On gaming

16/06/2020: The longer story of how important the role of gaming has been in my life, coping with struggle, and my progression from an awkward kid to a respected professional.

Things have been kinda exhausting lately. I'm alive and glad and happy to have finally found a functioning relationship with actual potential on the one hand. On the other, my sister is going through difficult time facing emotional instability and combating matters of the past that started getting back on her, which we try to solve by family therapy that might or might not help. Quarantine hampered daily schedules of most of us, and personally, I haven't really returned to the standard full-time student/employee schedule ever since the first surgery year and a half ago. Until now.

Well, it is never that simple, is it\?! Alarm clock at 7:47, shower if I force myself out of bet before 8am, sleepy walk to the bus stop 300 meters away. 40 minutes of struggling for oxygen through the obligatory face mask while on the way to work. Asthma attacks are also a thing, some mornings.

Once at work, I have coffee, sometimes one, sometimes four. I try to be nice to my colleagues but spend most time fixing data sync issues on the currently deficient BI platform, quietly complaining and getting cranky over it. That might change. Or not.

At around 5:30, I pack my stuff and march back to the subway, feeling sorry for the planet, the things we make and abuse, the people who are poor, the people living in hunger, and the sun, because all of these are temporary.

Playing Sudoku on the way makes things a little better. A thing to focus on, historical timing statistics providing positive feedback loop with progressive improvement. But then, it is a bit too hot on the bus and I just can't focus enough, so I just flick through some memes and news articles feeling dizzy.

Once home, I start eating whatever I find, because eating out is just uneconomical and breakfast is out of question after my nightly sleepeating journeys to the kitchen. I have a chat with other family members when they are present, sometimes pour myself creamy liqueur over cube of ice, and climb upstairs.

And there it begins. Me time. Massive office desk, four screens, RGB lighting, ambient atmosphere, air conditioning, scented candle, posters on the wall, king-size bed, and nothing else. Sometimes I use it to call my girl for a bit, sometimes I just browse the web. But most of the time, I just sit down, put my headphones on, grab the mouse or X-Box controller, and play.

With or without a partner, online or offline, grinding or living the story, gaming has always helped me take my mind off things and use my brain in a world that I was actually able to influence. Gaming gave me opportunities to not only learn factual information but also understand the process of improving at something, read between the lines, know when to make a decision and when to just follow through, listen to others while forming a strategy, listen to some great music, and most of all, see and evaluate trade-offs.

Like most of members of the community who are my age, I started with handheld Tetris. (Yes, the one in the picture.) Then, there was doom when I was staying home alone as a kid, Duke Nukem 3D and one fantasy platformer I don't remember the name of, when an older kid from the neighbourhood (it was supposed to be his mother, really,) was babysitting me. When my oldest sister, there was Blood 2. Jazz Jackrabbit, StarCraft and Operation Flashpoint came around when I was failing to blend in at a new school.

M&M's Tetris

At the time things were okay, in spite of the ridicule from my classmates, I had the first two of the EA Harry Potter series, Ford Racing 2 (which I got from a box of cereal) and things like Soldat. Entering grammar school, before it all started tilting hard, ice hockey and NHL 07 (my first modding experience,) RTL Winter Sports, and Diamond mine helped me make two real friends, while World of Warcraft enabled me to stay in touch with others and improve my english. Sims 2 came out when I needed it the most but they didn't stay for long.

My dad's character on a Hippogriff!

In the darkest times, Trackmania Nations Forever helped me build virtual relationships and the illegal copy of GTA San Andreas a friend of mine brought over let me stay sane. Then there were the parties of Counter Strike (which I sucked at) at the boarding school helped me keep in touch with people in spite of not actually being liked.

My first own laptop and the desire to game on it helped me make another friend, whom I acknowledge too little nowadays, but who helped me a lot in transition into the society. We played everything we were able to get our hands on that the AMD Turion x64 with Radeon HD3200 were able to pull off. Need for Speed Underground 2 all the new 3D platformers were the thing then.

