Children need a champion. Someone that gives them strength, that makes them feel confident, strong, inspired, and secure. Someone to defend them, not only from the evils of the world, but from the evils of doubt, sadness, and all of the other rain clouds that weigh people down. Unfortunately, not all children have champions, and even if they do, they can’t be victorious all of the time. When a child is left without a defender, the best thing they can do is inspire strength and security in themselves. This is where video games can become so important. Games can provide inspiration and escape. Games can empower the minds of those who feel powerless. It’s true that the same can be said for movies and books, but I feel video games light this fire in a brighter way. You don’t just watch everything unfold with video games; you yourself are the one who moves mountains. There’s a power kids can gain from games. Trust me, I know.
I felt weak growing up. Weak and stupid. I have horrible asthma and allergies, and had such poor muscle tone and coordination I spent years in weekly physical and occupational therapy. Struggles with severe ADHD and dysgraphia/dyspraxia made school life unsatisfactory to say the least. Teachers never seemed to know what to do with me; they often either treated me as a nuisance or avoided me. I always felt like the extra help I required made me less valuable and my physical struggles made it hard for me to play sports and outdoor games, so I spent most of my time at lunch and at recess reading by myself. Kids aren’t as stupid as people sometimes think. They can be very observant, and when they observe an oddity in the herd, targets lock on and fire at will. In class, at school, and in therapy, I felt weak, and stupid, and useless.
The Sega Game Gear: My first gaming device
My mother encouraged me to invest time in things that I enjoyed and made me feel confident and skillful, so she bought me lots of books and magazines. It was through magazines like EGM and Gamepro that I developed a true thirst for gaming that got me diving headfirst into the hobby. I was sort of a gamer before this, I got a Game Gear for Christmas in 1996 and it was my favorite thing ever until my N64 came along in ’98, but I learned so much from magazines. I discovered RPG’s and other games that seemed like they would be great escapes from the depression and insecurities of my daily life.
At first, that’s what video games were to me: an escape. Unlike many other things, video games could hold my attention for hours. After a bad day I would jump right into Mario 64 and just explore. I didn’t care too much about scores and objectives at first, I just wanted to sink into the game. When I played Sonic 2 I whizzed through the loop de loops and just imagined. When I had a controller or a Gameboy in my hand I didn’t care about eating lunch alone or worry about how special accommodations made me look. Those things weren’t important. For a moment or two, I was a part of something bigger. Something fantastic.
One of my favorite reads
When I rose to a challenge in a game, I fought my hardest to reach my goals. I rescued all of the princesses, beat the elite four, saved forest animals from Dr. Robotnik , and woke the wind fish. Games made me feel powerful in a way that spelling tests and kickball never could. Soon, I wanted more. When I was young I only had an N64, a Gameboy color, and and my old game gear, but that didn’t stop me from devouring info and secrets about all of the other consoles. I learned tricks for Crash Bandicoot to help a neighbor and I practiced Castlevania III and Bloodlines at my cousins house until they sent me home. Eventually, other kids would start coming to me for little bits of gaming trivia and news updates for games they were looking forward to. I wasn’t alone anymore.
I was still shy and still a geek, but I was no longer afraid of putting myself out there to the other kids like me. I found kids who shared my escapist love for gaming and we immersed ourselves in gaming worlds together. I discovered one of my favorite RPG franchises, Lunar, through my friend Cam and when my best friend Erik got a Dreamcast for Christmas we lost ourselves in the little white box for days. We tore through Sonic Adventure and tried our best to figure out Shenmue. (A game I gained great appreciation for later on.)
Soon I realized that I could apply the confidence and skills I picked up with gaming to life in the real world. I studied harder in school and even won a bunch of essay contests. I made more friends, and finished my physical and occupational therapies for good. I stopped caring what other kids thought of me and learned to just enjoy myself and take pride in my various efforts. Video games gave me a place where I could explore and play safely. They gave me a chance to be strong and fight hard to succeed, and through these successes I learned a lot about myself and what kind of person I could be. Friendships that started with idle chatter about Kingdom Hearts have become bonds that are still hold strong today. These are the kinds of opportunities to learn and grow that kids can get from video games. Video games can be more than a pastime for a kid. They can be powerful and cathartic. They can make a child their own champion. Video games are not always a waste of time, they can be so important. Don’t let people tell you otherwise.
Life is better with a Player 2