/16 I finally burned myself out (from my anecdotal evidence this is when most kids with undiagnosed ADHD burnout). I started missing school a lot – I was clinically depressed at this point, due to constant negative feedback and bad self-perception. I missed so much school I nearly had to repeat the year. I still managed to pass all but a few of my exams so this didn’t happen.

This is also around the time that you’ll find a lot of kids at AGS killed themselves. We had a few of those assemblies in my time, and it was often the kids in the highest streamed classes who had immense pressure from sustained engagement. They would start drinking around this time, and interacting with girls at parties and shit. This pressure got to a lot of them… The school didn’t really give a fuck about mental health in the 90s. I sure hope that’s changed now.

So whenever I see the latest dickhead who happens to be principal at this steaming pile of misogyny, toxic masculinity, homophobia, racism which just creates generations of sociopaths. I think back fondly to the day I realised I could walk out those fucking gates never to return. It was truly the school fucking motto – through rough ravines to hallowed heights.

Immigration is not the issue.

It’s been a rough week for migrant issues. Rounding out an exceptionally bad year and election season for migrants in Aotearoa. If you’ve been in Aotearoa for any length of time I first want to show you a chart that will help you identify this key difference in the way we talk about immigration in Aotearoa.

Image: Peter Griffin Scale Meme showing light skin tones as Ex-Pats, and Migrants as those with darker skin tones.
You know it’s true.

Q: “How can you possibly say that migration isn’t the problem have you not seen our housing deficits?”

This is a fictional question, but given the announcement of Māori Party policy in this area you’d believe this was the problem they thought were solving when discussing their housing policy. The article on their housing policy is found here.

Here’s a relevant quote on immigration from that article:

“Immigration must be stopped until the supply side of housing meets the demand side. Immigration is causing disruption and adding to the false elevation in demand and therefore elevation in prices.”

Māori Party co-leader John Tamihere

The supply side of housing isn’t being fucked up by migrants though. It’s NIMBYs. Always fucking NIMBYs. People with housing already who complain about preserving heritage housing such as this example below.

Newsflash – if something is less than 300 years old, it’s heritage value is minimal. We waste money on the such awful ideas such as heritage that only seems to apply to pākehā buildings, and civilisation. Heritage should be applied to perhaps certain famous peoples homes (e.g. Kate Sheppard), or the oldest recorded site of civilisation in Aotearoa based in Tāmaki Makaurau. I will forgive you if you don’t know what I’m talking about because even our Prime Minister failed to appreciate or acknowledge the site of Ihumātao by visiting the land protectors who were staying there. (Side Note: My favourite piece written on this is Tayi Tibble’s piece for Newsroom – Ihumātao: Everyone was there, e hoa).

Here’s another use of this meme to identify if something is heritage or not.

Peter Griffin Meme: 
White skintones are heritage
Dark skintones are not heritage
Noticing a racist trend? Good. Wake up – we’re a racist country.

So our housing supply has been stalled by NIMBYs pretty much everywhere, and if you go to a “public meeting” – having the privilege and time to do so you’d probably notice they aren’t democratic at all and skew toward a part of the population who a) owns the most wealth, b) don’t have housing issues. As wisely pointed out by Frank McRae on Twitter:

Every single time we try to expand urbanisation and install high rises these people complain. They are a slim minority of society that local councils listen to more than any other. When a Green candidate councillor is advocating for the side that wants to stop housing homeless people I wonder what values people actually stand for anymore. Older primarily pākehā are to blame – go through any council records for any increase in urban density and you will find the Ians and the Karens stopping it or lodging complaints.

So, we’ve established that migrants are not to blame for the housing crisis – NIMBYism is the cause, as well as National selling off a lot of social housing, creating a backlog that has only increased under the Labour-NZFirst-Green coalition, add in the ridiculously expensive rules that used to exist for housing such as having to have a driveway and you can see – we created the problem and MIGRATION IS NOT TO BLAME.

The backlog is getting scarier and scarier, COVID-19 certainly threw a spanner in the works. But the latest statistics are horrific:

The number of applicants on the Housing Register is subject to change, as people come on and off the register, and as their circumstances change. There were 18,520 applicants on the Housing Register as at 30 June 2020, an increase of 50.4 percent compared with the same time last year (i.e. June 2019).


We still need to build a ton of housing, and back orders for builders are stretched a mile long. Almost as though we will need to get these specialist skills from somewhere overseas, as well as training all those who actually WANT to be builders (of which there is a slim population within NZ).

Fuck, suddenly zero migration as a strategy is completely flawed at this first easy to recognise hurdle. There are plenty of other examples where entire industries rely on migrants to survive such as educational institutes (who need Fees to survive), all those who qualify for the Recognised Seasonal Employer program (which exploits migrants for cheap labour), and pretty much our entire fucking healthcare system (there are entire wards made up of migrant labour from certain countries in Whangārei hospital).

But there’s more, Aotearoa’s population is rapidly aging. Here’s some stuff from Stats NZ.

By 2051, there will be over 1.14 million people aged 65 years and over in New Zealand. This represents an increase of 715,000 or 166 percent over the base (1996) population. They are expected to make up 25.5 percent (or 1 in every 4) of all New Zealanders (4.49 million). At present there are about half as many elderly New Zealanders as children. By 2051, there are projected to be at least 60 percent more elderly than children. Given the prospects of sub-replacement fertility, increasing life expectancy and the passage of baby boomers into retirement ages, it is projected that half of all New Zealanders will be older than 46 years by 2051, compared with the current median age of 34 years.


Ok, but that seems like a pretty huge problem, if our workforce is aging rapidly and our birthrate is low (which it is), how are we going to sustain our society? (HINT: IMMIGRATION).

Given the information I have provided you’ll see that immigration is essential to a functioning and stable Aotearoa, simply halting it as suggested by the Māori party has suggested is just stupid bad policy and it’s scapegoating a sector of society that is both essential and not to blame.

Here’s something worse. Lets look at how migrants are treated.

As I said it was a bad year for migrants, and I really mean it. During COVID-19 lockdowns this was posted. See if you can find our national disgrace in this chart:

Image of how to access food in NZ with a flowchart
This should be our national shame.

In case you can’t work it out, here I’ll highlight it:

That’s right we relied on a charity to feed the migrants whom were trapped here.

We RELIED on the RED CROSS to feed migrants who were trapped here unable to return home due to COVID-19 because we failed to enact Section 64 of the Social Security Act. We have a specific provision for providing benefits to migrants if this exact situation occurred – article here.

Does this sound like “Be Kind” to you? Denying people benefits during a pandemic? There was an action station petition launched – which didn’t even garner over 1000 signatures – we are such a callous nation at times, but this abdication of responsibility to those we bring over to work here is up there as one of the worst atrocities this government has allowed to occur.

But migrant exploitation is basically our bread and butter. The Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme I talked about before – which was setup by Labour and continued by National, and now again Labour – basically extorts migrant labour from Pacific nations. This part is explicitly designed in the scheme:

Unless employers can show they have pre-established relationships with workers from other countries, they may only recruit workers under RSE policy from the following eligible Pacific countries:

Papua New Guinea
Solomon Islands
Workers must meet health and character requirements and provide evidence of arrangements to leave New Zealand at the end of their stay.
Aotearoa exploiting it’s own version of colonisation of the Pacific.

