Published on April 10th, 2013 | by Darik Kirschman10
How gaming helped me deal with bullying
I’ve always loved video games. Some of my earliest memories are about them. The first system that I could call my own (as opposed to the NES of my uncle’s on which I frequently gamed) was the original, brick-sized Game Boy with a copy of Link’s Awakening. It was a birthday present from my father, and one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. So yes, gaming has been a huge part of my life, a true constant in the sea of changes that inevitably comes with growing up.
Those who know me can attest, I’m a rather emotional guy and incredibly non-confrontational. I’d rather just sit back, let people do their thing and maybe try and calm them down by talking. In my experience, fighting and getting angry never really solved anything — instead just creating more tension and built-up reserves of fury. As you might imagine, in my younger days I was a somewhat introverted, shy kid. I had friends, of course, but I didn’t really go out of my way to acquire more. Quite simply, I was content with doing my own thing, be it getting lost in a good book or game, or doodling for hours on end. This general take-it-or-leave-it approach to socialization was met with less than friendly opposition at times. But let’s call a spade a spade: I was bullied.
There’s still a bit of shame in saying that, for whatever reason. It seems silly to be almost afraid to admit it, especially in such a public way. I’m sure plenty of gamers — and, quite honestly, people in general — have been the target of unjust ridicule. After all, young kids can be cruel. I remember a particular bully, a real jerk who mocked me endlessly for liking video games and spending my free time during class reading or playing Game Boy (back before Pokémon grew so popular that they banned the handhelds). I understood that fighting was wrong, so instead of hurling abuse back, I simply bit my tongue and endured. As a grade-school boy, it hurt. Rather than do the sensible thing and alert a teacher or parent to the bullying, I retreated into the fantasy worlds that I so loved. I found empowerment in video games rather than my everyday life of school, homework and chores.
I did get angry and upset at those who made fun of me, of course. It’s only natural. Elementary school is as much about navigating those emotions as it is mathematics and getting picked to read a paragraph out loud in class. As a boy of 10, I didn’t have many options to redirect those negative feelings, but that all changed when I received Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 64. I’m still not entirely sure how it happened, even after all these years, but one day I was playing through the Arcade mode as Link (a reminder of those fond memories of Link’s Awakening) and my thoughts turned to that particular bully — let’s call him Ganon, for the sake of thematic symmetry — and his taunts and teasing. I began to imagine the game’s opponents as this Ganon. Still think it’s dumb to like reading? HYAHH! SLASH! Take that, sucker! I relished the opportunity to fight back, even if only in a virtual representation. It was incredibly cathartic. Later in life, I learned through a psychology class that what I had been doing was sort of a weird, digital version of sublimation — not the process where a solid goes straight into a gaseous state, but the coping mechanism.
In the following weeks and months, Ganon’s teasing slowly began to bother me less and less. Taunts and name-calling were met with rather bored looks or casual eye rolling. Without any sort of visible response, my bully and his cronies were denied any sort of satisfaction. Eventually they just gave up, leaving me to my books, games and drawings. The war was ended without a single fight — at least outside of my N64. When Ganon left me alone, I felt good. That sense of empowerment that I experienced in the digital realm bled over into my own world and, for just a moment, I felt as courageous as any of the countless heroes in the games I enjoyed so much.
It’s easy to pinpoint that precise confrontation, or lack thereof, as a major turning point. I decided then and there that I wanted to be involved in gaming for the rest of my life and, more importantly, I felt confident in myself. I became a bit more social, opening up to others in a way I used to reserve for those I considered close friends. It’d take a few more years for me to become the well of enthusiasm and friendliness that I am now, but it was a start. I have video games to thank for that, as well as my childhood bully. Thanks for everything, Ganon.