Gigs are a confusing place to be when you experience any form of dissociation. For me, there are two likely outcomes. Sometimes I feel the barriers between me and everything else reduce, so I feel closer to seeing the world as a typical person does. But sometimes I instead feel more aware of the dissonance between what I’m perceiving and what I’m experiencing, and so I notice those barriers more acutely.
This isn’t an aspect of dissociation that I’ve talked to anyone about before, but it’s been on my mind recently while I’ve tried to figure out which elements make the good outcome more likely.
Trigger Warning: This whole post is about themes of suicidal thoughts and responses to them. There isn’t anything graphic or too detailed, but don’t read this post if that theme’s not a good idea for you.
I have a strange history with the word inevitable. One one hand, it’s a warning sign. It’s the red flag which warns me I’m about to lose days to the thoughts rattling around my head and blocking everything I care about. When I start to believe that returning to the past is inevitable, that failure is guaranteed while everything good that’s happened since was just temporary solace- that’s how I know a bad time is imminent. When things are bad, the word inevitable gets lodged in my mind, poisoning everything I experience. But at one point, the phrase “delaying the inevitable” was the most helpful thing I’d heard for months.
I’m a digital hoarder. Right now my laptop has thousands of hours of unplayed games on it, hundreds of archived podcasts and as many unread articles and eBooks.
With the amount of tutorials and resources stored and accessible on there, a motivated person could learnt how to do anything they wanted by now. I’ve barely done anything. I’ve had free access to so much knowledge and ignored almost all of it.
The sheer amount of publications, information sources, and people that I follow has become too much to read, and too much to mean anything. Continual anxiety means I’m struggling to focus on anything useful, like uni work or project planning. But trying to escape or get ideas by reading non-uni media isn’t helping at all.
Between my Twitter feed, Medium recommendations and Pocket list, there’s almost 1000 items of “do this to be happy”, “do this to be better”,”here’s how everyone else is succeeding”, and “you need to care about this”.
Yesterday, Xbox sent out round-up emails with stats about our year in Xbox. Usually, I’m interested in that kind of thing, but reading these stats was uncomfortable.
I’m in the top 5% for amount played, at about 1500 hours in 2015. I honestly didn’t expect to be that high a percentile, more like 15/20%. That number annoys me- at least 1/3 of those hours happened as deliberate escapism or inertia. What could I have done with them instead?
The first argument I’m using to justify it is “I don’t play as much as my friends do”. This is kind of true as amongst my group I had the lowest hours, and some had double the hours I did. However, the gap between my time and theirs is smaller than I expect. I’ve been the last person online at night quite a lot, even on nights where I was intending to do something else.
Leading up to yesterday, I’ve been nervous about going back, more so than if I was seeing a stranger. The nerves are mostly from not knowing how she would interpret me, based on her unexpected assessment last time. Because all I remembered from before was the more negative parts, like the conversations I ended up confused by and L’s reaction to meeting her, I was expecting a bad experience. Instead she was friendly, and she remembered me to some extent; asking about church and uni.
In the first year of undergraduate uni, most of us knew what psychology was, and knew what we were studying. If we didn’t, why would we have signed up to study it? Then the further we got through uni, the less sure we were about what psychology actually was, and what we were studying.
Now, the exact same thing is happening with sci-comm. Does this apply to lots of other subjects? Do geographers or chemists start uni and then discover they have no idea what geography or chemistry is?
The cause of this confusion was spending the last week reading up on “public engagement with science”, as it’s the topic for our first exam. So far, the more I read, the more frustrated I get. Everything seems like an infinite loop of dependent ideas. For one thing, even defining it is hard; “public”, “engagement”, and even “science” don’t have one clear meaning. Another is that public engagement with science is supposed to be a rejection of the “deficit model”- the idea that the public were empty containers, ignorant of science, who would understand science if teachers poured in the facts.
This week has been bad in terms of anxiety and depersonalisation; simple things like a busy bus or a doubting thought, that normally I can deal with absolutely fine, have been sources of fear and thought-loops instead.
Considering this was also the week where I started the Broadcasting module, I was worried. While the course as a whole is outside of my comfort zone, a module where I’d potentially have to appear on microphone and on camera is lightyears away from comfortable.