That scheme though in recent years hasn’t been that great. Dileepa Fonseka has been covering immigration issues very well for Newsroom – to see how that scheme goes wrong he did an amazing expose piece on an employer in Hawkes Bay. The result ? Immigration NZ failed to resolve any issues and actually had the people return home before any prosecutions were made.

So we love migrants to work slave labour in our orchards, to work in our hospitals, aged-care facilities, and other key sectors of society.

At the same time we cast ourselves as a caring nation, but in reality our immigration scheme is one of the most punitive in the world, and we denied these people basic rights during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our immigration scheme is so awful that BORIS JOHNSON uses it as an example of how to do immigration. That should tell you everything you need to know.

In summary know two things:

a) Aotearoa requires migrants implicitly, some of our critical industries need to get migrants to come here.

b) We treat migrants with a callous disregard and scapegoat them for issues that are not their fault.

I guess in summary, I really want to know… when does “Be Kind?” start.

Further Reading:

  1. Look at Dileepa Fonseka’s far better investigation into these issues starting here and just click on his name to find all the other excellent reporting on this issue.
  2. Read the MBIE research that was made public last year about widespread issues with migrant exploitation here:

The World I Want To Live In

I often complain about a lot of things, I am a fairly pessimistic realist in regards to politics. I haven’t seen a lot of good change in my lifetime since becoming aware of politics. So what does my ideal world look like.

1 Capitalism is no longer the economic praxis. Capitalism is a completely amoral system that thrives on immorality. One only has to look to America to see where late stage capitalism will lead us. The idea of profits, would instead be redistributed to those who made them, the workers, and there would be a cap on how much the highest paid person in each company could earn compared with the lowest. Tax on these incomes would be follow a more logarithmic curve of progression – adjusted into progressive brackets at more frequent intervals for simplicity.

2 Worker Unions are the leadership of companies, not the board, the concept of share markets and dividends would be gone, phased out and instead giving the workers back their own gains. These are broken systems that allow people to exponentially grow in wealth (provided reasonably smart investment which is pretty achievable if based on long term growth), anything that earns a passive income for individuals where they need to expend no effort to profit are the byproduct of an era that should have passed a long time ago.

3 A hard cap on wealth would exist. Basically the concept of a billionaire existing is grotesque to me. No moral person would allow themselves to achieve that level of wealth without divesting heavily and reinvesting in the social good. All billionaires in my mind are sociopaths, or at best narcissists. Yes, that includes Bill Gates – who’s foundation has done a lot of good, but has actually caused more harm. For an interesting review breakdown of the excellent book on this topic you can see it here. The book is called ‘No Such Thing as a Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy‘, by Linsey McGoey.

4 All of these would be considered essential human rights – freely available to all citizens of the nation, and would be funded through taxation:

  • Housing – All provided for by the state, with a transition away from private to public ownership as people pass on in life, with a strong focus on making housing carbon neutral and fit to for accessibility and insulated to passive standards. Rental capital would be controlled entirely by the state, and seek to limit costs.
  • Food – A Budget for a high quality standard of eating would be provided with consumers making their own choices. Not through any restrictive card, but trust – people who ask for money for food generally always use it on food.
  • Electricity – All renewable sources, microgeneration would be encouraged and provided for, excess user charges would only apply based on average consumption, and making sure to account for electricity used per capita in each dwelling.
  • Public Transport – The best way to fix our transportation issues is to vastly increase our accessibility, frequency and quality of our public transportation. NZ has one of the worst car ownerships per capita statistics, due to our massive infrastructure deficits in this area.
  • A Guaranteed Job for anyone who wants it or Financial Support for those who cannot work – This would be suited as much as possible to that persons ability, their desire to work in that position, and the needs of society in general. Work wouldn’t just occur for works sake, and giving people a guaranteed minimum income while they are pursuing a new career would allow people to truly do what they would like to in life. Those without the means to work would be provided with a livable salary that allows them a good quality of life. No one should be made to suffer for external factors outside their control.
  • Education – at all levels – no private schools would exist, we would tax industries that do not contribute to social good, of which there are many, using these taxes to boost funding in essential social sectors like Education. High quality education and money put in this area would allow us to grow into a knowledge society. Money spent on education is rarely wasted, unless being exploited for capitalistic purposes.
  • Healthcare (Physical and Mental) – More education and training would be provided, more public funding through taxes to provide these services. We’d disallow medical patents as they are unethical and usually the public have paid for all the research costs through grants only to have that monopolized by a pharmaceutical company.
  • Freedom from as well as Freedom to – so often our discussions around freedom are dictated by a disingenuous interpretation of what Freedom should be. Freedom of speech arguments will always talk of freedom to speak freely, often ignoring the other freedoms that are removed such as freedom from hate speech. Economic freedom would be the freedom from being ruined if you need to change jobs.
  • Unrestricted Internet Access – provided for free, available everywhere, with money put into funding those areas which are most deprived at the moment as a priority. No one should be without the means to communicate.
  • Access to Nature – tying in with public transport we would widely increase the amount of public parks, national reserves and provide adequate funding to ensure their maintenance, and to make sure they thrive for future generations.
  • Everything would be accessible – 1 in 4 New Zealander’s lives with a disability of some sort, and the world we currently live in is utterly unfit for purpose. Worse still is that so called progressive organisations such as Generation Zero often ignore the concerns and the issues surrounding – giving rise to a sort of eco ableism. We need to make sure that we centre our design where everyone can participate.

5 Ti Tiriti o Waitangi would be honored – The Māori text version of the Treaty is the correct and valid one, the indigenous Māori were the rightful rulers of this land, and a gross translation error cannot be accepted if you have any respect for the law. Māori must have tino rangatiratanga. Even if that comes at pākehā personal cost, righting this injustice is paramount to NZ flourishing as a society. The treaty settlements so far can in no way be considered full and final, and to even make this statement shows a lack of depth of understanding of just how bad this injustice remaining in our society causes daily harm. I am not going to extrapolate on what this might look like – I lack a lot of cultural competence in this area, and if you need to find out you are best educating yourself using the resources provided here.

6 The Environment would be restored, and a priority made on all decisions that viewed them through accessible and culturally respectful ways. We would prioritise restoring habitats, especially wetlands throughout NZ. Reforestation is one avenue, but there are other techniques where our farmers could contribute to the social good by capturing carbon in soil, and practicing regenerative farming. Money would be provided to make this practice occur through a just transition, where financially struggling Farmers are not penalised financially for having to change practice based on the bad standards of previous governments.

7 Prisons and Police would be abolished. I am a firm believer in reforming our justice system radically. All police are bad because when you’re trained as a hammer, everything looks like a nail, the systemic nature of policing in NZ is racist. They are being asked to do too much to make up for the failures of our neoliberal society. Instead these organisations need to be abolished and carefully built again from the ground up. There would be no union for police, and the idea of an independent department in the police to investigate police crimes would be removed for the farce it is. To see what a world without police might look like I found these images that give you an idea.

