Video games offered my son a safe haven from bullying

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my husband and I wasn’t sure where the bullying started. Our son’s ADHD? Be adopted? Was it because he stood up to a bully who called his black friend a “slave” and demanded that he wear his cello? Our son encountered racism early on when a drunk white guy demanded that his tiny 6-year-old sister be returned to China, where we adopted her. Luke stood up for her too. Whatever caused the bullying, what mattered most was how he eventually defeated it.

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Luke started playing lego star wars at the age of 5 years. I objected to the violence, but when Luke Skywalker (who we named our son after) exploded, his father said they were just little Lego pieces flying apart. Years later it was Halo with vivid images of people being shot, which bothered me, despite Music be better than I’ve heard in any video game. As a professional musician, I appreciate it. And since our son was a talented violinist, I thought listening to fully orchestrated game music might inspire his own playing. And I hoped that he would spend less time playing games and more time playing the violin. There is substantial evidence behind this. what learning music can do for the brain.

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But more importantly than whether our son played or took up the violin, the sad truth was that on an almost daily basis, Luke was thrown into lockers, had his backpack ripped off his shoulders, and called all kinds of unprintable names. The games were the only world where he had some control. We let him play, but we also signed him up for taekwondo.

His father began to take him to PAX Eastwhere Luke contacted several indie gamers and started beta testing their video games. One company Novell.no (originally Tenwall Creatives) were so grateful to Luke for his enthusiasm and help that when they developed a new game, Gloomy, they put our son in it like an easter egg. Players could find his name written on the monument: For Luke, a young sorcerer whose bright eyes and unwavering support inspired worlds. Needless to say, Luke was delighted.

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Contributed by Novellin

“You know, I was inspired to immortalize something permanent that everyone can see,” says Luke. “During beta testing Gloomy, I learned a lot about the creative design process and the various elements of game development that go into making a game. It made me think, “Maybe this is what I really want to do with my life.”

Contributed by Novellin

After earning his black belt and after years of restraint, as he was taught to do in the dojo, Luke finally kicked his bully with a roundhouse kick that knocked him to the ground. Then he left sixth grade and never came back. “I don’t have to defend myself to go to school,” he said at the time. We agreed and homeschooled him for the last six weeks of the school year. In seventh grade, we transferred him to a private school that had zero tolerance for bullying. But he got tired of wearing a jacket and tie at an all-boys school, so we sent him back to another public school. After graduating from the eighth grade, he went ninth to his fourth new school, a local high school.

“I felt like I didn’t have a home in terms of social space,” says Luke. “Honestly, it was pretty lonely. I had the same place to return home to, but there were always new people at school and I didn’t have my own group of friends. It has always changed. It was not easy to run away from the hooligans. It wasn’t so much a choice as it was the inevitability of a school day. The bullying stopped after seventh grade. In high school, when I was 6ft 3in, I wasn’t bullied anymore, but what happened had a rolling effect. When I entered high school, everyone already had their own clique from high school. Everyone said “Meet new friends” but I was an outcast, others established social status, I had a reputation for being a bully so I was labeled as cursed.

“People knew my story from one source or another, and they put me on an isolated iceberg. With new schools, I definitely welcomed a fresh start, but with ADHD comes great social hardship. And because I was being bullied, I didn’t learn the social skills that most kids get, which is why I was seen as weird, loud, annoying, and destructive. I made a friend in my freshman year, whom I met in biology. Matt moved here from France, so there was no bullying because of him. But years later, when we both went to college, Matt said, “Yeah, I thought you were annoying as hell. You used to talk all the damn time. In the end, I realized that this guy really has something interesting to say.” Our friendship continues to this day.”

Luke has fast twitch muscles and lightning-fast reactions. This is what made him good at taekwondo, violin and games. It also made him a good catcher in baseball, where he got the opportunity in the summer after sixth grade to tag his fourth grade bully at home plate. One aspect of ADHD is hyperfocus. Luke could play lego star wars and Super Paper Mario for hours on end, his hands on the remote, he focused on the screen.

