[Interview] Project Athena: An Interview with Chanku

Project Athena:
An Interview with Chanku

Interview conducted by Istillian

(Europeia - January 2, 2023) Project Athena is a Europeian initiative interested in investigating and discussing the experiences and challenges faced by NationStates (NS) players that are considered neurodivergent. Neurodivergence is simply a way of describing that someone's brain works differently, meaning that they have different strengths and challenges from those whose brains don’t have those differences. These differences can include medical disorders, learning disabilities and other such conditions. Project Athena intends to provide a medium for not only neurodivergent voices to be heard, but for us to reach out to the leaders and players that we can draw insight from and educate others about. In the first in our series of interviews under the banner of Project Athena, our interviewee was asked eleven questions, some challenging and some quite insightful, about their time across the game. This first interviewee in particular has a long history of experience in the game, having grown into adulthood playing NS, and they reflect on both the mistakes they have made and the times that they cherish in their home region of Wintreath.

Can you tell me a little bit about your background on NationStates, and how you then got into the community in Wintreath?

I've been playing for a while now, my activity has waxed and waned. I've participated in R/D [raiding and defending] to varying extends, and I've been in a few positions in various different regions, along with having spent a good bit of time in the Warzones. With getting into the community in Wintreath, well it is actually my first Region. I was the first 'new' citizen to join the region after it started recruiting. So I just kinda ended up here because I got a recruitment telegram at a good time.

It was a very small community...I think there was like 5 people in the IRC [Internet-Relay Chat]. around the time I joined, so it was pretty easy for me to get into the community as it were, as it was still being grown and established.

Have you found any barriers to involving yourself in NationStates communities at all?

Yes, there have been several. I sometimes find it hard to interact and integrate within communities, especially well established ones as socialization is not my strongest suit. I don't always pick up on social cues and I also can be a bit...intense. Emotionally at least, which has caused some issues participating in NS and in various communities, even within Wintreath. Part of it might've been that I was particularly young at the time, but I do think that being neurodivergent didn't help and may have caused some of those barriers.

What kind of work or contributions are most rewarding to you personally?

Personally, I find law and legislation to be exciting and the most rewarding. I've done many things, but some of my proudest things have had to deal with legislation and law. It was actually my dream on NS to be a 'Judge' on a court at some point. This isn't of course to say I haven't found other things rewarding, over time things have changed a bit, but generally speaking that's the most consistent thing.

How does your neurodivergence influence the way you approach doing work on NationStates?

It can affect a lot. From what I even do on NationStates, to how I do it, to how I approach others or others approach me. It can lead to me being particularly insistent on doing things a particular way, to having a particular hyper fixation and thus focusing all my effort into that until the hyper fixation ends. In some ways it can be helpful, on others neutral, and in other ways it can be harmful. Thankfully most stuff through NS is text, which does make things easier in at least one way for me.

Can you tell me a little bit about your experience with neurodivergence?

For me, it definitely leads to various things. For example, I do have hyper fixations and more long-term special interests on things to just losing track of information and of time. I also have found myself to have more extreme emotions at times, although things have gotten better as I've gotten a bit older, but it's still something I have to deal with. I also tend to be incredibly rigid at times, things have to be done a certain way, or I can't do certain things (an example is my lack of avatar on any website I have an account on). It does vary from situation to situation a bit.

What are your biggest struggles in an online environment, and on the flip-side, what do you think helps you most about being in an online environment?

Well, my biggest struggles are in part socialization, and sometimes it can be hard to keep focus, with it being online I'm on a computer so I can get distracted very easily. Additionally, if I need to use my voice it can be harder for people to hear and understand me, especially since they can't see my face and likewise audio processing can be even worse online because I can't see their face and the quality can really vary. Additionally, it becomes much harder to reach social cues -- as they are much more sparse than normal.

As for benefits, one of the benefits I've found is it becomes a lot easier to step away from things if I need to do so. Additionally, since things are online text is a more common medium for discussions, so I can sometimes communicate more effectively through text. With hyperfixations it also means I can more easily dive into them, albeit it also means I can spend hours not doing things I should be doing.

So what would you say that people need to be aware of most, both online and in real life, about people that are neurodivergent?