Prison has a higher than fifty percent recidivism rate in NZ. If you don’t want to change it, it means you are happy with a system that continues perpetuating harm for both victims and perpetrators of criminal activities. That seems morally incorrect to me. There are overseas examples of how we could just reform to make these people feel included again in society. People are not fixed in personality, disposition, and their environment is also largely influential on their behaviour. We should do better, and we can do better.

These are just some of what would actually “cure” a lot of my mental health issues. I’m mentally unwell because these things are achievable, but no one really has the courage or political will to try and achieve it, this disconnect between what I know is possible and what we aim to achieve makes me want to die literally. I am highly sensitive, and knowing this harm occurs daily turns off the rational part of my brain, and just makes me suffer.

A few of these plans are already embedded in policy – That of the Greens. There’s a reason I am voting for them this election, and have faith in their abilities. I have personally talked to most of the candidates at the AGM, they are authentic and caring people who only want the best for all New Zealanders. I hope you’ll vote to see this sort of world as possible, because we desperately need radical change, and the Greens are only on the cusp of actually offering it.

Please I’d implore you to take a look at the work that has gone into their policy platform over years, they are really trying to fix these systemic issues in our society – Green’s Complete Policy Platform.

I want you to ask yourself why are you so happy to settle for something that could easily be fixed ? These positions have academic backing, prevention is always better than cure. Fences at the top of cliffs, mean we won’t need to rely on a reactive ambulance based society to fix issues.

Someone once accused me of wanting a Utopia where nothing bad ever happens, and they were right, that should always be the goal. I’d rather aim for that and fall short than not even try and be happy with “progress” while countless members of our society suffer needlessly.

The Games Industry is fundamentally broken

Gaming is a significant part of my life, and being honest my identity. This has been my life since we first got an Amiga500 when I was in my first decade of life. I have lived, breathed and thought about gaming in near every waking moment at times. The rush and thrill of gaming is something that the ADHD brain loves – as gaming creates near perfect feedback loops for engaging our brains.

I used to love games, but as I’ve grown older, played more, developed games on my own, and in a studio setting, I’ve started wondering when games are going to grow up.

Things are not good atm, at near every level from developers, to their communities, popular gaming has become a toxic haven for the worst possible people. There are notable exceptions to this, with recent attempts from about 2010 onwards to push for diversity in games, but I’ll cover why this has helped games to reach a wider audience, while also feeding more people into a misogynistic bullying culture, that is doing serious mental health damage.

The toxic part of gaming culture has always existed. When I was a teenager playing the Counterstrike mod on the original Halflife engine, shit talking and edge-lord behaviour has always been part of the landscape, along with bots, cheaters and hackers.

That malignant part of gaming has existed since it’s birth, and it’s not that hard to see why it has, gaming was largely only ever been available to and catered to a specific type of gamer. A reasonably well off white heterosexual male. Even the skin tones in most early games range from white to slightly off-white. The main character in all the games I started playing young were white macho guys.

I’m going to include some egregious early examples of marketing of games. Ask yourself who here is the target audience:

During my teens I was fairly competitive at gaming, and also a toxic shit stain. My user handle at one point was “Rape&Pillage”. I used racial slurs, homophobic slurs, anything I could to get under the skin of my opponents. Context for these words I now know are horrific. To me it was harmless fun, but every one of those words was intended to hurt and marginalise certain groups from ever participating.

It would be easy to write this off as “boys being boys”, or “ADHD made me develop slower cognitively”. The truth is I knew these were wrong and said them anyway. Being an edgelord isn’t cool. It just shows a lack of maturity and empathy.

There was a strong multiplayer gaming scene around the birth of high speed internet (and by that I mean Telecom’s 16KB/sec unlimited ADSL plan). The division between haves and have nots was always a massive thing in these early days Of 3D graphics.

Lanning was common, I went to lans of various sizes and shapes, it was always male dominated, homophobic, and like maybe like five women who decided that they could sustain the absolute torrential amount of abuse that women gamers face even today.

The main thing that happened at most of these lans was large scale illegal file sharing, and a lot of it was porn. I remember working as a network admin for one of the bigger lans and we had to block file sharing ports and apps just so our players could have lan speed connections during competition time.

This was in the very late 90’s/early 00’s. Gaming was still an emerging subculture relatively, esports was a tiny portion of gaming culture, no one here except maybe Fatal1ty from Quake and a few Korean Starcraft players could actually do this full time. I dropped out of the multiplayer scene. I still played games but just for fun, and never competitively again. I have always had the latest consoles, latest PC gear every 4-5 years.

In my lifetime I’ve seen gaming change from this:

Wolfenstein3D (1992)

To this:

The Last of Us 2 (2020)

The graphics have changed considerably in the last 30 years, and these technical marvels are something to celebrate, but I can’t help but notice that nearly everything else in popular gaming culture and what titles sell best have not changed significantly, surface level signs are positive we’re starting to shift, but not fast enough.

Growth without maturity

The Games industry has stagnated in many ways, but it’s grown rapidly in other ways. The commercialisation of a once niche hobby has now grown into the single largest entertainment industry. The graphic below showing that games industry revenue now is larger than: Film, Music, NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL combined, generating an eye watering 139 Billion dollars in the US in 2018, and it’s still growing.

Credit: The Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj (Cancelled too soon!)

Violence is still the key gameplay mechanic in the majority of top selling titles. Competitive play in games allows you to kill your virtual opponents. The graphics to do this is getting more real and visceral each year, and while in the past I would have argued that the concept of violence in games being directly transferable to real life violence as absolutely absurd… I think with modern fidelity we’re starting to blur the lines between real and fake.

In a book I’ve been reading recently Shouting Zeros and Ones – Andrew Chen the editor reflects on his inadvertent potential to do harm through writing algorithms to “enhance” consumer shopping behaviour. What spoke to me in his introduction, is that for so long we as an tech or games industry have made products simply because we could, without ever really asking why or what the consequences are of the games we make.

We need to start thinking about how the worst imaginable player or person might use what we create for their own nefarious purposes.

Minor Spoilers for The Last Of Us 2: In TLOU2, violence is explored as a thematic element, and it’s meant to shock the viewer. But during my playthrough I started wondering; are there people who find NPC’s calling out for their dead friends fun and laughable, could the effect the developer wanted to achieve by showing such gratuity and personable effects of violence have the opposite of the (I suspect) intended effect of portraying violence as a terrible solution.

I remember talking to a friend of mine who told me he stopped playing Grand Theft Auto 3 when he shot an old woman in the leg, and she pleaded for her life, this was his empathy exit point. The idea of perpetuating harm in this way was not conducive to a “fun” experience.

This sort of interaction is commonplace in games. Fictional settings to live out violent fantasies appear from all recent studies not to translate to real life violence. Indeed a recent meta-analysis found no long-term link between video games and aggressive behaviour in youth.

That seems good on the surface, but it’s a surface deep analysis in my view of the systemic nature of the damage these environments do. Violence is but one avenue to critically assess and it’s easy to say that the link is not established in a scientific setting.

