by Tom Ladka III
“Video games changed my life” is a phrase I see thrown around a lot. It could mean they got you through a hard time in your life, they gave you a form of escapism or even just the idea that you grew up playing Super Smash Bros. with your family. In any case, they likely have had an impact on your life in one way or another, but while all three examples could apply to me personally, I want to look at how video games changed me in a different way. Very likely, if you have that kind of attachment to video games, let’s face it, they didn’t have a huge impact on you in the real world. What I mean by that is, when you turn off the Playstation, you’re back to being a fragile, ordinary human being who has to go to school or work in 5 minutes. There’s not much practical gain to be had playing video games…
Well, most video games.
Sometimes, you learn the best things in life from the strangest places. And honestly, I don’t think I’d be nearly as successful as I am today if I never played the Resident Evil games. I know it’s such a strange thing to say, but before you get concerned, hear me out. I know for a lot of people, the outsider perspective of these games is generally that it’s another game where you go around killing zombies and there’s blood and gore, but in reality it’s so much more than that. Generally, in the Resident Evil games, you play as someone caught in the middle of a zombie apocalypse who has to survive by finding a way out of wherever they are. The games, from there, play out more like an escape room than a match of Call of Duty zombies. In fact, you only actually want to use your gun sparingly since there’s only so many bullets in the area you're exploring. The focus is much more on trying to find an item to open a door to give you more to explore only to find something else to help you progress. You run into a few puzzles too and then you solve it and make even more progress until you beat the game. The games never outright tell you what to do or where to go and the puzzles can be pretty challenging too. Beating a Resident Evil game requires intuition, problem-solving skills, patience, persistence and the ability to plan ahead--all things people on the spectrum, like myself, struggle with.
Before we go further, I want to give my own personal background. Honestly, that’s what will best help show the impact the series has had on me. See, being someone with autism and several other mental struggles, I’ve spent most of my life as a student in special education. It can work for the right person, but trust me when I say, for most people, it’s not a fun time. I was one of those people. At many of these schools, rather than focusing on providing an education, they just tell you how to live your life. Typically, the rules at these schools were designed either for treatment purposes or just to make you a “better person.” I could have just bent the rules if it would have made sense, but instead I chose to conform. I was so afraid of losing my internet or even my PS4 that I didn’t give myself a choice. I did everything they told me, but honestly, the most I learned was “play by the rules” and that was frustrating. It didn’t help that such a poor education made me feel stupid. Like I had no understanding of important knowledge that would make me successful. By the time I left school, not only did I not know what I wanted to do with my life, I didn’t even know what I could do in life…
Then I played the remake of Resident Evil 2.
Honestly, it was a game I was avoiding for a while. I beat Resident Evil 7: biohazard but was too scared to try some of the other games due to the puzzles. Again, at this time, I thought I was stupid. I thought there would be some form of logic I’d be missing in my head and I’d get too stuck on a puzzle. But, I gave it a shot anyways and have now beaten both Leon and Claire’s campaigns--without a walkthrough even! To some, that’s not a huge deal. There are people out there who only play these games on hardcore difficulty or even speedrun them. But the fact that I was able to solve these puzzles with the prior mindset of ‘I’m not a smart person at all’ was extremely important to me. Educationally speaking, I learned absolutely nothing new after beating the game, but honestly, that’s probably the best thing I could have learned. It was all me this time. I solved the puzzles. I knew what to do. Again, for many people this isn’t a huge deal. In fact, as far as puzzle games are concerned, you could probably find much harder than the Resident Evil games, but that’s not to say they’re easy.
In fact, when you really start one of these games, you’re given no instruction on what to do or where to go. You’re just put somewhere and expected to figure it out. So as someone who often preferred to be told what to do, that was a lot more scarier than the zombies. In all these schools and programs, I was taught to listen to the staff at all times, and honestly, I was afraid to do otherwise. So this challenge was always something that steered me away from the series. But now, it’s one of the most exciting parts about the game. Going from room to room, checking for locked doors, finding a key--that’s part of the fun! Now, in real life, I often look for things to do around the house, at my job at a gym, or anywhere else I could be productive and keep on doing that until I’m done--kinda like finding one of those keys and putting it to good use! It’s a lesson in independence I was always taught but never understood.
Another thing you have to do in Resident Evil is plan ahead. If you go around killing every zombie, you won’t have enough bullets to fight the bosses. Furthermore, if you use all your healing items early on, you may as well start your playthrough over entirely--another scary challenge for those on the spectrum. I didn’t want to spend another 6-8 hours playing through the game again just to beat the final boss! What if I mess up and end up with nothing to fight with? Turns out all you need is to be conservative enough with your items and most likely you’ll be fine. What I really needed was confidence in myself--something I was unaware of how little I had. So now when I play Resident Evil, I think ‘is it a good idea to use those green herbs* now, or will I be cautious enough to stay at low health?’ And in real life, I think ‘is it a good idea to take a break from work to be with my family or is work more important right now?’ It’s easy to choose the former in both cases, but in the long term, will it be worth it? Now that’s a much easier question to answer--even though said answer is not always the same in some cases.
I know a lot of these ideas and skills are basically common knowledge for most people my age (22, if you were wondering), but keep in mind, these are lessons that were pretty much drilled into my head for several years. It just took a game series I never would have expected to get those lessons through. It was never about doing what I was told, it was about doing the task in question. It was about knowing how to apply those skills in order to live independently. Honestly, If I never played a Resident Evil game, I don’t think I’d ever be ready to live on my own. I’d probably just sit in my room all day and play much less challenging video games until I’m forced to move out and when that time would come, I don’t think I’d even be able to maintain an apartment. That’s why I genuinely believe I would not be the person I am today without the Resident Evil games. I wouldn’t be able to keep a job, I wouldn’t be a Flutie Fellow, I wouldn’t even be writing this blog post if it weren’t for these games!
They aren’t for everyone--if the game design won’t turn you off, the grotesque body horror elements, intense gore, or even the frequent language might--but they were for me. Currently, I’m making it my goal this year to play through all the mainline games I have access to (as in not the original 1, 2, and 3). I bought all of them on Steam and am currently trying to beat the original game’s remake on my PS5. I also pre-ordered my copy of the upcoming Resident Evil Village and I look forward to playing that as well!
If you take away anything from this blog post, just know that sometimes, you learn the most important things in life from the strangest places. Not necessarily from campy zombie games, but from anything you may be interested in. Try to find something you may have learned in whatever you like doing; you might just learn some of the most important lessons of your life.