But today, I woke up feeling calmer. Then something happened that put the last few years in perspective.
Today was the second day of our broadcasting group, and we were focusing on radio. Our first task was trying out voice recorders to interview a classmate. I returned our voice recorder to my lecturer as we were finished, only to find the next task was analysing an interview as a full group.
For people in the UK, there are two ways to go about investigating dissociative disorders (using that as the catch-all term for everything on the dissociative symptom spectrum).
The first option to to straight-out ask your GP, if you have an alright relationship with them. As the majority of GP’s won’t be knowledgeable about dissociation, that will probably involve bringing some information about it to the appointment. It would also be best to specifically asking for a referral to the Clinic for Dissociative Studies, rather than a local psychologist.
If you’re not sure how your GP will respond, or want extra support in the decision beforehand, then another option is to contact the Pottergate Centre, a dissociation-focused organisation with an office in Norwich, UK. They have an online contact option, where you can get two dissociation screening tests from them, and send the tests back to them to be analysed, all for free. You can then take the results, and their analysis, to your GP- they will also include extra information about dissociation with the results.
This method, asking the Pottergate Centre, is how I’m taking my first steps into exploring whether my experiences fit a dissociative disorder, and if so, whether getting a diagnosis is a good idea.
Despite having sat through my fair share of mental health assessments, I don’t know much about them. As I don’t personally know anyone who has experienced one, and don’t really have many people I could ask about how they work, my knowledge is entirely from what people have said online.
Out of everything I’ve written about in the last few posts, one meeting has always remained in my mind, because it was simultaneously the worst and the best experience I had with mental health professionals.
Having never had anyone to “compare notes” with, I’m going to explain it here, in case it comes in useful for future reference or for anyone else. Again, personal information has been removed.
Note ; I’m not going to use any identifying information, so I’ll refer to each person by a letter+ number to tell them apart, as it does get rather confusing. The colour-coding is also just to keep track.
K1– university counsellor K2– university wellbeing practitioner L– a close friend who I needed to bring with me to some meetings. C1– first mental health assessor at the community services. C2– second assessor at the community services. C3– final assessor at the community services.
Community Mental Health Services
I was referred to the community mental health services (CMS for short) 3 separate times; once from the hospital, once when I finished seeing K1, and by K2 during the relapse I mentioned earlier. This meant I had 3 separate mental health assessments in just over a year.
Each time I was assessed like I’d never been there before, with a different staff member. This seemed really inefficient, especially as each asked me the same questions and mentioned me having used the services recently.
My first assessor C1 was friendly, and I was able to talk to her. However, while I went in assuming my issue was solely/mostly depression and I would be offered CBT, C1 threw a curveball by giving me a leaflet for Mentalization Based Therapy, a treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder.
Some notes for this series; I’m not going to be using any identifying information, so I’ll be referring to each person involved by a letter+ number to tell them apart, as it does get rather confusing. The colour-coding is also just to keep track. K1– university counsellor K2– university wellbeing practitioner L- one of my friends, who I needed to bring with me to some meetings. C1– first mental health assessor at the community services. C2– second assessor at the community services. C3– final assessor at the community services.
One of the services involved in my treatment was my GP’s surgery.I don’t have much to write about this part, as I chose to avoid them as much as possible. While they technically knew everything that was going on, because each other service wrote letters to the GP updating them with new developments, this didn’t have any practical use.
Some notes for this series; I’m not going to be using any identifying information, so I’ll be referring to each person involved by a letter+ number to tell them apart, as it does get rather confusing. The colour-coding is also just to keep track. K1– university counsellor K2– university wellbeing practitioner L- one of my friends, who I needed to bring with me to some meetings. C1– first mental health assessor at the community services. C2– second assessor at the community services. C3– third assessor at the community services.
