For the Love of the Game
It is the year 1997. Bill Clinton is the president of the United States, the country's economy is great, and life in America is as sweet as it had ever been. The second generation of the 'baby boomers' is starting to grow, and technology is advancing faster than anyone had expected it to. This is where I find myself, smack dab in the middle of all of it. At the ripe age of five, the world around me did not look at all strange. Though my parents had gotten a divorce two years before, my mother and father had a friendly relationship, and quite often my father would be over at our house spending time with me and my two sisters. One of the activities that me and my siblings enjoyed doing together most was playing video games. Starting out with our first NES that my family got before I was even born, and playing Super Mario Bros. 3 before I could even talk, I could tell that this was going to be a source of entertainment for years to come. With more revolutionized (at the time) systems like the Super NES and the Sega Genesis, games became more enthralling and deeper, thus garnering more and more attention. These are the two video game systems that I owe my life to, and to this day are still near and dear to me in my heart, for video games, both back in 1997 and today, have shaped my life to the way it is now, and quite frankly saved my life.
It was a hot, summer day in 1997. My father, my two sisters, and I are just coming back from playing soccer at a nearby park, when we decide to seek shelter in the cool air inside our home. Drinking Kool-Aid and eating Goldfish crackers, we sat on the couch as my father pulls out the Sega Genesis and offers to play Sonic the Hedgehog for us to watch. Being only five years old, and hearing the name Sonic the Hedgehog, I was pretty freaking excited, for that game was one of the most difficult games in existence at that time, for if you lost all of your lives, you start at the beginning of the game. Since I did not have the necessary skill to even get halfway through the game without getting a 'Game Over' on the water laboratory level where I would almost pee my pants after the scary, 'Jaws'-like music queues and Sonic drowns, I would always find fun in watching my dad play and make it farther than I had seen anyone get in the game. Four hours go by seamlessly, the entire case of Kool-Aid now being digested in mine and my sisters' stomachs, and my father has reached the final battle against Dr. Robotnik. And he wins, for the first time ever. Never has my whole family been more united in our lives, and it was a shear moment of bliss. This is still one of the greatest memories that I have with my full family, for in the years to come after this happened, my family grew farther and farther apart, and soon enough, my mental strength would be tested.
Around the year 2000 was when things at home were becoming a little tense and unfriendly. My mom refused to let my father see his children for no particular reason, and being the only boy of the family, it struck me pretty hard. The fact that my mother was sheltering me from knowing the most inspirational person in my life at the time was heart-wrenching and it took a toll on me mentally and psychologically. In school, I was a straight A student, but I was very shy and self conscious. Often times I was antisocial, and it was very hard for me to make friends other than the somewhat nerdy friends that I had already made in third grade. My after school routine, when I wasn't participating in Little League baseball or Parks and Recreation basketball like every other middle school boy was, consisted of mostly playing video games. I never really understood what drew me to the video games, at the time being either my Nintendo 64 or my Sega Dreamcast, but I would come home from school and immediately pick up a controller and start playing. Looking back, I feel like as video games began to evolve and contain story-like qualities such as character development and attractive visuals, the more I was able to connect with the characters of the different games and claim them as my 'friends', since I did not really have many in real life since I went through a large amount of bullying during my childhood. The problems at home as well as in school led me to seek shelter in these games and find a safe place for my mind to wander and explore worlds beyond my imagination. Games like Banjo-Kazooie and its sequel, Banjo-Tooie, Sonic Adventure 1 and 2, Donkey Kong 64, Jet Grind Radio, and many others allowed me to expand my horizons and become involved in story lines and relationships with characters that I could have never imagined. It was these games that really secured in my mind that this was going to be something I can look to if I am ever under pressure, in pain mentally, or needed something to pass the then lonely times in my life.