In reality we know the situation is much different and I’m going to demonstrate why toxic gaming culture is much more perverse and damaging than simply trying to measure violent behaviour. Not only is gaming culture toxic, it’s toxic behaviour has begun bleeding out into other domains. In my view the problem might be getting worse, not better.

So let’s have a look at some modern gamer culture, starting with the most significant demonstration of toxic gamer culture – The Gamergate Controversy.

Gamergate Controversy

If you’re not even interested in Games or gaming culture you may have heard this term before. In 2013, as developers at conferences like our main global conference (with the super original name of Game Developers Conference) were beginning to talk about making games a more inclusive space; a sinister misogynistic quite well organised sub-culture was growing on 4chan, reddit, and other alt platforms pushing back against “progressivism” in games.

The games industry was getting some awareness that their audience demographics had been changing as the industry grew at a near exponential rate with mobile games ushering in a new audience that had largely been ignored, namely women. A lot of talks start talking about making this space more inclusive not just for women, but for all underrepresented groups, LGBTQIA+, Black, Hispanic, Asian, African, Indigenous people etc…

This became a threat to a small but significant section of the gaming community. With the release of a fairly simple but effective text based game made by Zoë Quinn, they found their first target. Depression Quest was released to positive reviews, but triggered an online response and growth of an incredibly toxic community.

The small subculture of some edge lords, along with a core of actual misogynistic red-pill bad faith actors were frustrated and angry that their hegemonic male games culture with its focus on skills based violent gameplay was being threatened by “political” unwanted intrusions.

The response to this was vile. Quinn was subject to rape and death threats for months. Quinn documented and spoke with media about her harassment over this issue, which only served to a greater intensity of abuse, including doxxing (releasing her personal home address online). As a result Quinn was forced to flee her home for their own safety.

The main instigator of the start of it all of this with the infamous “Zoë Post” was an ex-boyfriend Eron Gjoni whom detailed a lengthy account of their relationship and breakup, posting a large amount of personal info in a vendetta and claiming that she had a relationship with a games journalist in return for positive press.

The effects of this started a troll army response, and similar tactics were used to help Trump into the White House, these effects of persistent aggressive trolling are now common place on the internet, but they grew out of an already toxic environment in gaming. More detail on how that worked here.

The multiplayer gaming scene is still toxic, perhaps more so than ever before.

Multiplayer gaming is still riddled with edgelords, racists, and people either bullied or embracing the toxic environment.

As an example I used to play a lot of DOTA2 I have ~900 hours in the game, which is basically an anxiety simulator. Most of the times I played with a consistent group of friends, but I wasn’t great at the game.

It’s incredibly complex, the meta (core playstyle and hero viability) of the game changes frequently and you need to play a lot in order to understand and counter the some 100+ hero characters in the game.

The times where I played alone, well, I don’t play DOTA2 anymore. Simple errors or mistakes that any human learning a game could make were constantly met with responses of extreme hostility, some of the worst examples of this are the statement to “kys” literally meaning Kill Yourself.

The toxicity takes a toll… I am a straight passing white guy, when you are a female, or easily identifiable minority this virtrolic behaviour gets cranked up to 11. An example of this was my wife playing casual Counter-Strike GO, she had her full name in her steam profile (something I’d really recommend not doing and making your Steam profile private). An aggrieved opponent googled her name, found her LinkedIn with it’s CV and called her mobile number to start abusing her and said he would rape her. She hasn’t played an online multiplayer game since, and I can’t blame her for doing so.

This sort of doxxing has become rife, and given rise to a far more insidious behaviour in the United States of swatting. Where users will report opponent gamers as doing something illegal, this behaviour resulted in the death of a man not even connected, as the address the guy gave the cops was incorrect, and he was shot dead by police. The shitlord in question who had been doing this repeatedly is now serving 20 years in prison.

Gaming culture has never fixed it’s rampant misogyny problem, and these environments are sending a steady stream of these toxic people into the shit funnel (my term for the toxic alt-right slide that occurs thanks to YouTube and Facebook algorithms). There have been numerous studies into gaming misogyny. Examples of how this toxicity manifests and occurs can be shown in this study – Insights into Sexism: Male Status and Performance Moderates Female-Directed Hostile and Amicable Behaviour.

If you ever want to see how bad and toxic the culture is, all you need to do is spend 10-15 minutes on any popular female Twitch streamers channel to see the torrential amount of objectification, sexism and misogyny that happens.

The problem starts in-house.

Having worked in the games industry, it’s sad to say that quite often that this environment is actually endemic to the games industry as a whole. There have been some positive signs recently at critically looking at and exposing both toxic abusers and employers, but the progress is slow, and the fear of speaking out against abuse is still high – Gamergate made it infinitely worse.

When I first started in the industry there was push back against some of the most obvious misogynistic practices such as booth babes at large video games conferences. This surface level change appeared to be showing signs that things were improving, but given everything that I’ve seen, and seen reported – the problem is still very much widespread and occurs on a daily basis.

The effect of Gamergate and the persistent harassment of those coming forward has created a culture where it’s hard to speak out.

Riot Games (Developer of the MOBA – League of Legends) have had large scale strikes against the culture within the company where persistent toxic behaviour and misogyny have been occurring since the companies foundation. In December 2019, they settled a gender discrimination lawsuit for $10 million dollars.

In June of this year 2020 – a number of popular streamers, and video game personalities were outed as toxic abusers, and sexual predators. Our industry has need of a reckoning that is leaking out slowly in stages. There were so many cases of abuse outed at this time you are best reading more about it in a more detailed article here.

Why does this keep happening?

Games, like film and TV are a passion industry. Employers know this, worker protections in our sector are few and far between. Efforts to unionise the games industry often face large industry push back. In New Zealand, it’s currently illegal for us to form a games union, thanks to the classification of games being under film when the Hobbit Law was introduced.

I’m not sure unionising would fix everything that’s currently wrong in games, but having at least some way to push back against and raise issues within our industry would serve us well. The situation will continue indefinitely in my mind because there’s a supposed endless supply of workers. The statistics for our industry are horrific really, the average length of a game developer career is five years. If you are a woman, it’s three.

I know of several extremely talented and capable people who can no longer even entertain the idea of working on even their own passion projects, because the mental damage done is often so deep and hard to overcome that continuing anything in this field is an exercise in reliving trauma received as a result of working in these environments.

I’d love to see more women working in games, the best job I had in this industry was at a female led studio, and I’d love to recommend that more women work in this space. But currently, I can’t. When I saw an article recently that said women need to be braver about applying to male dominated industries, that’s definitely not the issue here, it’s that the environment is so toxic and hostile that they feel unwelcome and leave due to this hostility.

Gaming is not all bad though

Honestly, if you read this far you would assume that I think everything is terrible, it’s not. There are stories (although somewhat rare) of game studios and communities doing things right.

Gaming has lots of positive benefits. This article lists 10 pretty good reasons to play games.

I’ve developed lifelong friendships with some of the people I play games with. I’ve met numerous people over the years who are good decent people just from playing video games with them, and gaming will always be a part of my life.

