Wade Watts is one of the heroes in the book and upcoming movie Ready Player One. Spoilers are ahead. The movie may change the background of the Wade, so this assessment is purely based on the book by Ernest Cline.
What Happened (Spoilers!)
Wade is the only child of his teenage parents. Both his parents were refugees to the United States of America. When Wade was a couple of months old, his dad was shot and killed while searching a grocery store during a power outage. Loretta, Wade's mom, raised him alone while working two jobs. Wade was babysat by the virtual world, OASIS; this is where Wade learned his life skills.
At age 11, Wade would find his mother dead from an overdose. He then lived with his aunt Alice who only wanted Wade for the food vouchers. She had abusive boyfriends and tenants in her double wide trailer. He slept in the laundry room, the only free space from everyone in the trailer. However he spent most of his time in his secret hideout in an abandoned vehicle.
Wade went to school in the OASIS. He excelled academically, but spent most of his time researching James Halliday, the creator of the OASIS, and the quest for the easter egg that Halliday left in the OASIS after he died.
Around the age of 18, just prior to graduating high school, Wade was the first to uncover the first clue in the hunt for Halliday's egg. This led to him forming close ties with the "high-five", five egg-hunters: Atr3mis, Aech, Shoto and Daito. Wade was known online as ParZival. Wade also became a main threat to a corporation seeking to win the hunt.
Adverse Childhood Experiences
- Did a parent or other adult in the household often swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? OR Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?
- YES - his Aunt Alice brought home less than desirable boyfriends, and she poorly cared for Wade
- NO - It's hard to think that this didn't happen given the boyfriend situation, but I can't recall any mention of it.
- NO - this was not reported.
- YES. His mom was working hard to provide for him. But at the same time, he learned his basic skills in the OASIS. With his Aunt, she didn't include him.
- YES. His dad was stealing from a grocery store. His mom died from an overdose. His aunt only wanted him for the vouchers - and at times would take Wade's stuff and pawn it.
- NO. They were not separated by choice.
- YES. Aunt Alice had abusive boyfriends.
- YES. His mom (and most likely his aunt)
- YES. His mom was not stable, nor was his aunt Alice.
- NO. This was not reported. It could be stretched to say that Wade's dad could have served jail time instead of being shot while looting.
Discussion about ACE's
Wade has an ACE's score of 6. With each additional adverse experience so does the likelyhood of health problems in adulthood. In a recent study, male's who experienced six or more ACE's were more than 46 times more likely to an injection drug user.
As we will discuss later, ACE's are not a life-sentence. There are also protective factors that we will look at.
Current Mental State
Going strictly by DSM V terminology, Wade would be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, recurring, with no psychotic features.
Wade says many times himself that he is a depressed shut-in. That may be the best description of his mental state.
He is struggling with his sleep patterns, lost interest in some of his social connections. He had a plan for suicide. He also had to order new suits because of his weight gain. All indicators of depression
Anxiety is often concurrent with Depression. It becomes difficult to figure out which one is "driving the bus." Is anxiety present because of how depressed someone is, or is depression present because of the anxieties? He does report some anxieties, such as racing thoughts.
While it may be understandable that he is suffering traits of acute traumatic stress disorder, given threats to his life, but he doesn't report flashbacks or other symptoms.
A depressive disorder is the best fit.
Positive Psychology (PERMA)
- Positive Emotions - Despite his history and experiencing six ACE's, Wade does an excellent job of experiencing positive emotions. Not just the idea of being "happy" but experiencing and expressing silliness, fun-loving, curiousity, gratitude, trust and many other positive emotions as outlined by Barbara Fredrickson.
- Engagement - Wade often expresses slipping into the zone when playing a video game, or going on a quest - the state of flow where the challenge meets the skill level. His engagement level was low until he found the first clue - until then he escaped or transported his brain into his passion. But as he earned credits and experience with his avatar in his late teens, his engagement increased.
- Positive Relationships - It is easy to identify Art3mis, Aech, Shoto and Daito as positive relationships, which they are. An overlooked positive relationship is Mrs Gilmore, Wade's only real-world friend. He valued that relationship with her, and became one of his motivators.
- Meaning - This one is of course complicated. He comprehended and understood his meaning as he began finding the clues. Until then, meaning was a struggle. He was lacking his self-concept, understanding his past, present, and future self - until he uncovered the first clue. His self-efficacy, was low to start; he lacked the resources to even think that he could succeed; once he unlocked the first clue, boom, he had self-efficacy. Self-worth - low until the first clue, and then everyone valued what he contributed to the online and offline world.
- Achievement - Has the same theme as meaning. He had a goal of finding the egg - many people did. He lacked the sense of achievement in his life, until that first clue. A smaller achievement, that is worth acknowledging, is Wade's education. He was self-taught, and had a passion for learning.
Post Traumatic Stress vs Post Traumatic Growth
So where is ParZival at? Is he stressed or is he growing. The answer is definitely yes to both. He is currently stressed with the crisis he is in, so since the stress is present, we can't really say he is experiencing 'post' traumatic stress. This is where, despite everything that is and has happened, Wade is experiencing post traumatic growth. As outlined in meaning, self-esteem is on the rise as each component (self-concept, self-efficacy, and self-worth) came to have more meaning. He found online friendships within the high-five. As he began fighting his depression with PTG, we were able to see him increase in mental processing and planning.
It's important to realize we are just going to stick with interventions at the individual level, not at any of the systems: family, community, societal; which all could use an intervention or two as well.
With a young Wade, he could have benefited from human baby-sitting to help him learn how to navigate in the real world. There is safety and comfort that comes from nurturing human contact that allows the brain to grow healthily.
Grief support. Losing anyone is hard, especially a parent, not to mention both. Grief is a natural reaction to an unnatural event and doesn't always need a therapeutic intervention. But due to his new living situation, being without either biological parent, extra support would be beneficial as he transitioned.
Exercise. This was something that Wade became aware of himself during the story. Exercise is an excellent combatant of depression. It doesn't need to be marathon running, but simple walks or lifting weights. An extra bonus, exercising with someone.
Healthy eating. The only food that Wade cooked was microwave brownies. Nutrition is an important component to mental health and well-being.
Trauma therapy. Being an EMDR trained clinician, I'd recommend that mode. But any trauma informed therapy would be beneficial to Wade when he is ready to deal with his ACE's and then his experiences finding the easter egg. The narrative he did of his experiences is a great start to healing.
Natural supports. What often makes a traumatic event a traumatic experience is the reaction of, or having natural supports. Having people around to provide support and care help buffer against the effects of a traumatic event. Wade was lacking natural supports in the offline world.
To finish, here is a clip that summarizes everything we have discussed about depression including interventions, called the Black Dog.
Wade, definitely would benefit from therapy. However, timing is the important piece here. Therapy is needed when Wade is ready. When someone is in crisis, therapy for historical events is not appropriate, the crisis needs to be dealt with first.
The difficult piece with therapy with teenagers is that their past, present, and future is at stake. If the present counselling was forced and Wade perceived it was a waste, he then would not seek out therapy when he is 25, 35, or 75.