It feels much more like Fall today with the cold weather and accompanying this change is the preemptive thought of what I'm going to do inside with all my free time now. I just finished module two last night and I've deleted my steam, blizzard, and league accounts as well as moving my Switch to my girlfriend's house. I've taken measures like this before (I've had like 6 league accounts...) but I always end up reinstalling and making a new account. I think the key to abstaining this time will be to really take control of my life in as many aspects as possible. For this journal, I'd like to write out, for both myself and others, the ways in which I feel gaming have filled certain needs and instilled certain faulty mindsets that have kept me in this cycle for so long. My hope is that I can gain some clarity by typing all this out as well as any feedback the community has to offer or if anyone can empathize with my perspective. I'd also like to give some background into my life and how I started gaming and how it became an addiction.
Warning: This post is going to be a novel, scattered, unfocused, and probably will come across like a rant...
Let's start at the beginning. I believe my first video games were those leapfrog junior education CDs that were filled with games to help you learn pre-kindergarten basics. To be honest, I wouldn't even count them... But I'd say my first immersive, gripping, and consuming experiences with gaming came when my parents bought my siblings and me a PlayStation. We had Namco variety games, Crash Team Racing, Rayman, Spyro... the list goes on. Anyways these games as well as a few PC games like Roller Coaster Tycoon and GameBoy games like Pokemon were where I really started to love gaming. It was honest at that time though, games were very different and I was almost always playing with my brother and sister. We all share these memories and experiences and honestly I'm glad they happened, it was a lot of fun. Once gaming started evolving and the PS2 came out, as well Gamecube and then X-Box (and the 360), there was definitely a shift. I still think I was young enough to actually get a lot out of the games and they offered a level of exploration that I really gravitated towards. I was still playing games with my siblings and friends but my life was full of structure in the form of school, sports, and any other family activities that were just a part of being in elementary school. However, a darkness was building in my life and it was something that as a kid I was not equipped to deal with.
During these times as a kid, from about 4 until 13-14, you are at the whim of your parents for most of your time during a day. They make you go to school, they care for your diet and well-being, and they sign you up for shit that you might not even really like... and my dad is a control freak to put it lightly. He is a civil engineer with a specialty in forensic analysis for infrastructure failures. In other words, he designs buildings, bridges, etc. but is also your go-to guy to figure out WHAT WENT WRONG when a building collapses or a pipeline bursts. His work life is centered around designs that need to be flawless as well as meticulous detail-hunting to find out mistakes/mishaps that are present in systems that fail. I was not made aware of what he actually did until I was about 19 years old. But as you might as well guess his mindset for his career bled straight through into his parenting...
At 4 years old, I was taken to a dojo to learn youth Aikido but was swiftly transitioned into wrestling by age 5. Did I ask to go to practice with my dad and brother? No, my dad said "you're coming with Chris and me tonight, bring his old shoes in case they want you to wrestle." I was a very shy, quiet, and obedient kid. To the point where I cringe at how I used to be compared to how I am now. Anyways, we get to practice at one of the high schools in the area and there are two rooms full of kids wrestling. The rooms are tiny and separated by two flights of stairs. One had actual wrestling mats and was red with all the high schools wrestling achievements on the walls and the other looked like a gymnastics closet... with blue fold-able crash pads as mats. I was told to put on my shoes and find a partner. Again, I was shy and nervous all the time so I kinda stood there. Well I got paired with one of the varsity kids and apparently I held my own exceedingly well for never having wrestled before. According to my "non-biased" dad, one of the coaches (who was my coach in grade school and then again in high school for three years) said "you have to keep bringing him back, he's a natural." And that's when it all began...
(Btw, my dad became a coach shortly after my brother and I started wrestling, he also coached one of the local high school wrestling teams)
You might be asking why does this pertain to any part of my gaming struggles. Well, it will become clear how these two are intertwined as the story unfolds a little more.
From that point on, I don't even remember how or why or if it was even a discussion but my brother and I were pretty much wrestling 5 days a week at this youth program. I started as inter-mural, which was before things got intense. We were the kids who came to some of the matches and tournaments just to wrestle in a practice-like setting before JV and Varsity teams would come out and wrestle each other. No bouts, no scores were kept, just kinda rolling around because nobody knew what they were doing. I did that for a year and my daily partner, Jake, would always get the better of me in practices because he was on JV and had been wrestling for a year longer than me. One year from my start, I ended up pinning Jake in a wrestle-off for JV the next year. I also, apparently, went undefeated my first 50 matches until I went up both a weight class and an age group. So my first loss was at the hands of a kid 4 years older and 10+ lbs heavier than me. I don't remember this... I only remember a few matches from my earliest years in wrestling but I seriously can't connect my head to these memories. But my dad would keep track of everything. He had all the brackets, scores of our matches, and trophies/medals that my brother and I won so that's what I'm going off of for those first few years.
