Max: an autistic journey
There are not many games which contain canonically autistic characters, and this is the only game I have come across with autism as both part of the storyline and part of the gameplay.
The game follows a day in the life of Max, a boy with autism, and how a regular day can bring both great joy and great challenges. By following his visual supports (cards which can be picked up in-game), Max gets dressed, goes to school, manages his emotions and sensory needs, plays with his friends, then goes home to help his family during a power cut.
Throughout the game, the player plays through different parts of Max’s imaginary world, inhabited by monsters and his beloved dinosaurs. It’s good to see a representation of autism that goes against the idea that autistic people lack imagination. In terms of gameplay there’s RPG elements and puzzles throughout, and most of the game is generally pitched at younger players. There are balancing issues however, with some battles in the later stages of the game becoming increasingly difficult. Rather than creating enemies that use strategies or having additional creativity in fights to make them harder, the further in the game you go the more life the enemies have and the more frequently they use status effect attacks like poisoning. This means many battles will follow the tired pattern of “Hit, hit – cure poison – hit – heal self – hit, hit – cure poison – hit – heal self” and this quickly becomes tedious.
Something else that begins to become irritating is the fact that the two main autistic characters (Max and his best friend, Adam) both have repetitive phrases – with Max regularly saying “In fact” multiple times during a dialogue scene and his friend Adam saying “And so” multiple time every dialogue scene. It’s a decent enough way of representing the different ways communication can be affected by autism, but did both main autistic characters need to have the same type of communication trait?
There are a number of glitches in the game. There were multiple times when I managed to get Max outside of the map (once I got him completely stuck outside of the map) and there are other areas where it seems as though if the exact order that the game wants you to do things in is not followed – the game gets stuck (and I’m fairly certain this is not meant to be some kind of game mechanic representing the rigid types of behaviour in autism). I had to restart the game twice before I could get past a scene involving the chill-out room in the school because I did something that prevented the next event from occuring and got stuck inside the room unable to do anything.
In terms of portraying autism, it does a better job. There’s a lot of information about the different traits of autism in this game and they’re all delivered in easy to understand ways and often tie into either general gameplay, different “quests” in the storyline, or have mini-games or battles associated with them. This is very well done, and whilst the gameplay alone is not going to be anything groundbreaking for anyone – the way the information about autism is tied into it makes it a unique way of explaining autism to people. This could be especially useful for explaining autism to children. The graphics are also pretty good – they’re colourful and cartoony and generally nice to look at, the character faces for the dialogue are really well-done and different facial expressions add depth to the characters.
If you’re going into it knowing that it’s a game that is being used as a device for discussing and portraying autism, then yes.
Value for money?
It’s £4.79 on Steam, which isn’t expensive considering the game has 2-4 hours of gameplay in it and a percentage of the money goes to an autism charity – the Miriam Foundation.