Off-Topic, Kinda: Our Relationships with Gaming (Starting with My Own)

Atari Joystick
It All Started with One of These…

I was listening to the FABULOUS Gamers with Jobs Conference Call podcast — which, if you don’t listen to, you totally should — a little while back, and they brought up the topic of our relationship with gaming, and how it affects our day to day lives. This got me thinking to the relationship I have had with gaming over the years, and just how deep it’s gone. I mean, I’d hope it’s obvious from my work on this blog that I LOVE video gaming, as it’s truly my first love. ;) There’s much more to it than that, however, and I figured this would make a great topic for us to discuss, so why not start with my own relationship? ;)

My love affair with gaming began when I was four years old, in 1977, when I saw Pong for the first time. I was mesmerized by the moving images and the ability to control that little stick that stopped that little dot from passing it. Shortly thereafter, my grandparents (whom I grew up with) bought me a Radio Shack TRS-80 and an Atari 2600. It was on that TRS-80 that I played my first computer-based space game, Lunar Lander, as well as numerous Atari and arcade space games. My love affair with gaming began to blossom here, and it was primarily for two reasons, one of which I already mentioned: control.

Now, without going into details, I’m gonna say the majority of my childhood suuuuuuuuuuucked. Like, really sucked. There was all kinds of abuse and neglect at home, and all kinds of bullying at school, so the only place I really ever felt safe and in control of something, anything, was video games. In life I felt powerless, in games I felt powerful. In any game, I could be in charge of something that felt meaningful, something that made a difference to the world around it, however large or small. I truly feel that games were a vital coping mechanism that helped me find something even close to balancing out the lack of control going on everywhere else in my life. The control I found in games helped me hold on to the notion of control in my life, which would help much later on.

This control lead to escapism, in which I sadly got severely lost for several years. I mean sure, games gave me some joy, but they also gave me an escape from all of the pain, problems, negativity and so on that life threw at me for many years. While the control aspect of the addiction I feel was positive, the escapism was not. I don’t think that, when I was younger, I would’ve been able to fully cope with life at the time, but I might’ve learned how to face the results of that life later on. Even into my 30s, I still in many ways acted much younger and hadn’t fully grasped the necessities and demands of adulthood. I mean why should I? There’s a new game coming out.

Eventually, in my mid-30s, I thankfully began to change. Thanks to a bevy of new friends found through Firefly fandom and elsewhere (Browncoats forever!), I began to grow a spine. I started to think I was actually worthy of a better life than the one I had at the time. To explain, at one point a therapist diagnosed me with severe anxiety and depression related to post-traumatic stress disorder. I didn’t try to improve my life because I simply didn’t feel my life was worth improving. Some part of me felt like I deserved to be miserable all the time, and rather than spend any time with that part of my mind, you know, DEALING with why I felt that way, I escaped as much as I could. Oh sure, I was a master at acting happy, but inside I was extremely miserable, and playing games gave me one more way not just to hide it from others, but from myself as well.

However, once I began to change, grow self-esteem, self-confidence and so on, I began to shed parts of that old life that held me back. This included habits, relationships and yes, even video games. From early 2006 to late 2007 — nearly two years — I didn’t play ANY video games. At all. I went from needing them all the time to having no desire to playing them whatsoever. I honestly think this helped make way for the hard work I’d be doing in therapy during the time. With the help of an AMAZING therapist, the support of wonderful friends, and a lot of hard work and strength, I finally let go of the past that had been haunting me and grabbed onto a new notion of control, wherein I could control my own life for the betterment of myself and those I cared about.

I had many breakthroughs in therapy, all of them painful as hell, but in the end, it was worth it. I began to gain confidence in myself, and see the world in a whole new way: one moment, one day at a time, rather than a billion horrible futures influenced by a horrible past.

Some time after this, I dipped my toe back into gaming just a tiny bit. I was wary of tumbling back into the downward spiral of escapism again, not wanting to risk my newborn confidence and clarity, so I only played a little bit of something I don’t recall now. To my happy surprise, I felt that I was just enjoying the game for the pleasure of it, rather than falling back into old patterns of escapism. :)

Today, gaming is simply a source of pure joy, and it has a much better place, a better fit, into my life than ever before. My relationship these days with gaming has nothing to do with needing control or desiring escape, but to experience the magic that only games can give us. Where else can I sling spells as a wizard or fly through space as a fighter pilot? :) My relationship with games has always been a joyous one, and I truly believe that for a long while I needed the control and escape it offered as a necessary coping mechanism. Now, however, my relationship with gaming is nothing BUT joyous, not just in the playing of them, but in the sharing of them through venues like this blog, forums and so on. It’s a much healthier relationship now, and ultimately, a much richer and fulfilling one as well.

So what’s your relationship with gaming? ;)

2 Comments

  1. While not as severe as yours, I have similar experiences. Due to my deafness, while growing up in Michigan, I was bullied a lot (never physically, thankfully, but a lot of verbal/emotional bullying). So video games is a way for me to find happiness. Instead of escaping into them like you, they are more of friends that I never had in real life (well, I had a few, but I had far more bullies). Eventually my family moved to Utah, and there the bullying ceased and I was able to make many friends. However, games were still my “best friends” for a long time.

    After marrying and having kids, my time and devotion to video games reduced drastically, but I do still enjoy them.

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