How Life Imitates Chess is a book written by Garry Kasparov, the greatest chess player ever and recently I’ve been thinking about how true his title is. I know that it’s a bit clichéd that someone with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) should like chess, but it does fit my world view to a surprizing degree.
Chess, in itself, isn’t very complicated: you move the pieces – some moving differently to others – to trap your opponent’s king piece. Where it gets complex is the different strategies and counter-strategies. The way I see social interaction is that it’s a bit like a game of chess; it’s not about just knowing what you plan to do, but trying to guess what the person opposite is going to do too. For people without AS knowing what the other person wants from a conversation, or why they have asked a certain question in a particular way comes as natural as yawning. But for me this is not the case, it’s as though I have to uncover their feelings and motives like a detective from a dime store detective novel.
Problems can sometimes occur when I apply my own internal logic to someone else’s behaviour. In chess I would move a certain piece after considering every possible logical response that can be made in response. I may move a piece in a plan to make the opponent move a certain piece in reply and capitalize on that. However, they move a piece that I wasn’t expecting them to, that may scupper my plans, forcing me to readjust quickly. The difference here between the game and social interaction is that I can alter my chess plan a lot more easily than I can after making a mistake in a conversation. It might be that I don’t even notice the social faux pas that I have made and I end up, instead of losing a game, losing the offended person to them not wanting to talk to me again.
One part of chess strategy is an exchange of pieces, or a calculated sacrifice, where certain pieces are lost in order to gain more valuable pieces in return (google relative chess values to see which pieces are worth more) and thus gain an overall advantage. This is another way in which life is like chess, especially considering life with AS. It is a condition that makes being in your comfort zone very comfortable indeed and makes it easy to avoid compromise by shunning the company of others. Just like you may sacrifice a chess piece in order to gain a more valuable one, sacrifices must be made with AS in order to benefit in the long term. It is difficult and scary to go to new places and meet new, different people, but, trust me on this; the fear is small potatoes compared to the crippling loneliness of solitary life. When I used to hide away from social life I eventually ended up depressed. One morning I pulled back the curtains and the first thought that crossed my mind was if jumping from that window would end my suffering, and it was what spurred me on to seek help.
Chess has often been likened to great militaristic battles of wits such as Cromwell Vs Charles I, Nelson Vs Napoleon or Monty Vs Rommel. However with AS there is often a battle of wits going on over where to stand at the bank, what to talk about at a party or what order to eat things in at dinner.