These days it seems like there’s a lot of negativity around video games, despite the fact that they’ve never been bigger in our collective culture. Everywhere you go you can find people from all walks of life who enjoy sitting down in their spare time and spending some time in whatever game they have on at the moment (for me it’s The Outer Worlds!).
But this negativity comes from a lot of frankly silly sources. When someone does something bad, for example, if they played games in their spare time then it’s often cited as the reason for their behaviour. I personally think games stop more bad things than they cause. They can be an outlet for anger, sadness and fear. They can be a place to escape from the horrors of life, if even for an hour. I’ll put in fair warning now, this article will get deep, it won’t always be happy and some of the topics in here are honestly quite dark. The thing to remember though, is like everything, it all passed with time.
I’ve been playing games since around the age of 3, when I’d sit on my dad’s knees while he played Vectorman, Earthworm Jim, Road Rash 2, Lemmings and more on our Sega Megadrive (or Genesis if you’re from the US of A!) and eventually he moved on to the Playstation where he had Resident Evil and Resident Evil 3 (which game me nightmares but also spawned my love of survival horror). If at any point he or my mum had turned around and told me at that age that games were a waste of time or something similar I probably wouldn’t have continued playing them and who knows where I’d be.
But as it happened, they both allowed and often times encouraged my hobby by buying me a Gameboy Colour which then turned into a DS and new games to play over the years so that I always had something to do. My parents divorced when I was 5 and as a kid I didn’t know what that meant but I knew I had a Gameboy Advance SP and a Playstation at my dads and I loved them. I spent a lot of time playing demo disks and mastering the first level of many games that I never actually played the full release of but I adored those little glimpses into other genres.
My mum had a string of future partners that never worked out for one reason or another. Most of them were not nice people and she always deserved so much better. One of them, the worst of them all, was a man who I won’t name, but for the sake of continuity I’ll call him “Kevin”. Kevin was horrible. He was an abusive alcoholic who delighted in nothing more than asserting how big he was over anybody smaller than him. He started off lovely, like most abusers do, but over time once he’d wormed his way in enough his true colours shined through. He frequently hurt my mum but god love her she always kept it away from us. That was until I refused to take his name. Then he turned on me too. I was subjected to things no child should have been. I was put into baths full of cold water, I was locked in dark cupboards full of spiders (which combines my two fears of dark enclosed spaces and spiders), I was mocked every day. It went on for years and if my mum tried to step in she would be punished also.
My escape was a PS2 and my brother got me a stack of games for my birthday, including Kingdom Hearts, GTA San Andreas and an Underworld game. I played KH a bit but I’d never really played an RPG like it before and I stopped playing it in favour of GTA and Underworld. There was such a sense of freedom escaping into one of these games after school. I could close myself in my room, slap in GTA and have CJ leap over most small houses with the folded up sheet of paper that I’d written all my cheats in from a friends cheat code book he took into school.
Kevin was a fan of parties and alcohol, as I mentioned. He would always have the house full of strangers who got drunk and passed out around the house but thankfully my room (which I shared with my brother) was always off limits so I never worried about my console but I did have plenty of sleepless nights due to Scooter and Cascada being played at a volume loud enough that I swear I could see sound waves. Those nights I usually spent playing whatever game I managed to borrow from a friend, one of which was Ghosthunter, a game I recommend highly! After a while I gave Kingdom Hearts another try and I ended up falling in love with it. I had learned how games worked by then and I had nothing but time to learn how an RPG played out so I got hooked in that that was me.
The abuse from Kevin lasted a long time, he was eventually literally thrown out of our house and we thankfully never needed to see him again, although a few years ago I was called, with the rest of my family, to testify against him, but he ended up taking a plea and I didn’t have to look at him. After that period of darkness, we all tried to get back to a normal life. I began playing games more often as I’d come to associate them with relaxing, happiness and escape, which a growing kid in high school needs. I vented out all my anger towards Kevin in any game I could, seeing him as every enemy keeping me from a bright future. It was therapeutic, I knew I could never be violent in real life, I just don’t have it in me. I got into games like Timesplitters, MGS and more. I had a group of friends who all played games and watched Yu-Gi-Oh and Outlaw Star and other anime too, we had it good. Games pulled me out of a dark time in my life and helped me find the people I knew I wanted to be around.
A few years after all of this my mum met her current husband and we moved 300 miles away to his house. I was wary at first, I was being dragged away from all my friends to go start life somewhere else with a guy I barely knew and after my mums history with guys I wasn’t hopeful. When we moved I was given my own room with a big TV, I was given a key to the house to come and go (within reason, my mum did NOT have any of that coming in at 3am nonsense) and I was trusted. I warmed up to him quickly. He genuinely cared for my mum and had 3 kids of his own but he didn’t shy away from the prospect of settling down with a woman who had 4 of her own kids. I bought myself an Xbox 360 and got Xbox Live around that time and it was a whole different experience for me. I had moved schools and was the new kid in 4th year so I didn’t settle in quickly. The group of friends I had at the start of the year in that school all played football in their break and I just tagged along. Eventually I met a different group and we all gelled quickly. I found people who played games, listened to the same metal music I did, we had the same sense of humour and it was great! Through that school and that group of friends I also met Stu! Our school would occasionally send kids to his school for lessons and somehow we got talking and now years down the line we run this site together so I can only thank my mum for not giving up on love and uprooting all all 300 miles.
