Max, an Autistic Journey (MAJ) is a roleplaying game
for Windows, which has you take on the role of Max, a ten-year-old
boy with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
It allows you to experience one day in Max’s life, showing a
flavour of the challenges he faces both at home and school. Battles
within the game are fantastical in nature and stem from Max’s
imagination, and the monsters he fights represent the stresses Max
is experiencing. MAJ is notable in that it was developed by the
real life Max’s father, Stéphane Cantin. Having played through and
very much enjoyed MAJ, I was keen to contact Stéphane and learn
Donald: MAJ is a very personal work. What made
you decide to create this?
Stéphane: I was playing a wonderful game called
“To The Moon”
from Freebird Games and Max came to me and watched me play.
Then, out of the blue, he said: “Papa, I’d like to make a video
game like this someday…” And the light turned on in my head! I
started asking him about what he would do and it evolved into Max,
an Autistic Journey.
To the Moon is another RPG featuring a character
thought to have ASD
Donald: What did you hope people would get out
of playing MAJ?
Stéphane: I wanted to use the video game format
to illustrate some of the challenges that Max has to go through. If
that helps some people better understand what a ten year old boy
with an Autism Spectrum Disorder could go through in a typical day,
and in a fun way as well, then that’s a goal I can definitely aim
for. I don’t think a game about ASD had ever been made before, so I
thought that could be a great personal challenge to take on. I
never wanted to explain autism; that’s not the point. It’s such a
vast and complex spectrum, with so many facets… That being said,
some people might recognise some of the situations that Max goes
through in the game and get a better understanding. Judging is easy
when you don’t understand the reason behind a behaviour…
Donald: I love the turns of phrase used by Max
in the game, such as "In fact..." How much of the real Max
has gone into this game?
Stéphane: Thank you! A lot of Max’s quirky
expressions went into the game. Our family is French Canadian and
our first language is French. So I translated things like “En
fait…” into “In fact…” The conversation between Adam
and Max about the Mario princesses actually happened! I was
listening to them like a fly on the wall and absolutely loved
Donald: MAJ uses the art motif of the
puzzle piece, which I understand originates from the original
National Autism Society (NAS) logo and was felt to represent autism
as a 'puzzling' condition. Some have expressed a desire to move
away from this image and the ideas it represents. What are your
thoughts on this?
Stéphane: That’s a really good question! I had
no idea when I started the game that the puzzle piece was somewhat
controversial to some people. In Canada, it’s an accepted and
recognised symbol for ASD that we see pretty much everywhere. I
fully understand and respect that some people have a problem with
“the missing piece” interpretation and that it suggests that people
with an ASD are “incomplete” in some way or another. I personally
see it more as a positive and constructive symbol, something
challenging, yes, but also incredibly rewarding! All of the puzzle
pieces represent every day victories to me.
Donald: Computer games are unique in that
they are an active medium. How do you feel MAJ benefited from being
a computer game rather than any other medium?
Stéphane: I wholeheartedly agree with your
statement! I made this game so that, to some extent, the player
would get to experience the everyday challenges that Max has to
face, sometimes. Reading about it or watching a video will give you
some information, but actually playing it, fighting with your
rising anger or anxiety, makes it much more tangible to me.
Donald: Were you worried how people might
react to it? What has the response been like?
Stéphane: Worried? Yes, definitely… Sadly,
Autism is often used in a very derogatory manner and I was ready to
face some “trolling”. My great publisher John Kaiser III at
GPAC Games and I did get a
lot of insulting comments and we dealt with them accordingly.
However, what was really surprising to me was how much and how fast
the fan community took care of a lot of the trolls and made sure
that the whole experience remained as positive as it could be!
That’s what I focused on. We received so many positive comments,
personal stories of parents of children with an ASD who found some
comfort in playing Max, or even adults with an ASD who shared their
experience with us. I shielded Max from the negativity but I also
showed him the amazing support and love that we received!
Donald: What did you learn from the
process of creating this game?
Stéphane: Making games is hard! Seriously,
aside from learning about the technical stuff, I mostly learned
that there are amazing people in this world! It might sound a bit
corny, but the support that I received really made it all
worthwhile! It took Max and me about 15 months to get to our final
product. It has truly been a labour of love over many nights and
weekends. It brought me so much closer to my kids and they blew me
away time and again with their imagination and involvement with
this project! There were many more highs than lows!
Donald: Early on in MAJ, there is a mini-game involving
vaccinations, following which the game points out the importance of
getting immunised. Given the controversial media coverage from 1998
onwards that the MMR vaccine might be linked with autism (exhaustive
research has since provided very strong evidence that there is
no such link), is this not somewhat provocative?
Stéphane: Yes, absolutely! It’s my
'tongue-in-cheek' jab at anti-vaxxers. I believe in science… It’s
time to get rid of all these falsities and the agents that spread
Donald: What does Max make of starring in
his own game? I note you made sure to include his siblings!
Stéphane: That’s a great question! I made this
game with Max, as well as Jean-Michel, Elisabeth and Charles, to
simply have a whole lot of fun discovering what a day in a life can
be like sometimes for this ten-year-old boy who has an Autism
Spectrum Disorder. I could very easily say that Max loved it and
voilà, that’d be that. But it goes deeper as Max uses the game as a
tool in his everyday interactions! That blew me away the first few
times I noticed it. Let’s say we just sat down and discussed a
scene together (I wanted to get his insight constantly throughout
the process, of course). Then, I would create the scene and show it
to him. He would play the game, comment on it and then, a week
later, he would come back from school and say: “Today, I did
like the Max in the game does! I closed my eyes and I took 3 deep
breaths. Phew! Then I was Ok. No need to get angry…” and he
sings the “Victory” sound from the game. I had to pick up my jaw
off the floor…
Max must tackle everyday challenges, such as overwhelming
Donald: What do you think is the next big thing
in computer gaming?
Stéphane: I’m not an expert at all, but just
from my own experience, I see a lot of gamers looking for nostalgia
and finding it in retro-style games. With the availability of
software like RPG Maker, Game Maker Studio and Unity, to name a
few, it’s become much easier for a lot of indie developers to
create great quality games! The retro-style seems to be very
popular, especially with more seasoned gamers like myself.
Donald: What are your plans for the
Stéphane: Ideally, I would love to make
downloadable content for MAJ, as well as a whole new game. For now,
I’m just so grateful for all the love and support that the game has
received! Thank you so very much to everyone and please, let’s
raise awareness about the challenges of Autism Spectrum
Donald: Thank you very much for taking the time
to talk to me Stéphane, I really look forward to hearing about your
Find out more about Max, an Autistic
Authored By Donald Servant
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