Although I’d had mental health difficulties for a long time, since probably age 10, I didn’t see any mental health services until I was 19. Accessing them wasn’t by choice; when a friend needed to take me to A&E, the hospital had to refer me to community services. My friend also booked a GP appointment for me, and contacted my university to see if they could help me. So I went from knowing nothing about mental health services to being seen by three types at once. It was a confusing period of time, because it felt like my only option was to be bounced around from person to person, and do everything they said, even though I wasn’t really sure of what was going on. Continue reading “My Diagnosis Experience, Part 1”→
One of the things that can stop people looking for help with mental health issues is the uncertainty of not knowing how they are referred and diagnosed, what kind of place they need to go to, or what person they need to see.
This is especially true for people under 18, who may not want to see anyone in case it means involving their families or sacrificing their ability to keep information confidential.
Online communities can answer these questions to an extent, giving some people’s experiences. But these sometimes focus on only the easiest experiences or the worst experiences in getting help.
Personally, my experience was in-between these extremes; some of the services I used were really accessible and useful while others made less sense. Similarly, some of the people I saw were really supportive and helpful, and some weren’t. So I thought I would explain my experience getting support, in case it’s helpful to anyone.
After enjoying a few weeks of post-uni free time (and successfully passing my driving test), I got some brilliant news yesterday…
I have been accepted for a place on the Science Communication MSc course at UWE! It’s conditional upon me getting a 2:2, but based on my current analysis of my grades so far, that should be easily achieved. So it means I get to learn all the media side of science that I’ve been interested in, which I’m really happy about.
I’ve got almost 1.5 years before the course starts, so I already know some of what I’m going to use that time for, but I also need to find some new things to do. There are quite a few skills included in the course (such as video editing for the video module, and stronger scientific writing for the science writing module) that I also need to develop before I start the course, so I’m going to have some fun learning these :)
Something I’ve been thinking about this week is how game developers and fans can now interact so freely, and what this means for games and the gaming community.
There are some situations where this ability is unambiguously good, and some studios who balance their interactions really well. Most notably, Valve. For example, when fans loved Left 4 Dead, but were upset that its content had run over the expected release time, Valve responded by producing a completely revamped sequel a year later.
And when a group of college students began making a puzzle game in 2007 based on Valve’s Source engine , Valve responded not by suing them but by hiring them, providing the students with resources so they could continue making their game. Considering this puzzle game became Portal, Valve’s method was the epitome of win-win situations.
One company in the middle ground of this issue is BioWare, and I’m focusing here on their support for Mass Effect 3. In terms of multiplayer their system worked quite nicely: BioWare would keep an eye out for any weapons and abilities that went unused due to bad synergy or being ineffective, as well as for weapons and abilities which users found overpowered or part of unsporting play. Every week or fortnight, Bioware would then perform a balance update where they would improve weapons found to be noticeably weak, reduce particular combinations of weapons and abilities that worked together unintentionally well, and even modify game maps to undo camping strategies.
As you’ve gathered from the last few posts, I’ve been spending the majority of my non-lecture time in uni, hiding out in my semi-underground lab and testing people. I’ve found the process of researching interesting, but it has also worried me a bit: doing my dissertation research has shown me there are many more things to take into account than I expected.
While organisation isn’t my strong point, it can be resolved fairly easily in normal lecture and seminar environments. During data collection, on the other hand, keeping track of many different variables and responsibilities becomes incredibly important, and my difficulty with it has almost got me into trouble already.
I’m now 4 months into my dissertation, which is a scary half-way through. A lot of interesting uni-related things have happened in the last week.
I had originally planned to have collected most of my data by now, which didn’t happen as one of my approval forms went missing. (My uni is good at teaching, but not at organisation- a recurring theme throughout the last three years).
Luckily, as my study is low-risk, I was approved quite easily. The delay meant I couldn’t do anything towards collecting data over the Christmas break, so I instead started writing the other parts of the dissertation such as the history of what I’m studying, the method I’m using, and the introduction. This has been going surprisingly well, and its now about 25% done.
Game reviews aren’t a genre I’ve written much about before, but Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer mode seemed like a good place to start.
However, I should probably clarify one thing first though – I haven’t played the single-player campaign of ME3. That’s mostly because the games are so good that I know finishing the story will kind of be the end of an era- the gaming equivalent of finishing the last Harry Potter book. My love for this series is based on just how awesome I’ve found the multiplayer to be- and also on completing the first game, which I bought after playing the third. Below is my explanation of just why I find this game so appealing.