What’s the point of this rant?

To let people know that this industry is currently defenceless against predators.

That parents should probably keep an eye on their kids multiplayer games play. The environments can be extremely detrimental to mental health, at the same time they could be great and engaging.

I’m pretty sure at some stage soon, things will come to a head. Workers are getting frustrated, angry and tired of being treated this way. The joy that you experience from games often come from places of extreme bad practice, and that toxicity can spread throughout communities and ruin what should be a fun experience.

Everyday I wonder how many great titles we’ve missed out on as an industry as the machine chews people up and spits them out, what great ideas or concepts might have come if we had better workplaces, that embraced diversity as a central pillar of development rather than meaningless words on a companies website.

I’d recommend you support indie developers, and developers who foster good communities and practices. This can be difficult with the cone of silence around abuse from legal measures.

Play video games with your kids, if you haven’t before – it’s an amazing way to bond with them over an activity that you’ll both enjoy.

Further Reading

Possibly the best book I can recommend about the games industry, how it operates, and how it hurts is called Blood, Sweat and Pixels by Jason Schreier, a games industry journalist who has covered some of the biggest cases of games industry abuse. It’s a mixed tale of success, failures, and the general crunch environment that keeps this industry moving at a high human cost.

The inequality driver in our society barely mentioned. The birth lottery.

How’d you guys do? We all played this lottery even if we didn’t want to. It’s the single biggest determinant of how well you do in our capitalist society. Hard work? Bootstraps? The birth lottery laughs in the face of these absurd concepts.

Wealth needs to be taxed. It cannot be that the main driver of success in our society is left to random chance, and yet it is. Your outcomes in life will be largely determined by this.

“Why did you bring race into this?” Because it’s also the largest factor in the lottery that has one of the largest effects, because I am a white man (pākehā), I am not discriminated against every day. I don’t have to tolerate micro aggressions, casual, and explicit racism. What did I do to deserve this treatment at the betterment of my peers? Nothing. I won the lottery. In the hospital when under suicide watch, I had to listen to explicitly racist white old men (of a different era? weak excuse) talk about their racism proudly. (Don’t worry that ate at me too because I’m not strong enough mentally to get into that conversation in my current state).

I did pretty well myself, aside from ADHD and Autism (and co-morbid conditions due to late diagnosis and lack of treatment) and being bisexual, I pretty much won. I had parents that loved me, support when I needed it from this key part of my life. I am a straight looking cis white dude. I am almost the human embodiment of privilege. When I get three years older, I’ll have entered the realm where my reckons are golden simply due to these factors.

I have accepting parents (well, not sure about Dad, but 99% sure he’d be ok with me being bisexual, I came out after he had returned to nature – I’ll never know). I lived in the closet for 35 years. But others who haven’t been able to “conceal” (hate this term, but can’t think of a better word, I hid who I was to blend in) their sexuality don’t have this privilege. Some are subjected to conversion therapy (still legal in NZ despite it being extremely detrimental to the point it drives people to suicide). I’m also a cis man. Our trans community constantly suffers in society due to circumstances outside their control. Again, I won. Deserved?

We were able to afford a deposit on our house in Dunedin. The reason here, a combination of luck (investing in property at a young age (20)), and some inheritance (from my birth lottery). This house by pure luck happened to exist while I owned it in the fastest growing housing market for the three years I owned it. Cool, luck and birth seem like totally valid reasons that are morally defensible. (Sarcasm here for those who can’t see it). The birth lottery came through again. Such a good system!

Right wing people some of those on the left believe that what they have in life they are entitled to, they believe in the concept of meritocracy. All the while collecting inheritance from parents who were either hardworking or lucky enough to get ahead before things turned bad for the rest of Aotearoa in the Rogernomic/Ruthenasia reforms of the 1980’s and 1990’s. It’s not true. That does not even begin to mention most of what they own was stolen from Māori – I’m not here to explain or justify this, it’s the truth and if you can’t deal with that then I’d advise you to educate yourself here.

The reality is people who are billionaires had usually already won the lottery, or even gamed the system in their favour due to their privilege. Elon Musk got rich cause his dad made money in gemstone mining in apartheid Africa. He might be a smart dude, I’m not here to judge his intelligence. He was successful because he got near infinite retries on the arcade machine of life. When you come from wealth, unless you’re a complete mess or suffer some extremely bad luck you can always bail yourself out.

So how does the birth lottery work in NZ? I’m not sure I really need to explain, but if you are a cis straight white male person – you’ve won! Congratulations! Is your life shit because of poverty? Oof that sucks. Birth lottery fucked you, or you squandered opportunities. You still have it easier in every day life than others. If you think your experience sucks, know that others without these attributes suffer more than you in the same circumstances. Change any of the identifiers before person and you’ll be worse off.

You got private health insurance at a reasonable rate? Cool. Thanks for perpetuating and encouraging ableism in the health system. Those with disabilities or mental health conditions are either made to pay a premium or outright excluded. Again… if you don’t suffer the consequences of this system cool, you won a lottery, it’s not anything else.

So how do we fix it? Admit the problem. Too much of outcomes in life at the moment are determined by this random chance. We need to fix it.

We need to fix our value systems and have the guts to admit we had advantages others were denied, then we have to get rid of concepts of “earned gains” for unproductive work. No one earned shit just by having money somewhere that made more money.

Nurses in hospital were talking about their hours, ask any (pākehā) patient in hospital if they think nurses pay should be raised. The answer is almost unequivocally yes. But mention raising the tax rate, and my mates the old white guys started bleating about hard work and meritocracy. Literally after telling me he’d just given his kids 10k. Meritocracy?… nope birth lottery.

We have a sickness where we think human rights are allowed to be breached on a daily basis in the name of progress. A reminder that we have enough for everyone, but some of you were taught not to share. Usually those with the most. About time you grew up.

Celebrities and Role Models

I’d like to talk a little bit about modern celebrity culture, social media and it’s role in our lives, and some real positive role models.

Firstly, I’d like to completely admonish our current obsession with celebrities, and what constitutes a “celebrity” in modern media. It’s no big secret that with the rise of reality television, influencer culture, and social media – we have seen a remarkable shifting in our media reporting on people of “importance”.

The life and style sections are now littered with B-grade celebrities, meandering their way through life, creating faux scandals and outrage. When someone is famous due to being the daughter of someone famous and constantly in the zeitgeist for making a sex tape and has a billion dollar empire due to that – you can see how society has faulted.

These people are ever present on social media, promoted and seen by millions, often with little or nothing of use to say except doing exploitative capitalism.

Social media has created an environment where the world’s main communication platforms are effectively high schools, and the level of discourse on most of these platforms matches that age bracket also. Popularity contests that drive people to act in ways that demean us as rational animals.

Even with 280 characters, Twitter is an awful place for any sort of reasoned argument or discussion. While I use the platform, I find myself going to reply – typing a reasoned response, hitting the character limit, and then deciding not to publish the tweet as I cannot effectively construe the level of nuance required in such a small amount of text. Only long threads can resolve this, making it more of a here’s my case type scenario, I rarely reply to people if I cannot make my point clear within a single 280 character tweet.

