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  • Writer's pictureJackson McMahan

How My Passions Determined My Career Path: One Autistic Adult's Story

Updated: May 15

By guest writer Jackson McMahan

Like many with autism, I have obsessive interests. My biggest obsessions (or passions, to use a better word) revolve around popular culture, specifically video games, movies, and comic books. If you find yourself in a conversation with me, I will most likely bring up one of those three topics. My interest in pop culture is a major part of my identity, influencing not only my actions but also my career choices.

an autistic adult holding a video game controller and playing video games

At first, my passions focused on a specific series, mainly Super Mario and Pokémon. As a kid, if I was into a series, I would spend much of my day watching or playing it, thinking about it, and looking up videos and Wiki articles about it. It wasn’t until my teenage years that my special interests moved beyond specific franchises and into entire entertainment mediums. It started with video games when I was in middle school followed by comic books and movies in high school.

With video games, I started branching out from mainly playing Mario and Pokémon games to other series during my teenage years. At first, it was me playing other Nintendo franchises, like Pikmin and The Legend of Zelda, before playing more games by other companies. Nowadays I play a more diverse array of games that cover different genres, series, and developers.

Regarding comic books, I started reading them daily around the end of my freshman year. I began reading comics because I liked superhero movies and wanted to read the stories that served as those films’ source material. Even though I have now lost some of my enthusiasm for superhero movies, I still continually read superhero comics alongside non-superhero comics like Saga.

silhouette of an autistic couple watching a movie in a theater

Lastly, I have loved movies for most of my life, but I would say the second half of my senior year was when I started becoming a film buff. That period marked the beginning of me branching out from just watching blockbusters and Disney movies to viewing more drama, classic, and foreign films.

When it comes to my relationship between pop culture and writing, I would say that video games have had the biggest influence on me. Video games were the medium I was obsessed with at the earliest and what inspired my parents to set up a blog for me.

Since I was 13, I’ve had a private blog called Jackson’s Blog of Lists. My blog was created because my parents noticed how much I liked ranking stuff and gave me a platform to publish different rankings (hence the name Jackson’s Blog of Lists).

At first, I didn’t use my blog much, only publishing posts when I had the rare idea. It wasn’t until high school that blogging became a hobby. During high school, most of my blog posts were lists about topics like the best Nintendo games, most emotional Pixar movie moments, and most overpowered superheroes. It wasn’t until 2017 that my blogging priorities and interests started to shift.

In 2017, I started writing more essays that analyzed video games. Although I had previously written some analytical posts, 2017 was when I decided to challenge myself and commit to writing longer, more in-depth posts.

Some of the topics I covered in 2017 included why the final levels of Bioshock don’t work and how I was content with 2017’s Prey not living up to my expectations. While my earlier posts were, naturally, a little rough, I like to think I improved over time. I can look back on some posts I made within the past five years, like one about my favorite final level in a video game, and still agree with the points I made and appreciate how I wrote it.

yellow Pokémon character miniature against a background of blurry yellow lights

While I continue to write lists, like a ranking of every Pokémon type, the bulk of my recent work is those in-depth video game analyses. Those are the posts I spend hours crafting into their best possible selves and can say I am proud of them.

When I started college, my major was media arts and game development (MAGD). The major seemed like a great fit because I love video games and could potentially find a job in that industry.

During my second semester, I realized MAGD wasn’t for me. My biggest problem with the major was that I struggled with many of the programs I had to use, like Processing (a Java program) and Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, and wasn’t proud of the work I produced. My dissatisfaction led to me changing my major.

During that process, a writing major was always at the forefront of my decision because I knew I loved to write. As such, I changed my academic trajectory by having an English major with a professional writing and publishing emphasis and a film studies minor.

Looking back, I am glad I changed my major because I enjoyed the English and film studies courses more than the MAGD ones. Even if the English classes were sometimes exhausting, I can reflect on many of my assignments and say I am proud of what I produced, like one where I analyzed how different sites across the political spectrum analyzed mask-wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to realizing I liked writing through my blog, I was in a position where I could choose a new major I knew could satisfy me and open a potential career path.

proud parents adjusting the collar of their son's graduation  garb

Having graduated college, the start of my writing career has been rough. I wasn’t hired before graduation. I was overwhelmed by the abundance of writing positions to apply to and was affected by college burnout so badly that it made me scared of finding a job.

Last year was a little rough from a job search perspective, but I like to think I’m in a better place now. My family hired a job coach to help with my job hunt, and I have been a regular guest blogger for Thrive Autism Coaching. This opportunity has helped me hone my writing skills and provide a public platform for me to let my writing voice be heard.

As of now, I hope I can have a successful writing career. Writing is a hobby I have become passionate about, which is only the case because of my pop culture obsession. If I didn’t constantly discuss my thoughts on pop culture, then I may not have received a platform for me to learn I liked writing and first refine said skills. So in a way, even if I spend too much time thinking about pop culture, I cannot deny its impact on my career trajectory, and I hope it’s an impact that will benefit me in the future.


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