Luke with Josh and Justin from Novelline, developers Gloomy.Photograph: Linda Cutting

Eventually, Luke started playing with strangers online. This worried me. We hoped that he would make more friends in real life, but the reputation of the one being bullied followed him like a dark shadow. I have read that online bullying is real and can be just as devastating as real life bullying. BUT 2017 article on the BBC quotes a 16-year-old gamer: “If you go to school every day and you get bullied at school, you want to go home to your computer to escape,” he says. “Therefore, if more insults are thrown at you, it will discourage you from participating in any social activities – this has been the case with many people I know, including myself.”

Despite my misgivings, Luke’s experience with online gaming proved to be the opposite of his real life encounters. Luke met people who had no preconceived notions about him, and his online social world expanded. My husband Keith commented: “Groups of friends in the IRL can be limited to one locality. This was the case with Luke in high school, where it was hard to escape his reputation. But online you have the opportunity to build your own worlds and populate them with friends from all over the world. The ability to break free from “local” bullying seems to be a key element of online friendships. Even if there are online bullies, you can always run away from them and start over.”

While he was online, we heard Luke laughing a lot, cursing a lot (like gamers do), and he just seemed happy. So we let him play. We also hung around for hours until he finished his homework.

“In online gaming spaces, I felt 100% better,” says Luke. “When you play an online game with someone, no one cares about how you look. They don’t care about your race, whether you’re tall or thin. The only thing they care about is how well you play the game. And that’s just in competitive games. For cooperative games such as Worlds adrift (the one I played with my longtime friend Aaron, which unfortunately got cancelled) GTFO, Destiny 2, Virtual Chatand Dungeons and Dragons people go out of their way to be welcoming and try to introduce people to the community. When you meet people online, you are playing a game. But there is also such a part of the games where you communicate in an online chat. There are people whom I invite to communicate with me, and there are my friends, my few close friends.”

Luke has started streaming on Twitch (twitch.tv/Zer0Gravity42). He was good at it. Spectators followed him and he started hanging out with local high schoolers while playing online. Several people came to play with us. Our son had a VR headset and many wanted to try it. He enjoyed sharing his setup and teaching his friends how to play Defeat Saber.

When it came time to choose a college, Luke was adamant that he wanted to learn how to design and create his own video games. We sent him to George Mason University for a summer course in video game development to see if he was serious about it, and there he developed his first game. He quickly became friends with other game development students, and when he returned to high school in his senior year, he founded the first esports club in history. Overnight, it turned into the biggest club in his high school. In the end, we found a college with a highly regarded video game development program. and a good student orchestra is the Rochester Institute of Technology. The freshman year was shortened due to the pandemic and he returned home to take the rest of his courses online.

During quarantine, while everyone else struggled with being stuck at home and staring at screens, Luke dealt with it naturally. He instantly established an online relationship through gaming, started streaming again, and even entered into an online long-distance relationship, where they eventually closed the distance. For me, the parent who most feared our son’s game and online friendship, he proved me wrong.

It’s not that there aren’t any gamer hooligans left on the web – “toxic gamers” are everywhere. But Luke’s history with bullying taught him not to get involved, and his hyper-focus kept him focused on the game itself. “Hooligans online really can’t make whatever you want,” Luke says. “These are talkative children who have nowhere else to vent their frustration. People need that psychological sense of power that comes from belittling someone else. In the end, I just started feeling sorry for them.”

Luke returned to campus with the social confidence that many of his classmates had lost during the pandemic. He wants to graduate from college with a degree in game design and development to fulfill his life ambitions. “My dream is to create a game that will change someone’s outlook on life,” says Luke. “I understand that this is a big dream, but I think I can achieve it eventually.”

It was exactly what I feared that helped Luke the most. Video games not only gave Luke the opportunity to overcome his history of bullying, but also helped him to know his future and follow it.


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