Facebook on the other hand is by far the most toxic of all the platforms, a website based on sociopathic algorithms designed to keep you engaged as long as possible, and constantly using analytics to determine how to keep you on the site for longer, as this is how they generate their advertising revenue. The company itself has no ethical standards, shirks at it’s responsibility to maintaining democracy, and actively discourages it – as evidenced by their acceptance of political advertising based on lies and slander. Delete Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp now. If they’re really friends you’ll find a way to connect outside of these apps.

As Stoic practice has taught me, specifically memento mori (a reminder of the inevitability of death), the question I ask myself is this: Does social media actually benefit my life or do my contributions materially improve the lives of others? Would I regret not spending more time on it? Mostly no, recently yes to both, due to COVID-19.

Twitter is my social media poison of choice, and I’ve been drinking from the chalice a lot since COVID-19 hit. It’s had mostly positive effects, and despite how little it may seem, you can cause ripples in the waters of people’s lives. I’ve had people message me with their changes of voting intentions due to something I’ve posted. Generally using evidence based policy arguments to encourage people to vote Greens in Aotearoa.

My speaking out about mental health issues has both caused stress, anxiety and eliminated much chance of future employment at certain types of companies. This is of little consequence to me due to the people who respond to me to say thank you, or to let me know they feel a little less alone. Because we’re better if we know these things. I’ll shine a light on the darkest parts of my life if it helps someone.

Indeed, I have been influenced by others also. I left extinction rebellion after a deserved critique of their colonial nature by one of my favourite Twitter people, this was our first interaction. I’ve come from a yes to a no on euthanasia, despite me seeing the consequences first hand of what a no vote might mean for people like my Dad whom returned to nature. The lived experience of people affected is generally the strongest evidence on issues of morality such as this.

My Role Models

The rise of both social media and celebrity culture has created an environment where I believe that a lot of people today look to celebrities as role models, this is almost always detrimental – those actually possessing virtuous qualities are few and far between.

So I’d like to offer a few of my current role models:

Bernie Sanders

We need leadership in this country, which will improve the lives of working families, the children, the elderly, the sick and the poor. We need leadership which brings our people together and makes us stronger‘- Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders may never be president of the United States, however his life is something that most could only ever aspire to – a life dedicated to fighting for the underdog in society, championing issues such as civil rights, gay rights, and disability rights long before most of these issues became popular or even acceptable to support.

Looking back at Bernie Sanders’ record is the reason why I believe he is still, after losing the nomination, the best choice for President of the United States in 2020 (and was also in 2016). Authenticity and integrity with politicians seems to be a rare commodity in modern politics, one only has to look at most right wing parties to see the absolute void where these qualities should be. Especially so in US/UK/Australian politics.

However Bernie is everything he says he is, and he has the record to prove it. He has consistently voted on the right side of all major issues – such as voting against going to war with Iraq, voting for the expansion of LGBT rights, voting for the expansion of health care for all. His plan for Medicare for All – something we are lucky to have (almost) here in New Zealand shows a level of understanding of the problems and issues within the US health system – with a reasoned solution to deal with the problem.

The man is 78 years old, and is still fighting for these rights for others, well past the age of retirement – as he believes his job is not done. If all politicians had as much integrity as Bernie Sanders, the world would be a better place.

Jacinda Ardern

Photograph: Kirk Hargreaves/Christchurch city council
“They are us” – Jacinda Ardern

It’s somewhat refreshing to have a role model so close to home. My current Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, is definitely a role model to me, which may come as a surprise to those of you who have seen me be critical of her on various platforms.

After March 15th, 2019 – The Christchurch Mosque attack, the worst terrorist attack in New Zealand’s history that left 51 of our fellow Muslim countrymen lost to senseless violence – I remember seeing reported shooting on reddit that day, and was glued to news websites for updates once the threat seemed serious, a mixture of anxiety, grief, and despair coursing through me.

As a nation we entered into a state of severe grief – most of us unable to process the immense tragedy that had taken place. It was during this time that we got to see what a real compassionate leader should look like.

Jacinda’s speech in the hours that followed the atrocious attack was something we all needed to hear. While a lot of the sentiment in the speech is debatable – the key line “They are us” especially due to our racist culture, her belief in what she said and her respect to wear a headscarf whilst meeting the Muslim communities who had been directly affected by the attack showed a leader with real integrity.

Jacinda has also been a driving force on the world stage, for a country with very little in the way of hard power, she has used our soft power to drive forward conversations on inclusiveness, restriction of violent material on the internet, and climate change on a global level.

The main issue however I have with Jacinda is that her movement on child poverty, poverty in general, climate change action, and making a fairer New Zealand have been subdued to largely ineffective policies, and a failure of commitment of resources to tackle these issues. So while she speaks of these issues internationally, the domestic translation of her speeches seems to be missing – which is pretty heartbreaking to be honest.

TJ Perenara

“To anyone, young Māori/Pasifika people especially, who may be struggling with their identity – please know that it is ok to be you. You are perfect as you are. Do not let these comments keep you from being yourself. Polynesia has been sexually diverse since forever.” – TJ Perenara

One of the few mainstream (in New Zealand) celebrities from a media perspective that I actually really admire. TJ is possibly my favourite All Black ever. An extremely outspoken and positive male role model that uses his platform for good. When Israel Folau decided to go all old testament on the gay community, TJ was quick to refute and dismiss his harmful statements instead offering a message of inclusion.

Alongside this, TJ Perenara and Sonny Bill Williams were known for running a talking group within the All Blacks where men could come and discuss their real life problems in a safe and open environment in order to foster a community of support. This sort of real world application of positive masculinity only served to make me believe that TJ is the sort of person we could all learn something from, and his integrity will carry him far in life after he retires from playing sport.

Marcus Aurelius

“Poverty is the mother of crime”

Possibly one of the most influential figures in my life recently. He has inspired many great men, world leaders, politicians, sportsmen. He was a dedicated practicing Stoic philosopher, and considered the last of the five good Emperors of Rome.

His private writings and journaling are known the world over, the book labelled now “Meditations” consisted of his own personal account and dedication to his philosophy. He’s a constant source of inspiration. He lead his people with care and grace, fighting wars and countering insurgencies using sometimes only his words.

For a look at how you can improve your life using lessons from this truly remarkable person I really recommend How To Think Like A Roman Emperor – The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius by Donald Robertson. He gives an amazing account of the life, lessons, and the practical philosophy of Marcus Aurelius.

Me – Ten years from now

This is the role model that inspires me most, and that I look to constantly – yes – me. If I look back at myself, ten years ago, I was a completely different person – I took steps to rectify a lot of my worst qualities, took an honest look at my shortcomings (after overhearing friends speak frankly about them), and have made real strides to take responsibility for who I am as a person. I underwent a moral inventory, something I still do now to make sure I am being the best that my humanity has to offer.