I gamed for years online after that, from COD to Halo, Dark Souls to Blue Dragon, I put thousands of hours into my favourite hobby. I started a Youtube channel at one point too and I honestly felt very content. Of course being a teenager, I also had other emotions. Too many of them honestly. The older I got the more I felt something was wrong with me, I wondered why I had been bullied and picked on as a kid and I began to develop the idea that people just pretended to like me so that they, in turn, looked better and cooler by comparison. At one point, while working in Tesco, I began self harming. My manager noticed and sent me to the doctor and not long after my mum and her husband noticed and that was when I broke down and admitted that I felt out of place. It got so bad I contemplated ending my own life. Luckily for me I had my closest friend Siobhan there, who in no uncertain terms told me to stop being a selfish idiot, to think about what this would do to her, my friends and most importantly to my family. Day by day it got better, I had incredible support from my mum and her husband, I learned my friends didn’t joke about me to each other when I wasn’t there and I always had my fall back of games to play. The biggest thing though, was when I went for a walk and called my dad, I told him life felt meaningless and I was so depressed that I didn’t see a future. He told me that talking was the best thing to do, he told me how he was always proud of who I was, of what I’d done and that my future was always going to be bright. He talked to me for an hour, reminding me that sadness was temporary and that every day gets a little brighter. That night I remember watching a film and thinking about how I was glad I hadn’t gone through with it.
I continued playing games for all the rest of my years, through moving out of my mums house, changing jobs, moving to a different city, various relationships and moving in with my current girlfriend, losing friends, making new friends in different countries. Gaming has always been an integral part of my life, so much so that I barely go a day without at least grabbing my switch and throwing on the Sega Megadrive Classics Colleciton and tearing my way through Vectorman for the 800th time.
Last year though, I got news that I never expected, never EVER wish upon anyone and news that tested me in ways I didn’t think possible.
It was my girlfriend’s birthday, we were at her parents house and they were going to get her birthday cake from the kitchen, I had turned my phone off as the battery was low and we had a long bus trip to get there. When I turned my phone on I saw I had a lot of missed calls from my mum and my brother. I got a call and ran out the room to answer it, it was my brother and he’d clearly been crying. My grandad was old, I thought to myself “This is it, Grandad has passed away.” He was the Patriarch of our family, but it wasn’t entirely unexpected that he would eventually just be too old to go on.
That wasn’t the news I got. My brother told me that our father had taken his own life. Everything stopped. I thought he was pulling an incredibly sick joke but it quickly hit that my mum had also tried to contact me and said it was important. I hadn’t spoken to my dad much over the few years prior but I was crushed. I don’t remember what was said on the phone, I remember calling my mum and crying on the phone to her. I remember pain, confusion, loss, anger. I remembered my phone call to him when I was at my lowest. Everything hurt. I had to go through to my girlfriend’s family and through tears tell them what had happened. I was driven home and her birthday was put on hold.
In my brain I could hear a little voice saying “Put on the PS4, play something, get out of your own head for a bit” but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to play anything, I didn’t have it in me at all. I paced about, I talked to my girlfriend, I sat on the couch, I texted family but I didn’t touch a game for a few days. I informed my work and was given compassionate leave and during that time I did put the PS4 on but nothing held my attention for anything more than five minutes. Eventually I put my PC on and I opened up the Sega Classics on Steam and I played Vectorman, the game that me and my dad beat together, I played through it and despite getting Game Over a couple of times I eventually beat the game and I broke down again, but this time it wasn’t just sadness, there was a small spark of joy too. I knew that even though I’d lost my dad, I still had connections to him all around me. I remembered him telling me that day by day it gets better and very very slowly it did. Not long after, we sadly lost my Grandad too and it was hard on all of us, I’m still healing slowly, even after all these months but I know that the ability to throw on a game and get lost in a whole different universe for a while has helped me in so many ways. It stopped me from doing stupid things when I was sad and they helped me to get through the darkest moment of my life.
Every time I see an article saying “Criminal played video games and listened to rap music” as a scapegoat for someone’s bad decisions and clear issues, I think to myself that they don’t cause people to do these things. They just don’t. Video games are just like movies, TV shows, music, manga, comic books and every other form of media. They give people an escape. They bring communities together. They give people joy. They take people places that everyday life can’t.
Video games are good.