You might say I’m obsessed.
I’ve dumped over 1,000 hours into playing Dragon Age games, at the very least. I’ve read every codex I’ve found in Dragon Age: Origins. I’ve written a 400,000 word fanfiction, and am still writing more. I declared a whole month to be devoted to Dragon Age, although, really, anyone who knows me knows that the series creeps its way into conversations throughout the year.
For the second half of 2020, I’ve focused on playing the Dragon Age trilogy again, occasionally sprinkling in other games out of an obligation to not only every play Dragon Age/BioWare games.
I’ve been playing through Dragon Age: Inquisition again, and have spent a lot of time goofing around and wandering around the map without much drive toward the story beats. As I cleared more portions of the map, the more I wanted to clear, even when my heart sank when I saw all the lists of things I had yet to accomplish in each area. I had almost forgotten how enormous this game is.
When I played Inquisition for the first time, I was fresh off of my time with Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II, and was in the midst of writing a huge fanfiction within the world of Thedas. I had begun acquiring Dragon Age swag, and watched fan theory videos online. If I wasn’t working on school work (I was getting a master’s degree at the time), I was thinking about Dragon Age. When I had downtime during the day, I was puzzling through plotlines in my story. Before I went to bed, I would pour myself a cup of coffee so I could play through some quests before sleeping.
There was a short period of time as I meandered toward my cumulative exams that I felt myself getting pulled away from my work, at least attention-wise, to thoughts of the game and the world. I’d lose track of time when writing, and then scramble to finish work before the next day. This lasted for perhaps two weeks before I got myself back in order.
At the time, I lived by myself, and so for the most part, if I wasn’t at school, or doing work, there was a time when the rest of my existence was consumed by Dragon Age thoughts and games and fanfiction and theory videos.
Athena, you might be saying. I thought this post was supposed to talk about how you don’t have an obsession. This is hardly proving your point.
But, say I, have you ever considered what an obsession – a true obsession – really is?
Like so many other diagnostic terms that have entered our day to day lexicon, the word obsession is often meant to mean “liking a great deal” or “thinking about it a lot when not occupied with anything else” or even “a preferred hobby or topic to discuss.”
We might say we have OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) because we alphabetize our spice racks, or straighten our books on the table, or are “totally OCD about” one topic or another. It means, to the average person, an intense enjoyment or interest, or describes a particular way we like things done.
Longtime fans know I have some beef with this book, but in this case it gets it right.
There’s a big push on social media to accept self-diagnosis of the myriad disabilities in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th Edition (DSM5), and I am not about to take that on. I’m here to talk about the difference between being a fan – even a fanboy or fangirl – and being really, truly obsessed with something.
If you believe you truly have obsessive-compulsive disorder, or any other mental health diagnosis, please consult with your doctor. This post is not meant to diagnose mental illness, nor take the place of professional medical advice.
Hold the Line
When discussing any neurodivergence or mental illness, the most important thing to remember is that there is nothing someone with a diagnosis has or does, that does not occur in a “neurotypical” brain. The difference between having a diagnosis and not is the line between being able to independently perform activities of daily living without additional supports, and not.
Everyone feels sad and empty sometimes, but depression only is diagnosed when it impairs you ability to care for yourself, maintain your job, or negatively impacts your social relationships. People might have a communication delay, or a social dysfunction, or a sensory need that others don’t have, but autism occurs when those things get in the way of the same activities of daily living, again without intervention beyond the average “neurotypical” brain’s needs.
There is also a difference between dysfunction and disorder or disability. A dysfunction simply means something that isn’t operating in a typical or socially beneficial way. A disability is exactly what it sounds like: it is being dis-abled, or not able to do something or another. One can have a dysfunction without being disabled, and… On second thought, let’s not go down that rabbit hole today.
Back to the matter at hand. Everything we do is on the spectrum of one disability or another, but as our divergences don’t keep us from independently performing activities of daily living, no disability exists.
