Eleven ADHD Strategies

Caution: this post is roughly 3,000 words in length.

ADHD doesn’t scare people as much as some classical mental disorders, which is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, few assume you’re going to kill their family, but on the other, it’s subtle enough to be overlooked, even in the face of great turmoil.

I’m autistic, but I also have ADHD, and in my particular case, I consider it a larger issue. It’s the difference between looking strange and confusing important deadlines, or wanting to fall asleep all the time, or coming in thirty minutes late to your school’s free ACT session.

It sounds laughable, until you (or other people) suffer the results. But I’ve survived, partly from stimulant therapy, and partly because I’ve learned to compensate. These are eleven strategies and ideas I’ve developed over the years. I won’t claim to follow them perfectly, but they’ve made a difference in my life. I’m not a medical expert, or even old enough to drink, but if you have ADHD, I hope at least a few items here will prove useful.

1: Stay Organized

It can be tiresome to sit down and make a coherent plan for the week, or even the rest of the day, but it saves effort in the long run. With or without stimulants, it’s easy to be overwhelmed if you don’t have structure in your life.

The simpler the organizational strategy, the better, When I receive my syllabus at the beginning of a course, I record the deadlines for each assignment in a simple planner in my backpack. I also list certain weekly chores there, such as laundry and yard work. In the past, I tried to store everything in my head, but I lost many, many assignments that way, and you get a certain sense of accomplishment from visually recording your progress.

I store my actual work in a single red binder, with dividers for each course. Back in grade ten, my geometry class required us to hold onto our completed assignments, and I nearly failed the associated test grade because I lost so many papers in my cavern of a backpack. At one time, it contained two or three binders, two textbooks, and numerous supplies each day, with predictable results. I simplified my system the day afterward.

Similarly, I’ve found it important to leave items in predictable locations, particularly small ones that are easily lost or forgotten. I sleep next to my keys, flip phone, and wallet, I leave my charger in a particular section of my backpack, and I ensure my textbooks are clearly visible on my dresser. It sometimes pays to pack your supplies the night before work or school, since most people are a little sluggish when they first wake up.

As a caveat, I’m a nineteen year-old college student, and those with full-fledged careers may require more detailed strategies.

2: Establish a Reliable Morning Routine

Mornings can be a perilous time, because in addition to ADHD symptoms, you begin with residual fog from your sleep cycle. The first hours of the day should revolve around activating yourself for the challenges ahead. Take a shower, eat breakfast, look over your schedule for the day, talk with your family, drink coffee (if you wish), take your meds (if you’re prescribed any), and complete as many minor tasks as you can. Avoid games, social media, and other recreational electronic use until later, unless you have more willpower than me. On weekends, I sometimes begin the day by running or doing yard work; nothing vanquishes fatigue like the Florida sun.

3: Do Work and Chores Earlier Than Required

When possible, I recommend completing chores and projects a little earlier than strictly required. First and foremost, it gives you padding when you fall behind, or forget a handful of supplies one day, and for someone with ADHD, every bit is valuable. It also makes you look good to teachers and employers, particularly if you’re just starting off, and it’s easier to begin with a good reputation than redeem yourself afterward.

But even beyond those factors, working ahead makes life feel more like a game and less like a struggle. Stimulants increase dopamine themselves, but they also prolong natural release, so it pays to make ordinary work as rewarding as you can. It also helps offset the sensations of failure that many with ADHD are accustomed to. My first grade 12 year was a disempowering experience in numerous ways, but I completed most of my homework days or weeks early, and it was one of the few parts of life I was truly happy with.

4: Get Regular Exercise

Exercise has a wide array of health benefits. It also increases dopamine and norepinephrine activity, which can be useful for ADHD patients. When I started high school, I had to run a mile for soccer tryouts, and I overheated so quickly that my coach sent me home midway through (I didn’t make the team). But I started running between my house and the gas station next summer, and my trips ventured further into town the years afterward. I also joined the track team in grade 10, which I participated in until next fall.