In the last 10 years the following major life events have taken place:

  • I came out as bisexual – carrying this secret around with me for so long caused me an immense amount of personal anguish, constantly having to hide a part of who I was in order to try and fit in with what I thought was expected of me took a mental toll that I now no longer carry.
  • I got diagnosed with ADHD and Autism- while this might seem negative, having a name for the problems you are experiencing and a treatment plan go a long way to making your life better, despite the diagnosis.
  • I graduated my degree in a Bachelor of Software Engineering
  • I worked on and had published four mobile games – including the game I am most proud of FlutterVR.
  • I met and married my soulmate – and the strength of our bond sustains me on a daily basis.
  • I ‘cured’ my depression (I don’t suffer from depression these days, just massive emotional dysregulation – It’s different because I identify the source of the feelings).
  • I found a complete and satisfying philosophy that guides my living day to day – Stoicism has given me a far more complete sense of purpose and direction that I was lacking.
  • I began to live my strong moral code in everyday life. I will even do this at detriment to myself because if the cause is just, then whatever consequences come I know they exist in a place of immorality. (Being moral in an amoral world is hard at times and can have unintended consequences).
  • I became vegetarian, with very limited dairy.
  • I made a host of new friends with genuine and honest qualities. I also learned when to cut toxic people from my life.
  • I started a business with my wife.
  • I learned to finally listen, reflect and say these words without fear – “I’m sorry, I was wrong.”
  • I never stopped learning from people around me willing to give their time, and their advice has allowed me to thrive and become the best version of myself.

I also had some pretty major struggles also in the last ten years, and while difficult, these experiences have only strengthened my character, my beliefs, and my goals for the future. I am proud of who I am today, but I will be even prouder of the person I am in ten years. I live with the goal to be a better person today than I was yesterday.

I use Stoic practices to measure myself in a frank and honest fashion and to work on those areas where I can see my weaknesses. It’s through this constant assessment and planning that I know ten years from now, I will have done incredible things with my life, and improved the lives of others.

This is the role model we should all aspire to have, for what better role model to have than the person you really want to be in ten years.

this is me trying…

The song this is me trying by Taylor Swift came to me at an interesting time in my life… it felt oddly specific to my current trials in life.

Things have been hard since quarantine started. This is the first time that life has eased up the gas. For the first time in my life I had no goals or targets. Instead I had to do what I’d been running from my whole life, facing up to the trauma I’d experienced.

This song aptly describes someone on the edge of suicide and who has lived with a lifetime of trauma and lack of self worth from undiagnosed ADHD. I’ll explain…

"I've had the hardest time adjusting

I had the shinest wheels now they're rusting"

These sentences hit hard for me. Not producing or feeling the need to produce had finally ceased, for the first time at the age of 36 (with my age catching up to me and my rusted wheels) I had to reflect heavily on my life. It hasn’t gone well the next two sentences capture me speaking to both myself and wife.

“I didn’t know if you’d care if I came back

I have a lot of regrets about that”

At my lowest point recently I’ve been testing my anchors to living. Quite often these days I’m unsure of their strength. It’s an odd feeling waking up each day wondering if is will be your last. It is a feeling I wish I could shake.

The next part of the song:

"Pulled the car off the road to the lookout

could have followed my fears all the way down"

Gives me flashbacks of a similar suicidal moment I had in my 20’s. Suicidal thoughts have been part of my life since I was barely a teenager. Following my fears is taking the plunge off the cliff.

"And baby I do it know quite what to say

but I’m here in your doorway"

This is me talking to my wife, trying to let her know that I’m struggling in ways I haven’t experienced before, but I’ll always keep trying even if it seems like I’ve given up.

“I just wanted you to know this is me tryin"

The next verse is hard not to believe its about ADHD. So much of our lives we are told that we’d be excellent if we could focus more, apply ourselves more, reach our potential…

"They told me all my cages were mental

So I got wasted like all my potential"

A lot of us with ADHD have turned towards substance abuse, a lot of that is driven by our failure to live up to our own expectations, our unrealised potential.

"And my words shoot to kill when I’m mad

I have a lot of regrets about that"

This next set of lines deals with the emotional dysregulation of ADHD and the ability we have to hone in on insecurities we see in others. It happens generally infrequently but when it does it’s vicious and followed by instant regret.

"I was so ahead of the curve, the curve became a sphere

Fell behind my classmates and I ended up here"

This personally to me feels like school did. I was a smart kid, too smart for my own good. I’d always get miles ahead at the start of each new subject, only to have ADHD memory recall issues make me feel like I knew nothing, and I’d fall behind in class to finally end up here at 36 with a lifetime of failures…

"Pouring out my heart to a stranger

But I didn't pour a whiskey"

This isn’t subtle, it seems that Taylor has found a way (like me) to pour out her addiction into a more creative outlet.

The chorus continues to show that we’re trying.
At least were trying.

The final verse is to me about having to face the public When you know your damaged for all to see.

“And it is hard to be at a party when you feel like an open wound”

When I’m in what I like to refer to these days on the sea of suicidal thoughts, drifting it feels hard for me to be anywhere while an open wound… but most of all I want to be with my wife.

“It's hard to be anywhere these days

When all I want is you”

As one of the last ruminating thoughts and strongest anchors – she sometimes feels a lifetime ago in a place I barely remember but she is always so important as she the only feature in my town.

“You’re a flashback in a film reel

On the one screen in my town”

Add the last chorus repeats my need to stay afloat, to return to her.. . to let her know Im’ trying.. at least I’m trying.

“And I just wanted you to know

That this is me trying. (Maybe I don’t quite know what to say)

I just wanted you to know

That this is me trying

At least I’m trying”

Wild conjecture and discovery thread

If I have medication off days, I tend to binge eat to generate dopamine. Seems counter productive. I’m not actually hungry, I just need the dopamine.

Someone mentioned exercise, it seems like if you have an excess of serotonin compared to dopamine (and Autistic people tend to have hyperserotonemia – a natural excess level of serotonin compared to controls), you get fatigued.

Exercise Serotonin and Dopamine

Interestingly also that elevated plasma levels of serotonin are linked to airway hypersensitivity, which can lead to asthma.

All of the science I’ve seen recently around serotonin makes me wonder just how much antidepressants and blocking the receptors I needed to absorb stuff might have exacerbated so many health issues I had.

Interestingly depression is linked to asthma development (with or without SSRI).

Depression and Asthma

Holy shit this is why venlafaxine nearly killed me… maybe.
Autistic people have increased levels of norepinephrine.

Norepinephrine and Autism

Giving someone who has an excess of serotonin and norepinephrine a drug that inhibits reuptake of both seems incredibly dangerous.

Excess norepinephrine seems to be linked to increased hyperactivity. So when I went to get diagnosed with ADHD and they rejected me without looking at evidence and put me on an SNRI they effectively nearly killed me. I was destroyed on this drug.

Ugh. They say it slows the reuptake, what is happening to the excess stuff that isn’t subject to reuptake. Where does it go? What causes SNRI withdrawal symptoms… so many questions. Apparently increased norepinephrine production happens with PTSD too.

So much stuff points to the intense world theory of Autism. I seem like a raw nerve exposed to the world. I feel everything cranked up to 11.

All of this is leading me to the hypothesis suggested in the 1970s that depression is a repeated life stress result.

