Friday, January 11, 2013

Violent Video Games Saved Me

I have been a lifelong gamer. I can’t remember a time in my life where I wasn’t one. Even back to my earliest memories as a child, probably around 3 or 4 years old, there was the Atari, playing Pong with my dad, and that horrible Sesame Street spelling game with my brother. The characters were blobs, but there were really only 3 characters you needed to know. Green blob was Oscar the Grouch, yellow blob was Big Bird, and blue blob was Cookie Monster.

So much of my life is about video games that there has not been a time in my life where they weren’t involved in it. Which probably sounds like I have a problem, but I hold down a good job; I go out with friends, I have a boyfriend, and I enjoy life outside of games. I’m abnormally normal. No police tickets on my record, and I live it up like its 1999 geeking out at conventions in my costumes. Abnormally normal.

Video games have also been my salvation. When I made the transition from private to public school, it was incredibly jarring. I remember being such a happy kid, open, friendly, accepting, and then public school hit and I crawled into a shell that took me over a decade to get out of. To this day I have difficulty thinking back without getting depressed. It wasn’t a cultural shock. I came from a Montessori school system. For those who don’t know, it’s basically a student teaching system where the older kids help out the younger ones. The schools focus on respect, trust, and understanding of everyone while promoting individuality. You were never restrained from following what you cared about in the classroom (I was really into technology so I was allowed to go down that path, pick up library books, and learn how computers work), but you also had to respect everyone around you. It made me a better person because of it. And then public school smacks you in the face. Conformity, restrictions, image: those were the rules to live by.

I hated every moment of it. It got a little better in high school, thank goodness for advanced classes and college career programs that helped keep me focused on work and not on the insanity around me. But that first year of public school was the absolute worse. It was my 8th grade year at middle school. I can remember going from this outgoing, happy girl to complete isolation. I was the target by kids and other teachers because I wasn’t like them. Yeah. Teachers bullied me. That’s how f-ed up it all was.

I’m not going to get into the details, because what I want to get at is how video games saved me from the world, from myself. My physician at the time knew I was having issues with school. Still a straight A student, but I was unhappy and stressed out beyond belief. She asked me what I liked to do for fun, and I said the typical things you might hear from kids; watching movies, playing video games, reading. Ok maybe not so much the reading, but Harry Potter did wonders for kids in the past decade (after my time; I was more of a Hobbit, Hemmingway person). She told me that she wanted me to start playing more video games. Not something you would expect from a doctor, but that’s what she said. Whenever you feel really stressed out or unhappy at school, as soon as you get home, play a game for at least 30 minutes. Release your feelings that way, and you’ll feel better. She promised I would. At this point I remember piping up and saying that I tend to play a mixture of games, Grand Theft Auto on the PC (1 and 2, old school days) was the flavor of the month and last I heard adults didn’t want kids to play stuff like this. Mortal Kombat and Doom days around this time. But she seemed ok with it because I was fully aware that it was a game, not reality.

I’m still working on her to give me a signed note so I can frame it “You have permission to play Grand Theft Auto to help with your stress. Signed-Your Doc.”

And with that I was given medical permission to play video games. My parents supported it. My doctor supported it. I’m gaming. And it really did help. While my time in school didn’t really improve at all during the rest of the year, my sanity levels did. I felt less anxiety, less stress, less fear, even less sorrow when I could let out all of my feelings. My other hobbies, acting, reading, movies, dancing, they were never the right fit for me when it came to releasing emotions. Aggressive ballet? Not for me, sorry. But video games allowed me to be free without inflicting harm to myself or another creature. It’s all digital bits and bytes.

By the logic of all of those who are standing up against violent video games, I should be a complete psychopath. I’ve been playing violent games, watching violent movies and television, reading Huck Finn back when the N-word was still in the book, since I was 3 (and probably before that). If you were to meet me today, I’m pretty close to being back to the little girl that was outgoing, kind, thoughtful, and helpful to everyone around her. The only thing I’ve ever “killed” was an ant, not because I wanted to or felt a desire to do so, but out of necessity. I didn’t want the hive to move into my home. That’s about the extent of my nature.

So, I have a personal stake in this discussion. Video games gave me my life back. I probably would have developed some severe mental issues if I didn’t have them around to regain my sanity. It may seem contrived, but it’s the truth. I have video games to thank for allowing me to find myself when I was lost by giving me an outlet for my depression and anxiety. I could have very easily been a “troubled kid,” if that’s what you want to term it, but being able to spend even 30 minutes a day to play a game and relax saved me.

This may not be the route for everyone. If you do feel depressed, uncertain, anxious and/or nervous constantly, you should talk to a licensed doctor. I know some people like to paint, surf, or make jewelry as a means of releasing stress. Everyone works differently. But when I hear the cry of “violent video games are bad” I take offense to it. They saved me and I appreciate the art form that they are, even the gaudy ones. So come at me. I’m living proof that violent video games do not turn people into crazy killers. There are more factors to consider then blaming entertainment and media. Way more.

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