Dr. Melinda Smith
E568: Independent Inquiry
1 December 2015
Teenage Wasteland: The Mysterious Case of Taylor Henderson
Academically, there has not been much research on games, video or otherwise, in the span of modern academia, and even less to actually merit much attention. There is, however, the rare strange case that piques the minds of students, professors, and enthusiasts alike when it comes to the unknown. Events such as these are still only talked about in the most secluded of circles, and even then only a percentage of those will come to publish works on the odd cases. Such events are speculated upon and scrutinized with such vexation by all parties that they become something even further removed from reality. Esoteric in nature, these instances certainly seem more supernatural than our understanding of normal laws of truth and physics might allow, however wildly they may present themselves. Such is the bizarre circumstance of Taylor Henderson, a young lady that descended into madness after curiously acquiring an unidentified video game. Though never explicitly stated, the game obviously caused a decline in her mental and physical state, which is apparent in entries from her blog that she maintained for about four months.
Early in 2015, Taylor began a blog to chronicle the events of her life. Blogging has quickly become a way for youths to diary their daily lives, though publicly instead of privately. Perhaps Taylor had made a New Year’s resolution to write more, as recent studies have linked journal writing with higher critical thinking skills 1 . Perhaps others she knew had also started blogs, and the engagement in this activity represents nothing more than a desire to conform to social norms. In any case, there exists a record, however slight, of events which transpired due to a mysterious video game. Though Taylor’s entries may seem lethargic, and apathetic at best, her posts suggest she had a knack for learning, was quite studious, and would do whatever she could to improve her grades. However, through a close examination of Taylor’s diction and underlying tone, it becomes apparent that the dedication to her studies does not solely stem from a thirst for learning. In her expression that “good grades are [her] only ticket out of here when [she] graduat[es],” Taylor not only implies a general dissatisfaction and discontent with her current life circumstances, but also insinuates that education is the key to her happiness. Taylor suggests that she would leave if she could, but lacks a “ticket”, the resources, to do so. Therefore, Taylor perceives knowledge as her escape. Her educational success exemplifies the “wing wherewith [she] can fly to heaven” 2 . Although Taylor does not disclose the details required for bliss, she insinuates that her present state of residence does not satisfy her vision of paradise.
Although Taylor’s blog, “Dissocalledlife,” was not updated regularly, it disclosed detailed events in her day-to-day life. Taylor’s early posts were school-centric, as most teenage girl blogs are 3 , and revealed that her life was otherwise ordinary. Simple statements regarding school or plans for the day imply a normalcy that, while unsatisfactory to Tailor, was routine “as always.” However, Taylor’s posts begin to change when an anomaly arrives in the form of a package on a Sunday morning. The occurrence was considered unusual not only in regards to the day of the week, but also due to the lack of address, return address, or stamp on the package. Despite her implied grievances that accompany what she thought was “another [similarly] boring day,” it is interesting to note that Taylor hardly reacts to the strange event and responds with a standard attitude of disinterest. Unaware that this day would lead her down a path of breakdowns, physical sickness, and emotional instability, Taylor gives little thought to the occurrence. Out of mere curiosity, Taylor tries to turn the headset on. Taylor proves unsuccessful and sarcastically thanks whomever left it on her porch. In doing so, she misses an opportunity to implement a comma, saying, “thanks a lot for the piece of junk secret admirer” instead of the more correct “thanks a lot for the piece of junk, secret admirer.” This could be attributed to common teenage lapses in judgement and grammar, however, Taylor herself states that she has a 4.0 GPA, and it seems unlikely that, based on her prose and diction, she would commit such an error. Could she be thanking someone–a higher power perhaps–for the “secret admirer” (with “junk” functioning as an adjective and not a noun) and not necessarily the package itself? There is no more mention or hint of anything similar anywhere else in the blog, effectively making this a moot, and ultimately inconclusive, question.
There is much debate about whether the package in fact contained anything at all. This argument is often extended to question whether the package itself existed 4 , insinuating that Taylor was delusional all along. Although she claimed to have pulled out a sort of headset, there was never any picture of said box, nor pictures of its contents, namely this device, posted anywhere in her public blog. While it is hard to imagine that someone would fabricate a story as elaborate as Taylor’s, there is no proof to back such claims; for what little evidence that does exist contradicts such a theory.
Taylor’s discovery of a switch on the headset five days later comes in a post labeled “Eureka!” The headset is implied to be some type of virtual reality video game. Despite an initial claim of aversion to independent activities, Taylor immediately exhibits a strong gravitation to the game and plays for four hours on the first day. Along with Taylor’s behavior, an expression that the video game is “amazing” and that it “feels like it was made for [her]” foreshadows an infatuation that will only grow stronger with time and the consequent onset of a series of troublesome happenstances. Curiously enough, Taylor’s family has removed all traces of the game’s name from the blog entirely. The last entry of the blog–written by Taylor’s family–states that this was done to “ensure that no one will suffer as she did.” As the parents distance themselves and refuse all questions regarding this mysterious note, it becomes apparent that the truth is not only upsetting, but also unspeakable.These reactions of real emotions suggest that the blog cannot be the musings of an insane individual. The Henderson family was again contacted for further questioning on the matter, but they refused to comment on the subject. One can only speculate as to what happened to Taylor, or what happened within the Henderson household during the spring of 2015.