In multiplayer, there are 64 available characters (originally 25, with new ones added throughout the year after release) – split across 12 alien races and various humans, in 6 attack classes. Each race has different health and shield levels, and different weapon preferences. Each character has three abilities, which can be for attack, self-defence, or team support. Some are common to many characters, such as Incinerate (a fireball attack), Overload (an electrical attack that removes enemy shields), or the ability to place a Sentry Turret. Other, more esoteric powers are unique to one character, such as Poison Strike (a teleporting semi-charge that creates a poison cloud corrupting nearby enemies).
There being so many potential powers and combinations means there are options to suit every type of playstyle. You could use a Tactical Cloak (invisibility) to hide and snipe from the farthest reaches of the level, and take enemies out before they get anywhere near the team. Or, levelling the Cloak differently, you can use it as a temporary distraction to sneak up to enemies and attack at point-blank range. Taking a Vanguard character into battle allows for a tank setup, taking damage away from teammates while dishing out far more, while taking an Adept provides Biotic powers that can put enemies in suspended animation, or throw them across the room.
My first character- a fluorescent blue Human Engineer equipped with Overload and Incinerate- remained my favourite for the first few months of play. However, the release of new characters and power combinations means that role was taken firstly by the Quarian Infiltrator (the invisible sniper style mentioned above), and now the Turian Ghost Infiltrator. The TGI, pictured here in his neon glory, is one of the most powerful classes in the game when played correctly.
His abilities are the Tactical Cloak, Overload, and a Stimulant Pack that increases shield levels, weapon damage, and melee damage. Although I first started playing as him because he has both invisibility and a jetpack- a very fun combination to use.
Speaking of jetpacks leads on to one of my very few criticisms of this game. To ensure that brand new players would not be disadvantaged by playing the game months after its release, the later characters brought out were more powerful and had stronger abilities than the starting characters. While this is a good idea in theory, it was perhaps applied too strongly- when looking at the ME3 forums, very few original characters are still used due to the new ones being either more fun or simply more survivable.
The two characters that are probably too overpowered to be fair are the final ones released, the Alliance Infiltration Unit, and the Geth Juggernaut. The AIU is mostly a typical infiltrator build, but her final power is essentially temporary invincibility- while it is active, she cannot be killed. Furthermore, this ability is treated in the same way as a grenade ability, meaning she can top up her invincibility powerups at every ammunition box on a level, and keep it almost permanently active on small levels.
The Juggernaut doesn’t even need to worry about invincibility powers, because at twice the height and eight times the shield strength of any other character, almost nothing can take it down. On the lowest two difficulties, using a Juggernaut means actively having to try to be knocked down. They also cannot be hurt by the instant-kill attacks of stronger enemies. I’ve never played as one myself, because I haven’t unlocked it yet (new characters are unlocked via random cards bought in packs), but playing in matches with them I’ve seen one downed less than a handful of times.
The same pros and cons can probably be applied to the weapons, though to a lesser extent. Weapons are easily customised, meaning the same weapon can be tweaked to fit very different characters by adding extra components. The all-rounder Phaeston assault rifle, for example, can be equipped with Ultra-light materials and a power magnifier, making it perfectly suited to backing up a Biotic class who need a very light loadout in order to use their powers quickly. On the other hand, adding an extended barrel and stability modifier makes it a useful weapon for Soldier classes to use suppressive fire.
The amount of customisation available means, similarly to characters, that there is always something new to try out. However, because there are so many weapons, even well-performing weapons can be forgotten about. Also, there are some weapons that can only be used well by specific characters or classes, making them a fairly niche option. For example, the Anti-Synthetic Rifle is incredibly powerful against one species of enemy, but useless against any other type.
Gameplay and Teams
Gameplay is pretty simple at its core- a team of 1-4 players take on waves of progressively more enemies, the aim being to survive through 11 waves. Mixed in with fighting are objective missions such as holding a specific point on the map, retrieving lost objects, or escorting a valuable drone to a safe location. That sounds like it should get repetitive quickly but in practice, it very rarely does. This might be luck on my part, as my average ability level means I have a set of characters that I can comfortably play Silver difficulty on, and a (smaller) set of characters I can use for Gold difficulty, meaning the game is rarely boringly easy or frustratingly hard.
