How Gaming Saved My Life

Video games offer escapism from the mundane nine-to-five. And the darker side of life...
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The elation, the overwhelming feeling of inescapable excitement, when discovering something for the first time is beyond comparison. Many different emotions protrude from the individual: disappointment for not investigating sooner; hopelessness if no one else shares the same adoration; anger if the activity has a negative influence. When I first discovered the art of video games, all these emotions and more smacked me senseless. I saw the good and bad that comes from the medium -- the satisfaction of overcoming challenges, loneliness for the more hardcore fans unwilling to publicly vow affection, potentially becoming addicted. Video gaming has all these possibilities and more of impacting the player either positively or negatively.

I was eight and completely unattached from the world. My mother, a recovering alcoholic, practically destroyed familial bonds and a strange tension arose between my family members and I which continues to current times. Blaming myself as any kid would, I didn't have an outlet to vent my frustrations. I resorted to punching walls, bullying, and being a nuisance to feel powerful; through this, I transformed my once-cheery self into a suicidal recluse. It still baffles me today how I'm still breathing.

The world against me. That was my mentality for a majority of my childhood. When someone approached me in a friendly manner, I'd brush them off. Around the time of my birthday in 1998, the feelings were becoming increasingly worse. News spread of my mother's condition and other kids labeled me as "boozer baby". Before that, I wasn't known for anything, so even with the negative tone I felt some appreciation for being noticed. How sick and twisted is that? No child should ever experience that regardless of the situation, but it's unavoidable.

Feeling the disconnect, my father so graciously purposefully forgot my birthday and got me a few things for Christmas. Not much, though. Thirteen years ago we weren't the richest bunch on the block, but I always appreciated the sentiment. It's the thought that counts. Anyway, I found this little box with my name on it. Nothing gargantuan like I had envisioned the night before, nothing hugely expensive, just a tiny box. My father wanted my sister and I to open our presents in a certain order (probably to give the illusion all these little things lead to something bigger). Four presents down, some crayons, a colouring book, and other goodies laid before me. If I had known that fifth present would change my life forever, I would have prepared more.

Aloof to the Japanese craze, I played for a good hour. I couldn't have been more disinterested in anything.

Reaching for this odd squared contraption, I didn't know what to think. I became enamoured by the strangeness oozing from this gift as my sister rifled through her parents. My father shouted: "C'mon, open it already." Always the cheeriest at Christmas! I stared blankly for several more seconds, closed my eyes, and started tearing through the wrapping paper like there was no tomorrow. My eyes forced themselves open, and I met pupils with a strange tortoise with water pumps on his back. I froze. "Pokemon" was written in bold yellow letters and the glossy blue case gave great contrast.

"Apparently it's the next big craze," my father spoke with a chuckle. He had never said such a phrase before, meaning he put a lot of thought into his elusiveness. I finished opening my other gifts, still unfazed by that mysterious turtle. Just small knickknacks, clothes maybe. I casually walked downstairs and put batteries in my Game Boy. Starting Pokemon Blue up, I had no idea who Game Freak or Nintendo were. Aloof to the Japanese craze, I played for a good hour. I couldn't have been more disinterested in anything. Too overcome with emotion as per usual, I guess.

That Boxing Day, we had an annual tradition of visiting my aunt who lived a distance away. My aunt Nancy, my mother's sister, was the greatest of cooks, and I adored her pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes. Trying to find an outlet to pass the time, I found my handheld and played again. Upon reaching Viridian City, trustworthy Charmander at my side, it hit me like a sledgehammer how awesome video games were. It was just a simple adventure, but having full control of this character and harbouring the ability to manipulate this environment as I saw fit blew my mind. "This isn't like the movies!" I told myself on a constant basis.

I'd go for gaming marathons, playing several hours in a session. And surely, unbeknownst to me, I was slowly ridding myself of these terrible nightmares and suicidal thoughts. I attribute my continued existence to Nintendo and I'll always be grateful. Even today, I still use gaming as a distraction when I feel the need. It's now second nature to chainsaw something or try and catch them all. An impulse. But also, in spending so much time playing games, I never lost that reclusive side of me. Therefore, gaming will always be a double-edged sword: my sanity at the cost of loneliness. I still question if I made the right decision.

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