If you live in the United States, odds are you’ve heard about a problem we have in this country. As of August 5, the 217th day of the year, there have been 255 mass shootings in the U.S. More than the number of days we’ve had this year so far. Nowhere is safe anymore it seems. Not your grocery stores, not your food festivals, and certainly not your favorite bars and clubs downtown.
As other countries take steps to ban assault weapons, focus on mental health, and make real, tangible steps towards a solution, we are still pointing the finger at completely unrelated and unsubstantiated scapegoats. Blaming video games for mass shootings is like blaming fire for the flood. They have nothing to do with each other. Odds are, you agree with me, but for those still on the fence, let me tell you a story I’ve never put to paper before.
A Night I’ll Never Forget, and a Medium That Kept Me Going
Before my time as a full-time writer, I worked at the lovely GameStop, which we’ve all heard stories about. In fact, you may have heard a story like mine, but despite it’s massive influence on my life and my mental health, I’ve neglected to write it down until now.
It was 2008. I had been working in the same GameStop store for a year, and it was shortly after the release of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. I was working with two other associates (whose names will remain private). I was good friends with both of them. In fact, I had plans to go hang out and play MGS 4 after our shift was done for the night.
There were a few customers in the store. One of them was a man in baggy clothes. He had dreadlocks under a colorful knitted cap. He walked up to the counter and put down a generic brand GameStop GameCube controller. The associate at the register beside me went to check him out, but the man stopped him. He went back out to grab a game.
The other customers left and the man approached the counter once more. This time he had Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. I was standing in the center of the counter, processing some trade-ins while one associate grabbed the disc and the other opened the register to take his payment.
I heard the register pop open, but then everything stopped. The associate at the register was completely frozen in place. The one grabbing the disk was oblivious to what was happening. I felt the tension in the air almost immediately, but I didn’t register what was happening until I looked up and to my left.
Placed against my friend’s head was the barrel of a silver revolver. It shimmered in the flourescent light of the store, as if it had just been polished. It was a massive gun, with a long thin barrel. The man holding the gun stood perfectly still, staring forward with a cold gaze.
The associate put his hands up, as did I. The third associate, having grabbed the disc, stood up and placed it on the counter. In the silence, he didn’t realize what was happening. He walked around the counter to head out onto the store floor.
That’s when the man with the gun made his first move. He swung the gun over to me before waving it at the third associate.
“Get down on the ground!” he shouted.
The associate dove behind the counter with his hands behind his head. The man came back to us in front of the register. Our co-worker was already on the ground, but we remained standing. He moved the gun back and forth between us.
“Get a bag, put the money in it!”
I still remember how it felt to have a gun pointed at me. The fear is so absolute that your blood runs cold. It’s sort of like the sensation you get when your feet fall asleep, but across your entire body. I grabbed a GameStop bag and helped the associate at the register shovel both registers into the bag.
The gun came back to me. Once more I was staring down the barrel.
“Open the safe.”
“I can start it, but it takes ten minutes before it will open,” I replied.
He didn’t seem to have the time. We finished shoveling the money from the registers into the bags and handed them across the counter.
“Get on the ground.”
We both compiled and laid face down on the ground with our hands behind our heads.
“If any of you move, I will fucking kill you,” the gunman said.
I can still hear those words, all these years later. Hell, I can still smell the musty carpet beneath my nose. Silence and then the beeping sound the door makes when someone enters or exits the store.
The beep came again shortly thereafter. Silence overtook the store again.
“Hello, is anyone here?”
We all leapt to our feet. A young couple had entered the store.
“We were just robbed!”
The girl pulled out her phone and dialed 911. Meanwhile, the young man walked over to the counter.
“What were you guys here for?” I asked.
“Oh, we just wanted to trade this in,” the young man said, placing a copy of Grand Theft Auto IV on the counter.
Looking back on that night, the fact that they had come in to trade GTA IV was an ironic twist, but beyond that quirky ending, that night burned itself into my brain. We were stuck at the store until the early hours of the morningwriting testimonials, interviewing with police officers, but ultimately we all just wanted to leave. When I did go, I didn’t go home. I went to one of the associate’s houses to grab a few stiff drinks and, you guessed it, play video games.
That was the first time I played Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. I could have died that night. We all could have. That night changed something in me, I haven’t been the same since.
Video Games are Part of the Solution, Not The Problem
Without any support offered from GameStop as far as therapy or counseling, my mental health dwindled over the years. Fast forward to 2019, and I’m still haunted by that night. I read the news every day and I hear about shooting after shooting after shooting. All of it makes me think back to that night.
I sometimes wonder if I somehow cheated death that night. Just like the Final Destination films, maybe my fate is to die in a shooting, in a country where we just let them happen like it’s part of our daily routine. Thoughts like these infest my brain, and it makes me want to hide inside my apartment. It makes me want to never go out because I’m terrified.
More than anything, it makes me angry. Now, you may be wondering why I haven’t sought help for my mental trauma? Well, GameStop never offered help, and this country’s healthcare system is another problem entirely. Until recently, I’ve never had the means to pay for the help I need.
So, I coped in other ways. I turned to the bottle more than I’d like to admit. I tried to drown the memories, night after night, but they always came back. Just like Kratos’ nightmares in the original God of War, I couldn’t just forget, much as I would like to.
Will I get help now that I have insurance that covers therapy? Yes, absolutely. More importantly, though, how did I survive until this point with such crushing anxiety and mental anguish? I think you know the answer.
It was video games that helped me face my fears and get through the dark times. All of my success and all of the strides I’ve made towards positive mental health in a world where problems like this are ignored and cast aside, I attribute to the games I played each and every day.