The maps available are mostly based on different territories seen in the single-player campaign- there isn’t anything too strange on most of them, but they are all fun to play on, and all can suit different styles. The most interesting part is the addition of Hazard versions of the original maps, which add a danger that affects gameplay in some way. Some maps only have a very subtle effect (such as Giant, which adds thunder and lightning to make aiming more difficult). Others change how the map is played completely: Firebase White, which has a sniper-friendly outside area with close-quarters inside areas, gains a visibility-destroying snowstorm which forces everyone inside.
The multiplayer challenge system is very comprehensive, covering general challenges such as playing on each map a set amount, weapon challenges obtained by scoring points with each weapon, and alien challenges obtained by surviving matches with specific characters. This system means trying out everything in the game is encouraged, which stops people from just sticking with their favourite setup forever. It worked especially well on me, as I’ve become quite the completionist, rotating characters, weapon setups and maps to fill as many challenges as I can. It’s a good combination of being involving and accessible, meaning it’s my favourite challenge/award system of any game I’ve played (with the possible exception of the one in Black Ops II, which runs on much the same idea).
The only thing that ever bugged me about the system is that it was introduced after the game had been out for 6 months, so everything I had done before that would have counted towards a challenge didn’t count- considering the amount of work that making it retroactive would have required, that isn’t too big a deal.
The system also included weekly challenges that rewarded successful players with free weapon and equipment packs- this lasted until a year after the game’s release, and is probably the part I missed most about the game ageing.
According to my online activity feed (from the game’s companion website), I’ve played 556 matches totalling over 176 hours of gameplay. This makes it probably my most-played game ever (the only exception to this might again be Black Ops II). Almost two years after release, the online community is still strong, and its easy to find matches online. It can also be easier to survive a match now, as the people left playing this late in the release cycle are either very new or very dedicated and skilled. Even playing against people with no headset on, and therefore without being able to communicate, 99% of people still revive their injured team-mates and protect each other.
All these reasons show why Mass Effect 3 is one of the most enjoyable and long-lasting multiplayer games I’ve ever played. Bring on ME4!
The weird thing for me about crowds is that while much of psychology focuses on how complicated individual humans are, they are even more confusing and complicated when they are put together into groups- there is an entire branch of psychology (known as, not surprisingly, crowd psychology) dedicated to understanding the difference between people as individuals and in a crowd.
The media, psychology, and sociology, have many stereotypes of crowds- most of these lead to the conclusion that crowds are irrational, suggestible and even dangerous, a sort of hive mind run by its collective not-quite-conscious. Most of these views, and the theories behind them, are taken from examples of destructive crowds, such as riots and demonstrations. (Annoyingly, the example of a riot and crowd behaviour used in my A-level textbook was actually about Bristol- not the best side of the city…).
However, looking at studies and observations of crowd behaviour, it is only a minority of crowds that become so destructive; non-violent crowds are researched much more rarely, which doesn’t seem fair.
One of the biggest stereotypes is that crowds are fuelled by their anonymity, as people lose their identities and rationales in the process of deindividuation– this is a popular notion, described in detail by social psychologists like Zimbardo. However, while this does sound like a good explanation, and is useful in some circumstances, it fails to take into account that most people in crowds aren’t anonymous- they normally go to events with friends or family, meaning their actions will be seen so they would be accountable for anything they did while part of the crowd.
A new theory of how people behave in crowds, and to me a more useful one, is Convergence Theory. This theory says that crowd behaviour is not caused by the crowd: instead individuals take their behaviours into the crowd, meaning crowd actions reflect beliefs that are already there. Using this theory, crowd behaviours stop being irrational violence, becoming a more sensible reaction to popular views.
So if convergence theory is true, then the media shouldn’t be so quick to declare crowds as violent and irrational and should instead look towards the reasons behind the crowd, for that will probably provide a much better picture of what behaviour to expect and why.