As the video game industry began to grow and expand, and games were becoming deeper and more complex, I was doing the same thing with my life. I was going through middle school, and beginning to learn how to deal with my own problems with bullying and social issues, a time where my life was looking as though it was turning around. Though I was still playing video games and staying up-to-date on the latest releases at the time, they were starting to become less of a priority in my life as I was starting to make friends and become more social. I knew that I always had my Xbox or my Playstation 2 waiting at home, so I took advantage of the new found fun in my life. And, more often than not, the social activities with my friends would involve video games! All my friends had Game Boys, so we would be playing Pokemon together, or playing Kingdom Hearts for the Playstation 2 (because that game was freaking awesome). Things in my life were finally starting to turn around after the rough five or so years I had had involving the issues with my father and mother. I was able to see my dad from time to time, whether it be at my Little League games or brief visits at his house across town. He was still a huge part of my life, and I intended to keep it that way for as long as possible.
But on December 15, 2005, I came home from school as an eighth-grader to find out that my father had suffered from a massive heart attack which took his life at the age of 54. From prolonged smoking and gum disease, the doctors said that even though he had no signs of lung cancer, these were the catalysts of his death. Obviously, losing the most important person in my life struck me very hard. I remember sitting in my room for weeks after the funeral for my father playing Kingdom Hearts 2, Call of Duty 3, Jet Set Radio Future, and Resident Evil 4 for hours without talking to anyone. Since I had grown a thick shell and had suppressed my feelings for so long, I honestly had thoughts of suicide, even at such a young age. I had been sent to the guidance counselor of my middle school multiple times in order to both get a standpoint on where my emotions were as well as respond to rumors that had gotten out about my suicidal thoughts. I never went to therapy or anything, and after starting my freshman year of high school, those thoughts began to disappear.
It was in high school that my mentality would change yet again. My friend recommended to me a game where I could both become involved in an in-depth and interesting story as well as interact with people around the world – World of Warcraft, or WoW. Still in the midst of what some say PTSD, I used this game as an aid to my sanity, entering the world of Azeroth as someone I could never be in real life, but something that I could call my own and build to be the best it could be. WoW is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game where you create a character with skills ranging from magic to swordsmanship to archery. Of course, since I was a stick-skinny kid who tended to crawl in the shadows and not be too social in the past, I chose to be an Undead Rogue, a zombified character whose main skills focused on stealth and close combat. Since it was 2006, the game was still somewhat young and didn't have the fan-base that it has nowadays, and I found myself playing this game for hours and sometimes 24-hour marathons. I would stay up all night on Fridays and Saturdays playing and improving, eventually reaching the highest level and playing in groups of people that I had never met before in real life, but could call my friends because I talked to them more than I talked to people in real life. Being only 14 and playing with people ranging from ages 16-40, I felt accepted for once in my life, and would find no shame in spending my nights participating in 40-man groups to defeat bosses in the game.
The ridicule in school began to pick up again around Thanksgiving of 2006. I remember walking into school by myself as I usually did, and being jumped by three kids in my class that I particularly did not like. They kicked the living crap out of me, causing irreversible damage to my knees in the process both from when I hit the ground and from my struggle to escape their grasps. They were yelling things as they were beating on me too, slander about me, my family, and most importantly, my father. I remember the tone of voice that one of the kids used when he said, 'Your dad deserved to die because your mother never loved him and he was all washed up.' This sent me spiraling into depression again, and I continued to contemplate suicide. There was a point in time where I even stood on a dock overlooking a lake nearby my house and came close to drowning myself. I began to write poetry and short stories, trying to vent my anger and anguish through a subtle means. But there was one thing that kept my spirits up, along with the continuous thoughts and dreams I had about my dad motivating me and telling me I can be great someday: the release of the expansion pack for World of Warcraft, The Burning Crusade.
