Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Save City of Heroes..Why it matters.

This is why I fight to save  City of Heroes.

My son is nine years old. When you meet him, right away you'll notice he is different. Maybe it's his sense of humor, he is quite the comedian. His intelligence is measured on test that put him way beyond his third grade level. You might notice the nervous tic he developed shortly before school started. Or the scars on his face, and hand. If your lucky he will show you the eight or so scars on his feet. In his speech, he stops and starts over more than once, because his mouth can't keep up with his brain. If you ask him what he wants to be when he grows up he'll say a CEO, a Scientist, and an Archaeologist, not just one but all three, and sometimes he adds a fourth, an Astronomer.
If you ask him his favorite show, he will tell you it's The Big Bang Theory, and if you haven't already guessed, Sheldon's his favorite.
But mostly you'll notice he walks funny.
My son (and daughter) were born with a rare genetic condition called Distalarthrogryposis. He started physical and occupational therapy at three months of age. He had his first surgery at the age of two. He is now nine, having a had seven surgeries, and more to come.
When he was a year old, I would sit him on my lap as I played and he would watch the colors on the screen. He loved pushing a button that would cause the character to auto run into a crowd of bad guys, and giggle hysterically as the bad guys took out the Heroes. I was told I could change the keyboard key that caused this, but I couldn't. I just didn't have the heart to.
When he was two and after his first surgery I gave him the rein of the character, taking his mind off his pain.
When he was three, he didn't ask anymore he just assumed command.
When he was six he got his own account.
For the past three years he played, patrolling the city of Paragon, keeping the citizens safe. Being a Hero.
Until August 31, 2012.
I explained to him what I knew, with tears streaming down my face, and a huge lump in my throat. Just like now as I type this out.
He was devastated.
You see, not only does he have physical limitations, he also has severe food allergies to dairy, eggs, and nuts. So when classmates had birthday parties, it was too dangerous for him to go, which makes it hard to make friends along with his distalarthrgryposis.
Inside the city of Paragon, he was able to be himself, without any rude comments, or stares and pointing fingers. No one cares that he can't have ice cream and cake, or his legs don't work the way they should. In a world that is cruel to special needs children he found acceptance and even friends. But now NcSoft wants to take away the space he feels safe and accepted.
Maybe it's the innocence of childhood, but he believes someone will come along and save his City that he works so hard to protect. All he needs is a real life Hero, to save his Hero.
He will never be able to ride a bike, play soccer, or play a game of tag, But in City of Heroes, he can FLY!


  1. As a fellow mom to a special needs kid, I feel your pain. I was hoping to get my Aspie daughter involved in the City of Heroes to help her develop social interactions in a safe virtual environment, as well as help foster her creativity. Being Autistic, she needed some gentle leading to get her even remotely interested in the game...Now it's too late. We are pretty broken up about it too.

  2. I'm going to share the letter I'm sending to NCSoft in today's mail here. It raises some very important questions which we, as autism parents, should push towards NCSoft. It also gives them an out to save face by releasing COH in some form.

    Dear NCSoft Board of Directors,

    On August 31st, you announced the sudden shut-down of the game City of Heroes, and the closing of Paragon Studios. On October 2nd, you announced, effectively, that there were no further plans to sell the IP in any way. This is a game which has proven beneficial to children with autism and speech disorders, in large part because of the game's subject materials. Children care about superheroes. They look up to them, and see them as role models.

    The parents of autistic children struggle daily to find something that will help their children in the world. We had one of those resources in City of Heroes. Those heroes who inspired my child, and may have inspired other autistic children, to start speaking and communicating again, will be gone on November 30th.

    Of course, there are other games we can look to as possible therapeutic aids. The autism community speaks regularly about new suggestions and therapies which might help our children. When we search for those therapies, we have to ask ourselves a question. "Is this possible benefit worth the risk?" It's often a very hard question to answer due to expense and time. For the $15 a month cost of an MMO subscription, that answer may well be yes. For a $60 game with no subscription fee, and perhaps an occasional purchase in the store, that answer may be yes.

    Our children react very poorly to sudden changes. This is one of the diagnostic criteria of autism. And so I find myself asking a very hard question of NCSoft now. You have made the decision to shut down a thriving, active game. This was an extremely sudden, unexpected decision. You have further made the decision that you will not sell or release the IP for that game at this time. And so I ask myself, and I ask the NCSoft Board of Directors and shareholders:

    Why should I trust that you will not do this to another game?

    I am looking at a company that has just released a new game, and plans to release other games within the next year. Some of these games look very attractive, possibly interesting to children and teenagers. But there is still a very crucial question to be answered.

    How can I say to the parent of another autistic child "Yes, try NCSoft's new game. It might help."

    When a company has a long history of closing games down suddenly, a practice that could be quite harmful to progress an autistic child has made while playing that game, why should I speak positively of that company? I would like to recommend some of these games, but I cannot in good conscience tell the autistic community, the large and growing autistic community, that I can trust NCSoft not to repeat what they have done with City of Heroes and Paragon Studios.

    Please help me find a reason to recommend your games to the thousands of parents of autistic children. Please demonstrate that we can trust your products to remain stable and continuous, even when those products no longer meet the direction of your company. Please reconsider your decision to release City of Heroes, so that I can continue to tell the autistic community that NCSoft can be trusted to support tools that help our children learn and grow.

    We are heroes, so our children can become their own heroes. This is what we do. Show us that you're willing to be heroes as well.

  3. I've sent a letter similar to what I posted. I can't imagine what you will have to go through when City of Heroes closes.
    Your stories bring tears to my eyes. We will save this somehow, and I'm happy to be on your side!

  4. NCSoft has a relatively long history of shutting down games abruptly. They don't think in terms of community or responsibility at that level of corporate decision-making. It's all about the income stream. While pragmatically this is sometimes necessary, it's so very, very poorly done that they regularly alienate customers, but they consider this acceptable losses if those customers aren't in their specific demographic.