Anyways, as my brother and I got better my dad started taking us to his high school practices where we would practice with each other and do some of the high school drills. Honestly, I hated wrestling from the very start. I always said it and I always pleaded to my mom to let me stop or at least have a break. Unfortunately, my dad was not a very good partner and never really listened to anyone but himself. My mom was scared of him and so were my siblings and I. So we didn't really have a choice in the matter, it was mandatory. I always had wrestling practices and always had tournaments. My brother and I would have to sit there during Thanksgiving as my extended family ate a feast because we had weigh-ins the next morning for a tournament and couldn't dare miss weight (I was in the 52 lbs weight class...). Most of my birthdays were aligned with the end of the year tournaments for the youth teams so I would spend my birthdays wrestling all day. I hated it, I despised tournaments, and I closed myself off from everyone (except my mom).
Now, you see I was a natural and I wish I could say this without coming off as a boastful asshole. I never cared about the laurels of winning, or being the best because its supposed to make you feel good. No, what I cared about was appeasement. If I won, my dad wouldn't scream at me. If I won, I could be left alone and could finally eat all those disgusting meals that were available at snack stands. If I won, I could wander off or sit in the stands and guess what... I could play some video games! But there was a cost for this, a large cost and I am still learning to balance the scales to this day.
So, lets dial it back because as I'm writing this I am realizing I don't think I will be able to cover this story well enough in one post. In fact, there is no way I can, it's simply too much. For this post, I think it's best I'll just talk about my life before 7th and 8th grade because that was definitely a turning point for me.
Okay, so my dad and coaches see that I'm doing really well at wrestling. I also was in the "gifted students program" PEN which somehow determined my I.Q. was above a threshold when I was in first grade... That's a story for another day. But I also played mid-field in soccer and led my team in goals every year I played. I had all Advanced (the elementary school version of A's) in school as well as perfects for Math in our state's standardized testing. I honestly don't even know why these things were important but I kept hearing from my parents, friend's parents, coaches, teachers, etc. that I was so "gifted." I didn't get it...I was simply just doing what I was told. My dad will always bring up the past and he likes to tell me of the time where I was at an inter-mural soccer game and he told me to dribble around the three people in front of me in a certain way and put the ball in the net. I apparently did EXACTLY what he said and scored like it was clock-work. There's a home-video of me at the beach where my Uncle gets my attention, I look up squinting, and he says "go jump a wave" and I literally got up, ran into the ocean, jumped a wave, and came back to what I was doing like nothing happened, no smile or child-like behavior... My wrestling coaches gave me a nickname: Robo. I was so obedient and streamlined that everything I did came off like I was a robot.
At wrestling, I continued to improve to where I was winning local, state, and national tournaments. Sometimes I would be put in two age groups or weight classes and would win both tournaments (I wouldn't even get a break between matches sometimes which was absolutely ridiculous). From 4th grade until 6th grade I won my end of the year tournaments. I also won the junior state tournament the first year I was allowed to compete and dominated the finals match even though I was a year younger than everyone. I won it the next year as well, pinning the kid in the finals. Wrestling had now become a 6 day a week schedule for practices with tournament weekends being the exception. My dad took my brother and me all around the Northeastern US, from PA (where I live) to Michigan, Jersey, Delaware, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Virginia, NC, etc. We would go to high school practices at 3:00-5:30 then either go to our youth program at 6:00 or travel to New Jersey (or some other hour-away spot) to practice from 7:00-9:00. All this time, my dad would scream at us on the way home, if the practice didn't "go well" or for some "mistakes" we made that he just couldn't tolerate. I fucking hated him and I would always sit directly behind his seat to avoid his gaze...my brother wasn't so lucky, he was in the passenger seat.
As far as I can actually remember, I would like to say 2nd grade, I was determined to not get yelled at. I was determined to appease my dad the only way I knew I could. I would do what I was told and be as perfect as possible. Now, growing up I was a perfectionist and was described as having a black and white personality as well as being "robotic." But this was developed by nature as much as nurture. I didn't feel like I was allowed to have fun, I couldn't just let loose and be care-free. I had to numb that side so my focus was all on wrestling and doing well in school. I would be visualizing, and mentally preparing for a weekend tournament, from the moment I knew I was going (generally Monday that week) until the moment before my last match. I was laser-focused on not losing...it wasn't even winning...I seriously was so scared of my dad that I would repeat in my head, "just don't lose, just don't lose..." I had a routine before every match: 15 jumping jacks, 15 pushups, 15 situps, and 15 mountain climbers, every single match, it didn't matter if the kid I was wrestling never won a match before. I was always extremely anxious and nervous before every single match. Relief would only come after a match was over and I won/did well (this was brief because I knew I still had more matches) and I'd only be able to truly relax at the end of a tournament (one in which I had done well enough to appease my dad).