Never had I been more excited for anything in my entire life. It gave me a chance to start a clean slate in-game with everyone around me, for I had not been around for the initial release of the original game. My 'guild', or in-game clan or group, was all anticipating the release of TBC, and on release day I purchased and installed the game and began my subsequent journey with people that I had began to connect with in mediums besides the game. I had actually met three of the members of my guild at a ComicCon in the summer of 2006, which was cool because they were 17-18 years old and I was still 14, yet we still got along great and hung out pretty much the entire time. Within days I was the maximum level in the game, along with the committed members of my guild, and we spent hours and days playing through all of the content that the game had to offer. This was my social life. Yes, people I knew in real life played the game, and I kept time throughout the week where I would do real life activities such as sports and biking, but I was always back on the computer playing. It was something that I could call my own and no one could tell me what was right or wrong. I eventually became a high-ranking member of my guild, and fulfilled my crowning achievement of the game in killing Kil'Jaeden of Sunwell Plateau, the hardest boss of the entire game, whom the very vast majority of players at the time had never even come close to encountering.
Over time World of Warcraft became sort of dull to me, having played the two subsequent expansion releases and being turned off to the content being released as well as the large amount of changes to the game. The game was never the same for me, and people who played as hardcore as I did back then can agree with me. I began to play intellectually challenging strategy games such as StarCraft: Brood War and WarCraft 3, but I never got too involved with them. I won a few Brood War tournaments in the area, but never pursued anything beyond that. As my high school career came to a close and I started college at Colorado State University, I wanted something new with my life, but did not want to completely block video games out of my life. Though WoW had been my go-to game for a very long time, it was time for me to move on to newer and more mature games, though I did not play very many while I was living in a dorm room at CSU. I would play Call of Duty or Super Smash Bros. from time to time with people I had met, but video games were starting to become less important. Being from Connecticut and going to school out in Colorado was tough not only for losing most communication with my friends back there, but also for the strain of a long distance relationship with my longtime girlfriend, Kayleigh. I returned home twice to visit her, and eventually found out that she had cheated on me multiple times, even saying that she never loved me, even though we had been dating for almost a year at that point.
My grades began to suffer and I eventually failed out of CSU, returning back to Connecticut to attend community college. My grades were never bad in high school, though I could have done much better, and I received a 1980 on my SAT as well as a 32 on my ACT, allowing me to get into every school that I applied to. I was still unsure on what I wanted to do with my life, but for some reason beyond my power I sought guidance in video games. Earlier in the year I had purchased StarCraft II as a time killer, and since the game had no kind of subscription fee which most online PC games have these days, I began to play it. And boy, did I play it. Within two months, I qualified for Diamond League in the game, being one of the highest leagues in the game. But it was not just the game that caused me to become so interested in the game. The community of the game, following the success of its predecessor in Brood War, was outstanding, and professional players worldwide would do broadcasts of anything from tournaments, to current news involving changes to the game or strategy, to just playing against random players online. I began to watch tournament after tournament, stream after stream, which also helped improve my game even more. My biggest inspiration in the StarCraft community is Sean 'Day' Plott, a former Brood War professional and current commentator and active member of the gaming community. His journey from a small town in Kansas to the World Cyber Games in Singapore inspired me that I could come from a small town and be someone involved in the industry. Since then, I have qualified for Master League on the North American server, meaning I am in the top 2% in the region, in one of the most competitive gaming environments out there. But my main focus is not on becoming a professional gamer, but becoming a journalist for eSports in general.
Now that I am 20 years old, and a Communications and Journalism major in college, my main focus is to get a degree and try to find a way to get my name out there in the eSports community. My dream would be to be a color commentator for professional tournaments, or to just follow tournaments around and write stories on the top players in the world. My love for video games, stemming from my troubled youth and sheltered childhood without much guidance, has shown me what truly matters in my life. Video games have been my one true source of happiness in my life, and after much confusion on where my life would lead me, I finally know what it is I want to focus my life on. If a job in eSports does not work out, being a video game journalist for a magazine would be another option for me. I owe my life to gaming and its community, for without it, who knows if I would be here today to talk about it?
For those who actually read this wall of text, thank you, I truly appreciate it. The gaming community is my second family, and I hope to share more of my life story with you, as well as befriend all of you. <3