I’m not saying this for everyone, but I truly wonder now if my ADHD is the result of being Autistic and subject to extreme trauma as a child. There are a number of studies that link ACEs with ADHD severity. I don’t know what to think anymore honestly.

“However, two studies presented results that showed children with ADHD had high levels of norepinephrine in their 24-hour urine sample. A higher level of norepinephrine in urine is associated with higher levels of hyperactivity.”
Sensory stress causes norepinephrine production.

One of the things that dopamine production did for me was help me to realise how much sensory pain I’ve been in. I had very low awareness. Since attending to sensory stress levels I’ve lost my stress related health problems.

This is all conjecture based on a case study of one. These are my own personal musings based on science I have read. This is not ever medical advice.

Originally tweeted by Rory – ADHD Autistic OCD (@roryreckons) on October 15, 2021.

Pieces of advice to myself/others after diagnosis of ADHD (in retrospect)

You are going to doubt yourself massively before, during, and after getting diagnosed. You most certainly are an ADHD person – this is part of the process.

Learn to accept what is there, rather than fighting against it.

Get ready to cut toxic people from your life.

I spent six years working against my diagnosis – trying to 'cure' myself.

Once I accepted it, I realised how many people had been exploiting boundaries, and being derogatory toward me for being ADHD.

I tried to educate them, if they continued, I removed them from my life.

You deserve people who love you for who you are, not what they want you to be.

Those people do exist, and it's healthy to let those go who make you feel negative constantly by harassing you over pretty insignificant stuff in the scheme of things.

You will also likely experience a mix of anger and depression for a while – these are healthy to have – they are not pleasant – but you need to grieve for the fact that it wasn't detected earlier. I had to work toward not getting stuck here as it was detrimental.

Find a community somewhere. It doesn't have to be Twitter, but you need somewhere that people understand the challenges you have – or how hard your life has been. The shame I experienced for a while after was due to not seeing people being open about struggling.

No matter how late in life you discover it, with the right introspection and reassessment of your life through an ADHD lens – you can develop a lot more self-compassion, and go on to enjoy your life once this is done.

Most importantly ADHD traits are not a moral failing.

Once you get past seeing yourself as broken or if you never think that and you still feel stuck – if you can get a coach. I became one because it was the only ‘therapeutic’ support that worked.

It helped to have someone who helped me cultivate trust in myself again.

The effects of parenting and compliance

Of course the concept of fixed personality wont make sense to highly masked people of any type. When you are changing your social appearance to match who they expect, it's hard to identify who you are – also it does change due to plasticity. Very few traits are fixed (if any).

People can only change what they understand too. If you don't enquire, you can't change. I guess being a permanent chameleon for 37 years did give me a level of growth inaccessible to a lot of people.

Taking the positives out of a lifetime of mostly negative experiences is difficult. But this lyric is true:
"All the answers
To all our problems
Lie within the one who tries to dodge them"

The late identification of my differences is mainly about shedding the stuff I don't agree with I did to 'fit in', but it's so much work that has to happen. The closer I've become to my true self – the more congruent I feel. This is a key concept of Carl Rogers.

"Rogers identified the "real self" as the aspect of one's being that is founded in the actualizing tendency, follows organismic values and needs, and receives positive others' regard and self-regard. It is the "you" that, if all goes well, you will become.

On the other hand, to the extent that our society is out of sync with the actualizing tendency, and we are forced to live with conditions of worth that are out of step with organismic valuing, and receive only conditional positive regard and self-regard,

we develop instead an "ideal self". By ideal, Rogers is suggesting something not real, something that is always out of our reach, the standard we cannot meet. This gap between the real self and the ideal self, the "I am" and the "I should" is called incongruity."

No person I love more in the field of psychology than Carl Rogers. Everything he's written improved my understanding of me, and also people who truly embrace his approach are the best people to help others.

Masking could more easily be renamed "Forced Incongruence".

A simple guide to Carl Rogers: "Love what's there unconditionally" – every time people did that for stuff I was ashamed of, I got to release the shame and grow. I was damaged really young, a lot of stuff I did out of being hurt when people wouldn't realise that about me.

No ADHD or Autistic kid wants to be awful, there's unaddressed damage – even if no one intended it. One thing I definitely agree with Gabor Maté's book is that often the most defiant people are the ones who need the most love even in the face of the damage they are causing.

A recent TV show – Ted Lasso – does a really good look at how hurt people end up hurting people. They need to be seen for what is underneath and loved for it, when they mess up and admit it they need to be loved and forgiven if it came from a place of hurt.

Don't excuse the behaviour, but also don't attribute it to the person. These concepts need to be split out. Behaviour doesn't occur in a vacuum.

The idea of punishing kids harshly who admit they've done bad things is one of the worst pieces of parenting advice that exists. Unless the child agrees that there should be some further consequences, or you negotiate that. Punishing people for telling the truth makes liars.

If your kid shows shame and embarrassment for their actions, the psychological effect of that has done the work. Reinforcing further shame doesn't allow for growth.

It does teach the child your love is conditional on their behaviour, and they are children. They are still learning how to be a person.

Honestly negotiation of punishments seems like it won't work, but it will – and you are respecting the child's autonomy. They will understand their actions have consequences and they won't feel controlled rather than disciplined.

"So what you did here you realise was bad, what do you think we should do about it?"
"<child comes up with suggestion>"
"Ok, that sounds reasonable" OR "I think it should be slightly more"
"I'm really glad you told me, and I love you, but we both agree this behaviour isn't good"

Kids need to know they can make mistakes, otherwise they hide them. If punishments are too severe they are counter intuitive. Avoiding pain is a natural thing to do, so making sure you don't inflict more without some input from the child teaches the wrong lesson.

Also don't make a big deal about motor coordination errors – where stuff gets broken. No person ever intends to have an accident. That's the very premise of the word.

"I can't believe you dropped the milk, how could you be so stupid"
"That milk was probably a little too heavy for you, feel free to ask me to help you next time, now lets clean this up together"

Which of these actions do you think benefits the child more and allows for learning? It's basic logic.

If you demonstrate future actions that align with your goals, then these issues happen less.

Authoritative parenting (like I've described) has the best outcomes in all studies, Permissive parenting (letting the child run free) is still better than Authoritarian Parenting which doesn't allow child growth.

Compliance and growth are two completely different outcomes.

One traps a kid in the development stage of childhood with an appearance of development (while hating themselves), the other allows them to grow out of it.

Compliance should never be the goal.

Your child is their own person, if you treat them as an extension of yourself, they don't get to be one. Authoritarian parenting is about riddling your child with your anxieties – people who get to be themselves, have more flourishing lives.

"I did everything I could, I was on their case I don't know how they didn't turn out well"

Really? Nearly all parents I've seen say this had to deprogram their parenting only to repeat it to their children.

They say stuff like "The best day I had was the day I left home" not realising that maybe that was when they were first allowed to grow properly. But unless they deal with the implicit emotional memories they end up using the same things, the guilt they feel is overwhelming.

Originally tweeted by Rory – ADHD Autistic OCD (@roryreckons) on November 1, 2021.