There were a handful of better distance runners at my school, and many at competitions, but I enjoyed seeing my endurance improve, and it seemed to clear my mind afterward. I even received an accommodation in grade eleven that allowed me to run around the football field at lunch. It didn’t work as well as Vyvanse, but it was better than nothing. I dropped out of track that year to focus on homework and writing, a decision I now regret, but I continued running and biking throughout my hometown after school. It’s been years since I played sports, but I try to run or engage in other aerobic activities several times a week. My stimulants appear to function better, and it reduces some of the stress and obsessive patterns they can emit as waste.

5: Don’t Be a Work Martyr

Hard work and dedication are all well and good, until you force yourself to stay up until 2 AM regularly, or hide in your room for seven hours each day writing mathematical equations. Moderate stress enhances productivity, but when you’re working to fill a hole in yourself, everything starts to consume more energy than it should.

Most humans are more effective working forty hours a week than fifty or sixty, because there are other priorities in their life, and they only have so much energy to give. It’s why Henry Ford got away with lowering his workers’ hours to forty from forty-five, and it’s why “work harder” and “accomplish more” are sometimes very different things.

It’s easy to define your worth by your output, particularly when you have ADHD or other disorders. Before I started taking stimulants, my academic performance tanked (by my standards) for almost a year, and I grew to hate myself in progressively elaborate ways. I received my first dose of Vyvanse in the final weeks of grade 11, mere days after two large writing projects. The improvement was immediate. I had no tolerance to either focus or euphoria, and I blew through our final exams with little effort, like I was playing a particularly immersive computer game. But guilt over earlier failures remained, and I still didn’t know how to organize myself, despite what I was now capable of. When school started next year, I didn’t just want to do better, I wanted to redeem myself. I achieved straight A’s, but every remaining error—every missed assignment, unfinished chore, or failed voluntary writing project—felt like a mark of inferiority instead of a simple setback. I performed tasks in front of me with little delay, but between the stimulants and my own obsession with work, I was too pressured to read novels, make friends, outline short stories, or plan for college next year. I couldn’t see beyond the next hour or day, because it forced me to confront parts of myself I was trying to destroy.

In the end, life is simply easier to manage when you don’t hate yourself. Stimulants can promote obsessive thoughts, which makes balance even more essential, at least for me. But even if you don’t take them, you have to know when to give yourself a break. Seek improvement, by all means, but don’t beat your own skull in for forgetting deadlines, or being unable to work for twelve hours without falling flat on your face.

6: Don’t Overthink Your Meds

Amphetamine and methylphenidate are crude instruments. While effective for many people, they can disrupt sleep, increase heart rate, promote anxiety, and create discomfort in other ways. They can also elevate mood, stamina, pain tolerance, and sex drive, even at moderate doses. If you experience some euphoria, don’t agonize over it, as long as you aren’t abusing them. Not everyone does, but in the end, it’s still speed, albeit precisely delivered. My first Vyvanse dose hit very hard, partly because I’d never had amphetamine before, and partly because it broke the fog I’d been carrying around for sixteen and a half years. Stimulants aren’t nearly as exciting now, but I still notice them, particularly after I take a break for a few days.

Similarly, you may wonder if you’re betraying your natural self by taking stimulants, or if you deserve any credit for what you achieve. In the past, I faced some discomfort over those questions. My current take: Adderall, Vyvanse, or Ritalin won’t accomplish much unless you want them to, so they aren’t much different from other tools. But on the subject of nature, your brain and your environment already manipulate you in innumerable chemical ways. Stimulants are unusually stark about it, like ADHD itself, but from dopamine to serotonin, the systems they impact were there in the first place.

In fact, your brain naturally contains a molecule called phenethylamine, which behaves much like amphetamine, albeit shorter-acting. It even serves as the structural backbone for amphetamine, along with Ritalin, cocaine, ephedrine, and a variety of other compounds.

In short, focus on what works, instead of allegiance to primal Nature, or remaining Drug Free. If they don’t work, or make you feel sick, then by all means, stop taking them. But if they do, philosophy is a secondary concern. The same goes for non-stimulants like clonidine.

7: Avoid Electronics Whenever Necessary

Electricity is a lot like magic, except it exists, and computers are some of the most intricate creations of all. They’re also some of the most distracting. Between Internet arguments, social media, television streaming, gaming software, political sites, and online pornography, they offer a black hole of easy, reliable stimulation few activities can match. The blow to focus is threefold: they train you to expect immediate rewards, they present information in overwhelming quantities, and they cause you to sit down for long periods of time.