Neurodivergent people are a very broad spectrum of people. It can mean various things depending on the particular Neurodivergency that they have, from not being able to do certain things, or needing help in some things, to needing to do things a certain way, or having to do certain things. No two neurodivergent people are the same in their neurodivergency, even if they have the same thing. Experiences in their lives, how it effects them, and the particular severity of it can vary (albeit this is also dependent upon the neurodivergence as well.) .

Do you think working in a community in NationStates is different if people know that you are a player that is neurodivergent, and do you see any barriers to participating in the game?

Very much so. Although the exact effects can vary from community to community and person to person. If you're in a community with many neurodivergent people, or people who are more understanding, I've found that things are more likely to go a bit smoother in some ways. If you're not in such a community, you might face more issues which may not be intentional but stem from a lack of understanding. Additionally, if people don't know you're neurodivergent, sometimes people will react in a certain way to an expression of the neurodivergence in a particular way, where it might be entirely different otherwise.

Can you tell me what your aspirations and goals are on NationStates for the future?

Generally speaking, I would love to start my own region at some point. I don't necessarily have much though. For the longest time my main goal was to become a Judge or Justice, and I've achieved that. I am a Judge in Lazarus. So I kinda don't have that big of a goal right now, although I'm sure I'll find something at some point.

Are there any changes you'd like to see across NationStates that reflect on how neurodiverse individuals are treated in the game?

Yes. Generally speaking, I think people could be a bit more understanding and be more receptive to accommodations. Sometimes getting reasonable accommodations to allow you to participate can be tough, especially if you've been in the game for a while, and have a particular reputation. Also sometimes GP can be particularly cold and unwelcoming to someone that is neurodivergent. And sometimes it can be hard for a neurodivergent person to really integrate into certain parts of NS if they've been playing for a while and are only now starting to understand and come to grips with their Neurodivergency. Because certain parts of their neurodivergency may have caused them to get a reputation.

To give an example for myself. I have a particularly less than stellar reputation at times, having been particularly abrasive and toxic at times. For example, I would react very strongly to certain changes, or react very strongly in certain ways because of my neurodivergency causing me to have more extreme emotions, which makes handling them harder. So when I returned to Wintreath, and had an issue with the flag changing and I asked about it, people responded rather negatively because they saw it as me doing the same thing I used to always do -- that is have a meltdown over change. I was merely asking for an accommodation, although it was percieved different. Eventually, there came to be an understanding, and in Wintreath things have definitely gotten better, but I doubt this is the only instance of things like this occurring within NationStates. (Also this is not to absolve myself of my behavior in the past, I am still responsible for things I have done and said.)
And I think part of it is Neurodivergency is only starting to be more noticed and more attention is being paid to it, so I do think things will improve. (Also a great way to get people who have issues participating and interacting can be to create a question of the day or of the week or something. It's a decent way to get people talking and participating. At least with me and in limited my experience.) And NS region in general could probably be more aware of how things they do might affect neurodivergent people, and might inadvertently create a more unfriendly or hostile environment for them.

Is there any kind of advice that you would give to people that are on the neurodivergent spectrum when playing NationStates?

To anyone, I would highly recommend asking for reasonable accommodations where you need them. There is no shame in asking for them, and if they help you be able to participate in the region or community, then it'll generally be a positive for everyone.

If you're new, just understand that neurodivergence in the game is only now starting to be paid attention to, and being welcoming and open to people that are neurodivergent is only somewhat starting to be paid attention to. This isn't to say it is actively hostile or exclusionary, and you can absolutely do well, but just understand that you might have to fight a little in some instances.

If you're an older player and only now starting to understand your neurodivergence, just understand that you are still responsible for any past behavior caused by that neurodivergence, and that you might face a more uphill battle because you're more, 'established'. People have preconceptions of you. You can change it, but you have to put some work in, but it is possible, and remember to ask for accommodations if you need it. Even if you haven't before, if you could do well without them, then I am sure you could do even better with them.

Also don't be afraid to be upfront and honest about it, where you can at least. It can help save you a lot of trouble, and it usually doesn't negatively effect you too much. People will treat you differently in some instances, which can be good or bad, but being more open about it means people can be a lot more accommodating knowing that.

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Finally made some time to catch up on articles; this was really interesting!