Honestly, I could keep going and keep describing different memories but I think it's time to reel myself back in again. The rest can be for a shrink I am now considering going to...
What this type of lifestyle created for me, was one very different from my brother and sister. I isolated myself both mentally, emotionally, and physically in order to create this "machine Robo" to serve the purpose of keeping me safe from my dad in as many instances as possible. There were times where I really wanted to be goofy with my brother and dad, but I had to catch myself to preserve this focus. Whenever I did let loose, I under-performed... and would get yelled at. (Tbh, there were probably times where I did let loose and still was fine...but I don't remember them). I feel like had to be the terminator or I would face the wrath of my dad and I was so scared of him I couldn't let that happen. While him and my brother would be off socializing and talking with all the friends, coaches, and wrestling partners we had met and trained with over the years, I would be either calling my mom, playing a video game, or sleeping in the bleachers. I hated all of it and just wanted to get home.
So what did video games do for me? They provided an escape during a time of stress. They were a way out of my situation, both to kill time and to keep me preoccupied so I didn't have to worry about my upcoming bouts for however brief a time. Video games also helped with the longass car-rides where I couldn't eat as I was cutting weight. They helped with the daily drive to practice (although i would sleep most the time). I loved games and the different content they offered. I loved the progression, oh yes...the sense of progression! I loved the strategy and the un-pressured competitive nature of them. I could spend days playing and I always wanted to play more because I always wanted an escape from my situation. I hated wrestling but I loved gaming.
From about age 3 until 7th grade, I gave my all in everything I did. I felt like I had so much pressure on me all the time to be this perfect kid that I would always try to be the best but it was all to just appease my dad. I was lucky enough to be born with certain pre-dispositions but they were only realized due to the situation I was in. I never felt like I could truly take a break. It was only when I was gaming that I felt like I was somewhere else and the pressure was temporarily lifted. I used my friends to game and use their systems. We would play together, of course, but I always tried to steer the situation towards playing more games. They were my drugs...
Unfortunately, everything began to break down when my parents got divorced and I started having to live at two different houses. This was also during the transition from elementary school to middle school and the very beginnings of puberty. It was chaos unleashed. I was approaching the plummet after climbing to the peak. The divorce and all its accompanying crap is where my life fell downwards. What did i carry with me through these dark times? You guessed it...gaming.
As my family life deteriorated, new games came onto my radar and my best friend had introduced me to WoW. This is where video games began to take hold of me and where I found I would always go whenever I had free time. For today, I think I'll wrap up this chapter with a little reflection but for anyone who reads this, I am giving you a tiny glimpse into my life. I hope you realize this is only a grain of sand...and my recollection is incomplete. What I hope to get across is that the magnitude of our issues seen through our own lens is always larger than anyone else can realize, it feels this way by design. I don't expect anyone to fully understand but I hope that you know even just reading this means the world to me right now. I appreciate any thoughts you'd like to share and I don't mind if this doesn't get fully read. Just writing this out is therapy for me, and it's awesome to have support in this community for dealing with struggles. I am interested in the different ways gaming has affected people who struggle with letting it go, just like me and why it became an issue for you as well. Hopefully, I can get my full story out soon, honestly I feel like just continuing but I am at least going to take a break.
For now, this post has covered my story with gaming from about preschool (age 3-4) through seventh grade (age 12-13). There is more to come and I honestly might write this out for myself in a word doc. to add in more details but it seems to get my perspective across at this time.
Also, I am going to attach a few pics of my trophies to try and demonstrate the magnitude of how much we wrestled (not to show off). This fact is important for my early years but honestly more-so for what happens later. They're both my brother's and mine but honestly we threw a good amount out and some got lost in translation from the divorce and moving a few times. To be clear, the boxes are stuffed with medals and this is not a full accounting. The trophies only really show a fraction of the tourneys as most places give out medals and we don't have all of them anymore. There were also jackets, sweatshirts, and other awards that are lost.
Finally, I'd like to state that I grew up knowing others in similar situations as my own, however most of these people did not isolate and play video games. In fact, most were very social and would always be hanging out with other wrestlers or talking with the coaches and parents. I was "a man of few words" but I was also described as one of the most dominant wrestlers many of them had ever seen. I picked it up quicker than most but hated it. Everyone else seemed to enjoy it and most wrestled straight through college for D1 programs. They were always baffled when I said I was going to be done as soon as I could which was after high school. I did end up stopping after high school, in fact I never even finished my junior and senior seasons. In the next post I make, either later today or tomorrow I hope to unveil why.