One of my earliest memories of gaming that stands out the most was sometime in the early 90's. I was sitting in a doctor's office for a check up of some sort, busying myself by playing Kirby's Dreamland on the old brick Game Boy. I had received the Game Boy for Christmas, an event that my mother referred to as the worst decision she ever made. It wasn't long ago that she sat in the kitchen and said to my wife "If I had known it would lead to this…" she trailed off, sending a glance in my direction. I looked up from my laptop, more likely than not busy in a dungeon at the time of the comment, shot my mother a glare, and returned to my adventures.
These are the kinds of comments that I deal with on a weekly basis as I visit my parents for dinner, a Monday and Wednesday ritual we've adhered to for years now. It's these comments that send me into a spiraling depression that makes me wonder about my choices in life and my own self-worth. I'm twenty-seven years old. I'm married, have a well-paying job and I'm paying for our own place. I'm capable of providing for myself and my wife, but the comments I endure fill me with such anger, an unhealthy portion of it directed at myself.
But why should it be an issue that I enjoy gaming? Why should these snide remarks fill me with a sense of melancholy? According to the Entertainment Software Association's 2013 "Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry" pamphlet, 58% of Americans play video games. The average age of gamers is 30, with a near perfect split in gender disparity (55% men to 45% women). To take the data even further, there's a larger percentage of women over the age of 18 (31%) than there are boys under the age of 17 (19%) playing video games. At twenty-seven years old I'm right in the correct age demographic to be a gamer.
Yet my parents seem to think it's still the 90's, that video games are for children. "What's the matter, are all your little friends turning in for the night?" My mother asked of me today when I sat up from the laptop to stretch my legs and refill my glass of water. This comment is almost taunting, completely uncalled for. I've been trolled worse by people on the internet, but the sharpest of all barbs comes from my own mother. I ignore these comments as best as I can, knowing not to feed the trolls, and it only seems to spur her on. All I can do in these situations is sigh and wonder why it's such a problem.
I grew up in an upper middle-class neighborhood and had all the comforts that afforded to me. Despite this, I've been working since my Freshman year of High School. While I watched the neighborhood children grow and their behaviour trend toward deviant, I worked and stayed out of trouble. Up to that point, all of my gaming systems and games had been either birthday or Christmas gifts, but now I was in control of my own monetary gain. I no longer had to wait a year or two after system releases to finally have my own Super Nintendo or Nintendo 64 to play. I still have my Nintendo Gamecube, purchased day one when it came out. In fact, I still own the vast majority of gaming systems and games I purchased with my own money. Why would I ever get rid of something I worked for?
My taste in games grew as I was able to fend for myself, so to speak. I couldn't get enough. I played first person shooters, puzzle games, platformers, role-playing games. I played them all, never falling to the boredom I often felt in school and in life in general. School had always been easy for me, perhaps a little too easy. I never dedicated myself to studies, preferring to slide through by the seat of my pants. It's one of my biggest regrets to this very day, but at the time nothing more seemed to matter. It wasn't long until I built a PC and branched out into the world of MMORPGs - Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Games.
It was at this point that my disappearance from the trivialities of real life reached their peak. Final Fantasy XI was my first taste of a broader world. I was no longer tethered by a system, forced to play with only my closest friends on a sofa. I went on adventures with people from all over the globe and the friends I made there made me realize that there was more than the little town I lived in. I met people that influenced me to the point that I still remember their names, or their handles at least. Redeyes, Bakuto, Runic, Lucian, Lilbit. The original Order of the Blue Soul, a name I adopted into my original writing that I still dream of making it big with some day.
Like all things associated with teenage years and hormones, my gaming habits lead to drama. At the time, I had enlisted my best friend and my girlfriend into playing Final Fantasy XI with me. In Vana'diel we were just adventurers, exploring and having fun. In the real world, my best friend begun hanging out with the wrong kind of people and my girlfriend began cheating on me. I was blinded by the lives we lead inside the game and saw none of this. When real life caught up with me and reached a boiling point, my only course of action was to rampage. My friend and I fought, I left my girlfriend, and I left Vana'diel behind. Bridges were burnt, and I retreated within myself once more.
I graduated High School with no friends left and no real direction in life. I had neglected my studies enough that I left an average student with no opportunities. To add insult to injury, my job at the library I worked at had come to a close, the position only open to students. I was left with a sense of wavering, a listless feeling as I had no clear sense of where to go from there. I had one summer to make up my mind whether I would attend community college or enter the workforce. The summer went by fast, far quicker than I possibly imagined it could, and I entered community college.
Gaming was still an important part of my life. I made new friends who played games and it felt like things were starting to become normal again. My attendance at college was abysmal, far too caught up in the intrigues of having friends and access to a vehicle. We went on real adventures to beaches and forests when we should have been in classes. It was a wonderful time to be eighteen and free to roam, responsibilities be damned. I even began dating one of my new friends, a girl with problems of her own that she seemed to be running from.
It wasn't long before our running reached a breaking point. My girlfriend, I had always been faithful to her, became paranoid. She didn't like herself, and took it out on everyone around her. We broke up and I left the group with indignation. I couldn't stand to be around them anymore, the way they took her side and treated me with disdain. I only stayed in contact with one person from that group, the man who got me to return to Vana'diel.
It was April of 2007 when I began playing Final Fantasy XI again, and the same month I began working at my current employer. Community college was a thing of the past, I had wasted two years ignoring my classes and making little to no progress. The only thing I had accomplished was wasting money and throwing away opportunity. During the day I worked ordering parts and supplies for engineers at a dairy, but at night I was a Blue Mage. I made new friends and went on adventures, fought many monstrous foes and saved the world time and time again. However, I was beginning to feel a sense of dissociation to the real world. I was going through the motions. It very well could have been because I had recently broken up with my girlfriend, that I had burnt bridges once again.
Many events occurred during my years in Vana'diel, far too many to go into here. I made friends, lost them, left them, made new friends anew. An endless cycle of meetings and partings. Somewhere during it all, I decided I was tired of being alone. I met my wife through online dating and, needless to say, we hit it off well. I got my own place, and she moved in with me, in October of 2009. We married a year later.
With my wife, my personality began to round out once more. I was no longer a shut in, going so far as surprising people at family gatherings that I hadn't locked myself away. I was generally a happier person, but gaming was still a part of my life. I found a new group of friends that I could better relate to, a group that I still game with to this day and feel immensely loyal to. I'm not afraid of having to burn bridges anymore.
For all my faults and regrets from my earlier years, I feel I've become a better person through it all. I don't drink or smoke or use drugs, I don't gamble and I'm faithful to my wife. I personally know people who have or have had these vices. My wife's best friend dealt with an abusive significant other that almost dragged her into debt, doesn't provide child support, and is a flight risk to escape it all by returning to his native country. In comparison, I'm practically the Pope. But every Monday and Wednesday I'm harassed by my parents, given glances and whispered about because I have a hobby that I enjoy.
I'm twenty-seven years old, I'm married, I have a 40-hour a week job and am fully capable of providing for myself and my wife. I'm also a gamer. And because of that I am ridiculed.