Friday, May 18, 2012

Diabetes: A Video Game, on "Hard."

Today's Dblog Week prompt is, "What is one thing you think people without diabetes should know about living with diabetes?"

Honestly, I know I've done this one before. My most comprehensive post on this subject is, and will likely always be, my Six Things post that I reposted several days ago. It really goes through all the aspects of who I am, what I do, and what bothers me about diabetes. So, I'd recommend reading that, if you're curious.

I don't want to cop out of this challenge, however, so I'd still like to express - and perhaps recontextualize - a few things.

There is an article making the rounds, by John Scalzi, in which he compares life to a video game, trying to recontextualize the idea of "privilege." He uses this comparison to try to explain that straight white males, in this "Real World" game, are playing on the lowest difficulty setting; you can still lose, but you tend to have fewer obstacles placed in your way.

I think this is a great way to describe diabetes to a person who doesn't have it. Playing the Real World game with diabetes sets your difficulty level way, way up. You're playing on the "Blood, Sweat and Tears" difficulty level of life.  It's not the highest difficulty level, obviously; there are many worse health conditions, and, for example, my Supportive Family With Relatively High Income, Awesome Friends, and Education bonuses help regulate the difficulty. But consider the following video game attributes:

1. Diabetes drains your Gold.  You need Gold to pay for a lot of things. In a video game, it's armor, weaponry, cool stuff for your avatar. In Real World, it's food, rent, education, entertainment, transportation and a host of other unexpected things. Diabetes Difficulty adds a level of cost that can be unprecedented, particularly if you are playing Real World United States. Even if you're insured, a lot of money goes to prescriptions; if you're not, thousands and thousands of dollars just slips out of your pocket. Diabetes is like an experienced Thief/Pickpocket that follows your band around, constantly stealing. Real World Canada at least covers your visits to the local wizards (doctors). This also removes points from Mobility and Choice. If you play Real World Canada, you don't want to play Real World US unless you have a very secure job offer, and probably not even then, because it might go away. If your job class gives you insurance, you don't want to switch job classes to one without insurance, even if it's something you'd much rather do. Even if you do have insurance, you're only allowed to hoard so many supplies at a time, which might not be enough for your needs; it just depends what Insurance Boss says.

2. Diabetes drains your Health. You start off with a shorter health bar, and it goes into the red fairly easily. You have to be sure that you don't hit the wrong prize cube, because getting any of those bottles with skulls on them means that you have Complications. Sometimes, when your BG is high or low, you move in EXTREME SLOW MOTION no matter what you try to do, and, like that one horrid level in Super Smash Bros., everyone's vision goes all fuzzy so you barely know what you're doing. (Of course, sometimes you just want to play Super Smash Bros. against Diabetes, and smash it. But Diabetes uses Hypoglycemia Attack! It's Super Effective!) You have to collect Insulin bottles to stay alive; if you don't have one on you at all times, your health starts draining.

3. Diabetes doesn't fight fair, and it doesn't stay consistent. Not only is this level harder, it doesn't stay at the same level of difficulty all the time. Some days are a breeze, and you wander around the level confusedly, wondering how you got through so easily; waiting for the Big Boss to appear. Some days the difficulty is extreme; trips, performances, when your glucose levels don't behave according to anything sensible in the laws of Man and Nature; these are the days when the entire playing floor is made of lava. You have to be consistently on your guard, because you have no idea how hard the next day is going to be, and the various bosses know all the cheat codes, unlike you. That means you're always a little scared, even on the easy days. You're especially worried about the upcoming Wedding level, because it's supposed to be the most awesome level in the game but you have no idea if the difficulty level will be set so high as to ruin the enjoyment. 

4. When you play a video game, if B is jump, whenever you press B, you will jump. With Diabetes Difficulty, sometimes when you press B you jump, but sometimes you fall down. Occasionally you will Super Jump, and once in a while B will cause your little guy to run directly into the nearest lava. You have to get used to pressing the same buttons in the same situations and not getting the same results.

5. Sometimes you worry that your raiding party will break up because the other players are sick of having to adjust to your difficulty level.  It's like playing an MMORPG all the time; it's addictive, you can't really stop, except your life actually does depend on it. But relationships are harder because you're always playing. Which sucks, because Diabetes Difficulty is a level you didn't even choose.

6. Your advisors can give you conflicting information, and are legally allowed to be 20% wrong, but that's all the information you have to make decisions on.

7. Very occasionally, you can use Diabetes Difficulty Level to your advantage. You might be better at monitoring your health than you were before the bar was shorter; you may have fans who know how hard it is to skillfully play a game at that level, and will give you a break if you're having a hard day. Most of all, playing at this level gives you a new appreciation for the game, and its world and character design. Because:

8. You only get one life. Screw up badly enough once, particularly in terms of taking too much insulin, and you're done; your little guy goes belly-up and there's that wah-wah-wah sound. In any case, there's never a victory end point; your perfect Diabetes Princess is always in another castle. Because unlike a video game, the point isn't to win. The victory is to continue playing the game, to choose to enjoy it as you go, and to try to make it look effortless.



  1. Wow, sister, that was incredibly creative! I'm impressed by your talent.

    1. Thanks! I blame my friends, who play a lot of video games. :P