Whether they’re addictive in the sense of gambling is still up for debate, but a lot of people look at their iPhones a little too much, and the effects range from traffic accidents to lost work output. If electronics don’t impact your focus, I congratulate you. But if you find laptops, smartphones, or other devices intruding in your activities, don’t hesitate to switch them off, leave them at home, delete offending applications, or interrupt the cycle however else you deem necessary. If you feel weak, remember that normal people have issues with them too. In a way, you’re leveling the playing field.

In my experience, it’s usually easiest to break the habit by avoiding them for a few hours. Each use strengthens it, so a definite “no” is better than “I won’t use them quite as much today”. In particular, I no longer bring electronics into my bedroom when I’m trying to sleep, other than my shitty flip phone. It’s too easy to stay up later than I intend, or reach for them the moment I wake up.

8: Use OTC Stimulants Cautiously

Like Adderall, caffeine can improve focus and energy, but the effects on dopamine are much weaker and less direct. Accordingly, it’s less addictive when abused, but also less useful medically. Before I received my first Vyvanse prescription, I self-medicated with tea, energy drinks, Mountain Dew, Vivarin tablets, and a handful of other products. None of them worked very well, and they set my nerves on edge, creating numerous bouts of insomnia, facial tics, and general grittiness. I sometimes consumed over 400 or 500 mg of caffeine in a single day, hoping I would reach a threshold that relieved my symptoms, but I regretted it virtually every time.

At low doses, caffeine might make Adderall or Ritalin work a little better, but it can also worsen tachycardia, blood pressure spikes, and other side effects. Consult with your doctor before combining them. Similarly, nicotine can boost focus and working memory, but tobacco is fiendishly addictive, and quite poisonous over time. The CDC estimates it kills over 480,000 Americans per year, including over 41,000 casualties from secondhand exposure. Nicotine gum and patches are probably less addictive, because they lack the natural MAOIs found in tobacco products, but they still aren’t FDA approved for ADHD treatment. I personally use nicotine gum, which seems to help a little, but I haven’t taken any cognitive tests to verify. I’m not dependent yet, but for all I know, I might regret it in a year or two.

9: Get Enough Sleep

You’re unlikely to reduce your natural need for sleep, so don’t feel bad if you can’t get by on five or six hours. Sleep deprivation is a common problem in America. Some people even brag about it, but it impairs focus and emotional control, much like ADHD itself. In one study, participants who stayed up for 17-19 hours suffered impairment similar to a blood alcohol level of .05, with significantly worse scores on some measures of accuracy. After delaying sleep for, on average, around an hour longer, performance become similar to a BAC of .01. For comparison, the legal driving limit in most U.S. states is .08.

Unsurprisingly, sleep deprivation can lead to traffic accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that it caused around 83,000 crashes yearly from 2005 to 2009, including an average of 37,000 injurious crashes and 886 fatal ones. Beyond that, missing sleep decreases productivity in a variety of ways, increases cognitive errors, and generally makes life unpleasant.

On average, adults require somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep for optimal functioning. Drop below that, and most people will suffer fatigue, disrupted focus, muscle aches, bloodshot eyes, sensitivity to cold, sudden spells of unconsciousness, or even psychotic symptoms, depending on just how much sleep is lost.

Even with stimulants, my life is much harder on four hours of sleep than eight. There were several pre-diagnosis years where I regularly stayed up until 2 or 3 AM before school. This pattern started in grade 8, after my mother got a new job that required us to wake up at 6 AM. My nighttime routine was too complex, as lazy as that sounds. The combination of Proactiv, homework, and reading was too intensive for my tired, unmedicated self to finish until 11 or 12, and then I generally gave up, because my sleep cycle was fucked anyway. I would recommend this pattern to no one, particularly not a child. My eyes burned like bleach rags, my arms were cold and sore, and every day became a nameless, depleted extension of the last. When I later tried to repair my sleep patterns, I had to relearn how to sleep normally, and it took several years to do so.