It’s not just mental health that’s ignored in this country either (though that’s a big part of it). We also have a “leader” (a term which I use lightly), that encourages hateful and racist rhetoric. Hate like this fuels the people who then stew in their misguided convictions until they get the courage to act on their feelings.
A massive chunk of our leadership are encouraging racism, hate, and ignorance when it comes to mental health. We’re doing all of this, and we’re also making it incredibly easy to obtain weapons that can kill dozens of people in the blink of an eye? Let me make something really clear: THIS IS THE PROBLEM!
Do the people who commit these horrendous acts play video games? Sure, maybe, but so do countless other people around the world. We have games that are inherently violent, yes, but they are based on the real world. Violence came first, and it has been in our TV shows, our movies, and our books far longer than it has been in video games.
To say that games are causing these problems also ignores the incredible good they do for people like me. There have already been plenty of studies that disprove a link between games and violence, but let’s talk about my experience with games that not only represent beautiful works of art, but also therapeutic journeys that helped me slowly regain control of my broken mind.
Games as a Force for Good
There are two things in my life that I attribute to my series of small victories in regards to my mental health. The first is my partner, my soulmate, and my player 2: Christina. Without her support, I don’t know how I could have ever made it this far.
The second thing is, of course, video games. It sounds ridiculous to the bystander or perhaps even more so to the person who doesn’t game at all, but we all have things that helped us through the dark times of our lives. For me it has always been the deeply personal, profound, and positive way that games affect my way of thinking.
Even at their most basic level, games offer a deeper sense of escapism than any other medium. While you can certainly immerse yourself in a good book or in the marathon binge of a TV show, games force you to be an active participant at all times. There’s nothing else quite like that.
With thousands upon thousands of trophies and achievements across my profiles, I can’t even begin to fathom all the games I’ve played in the years since that fateful night. I was a gamer long before then too. As one of my loyal customers at GameStop used to say: “I’m a gamer from the womb to the tomb.”
What I will say, is that there are games that have stuck with me through the years. Whether it was the amazing memories I made playing them with friends, or because their stories affected me so deeply, the list would go on longer than any single article could hold.
There’s also a difference between the mind-blowing story of something like Bioshock Infinite, and the quiet reflection of something like Journey. Both offer their own impactful experience, but the delivery is completely different.
What I do know is this: games represent a positive force for more than just me. They profoundly affect people everywhere who play them to temporarily escape from the problems of the world around them, or to find a shoulder to cry on. There’s nothing quite like the moment when you feel like a game understands you. It’s like the developers themselves reach out to wrap their arms around you, hold you, and tell you that everything is going to be okay.
The last time I remember having this feeling was with the recently released Sea of Solitude. Unlike other games similar to it, this game is more upfront with its story, but it spoke to me stronger as a result. I recall a moment where I was navigating between the rooftops of a flooded city in the midst of a storm.
A shadowy monster swam beneath the surface. Constantly whispering, teasing, and hunting me. Jumping into the water with it was key to progress, but each time my heart stopped as I reached for that next ledge and a temporary moment of safety.
Eventually I made it through the darkness and into a small bubble of space where the sun was shining, the waters were clear, and an overwhelming peace washed over me. I was alone at the time, and had been for almost a week. Christina was out of town visiting family and I work from home, so I had nothing but my own thoughts to keep me company.
Standing in that virtual sunshine, free from the darkness, if only for a moment, brought a flood of emotions into me. The tears came before I knew what was happening. In that moment, I felt like I was finally understood. That my struggle with that monster in my mind had, for a brief moment, been made real, and I had beaten it.
You can’t put a price on a moment like that. I felt understood, I felt strong, but more than anything I felt at peace for the first time in years. It’s not the first time a game has done that for me, but it was one of the most powerful instances of a moment like that. Like concentrated therapy, it put me in a state of mind where I felt in control.
Other games come to mind too, like the aforementioned Journey, or Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, games that dealt with deep and very human concepts like death, rebirth, and mental illness in a way that felt sincere and authentic.
Hellblade especially is another incredible example of how people who don’t suffer from mental illness can experience and empathize with those who do by experiencing it for themselves in an artistic, but still authentic way.
You may notice that even Shadow of the Colossus appears in the image for this segment. I think of that as an example of a game that embodies both immersive gameplay and a story that forces you to think long and hard about the consequences of your actions. It’s also a game that I argued as an example of why games should be considered art years ago when it was first released and the topic was fresh in people’s minds.
This generation alone has brought forth some of the most incredible stories and experiences we’ve ever had. Whether it’s the masterpiece that is God of War, the sheer creative beauty of Horizon: Zero Dawn, or the crushing struggle that is The Last of Us, games have never been more of a force for all that is good than they are now.
Now we know that games can be art. I know there are those out there who benefit from them, both as a comfort and a temporary escape from the crushing problems of our modern existence. Regardless of why you play, games have a deep connection to all of us. They are a force for good long before they cause any harm.
To say anything else is to embrace ignorance, and most likely comes from the mouth of someone who has never played the games mentioned above, or the countless others that have graced our platforms over the years.
I never thought I would write this story, let alone release it into the world. I’m glad that I did, though, because in a world where violence, racism, ignorance, and climate change all threaten our very existence, it’s a story that needs to be told.
There is so much wrong with the world, but there are also things that fight back against that seemingly bottomless abyss of negativity. Games are not the problem, but they have been part of the solution for longer than most will admit.
As we make our way forward, both in this world and in our virtual ones, I ask that others share their stories too. Let’s turn the focus away from the things that we love and instead focus on how we can right at least some of the wrongs in our world.
How have games been a force for good in your life? Tell me here in the comments, on social media, or anywhere else you want to be heard.
Article by – Bradley Ramsey
Insert date – 8/21/19