Where Are My Dragons?
From a diagnostic standpoint, obsessions are persistent thoughts, urges, or images that are experienced as intrusive or otherwise unwanted (as per the DSM5).
A-ha, you may say. While intrusive, your thoughts of Dragon Age were not unwanted, were they? Therein lies the difference!
You would be partly right, I would reply. Obsessions are thoughts that are out of one’s control. They come at the cost of other thoughts, and a person is unable to stop their thinking about the Thought, so to speak, whatever the consequences may be. This causes significant anxiety, as the brain dictates what you’re going to think about, and when, and drags you along for its distressing and time-consuming ride.
Being a fan – and only a fan – does not have this effect on a person. Being a fan does not occur to the detriment of work tasks, or social engagements, or distract you from personal care. If it does, you may have crossed a line somewhere and should consider seeking further intervention.
Being a fan is being enthusiastic. It’s enjoying engaging with a product, and engaging with others who enjoy the same product. It might be creating art based on the product, or doing other fan labor like creating zines or running a fan club or website. Being a fan is akin to having a hobby surrounding some sort of product, be it a sports team or book or game or fictional character.
Hobbies are there for you when you’re stressed, or when you need to reach equilibrium again, and are a welcome distraction at the end of a long day. Hobbies are things that you consciously make time for, and ones that you can shed at your whim, whether for time purposes or due to waning interest. Hobbies are friends who will wait for you to welcome them into your brain.
Obsessions are rude dinner guests that show up unannounced and refuse to leave, demanding you entertain them even when you have other things you need to be doing.
I’ve thought about this a lot as I stayed up late during this November, writing posts for each week even as I tried to complete NaNoWriMo and prepared for a national-level seminar. I thought about it as I thought of ways to sneak in Inquisition war table missions while I was doing other chores, to progress the game without me sitting in front of the television. I thought about it as I abandoned every other game to just play Dragon Age: Origins again, to finally get the elusive platinum trophy and to play through the game and see my old friends again.
And then I thought of social media, rife with self-diagnosis on one end and people carelessly throwing around diagnostic terms as if they meant nothing other than stronger versions of other adjectives.
And thus we are here today.
Being a Fan
Dragon Age is a much-beloved series of mine, and I’m sure no one who glances at this blog could ever say otherwise with a straight face, but it isn’t an obsession. I talk so much about how media matters, and how people are represented matters, and that’s true for the way we talk about media and ourselves, as well. When we talk about media, we represent the media, and we represent ourselves. When we claim to have a diagnosis as a means to signal a very regularly-occurring trait, we are misrepresenting not only ourselves, but also misrepresenting people who truly have those words meaningfully attached to themselves.
Ahem. How did that get there…
As we head into Thanksgiving, I can honestly say that the Dragon Age series is something I am thankful for. It was there for me when I needed it most, and it has carried me through bouts with depression and stressful times when I needed to immerse myself in a fantasy world with virtual friends.
And as we head to the end of Dragon Age Month here on AmbiGaming Corner, and look back at the month full of posts about the game, we can remember to pause before diagnosing ourselves out of hyperbole, or because we deviate from the norm to a noticeable – but ultimately not disabling – degree.
So let’s chat about Dragon Age. Let’s chat about it all the time. Or Mass Effect. Or anything related to BioWare. Hey, we could even talk about Metal Gear Solid if you’d like me to throw you a real curveball. Let’s talk about your favorite games, movies, books, shows, and talk about them all the time. I’ll pull out my fanfictions for DA and ME, and my plot and character charts for MGS. Let’s stay up all night on the weekend playing a game to kick off that week of vacation. Let’s show love for our fandoms. Let’s give a month to each game we love.
Let’s be fans.
Do you have a game that always seems to have free real estate in your brain? Did anything surprise you in this article? In what ways have you engaged – if at all – with your preferred fandom? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!
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