Compaq 615

With my first dedicated graphics card laptop, I spent most time with Sims 3, webdesign, and ironically also the 1999 Unreal Tournament. The latter was a big life-saver when all my computers had given in the next year, because I got my hands on a Pentium II system with an unidentifiable graphics controller. And it ran at stable 16 FPS!!!

A decent hardware upgrade from that allowed me to play Burnout Paradise, a snowboading simulator, FlatOut2 and other awesome games. That was when things at home were bad and things at school were good. I liked staying over for weekends, talk to people, and study, too. Well, that didn't last long either. I got burned in my first romantic relationship and got expelled from the school in three steps.

Another dark period with little to no gaming followed. Sometimes I would have a chance to play with my classmates at a cyber café, but I had to start working, so there was little time. When there was some, I would choose World of Tanks over homework and made a return to World of Warcraft, on a private server, this time.

Toward graduation, when I got mauled by a second breakup with the same girl, it was the third of Harry Potter series and Sims 3 that helped a lot. First year of university meant better computer, opportunity of independent time-management, more World of Warcraft, some NHL09, Heartstone, lot of graphics design work and some mathematics.

My roommate was a jerk and the relationship I managed to build toward Christmas wasn't to last in romantic sense, because of the distance. I volunteered at sports events, applied to a university in the UK, watched plenty of movies, was getting fat, and when there was a chance, I enjoyed Super Hexagon, Tetris, mostly light stuff.

First year in the UK was hard. I worked in a restaurant, studied, had no time, lived in a cold house, but I was really grateful for the opportunity and went through with it. It was the nostalgia of Need for Speed Most Wanted combined with novelty of League of legends that sustained the willpower and final decision to stay.

Year later, I became ambassador of Runeterra, began to accumulate titles in my Steam library, and had a great year in general. League was a way to stay in touch with my dad, then, while story rich games slowly crawled into the longer stretches of free time I had. Portal 2, Doom 3, Audiosurf, Trackmania2 Stadium and Trackmania Turbo brought me enjoyment between lectures and writing essays back then.

Final year of university was difficult from the beginning through the end. Living with a cocaine user and DJ, I did my best to isolate, played League and League alone, slowly climbing to Silver. Moving out prematurely to seek a better accommodation helped me find a squad of gamers to stay with and my passion came back. I played X-COM, Torchlight, Shelter 2 and guess what: League!!!

In Amsterdam, things were slowly moving to shit again. And so were my gaming habits. League remained but it was generally more of a book-time. And it is only right that way. Getting the C-word diagnosis was tough and I needed a sharp change in the degree of mental stimulation. I did my best to live on and game on.

With Max Caulfield in Life is Strange, I learned that I belong among the righteous few, who actually understood the morale of the story. But it was Chloe Price, who held my hand on the way through the worst. Before the storm, was far deeper a game for me than the original, not only by diving into the core of what shaped LiS as a series, but also by the fact that I could have failed at living long enough to see it end.

On my way to recovery, I moved on to the Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, Tomb Raider, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Yoku's Island Express, Spyro Reignited Trilogy, Horizon Chase and Zoo Tycoon 2018. Things have been hard then, especially when I woke up to see my stoma bag detached from my stomach and myself covered in excretions all over. That's probably when I needed them the most and when they were truly there to guide me, embrace me, and calm me down.

CoViD Quarantine that came not long afterwards was bearable thanks to the combination of LoL, GRID 2 that made me good at racing games, and GRID Autosport, which is even more challenging.

And coming back to this very day, I am enormously glad that I still have what to choose from and that there are my former classmates happy to have me join them playing Valorant any evening, only enhancing the experience of my comfort and the whole me time. Except I have to whine less about getting killed all the time and talk slightly less loudly while planning that invasion of site C.

And how cool is that Dan Bull released a song on this exact topic. It is by far not the only or even the most significant on the list of things that did, yet it still holds holds there.

And that is how gaming saved my life.