Another shooting, another claim that video games are at fault. It seems like every time there’s a horrific act of violence in society, video games get thrust into the limelight for the wrong reasons, despite numerous studies concluding that video games aren’t the cause of violence.
This time I would like to try something different. Instead of repeatedly proofing video games are harmless, I’m going to write about how they saved my life. They shaped me into the person I am today and can honestly say that without them I may not be alive.
To start I would like to state I am not writing this for attention. In fact, I almost deleted this whole thing because I didn’t want to burden others with this information or make people pity me. Which I don’t want, by the way. My life is awesome right now with a dream job and a beautiful wife by my side. I eventually realized that I was not burdening others but instead sharing my story on how video games are such great creations. Maybe even connecting with others who’ve been through something similar and showing them they’re not alone.
I was born in 1991 and before the PlayStation 2 released in 2000, I wasn’t a big gamer. Like any other kid at the time, I wanted to enjoy video games when they were around but it was just a passing fancy for me. I did have a PlayStation 1 nearby which I beat the first Spyro game on, but it didn’t provide an outlet for me like the PS2 did. That’s where games like Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild, Tekken Tag Tournament, Madden 05, and most importantly Final Fantasy 12 and Kingdom Hearts provided me an escape from the brutal reality of my everyday life.
Up until the age of 16 and as far as my memory can remember, I was physically and emotionally abused and neglected by my birth mother. As one can guess that can be devastating to the fragile mind of a child. This is where the PS2 came into the picture, although it didn’t provide me hope until Kingdom Hearts released. Luckily, thanks to whatever coincidental forces that be, my grandparents gifted me a PlayStation 2 console for Christmas in 2001.
Even with this great platform at my disposal I was still living in fear and despair most days. So imagine my surprise when I happened to be over my grandparents house in September of 2002. I was watching the Disney channel and a Kingdom Hearts behind-the-scenes commercial came on. Almost immediately I was in awe at what the interviewer and interviewees said. A game that had friends battle enemies from a curious origin, sci-fi elements (albeit more Disney character themed,) and journeying to different worlds. You can see the desire to engross myself with this game at such a young age. It provided escape. Even more to my surprise, I was able to convince my grandparents to take me to an off-shoot video rental store. It had one copy of Kingdom Hearts to rent.
I took the wonderful Disney/Final Fantasy collaboration back to my grandparents house for the weekend. The only problem was I didn’t have a memory card. That didn’t stop me from diving right in though. Before I finally got a memory card a few days later, I played all the way through to Tarzan’s world three different times. The second time I tried to keep the PS2 on throughout the night but my grandparents shot down that idea. Essentially I played a third of the game three different times and didn’t enjoy the experience any less when I finally got my own copy and a memory card.
Not too long after that, the game gave me the courage to approach child services at my school regarding my parental treatment. Unfortunately, the experience wasn’t terribly helpful nor enjoyable. I ended up having to live with my grandparents (which wasn’t bad) but I lost a huge chunk of my childhood. Since my grandparents lived in a completely different city, I had to wake up early each and every morning to travel forty minutes to my elementary school, dumped into a crappy daycare center, and then driven to my parents house for nearly the rest of the day before I went back to my grandparents house to sleep. I lost a lot of friends and life experiences only to end up back with my abusive parents a year and a half later. But rest assured that my PS2 and Kingdom Hearts disc were clutched to my chest the entire time. That game kept me sane in a time where nothing made sense and there was nothing to hope for.
In that part of my childhood I did end up beating KH for the first time. I won’t lie and say my young self didn’t cry at the end of the game. From there until Kingdom Hearts 2, I played the game over and over again learning the ins and outs of every possible thing while surviving the hell that had still not yet gone away. I played the story close to fifty times and yes in those fifty amazing journeys I attained the secret ending (Roxas showing up Riku!)
Around middle school I was relocated to the other side of the U.S. shortly after returning to my parents due to a potential job opportunity for my mother. (She ended up getting fired a few months later because she stole from the company.) The horrible issues were still present but Kingdom Hearts kept me going in life. With the incredible lows I experienced equally as distressing thoughts and I can easily say that video games saved my life. The starting adoration of Kingdom Hearts led to a few other games I held close to my heart at that time. Funny enough there was a time where I would watch an hour of Seinfeld and then play Madden 05 until morning.
Kingdom Hearts 2 reignited my resolve to life after the first one stopped offering much in lieu of my fifty playthroughs. In case you were wondering, the problems didn’t go away and probably were worse than ever before. Needless to say I enjoyed it immensely and played it just as much. Although this time Kingdom Hearts was accompanied by Final Fantasy 12 later in the year. I was incredibly satisfied with FFXII as it offered me 250 hours of gameplay and all on one save file. That huge chunk of time combined with Kingdom Hearts 2 compelled me to keep on living and to have hope.
Surely enough, right before I would enter high school in 2007, I was able to manipulate a situation so I was able to permanently go live with my grandmother back on the other side of the country. You know damn well that Kingdom Hearts and FFXII came with me. The challenges and hardships those characters faced inspired me to face my abusers (albeit in an underhanded fashion) to escape. There was a small court case later where my mother tried to regain custody but it failed thanks to the judge seeing her for the monster she is.
Upon writing this I realized that I may not have detailed the specifics that no child, nor no person, should have to go through. What I left out really had no bearing on how much video games got me through life. Fortunately, all the great PlayStation games from 2006 and onwards enabled my confidence to get what was left of my childhood back together. I made great friends, passed high school with flying colors, and made it to the Dean’s List of Ohio University for three straight years. Hell, if it wasn’t for Sony, PlayStation, Square Soft (now Square Enix), Tetsuya Nomura, and all the video game developers, I would hate to think of where I would be now.
So, to video game creators, makers, promoters, and workers of all kinds, don’t give up what you’re doing. (Yes, even you Bioware. You know what you did.) Realize that the art you create provides an outlet, an escape, relief, and hope for people both in good times and bad times. You are just as important as those who create reading and watching materials and can personally guarantee you saved a life in a chaotic world. Oh, and your work doesn’t cause violence. Screw those people. [Ed: Apart from Videoball. That game causes excessive violence. Band-aids were required.]