Last year I was sitting in my car waiting to hear from my girlfriend about where we were meeting for dinner. While I mindlessly played with my phone and waited I saw something through my window that has stuck with me. Across the parking lot I watched a young boy, maybe 11 or 12 years old, walking hand-in-hand with his mother out of a video game store. Now, this seems pretty ordinary, but for several reasons it made me happy and sad at the same time.
Let me explain a little about my perspective. I’ve played video games my entire life like a lot of people my age. My family moved around a lot when I was a kid and a lot of times I didn’t have many friends, so video games filled that void for me. I also wasn’t very cool or popular, but not entirely unhappy.
The friends I did have, however, were unhappy a lot of the time. Not openly, but for the most part I could see a sadness behind it all. I could tell that their happiest moments were when they were around comrades that shared their interests, or when they were lost in worlds of adventure and fantasy. There was always a longing in their eyes for something different, for an easier life among cruel contemporaries where they were accepted and respected. I shared this feeling from time to time when I was younger, and still touch on it occasionally in the back of my mind. Being a nerd, geek, or whatever you wanted to call it always came with the feeling of being unwanted. This hardship is nothing compared to what many children in the world go through, I know, but I’m sure many people can relate. Eventually, we all go to college or mature and get stronger and life gets easier.
For clarity, I should also explain that I lived in mostly small towns. Life isn’t necessarily better for nerds in metropolitan areas, but there is a larger population of them. For me and the friends I’m describing there were no Cons or board game shops, or even a video game store. I’m much happier in the city.
My friends and I were the kids that had our parents involved in everything. They wanted to know what we were doing all the time, though they never showed any actual interest in it. We had to ask permission to spend the night at each others’ houses, and even then we would get checked on and told to go to bed if we were up too late playing games. Case in point, we were not cool by any means, except to each other.
This boy I saw in the parking lot instantly reminded me of myself and of the many friends I’ve had that were like me. This boy holding hands with his mother had a brand new game in his hands and a smile ear to ear. The sight made me smile myself as I remembered the feeling of convincing my mom to take me to the store to get a new game. The excitement and anticipation I felt when I had convinced my parents to let me get the game. The vigor and energy I felt doing the chores to earn the money for it. The suspense of the long drive to the Walmart, and the even longer suspense of the drive home once I had the new adventure in my hands.
That feeling, those moments, were what I lived for… those were my happiest moments as a child; the whole world could burn, and I would be happy and safe in my room exploring a world I found far more interesting. For a brief moment I envied that boy experiencing that same feeling I once had. I still get excited with the purchase of a new game, but nothing quite matches the old feeling.
After I had finally heard from my girlfriend and was leaving the parking lot a different emotion overtook me. I was sad. In fact, I partially wanted to cry because I also remembered why those moments were so happy. A lot of the other moments were not; the teasing and name-calling, the bullying, and the lack of understanding from my own parents. Things I was certain that little boy dealt with day to day as well. He was chubby, and, in all honesty, an unattractive boy by conventional standards. I could just picture the ridicule he probably dealt with. On top of that I remembered the look on his mother’s face; confusion and agitation, “why does he want this so bad?” Because it makes him happy; let him be happy.
That moment has stuck with me since that day in the parking lot. Video games can mean a lot of different things to a lot of people, but everyone can find happiness in them in different ways; for some its role-play, or a display of skill, others its adventure, and for many its escape. I myself used it for escape when I was younger. I’m older now and I don’t have much time to play games, but I still do, just for different reasons. I no longer need to escape. I’m a perfectly healthy, happy adult, but I’ll never forget what it felt like to be that little boy.
This isn’t meant to be some sad thing, and it’s certainly not meant for sympathy. It’s merely a reflection on how video games touch our lives in different ways. Much like music or film, video games are a medium that can evoke a tremendous amount of emotion in a lot of different ways.
Has anyone else had a similar experience, one that has just stuck with you?