Taylor’s abnormal behavior continues and within a few days, she begins to act increasingly more out of character. Taylor forgoes a night of sleep to remain actively engaged with the game. Although this behavior proves unusual for Taylor, it is not outside the norm for other teen gamers 5 . Stanford’s own Dr. Richard Jenkins has done extensive research on youth culture and the rise of gaming mentality in the past decade. In his paper The Addictive Properties of Modern Video Games, Dr. Jenkins states: “It is not atypical for a teenager to ignore sleep, remain glued to their television screen, and take a quick slumber before heading off for a full eight hour day at school” 6 . As time goes on Taylor shows signs of dependency on the game and begins using it as a reward, a Pavlovian conditioning technique. In one instance, she treats herself to “a few rounds” for slimming down and fitting into an old pair of jeans. Here we see Taylor falling into what Jenkins calls “a certified path to self destruction.” Taylor is so hooked on this game that she is unable to see the dangers in her sudden weight loss. It is soon revealed that along with a physical transformation, Taylor also begins to exhibit signs of mental and emotional degradation with suddenly high levels of anxiety, an inability to eat, and a propensity for violence. Although these symptoms begin to take their toll on Taylor’s health, she is unable to break free from the grasp of her desires.
Later, now the end of February, Taylor becomes increasingly and noticeably irritable. School had been the subject of many of her posts up until this point and, while perhaps not entirely positive, was at least met with a begrudged enthusiasm. However, this post at the end February marks a shift after which any and all mention of school is done so out of indifference, very uncharacteristic for a 4.0 GPA student. Although she seems to logically acknowledge her breaks in character, she at the same time shows a profound sense of lethargy in facing them. The video game is not mentioned in this section, but obviously has had a profound effect on the girl by now. Mood swings and violent outbursts do not usually occur in teens this suddenly after so many years of normalcy. Taylor succumbs to inner desire triggered by the video game once again, letting it feed her information in a symbiotic relationship.
Over the next month we get a taste of the supernatural effects this game is purported to have through Taylor’s exhibition of delusional actions and worrisome thoughts. She never states if she is under any spell or if she is terrified by anything in particular, aside from sudden paranoia, but it is apparent through her diction that she is not herself, and has become severely afraid of not only the unknown, but also the familiar. In one post, How is this possible?, Taylor describes her attempts to destroy and get rid of the game only to find it sitting on her bed waiting for her. She makes a claim in this post that she is scared. Now, one could take this post at face value and believe the claims that the game not only refuses to burn, but also constantly materializes back in the owner’s room. The answer to this mystery lies in her surrounding posts where Taylor discusses her malnutrition and deterioration. Several posts disclose that she is unable to sleep, unable to eat, and constantly sick to her stomach. It is clear that Taylor is not in a sane or healthy state of being. Therefore, it is not difficult to conclude that this degradation from malnutrition and exhaustion could easily lead to hallucinations and paranoia. She exhibits lapses in judgement and perception not only through an engagement in unprovoked arguments with her parents, but also in her declining academic performance. In one of her last posts, Taylor notes her inability to focus on even the most minute of things. This, combined with everything she has been experiencing so far, including vomiting and severe anxiety, emphasizes an even greater dependence on the game than the reader might have realized. It becomes obvious that it is all she can think about, yearning for something more, but can only find darkness. This video game, whatever it is, proves to be a strong influence and certainly contains some sort of supernatural power. Although there have been instances of video game dependency in the past, there has surely never been anything to this extreme. Taylor’s inability to process even her own thoughts clearly, much less her own food, are a product of her gollum-like attitude towards the game. She becomes reclusive and hostile. Once again, the reason for this must be the game itself, as normal video games of any kind do not cause these odd behaviors, and this game appeared in her life just before Taylor’s mental, emotional, and physical decline began.
What follows is a terrifying incident that only serves to further prove her psychological breakdown. Taylor goes missing for a week. Although her parents yell at her for disappearing, screaming for answers, Taylor is completely bewildered and cannot provide an explanation. She has no recollection of leaving home, how her clothes got muddy, when it rained, or even what day it is. It can be assumed that at this point Taylor has endured the detrimental effects of malnutrition and insomnia for well over a month, thus sending her body into a meltdown that caused her to black out and enter a fugue state.When asked for comment via email, Dr. Chad Richardson, MD of Sacred Heart Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles said something like this would be, “very odd. The human body can only survive for so long under such circumstances. This girl should have been on the very edge of death, or far past it as far as I’m concerned” 7 . The only post following this disappearance is Taylor’s celebration that she has found her game once more. One month later, Taylor’s parents create an ambiguous post with little explanation, a digital death knell for the recipient of that cursed game.
Whatever the end result of this ordeal was, it assuredly was not good.The sad distress of the final post by the family screams heartbreak and agony. Coupled with Taylor’s descent into psychosis due to the game, it is almost astonishing that the rest of the Henderson family did not go mad themselves. Perhaps whatever this game is only affects teenagers. If so, how? And more importantly, why? Taylor’s week long absence from her home is also concerning. Questions remain on where she went and how she survived on her own being as malnourished as she was without proper funds, resources, or cognitive stability. Whatever video game has been redacted from her blog certainly tormented this girl and twisted a good student into someone who has not been heard from in months, and may never will be.
- See New York Science Journal Vol. 43 ↩
- Shakespeare – Henry VI part 2 ↩
- As stated in the article “Teens and Blogs” in TechDaily vol 9 issue 3 ↩
- For example, in “Taylor Henderson’s Psychosis” by Fred Williams, published in Psychology Now! vol. 3 issue 5 ↩
- From “Study Shows Teens like Games” in GameMan Magazine issue 86 ↩
- “The Addictive Properties of Modern Video Games” Jenkins, Richard. Stanford. 2012 ↩
- Personal interview ↩