How Games Saved My Life

I generally won’t speak out about the perceived view of videogames in the media and with the wider world. Part of that is a confidence issue, part of that is that it becomes tiring having to justify why you love something like this.

Often if I mention games, or that I am a game’s critic, I get people look at me in a certain way. That “shouldn’t you have grown up by now” kind of look. I have had it from family, friends and even strangers who see me with my Vita out and about. Not everyone of course, but enough that it is noticeable.

I went through a stage where I would try and justify myself to others, but than I thought, why? Why do I need to justify liking games, when you don’t need to justify watching soaps, daytime TV, chat shows, reading certain books, etc. I do what I do, because I find it fun. Well that wasn’t always the only reason and recent news about the tragic killing of the Leeds school teacher by her 15 year old student had lots of old memories flooding back.

When I was at school I was bullied and I was bullied badly. Not the physical type of bullying, though that did happen on occasion. It was the daily psychological bullying, from not just one or two kids, but much larger amounts. I was seen as an easy target, to the point that the new kids in school would use bullying me as a way to find acceptance with others.

For five long years I put up with this and the one time I spoke out, it got even worse. So I had no choice but to keep it bottled up, not let on to family that it was an issue. I tried many things to silently change the attitude towards me, but everything failed. My Mum was told that I bring it on myself and that I need to change to stop it…I was a child, yet it was my fault, I was the one in the wrong for BEING bullied. That was something my Mum was told by a teacher, someone in a position of trust…It was my fault!

Now my issues are still about today, I lack confidence in public and can very often come across as rude, because I am worried what someone will think of me, or do to me if I say the wrong thing, or say something in the wrong way. That scared child still has a hold of me and I doubt very much it will ever let go. What you see of me in public, in person is mostly always an act, me trying my hardest to not be that person I was 15+ years ago.

But what does this have to do with games? With the recent tragic incident?

Well, it is mainly down to the media here. I have empathy with the young man who killed his teacher. Now that isn’t to say I agree with what he did, by no means do I condone it and I feel for the teacher and her family. What he did was wrong, he should and will be punished, but he also needs a lot of help.

Anyway, the media! They have taken their stance, especially a certain paper often filled with hate. There are clearly many issues that surround this child (and please remember at 15 he is a child) but there has been a focus on blaming videogames. All because he liked to play some of the more violent ones, was part of online communities and was a fan of a gaming based Youtube channel. Really? That is the main focus?

Let’s look at a few things. How many people the world over play videogames? Millions right? How many of those millions play the more violent games? You know the Call Of Duty, Battlefield, Grand Theft Auto’s of this world? The ones the media use as their go to for stories. I’d imagine it is still in the millions. How many of those millions go on a murder spree? I am thinking it is not the millions that are playing them, but a very small percentage.

You see, it isn’t JUST the influence of the games that will cause the individuals to do what they do. I am not arguing that there may be some influence, but it isn’t just that. It is also the books they read, the TV they see, the films they watch, the NEWS they hear about on a daily basis. It is the world around them and it is something that isn’t quite right in their heads in the first place.

Maybe this is caused through abuse at home, bullying at school, hell it could be anything, they may just be mentally ill. That is the thing with mental illness, it isn’t always apparent, so who really knows what is going on inside any one person’s head at any given time. We don’t, so to put the focus of blame on one area is just wrong and dangerous from a media outlet.

But here we are yet again, I find myself having to defend something I love to do, because of careless reporting from news outlets. So let me tell you something.

GAMING SAVED MY LIFE…IT PROBABLY SAVED SOMEONE ELSES TOO!!!

When I was at school, I didn’t have various forums and communities online to reach out too, I was alone with my thoughts, with no one I felt I could turn to. I tried to take my own life and I dreamed of taking the lives of my bullies…and if any of you are reading this, you have no idea how close I actually came. But I didn’t and it is down to videogames.

They were my escape, they were the one place I could be in control, where I couldn’t be hurt and all of life’s problems faded away. I could come home from school and put on my Spectrum or eventually my MegaDrive and shut out the world around me. I remember loading up Head Over Heels, Seymour Goes to Hollywood, Operation Wolf, Treasure Island Dizzy, 180 Darts and more.

That noise of the tapes loading was like heaven, that noise meant I was in my own home and I was safe for at least another 17 hours, before the next school day started. I could be the hero, no one was there to judge me and I was some kind of happy.

Even when I went to college a few years later, or was able to afford the next console, it was still the same. The bullying may have been over in college, but the damage was done. I found solace in my Dreamcast, Playstation 1, Playstation 2, XBOX and beyond. I played Silent Hill with my Mum and I must admit, it is one of my warmest memories of my teenage years, my Mum was able to do something with me that I liked, was on my terms. It is the safest I have ever felt. It may sound odd to some, but there you go.

I do remember one occasion where I got home after a really bad day at school. I had it in my mind that the next day I was going to go in and do something about it. I won’t go into detail, but it wasn’t going to end well for anyone. Yet a few hours later, after spending the rest of the afternoon, the evening and even into the night playing Sonic The Hedgehog 2 from start to finish and then some Road Rash. I had lost the urge I had just a few short hours previous.

Had I not had games, who knows where my head would have been. I still have no idea what I would have done that next day. That night, gaming literally saved my life and I maintain saved the lives of others too.

I am in a much better place now and whilst the mental scars from those days are still with me. I have been able to move on to a degree. I have a family and I (hope I) have real friends, people who genuinely want to be around me. Yet part of my mental scarring means I cannot be 100% sure of that. My family I love with all my heart and I know they love me back equally. To see your son look at you like you are his hero, like you are perfect is the best feeling in the world.

But I still need that escape, I still play games but now more than ever I do it out of enjoyment. There are some days that a whole other set of life’s challenges can get me down and again being able to put my headphones on, get out my Vita, or switch on the PS4/Ps3 and escape just for an hour or so.

There are games that I play today that really do resonate with me, such as Persona 4, Virtues Last Reward, etc where the characterisation plays a huge part, but one of late that hit me harder than most was Thomas Was Alone, a game that touched me more than most, yet this is a game featuring nothing but blocks. Yet the human aspect was done better than most and is a great example of the emotional power of games, the sort of thing that often goes unnoticed in the media.

I apologise, I may have rambled a bit and this may not be the most coherent article you’ll ever read, but it comes from the heart and is something I felt needed to be said. Because no matter what some quarters of the media want you to believe…Gaming isn’t the big bad evil cause they want you to think. Sometimes it can be the cure, but those stories are boring and you never see them in the headlines.