Later in adolescence, I developed a habit of staying up late writing. It wasn’t as consistently terrible, but it sometimes prevented me from sleeping at all. There are times when you may be forced to sacrifice sleep for work or school assignments, but it should be used as an occasional panic button, not a standard tool.

If you find yourself regularly missing sleep, it’s important to identify the source. Excessive caffeine, ADHD stimulants, smartphones, gaming consoles, alcohol, stress, or overly complex night routines may be the culprit. Amphetamines don’t give me trouble sleeping now, but they did in the past, and nighttime gaming remains very disruptive. If insomnia can be eliminated through changes to home environment or schedule, it’s important to do so. You’re sometimes stuck with your meds, but lowering your dose or switching to another treatment may bring relief.

10: Everyone Thinks They’re a Goddamn Psychologist

Psychology is similar to the Bible, or Donald Trump: you will meet many laymen who behave as though they have studied it for years on top of a mountain. Venture into some circles, and you may hear that ADHD is a gift, offering great energy at the price of a little clumsiness. Stimulant therapy, according to many of this camp, stems from an intolerant society that wants all children to behave in identical ways. Other circles will present ADHD as a scam created to get money from parents, an attempt to label normal childhood, a symptom of excessive television use, an excuse for lazy parenting, or any combination of those factors. The CDC disagrees with them, but you may still wonder how a disorder can be diagnosed in over ten percent of American children. You may also wonder how, even as an adult, you keep making the same mistakes and losing the same items so many times.

Admittedly, you can also purchase books from trained psychologists who don’t believe in ADHD, or oppose stimulant therapy, or think it’s been diagnosed too widely. You can also purchase books from those who uphold the medical model. You can examine brain scans showing differences in ADHD patients, and then you can read articles and forum posts arguing they’re a sign of variation instead of disorder.

I tend to think most humans are a little disordered in some ways (including myself, obviously), but I don’t think you can deny that ADHD symptoms are a problem for many people, whatever the numbers. Nonetheless, if you see persistent evidence of dysfunction in your life, you shouldn’t feel compelled to discount it. Perhaps ADHD is overdiagnosed; perhaps it isn’t. But in the end, you still have to find a solution.

11: Think for Yourself

Don’t feel compelled to follow the opinions of strangers on the Internet, including me. Stimulants, clonidine, exercise, antidepressants, therapy, Internet tales, self-help books—incorporate whatever works, jettison whatever doesn’t. Even qualified doctors disagree on how ADHD should be approached. You should consider different views, but in the end, you’re the one who has to solve it in your own life.

Image Attribution

ADHD
License: CC BY 2.0
TheDyslexicBook.com. Nov 17, 2017.
Found: https://www.flickr.com/photos/153278281@N07/37764661234/in/album-72157690694372246/
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Why Ocarina of Time Isn’t the Best Game Ever

Ah, Ocarina of Time. The first 3D Zelda, and probably the most respected. Ocarina pioneered target-locking, context-sensitive controls, and other modern features, lifting the core gameplay into wider spaces with no loss of playability. It hit shelves in 1998, earning perfect scores from IGN, GameSpot, Edge, Famitsu, and numerous other sources. In that day, it probably deserved them. Countless developers cite it as an influence. At the time of writing, it continues to hold the highest Metacritic rank of any video game.

I first played Ocarina of Time in second grade. My parents ordered a GameCube from eBay, which shipped with a copy of Zelda: Collector’s Edition. It also shipped with a PlayStation 2 AV cable, which proved mostly incompatible. The screen rendered in sickly gray tones with lines of wavering static, as if struck by some digital pathogen. After placing yet another order for the proper AV cable, I popped the disc in around a week later. I tried all four games, but Ocarina was the first I made any progress in. The NES titles killed me too fast, and Majora’s Mask was too complicated. I got stuck at Death Mountain for several months, but a guide helped me enter (and beat) Dodongo’s Cavern, and I woke up early the next morning, trying to make up for lost time. When we moved the system to my room, I often played late at night with the speakers muted, sneaking paranoid glances down the hallway. I often turned in homework late, as well, but you don’t get that focused without making sacrifices.

Despite that, when Edge, IGN, or other sources called Ocarina the best game ever made, I never agreed. I considered it very good, and I still do, but “best ever” didn’t make sense to me. The characters were too simple, the combat was too easy, and the Water Temple sucked too bad, among other reasons.


Ocarina of Time deserves great respect, both as a influential title and an . But to be crowned above all others, mere influence is not sufficient, at least in my eyes. It must excel in every area, even patches of relative weakness. And even if we ignore the outdated textures, there’s one realm of glaring weakness: character development.

The plot is a simple tale of good versus evil, with little deviation. The most interesting event occurs when Ganondorf conquers Hyrule. After gathering the eponymous Ocarina and the three Spiritual Stones, you open the Door of Time and draw the Master Sword, expecting it to grant you the power to stop him. Instead, he follows you into the Sacred Realm, and you’re sealed away for seven years, emerging as an adult in the blackened rubble of Castle Town. Darkness swirls through the sky, and the NPCs have been transformed into walking corpses with a taste for your flesh. It’s a heavy blow.

When you return to your home forest, monstrous, man-eating plants grow alongside houses, and Octorocks float through the pond, firing rocks at your skull. It’s another rude awakening, although I’d prefer if they attacked the other forest dwellers. In the next area, Ganondorf imprisons the Gorons in the Fire Temple, planning to feed them to an ancient dragon. He isn’t a complex villain, but he serves well in his role as destroyer.

Unfortunately, he’s probably fleshed-out better than everyone else. Zelda develops your strategy throughout the game, switching forms in a way that keeps her somewhat dynamic. The rest of the cast is largely hollow, including the Sages. They have a handful of amusing lines, but they change little, rarely interact with each other, and suffer less than you might expect. Most of Ganondorf’s actions are also reversed by the end, even in the adult timeline.

It’s pretty good compared to, say, Mario 64, but even in Ocarina’s era, deeper writing existed. Fallout 2 came out the same year, FreeSpace 2 was released in 1999, and Final Fantasy VI reached shelves in 1994, to name three I’m personally familiar with. Hell, Majora’s Mask came out in 2000, and it does a better job.

Combat is also simpler than later Zeldas. There are only a handful of sword techniques, and few enemies require tactics more complex than “raise your shield until you see an opening”, if that. It handles well, but there’s no Flurry Rush, Mortal Draw, or Parry Attack. One moderately challenging combo allows you to quickly perform enhanced spin attacks, and you can stab rapidly by kneeling behind your shield. That’s the extent of things. It’s not a bad system, by any means, but it’s been surpassed many times since.

The overworld of Ocarina is a mixed bag. On the one hand, dungeons are revealed quickly, without the protracted fetch quests of Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, or (dear God) Skyward Sword. On the other hand, there aren’t nearly as many side areas. Hyrule Field is a vast, open expanse with relatively little to do. There are Big Poes as an adult, Peahats and Stalchildren to fight for money as a child, and two evil golden spiders that can be found by bombing your way into simple caverns. It’s (other than the day-night cycle) largely painless to navigate, but the most interesting part of the area is how it connects to other places. Termina Field is larger, richer in side quests, and simply easier on the eyes, and Twilight Princess‘s version of Hyrule Field is superior in similar ways. Even the Great Sea, as tedious as it can be, packs a lot more content, with numerous caverns, platforms, and submarines, many entirely optional.

Compare the areas in Ocarina of Time to their counterparts in Majora’s Mask. Romani Ranch reuses character models from Lon Lon Ranch, but it adds dog racing, replaces Ingo with a pair of corrupt rival ranchers, and attaches an early-morning attack by aliens (or possibly ghosts) who want to steal your cattle. Castle Town has quite a few side quests, but Clock Town has even more, and it changes as the three days pass. Zora’s Domain is smaller than Great Bay, the Gerudo’s Fortress is simpler than the Pirate’s Fortress, and so on. I say this not to brag about Majora, but to show how limited Ocarina’s world really is.

Perhaps the greatest contrast occurs in the phase of the quest involving large numbers of undead. Ocarina of Time gets the Kakariko Well, the Shadow Temple, the Kakariko Graveyard, and adult Castle Town. Majora’s Mask gets Ikana, a unified area much larger in scope. The spectres also exhibit greater humanity. ReDeads dance, Gibdos speak, and Flat teaches you the Song of Storms.

Ocarina is known for excellent dungeon design. The Forest Temple is among the finest levels I’ve encountered, no matter the genre. The Fire Temple, Spirit Temple, and Shadow Temple are almost as good, and they play quite differently. Ganon’s Castle is easier and less unified, but it makes for a nice change of pace before the final battle. Even the Deku Tree is a good tutorial area, and the Master’s Quest version is lethal.

And then the Water Temple appears. It, too, is lethal, like waiting in line at the Social Security office, or debugging a program in machine language. Dark Link and Morpha are interesting, but the dungeon revolves around raising and lowering the water level, which can only be accomplished by playing Zelda’s Lullaby in front of certain crests. By itself, this might be tolerable, but the Iron Boots transform the area into a horrible slog with countless visits to the pause menu. Every switch between water and air is punished by an interruption, and if you change the water incorrectly a few times (you will), you’re interrupted even more. Add in the usual sluggish block puzzles, and it begins to feel more like homework than gaming. The 3DS remake fixes it, but every other version still suffers.

In a game with nine primary dungeons, a single misstep is easily forgiven. Unless it’s the best game ever, in which case the Water Temple doesn’t belong here. Or the ancient textures. Or Hyrule Field. Or the clumsy arrow controls.

Ocarina of Time wrote the book for action adventure titles. Even today, the 3DS remake earned several perfect scores. I’d give it a 9 myself. But it’s not without fault. In the end, nothing is.

Image Attribution

Link vs. Ganondorf
April 14, 2011.

Second image:
Nintendo Press. April 15, 2011.

Majora’s Mask: The Clockworks
Author: Janice Scott, Upload: 2013.
Found: https://danlev.deviantart.com/art/Majora-s-Mask-The-Clockworks-346565290

Link vs Amoeba
Author: Anthony Vargas, Upload: 2011.
Found: https://tv-tonyvargas.deviantart.com/art/Link-vs-Amoeba-196662799?q=gallery:tv-outcastart/74034&qo=28

Glory to the Mass

(Warning: heavy spoilers for System Shock 2)

“Mistrust is the tyranny of the individual. Your own kind sees you as a threat. Why do you murder our unity? No matter – the line is drawn. You will cease to be. It is just a question of who will bring your end: us, or you?” — The Many

“Your flesh, too, is weak, but you have… potential. Every implant exalts you. Every line of code in your subsystems elevates you from your disgusting flesh.” — SHODAN

System Shock 2 is a rare title that delves into the horror realm without losing humanity. The creatures in many games are faceless, driven only by hunger or sadism, but the Annelid Hybrids are different. When they pursue the Soldier, they beg him to run away, even as they wave lead pipes or fire shells from shotguns grafted into their tumorous arms. According to Dr. Watts, they suffer clinical death, but their human personalities remain, forced to watch as their bodies are twisted by worms growing from their chest. It would be simplistic to call them undead, for all life is built on the corpses of those who came before.

If the hybrids survive this stage of infection, they grow into hulking, clawed rumblers, patrolling the corridors with inhuman roars. They are most readily defeated with anti-personnel ammunition, or grenades that burn them alive. They leave heavy, fibrous organs, which the Soldier analyzes with a bit of molybdenum. He learns their brains have been totally isolated from their muscles, which are shaped and controlled by cells human only in genetics. A face of human agony protrudes limply from their shoulder, displaced by a heart-shaped mouth of fangs.


The other enemies are equally pitiful. Psionic monkeys with exposed brain tissue, brainwashed and ravenous, stewing with the memories of their captivity and vivisection. Human nurses that were tied down and encased in machine parts, revealing flesh only in their bare, bloody shoulders and gaunt, skinless gaze. They watch over the Many’s poisonous eggs, following the guide of brain implants that make them love their slavery.

Yet, some of the Von Braun’s crew are subverted before mutation. Anatoly Korenchkin begins the journey as the CEO of TriOptimum, a corporation with logos on nearly every product in the System Shock world, military and consumer. But he joins the annelids the moment they’re discovered, converting the Hydroponics deck into a morbid incubation ground. Captain Diego joins him soon after, leaving his regimented military life for the Many’s promise of communion. They begin the voyage to Tau Ceti as rivals, corrupt businessman against UNN officer; they emerge with a shared purpose, mutated and reborn.

The Soldier serves SHODAN instead. His body and mind are not assimilated, but he follows her for survival, mechanizing himself to even the odds. Their need is mutual, but she despises his human tissue, and their goals never truly align. She opposes the Many because they betrayed her, but she created them to begin with, and she turns on the Soldier after their demise. Together, they represent grim, technological individualism, and their battle with the collectivistic annelids forms the game’s primary thematic conflict.

Many articles have been written about the world of System Shock 2, most focusing on SHODAN. But the Many takes an equal role, promising salvation from the technology. Like most cyberpunk, the mechanical advances in System Shock have not eased human strife. TriOptimum itself built SHODAN to manage Citadel Station, and a corrupt executive hired a hacker to remove her ethical constraints, kicking off the events of the first game. She proceeded to butcher most of the station’s crew and mutate the rest, both through biology and cybernetics. The Hacker stopped her from invading earth, but the backlash knocked TriOptimum from power, and the UNN was created to monitor corporate technology giants.

Yet, by the second game, TriOptimum has become the UNN’s primary resource supplier, and many UNN officials own stocks in TriOptimum. There were regulations on what they could produce, but Korenchkin was able to sidestep many of them, calling on UNN contacts from his past as an arms dealer.

It’s a classic oppressive technoscape, but as a game series, it’s drawn more violently than a novel by William Gibson. Dehumanization is literal, whether as a cyborg drone or a victim of SHODAN’s mutagenic virus.

And then the Many offers an antidote. Deliverance from the isolation and strife of being an individual in this world. The annelids evolved from SHODAN’s mutagenic sculptures, but they chose to carve their own path, offering warm flesh in place of cold robotics. If you believe their speech on the Engineering Deck, the Soldier’s mutated comrades survived, reborn with shared purpose and tissue. But their gift parasitizes the human form, twists it to an unrecognizable pitch, and dissolves individuals into mere units of a hive.

The journey of Soldier G65434-2 is marked by isolation. It’s possible that he fought the annelids before the game’s introduction, but he emerges from cryosleep with no memory of them. After fleeing explosive decompression, he peers through a window as a woman passes it, heading fruitlessly for a door. Moments later, a hybrid unloads a shotgun into her back. The pattern will repeat with Dr. Watts and Yang, who perish seconds after he reaches them. Delacroix contacts him on the Command deck, arranging a meeting, but the Many kill her, and SHODAN punishes him for exploring her death site.

The early phases of the game are a struggle for survival. The Soldier enters the MedSci Deck stalked by mutants, simians, and Xerxes’ malevolent digital eyes. He searches for keycards in infested corridors, led by a scientist he barely knows. A handful of blows will end him, and his firearms degrade with every shot. He likely cannot maintain or repair them. He finds messages written in bloody letters, and he meets the afterimages of the dead, less spirit than recording. He gathers bullets from corpses, slipping through halls filled with their killers.

The most brutal phase occurs on the Engineering Deck, where the Soldier traverses a maze of radioactive corridors and infested cargo bays. He is invariably contaminated in the first section, straining his healing resources, and the next area is a minefield of hybrids, laser turrets, and exploding protocol droids, connected by a cramped four-way intersection with no room to hide. The faster he runs, the more noise he produces, but his foes are too deadly to linger. He likely can’t maintain his firearms very well, and his pipe wrench fares poorly against droids and turrets.

He discovers two audio logs from Captain Diego, who helped let the monsters through the door. The UNN operative is more ambivalent then Korenchkin, but he still falls, comparing the union of the Many to his own faction. Earlier in the level, the Many offers the Soldier a chance to join, sending him visions of a cerebral core inside their fleshy body. Later in the game, he learns this body has wrapped itself around the Von Braun and the Rickenbacker, too large to sever. The Many questions his choice to remain alone, struggling against a mass that now includes his former comrades. He would be mutated if he accepted, but that fate almost seems kinder.

But as the Soldier lines himself with cyber modules, he slowly changes from prey to predator. The transformation begins on the Hydroponics Deck, but it solidifies in Operations, when SHODAN drops her human façade. She reveals herself as the Many’s creator, and the being who provided his R-grade cyber implants, which were outlawed after her rampage on Citadel Station.

By following her, he sells himself to a technological monster to combat an organic one, using her gifts to brutalize the worms and arachnids that overran so many others. When he reaches the Command Deck, he finds the Many loading their worms into shuttles, fleeing SHODAN’s wrath. He destroys the first shuttle himself. When a midwife smashes the control interface for the second, SHODAN provides the code for a resonator that overloads the vessel’s shield generator, causing an explosion.

The blast destroys a gate behind the shuttle, revealing a room that SHODAN warns him not to enter. If he disobeys, he discovers the body of Marie Delacroix, discarded by SHODAN when her usefulness expired. Delacroix messaged the Soldier earlier in the deck, attempting to meet with him, but there were several midwives in the room, and her body was not remade for combat like the Soldier’s. He finds ten cybernetic modules on her corpse, but SHODAN removes them as punishment for disobeying her. Her words are oddly mild, even though the Soldier uncovered proof of her betrayal. SHODAN needs him, but she knows he needs her in return, even if he might trust her even less than before.

She’s also the Soldier’s only reliable companion. Delacroix dies before he finds her, and Cortez runs from a military bot only seconds after meeting him, appearing later as a bloody corpse in the Deck 5 Crew Quarters. Dr. Watts perishes on an autodoc before his eyes, wounded during an operation on a mutated patient. SHODAN pretends to meet the Soldier as Janice Polito, but when he arrives at her office, the doctor’s corpse lies slumped in her chair, arm extended toward the pistol she used to commit suicide. Captain Diego also contacts the soldier for a meeting, after freeing himself from the Many’s control, but he used an autodoc to rip the parasites from his body, and he would probably have died even if the Soldier didn’t kill him by reversing gravity. The Soldier doesn’t kill Diego intentionally, but SHODAN may well anticipate it when she delivers his objectives, although she makes no mention of the Rickenbacker’s ailing captain.

SHODAN is no friend of the Soldier, but she’s the only being cunning enough to fight the Many on remotely even terms. In a way, the Soldier is her creation as well; she gave him his implants, and she enhances him further and further as the story progresses, remaking him in her image. The Soldier’s mutations are not as grotesque as the hybrids, but he too discards his natural shape, reborn through cybernetics.

In many ways, he’s stronger than the creatures. After Korenchkin transforms into a psi reaver, he declares the Many superior to SHODAN, but the Soldier quickly butchers him when he gets in his way. As the protagonist nears the end of the Rickenbacker, SHODAN contemplates true partnership, impressed at his new form.

SHODAN may be brutal, but a trapped creature will cling to the smallest bits of warmth, and it’s hard not to imagine the Soldier forming some sort of bond.

In the game’s penultimate level, he launches himself into the Many’s body through an escape pod. SHODAN loses contact with him, and he walks alone through the corrupted biomass, gathering logs from those who were consumed. Rumblers haunt his trail, and the Many’s commanding voices taunt him psychically, telling him death is preferable to his “pointless, solitary struggle”.

But the Soldier destroys the Many’s central brain, dealing the infection a blow it cannot survive. He slides down a tube of biomass and emerges on the deck of the Rickenbacker, victorious over their cancer. SHODAN betrays him immediately after, using the Von Braun’s FTL drive to reshape reality into cyberspace, but he strikes her down with the very same cybernetics she gave him. The A.I. offers him a chance to join her, but in his only spoken line, he refuses, shooting her in the face.

He contacts Tommy and Rebecca, the only humans who managed to escape the ship without being mutated. They plot a return course to the Von Braun. After killing his master, the Soldier has finally found an alliance free of domination.

But all is not well. As the credits roll, Rebecca floats across the screen, speaking in SHODAN’s voice and wearing a hairstyle similar to her digital one. For a horror story, this sort of twist is as predictable as happy endings in other genres, and it made me lose some respect for the game’s narrative. But it also raises an interesting question: was the Soldier right to destroy the Many, or was his struggle pointless, granting power to an even worse monster? In the battle between corrupt technology and warm submission, which brings more suffering to the humans of the System Shock world?

We’ll have to wait for the sequel.

Brand new client project

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How to edit raw images

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5 Secrets for perfect shots

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10 Photography Tips

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