By Lucienne van Bokhorst, Heaven Media Influencer & Sponsorships Manager
My parents divorced at a very early age, and while I don’t think this is the reason I got into video games, they did help me as a kid. I didn’t have many friends, I was sick all the time, and I didn’t get particularly good grades. This of course was a cycle on its own – I was stressed out because of my parents’ divorce, was a sickly person to begin with but stress as a kid only adds to that, because of that I missed a lot of school, because of that I didn’t get proper grades or made many friends. I was always the odd one out, the last one to be picked in gym, and I was bullied so much that it only made me more sick, causing me to miss even more school.
My school of course tried it’s best to help me with my grades, and they recommended that my mom try to home school me a little bit with materials that I would be able to understand; video games. School gave us a package of very educational and serious games, but that didn’t really help as I was too much of a creative person and lost my interest quite easily. My mom then did some research and found a series called “RedCat”. The game series was all about this cat who went on an adventure and had to solve puzzles by the means of maths, language, geography and history. I’m not sure how much it helped me in understanding maths, but it did spark a love for video games. From here on out, I started to really get into video games.
My mom was remarried at this time and my stepdad was very techy, so he got us our first internet connection and I can’t imagine a time without internet now. This was when I started playing multiplayer games, and around the age of 13, Neopets and Habbo hotel was where it was at. My mother always supervised these games and made sure no creepy people tried to talk to me (believe me, they tried). Not long after, I made an actual friend at my new high school who introduced me to an online game called “Second Life”. She explained that her mother played it, so we decided to spy on her mom in game. While my friend lost interest quite easily, I discovered the other side of this game that nobody talked about; the creative side. I made an account on the “teen” side of the game (where you had to submit your passport for entry) to keep my mother calm, and made some in-game friends who introduced me to the roleplaying aspect of the game. I think it’s here where I really developed a taste for shooters and RPG’s. During high school, my very best friends were those on the other end of the screen, not those I went to school with.
In real life, I was Lucienne the girl with a skin disease who everyone called a freak, but online I was just Lucienne. Online, I was able to customize my avatar with pink hair and camouflaged jeans and I had an army of pets by my side. In real life, I was told I wouldn’t accomplish anything because I was too weird to function in society. I was an oddball, I played video games instead of watching MTV shows like the rest of the girls. I wasn’t interested in makeup, I was interested in graphics cards. I wanted to play Second Life, instead of hanging out in the park nearby.
I played Second Life for 13 or so years, spent hundreds of euros, but made friends and memories worth every penny. At the age of 20, I met up with someone I had played the game with for 10 years, and to this day we’re still friends. Thanks to this game, my English was always more advanced than that of other students, and it allowed me a head start in the international industry. This game also taught me Photoshop and 3D Software, which helped me in my studies later on in life. But most importantly, this game taught me social interaction and that it was okay to be weird. And that’s a lesson no school can teach you.
I think the moment that was a real turning point for me, was when I turned 16 which was around the time that Prototype 1 was being advertised on television. I was absolutely amazed by this game, and I knew what I wanted for my birthday; a gaming laptop with Prototype. With a laptop, I could game absolutely anywhere at any time. I would be unbeatable. But before I could actually play a game, I had to physically go out and purchase it. This was at a time where online shopping was not a thing, so I had to make a tough decision: do I go to the game store, or to the toy store?
I was terrified of going into the game store, I never saw any woman in there. The staff was all male, and they always looked so weird when I tried to enter the store, that I never really bothered going in. I was afraid of judgement, I was afraid they were going to test my knowledge on games, I was afraid they were going to bully me. It wasn’t a friendly atmosphere, but perhaps that was just ingrained on me because of all the bullying at school. A few months later, I applied for a job at the same game store, and it turns out, those guys that I was afraid were going to bully me, were amazing colleagues and working there was an amazing experience.
On this occasion though, I decided to go to the toy store instead. I bought Prototype 1 and went straight back home, only to find out the game just didn’t work. I was so upset, I cried for half an hour. Eventually I went back to the store, and eyes all red I was allowed to pick another game for the same cost. I was too afraid to buy Prototype again, fearing it would break down again. It was 4:30pm already and if the game was broken again, it meant I had to wait the whole weekend before I could play on my brand new Asus laptop! I didn’t quite know what to pick, everything else looked so boring in comparison to Prototype. That’s when I spotted this green cover with a grey armoured soldier, it looked a lot like my friends’ avatar in Second Life, so I decided to buy this game instead. This game was Fallout 3, and it was at this moment that my life changed forever.
My second Life was much better than my first life, and while looking back that might be a very worrying sign, I truly believe that it made me who I am today and I’m very proud of where I am. It saddens me when I read articles about video games being painted in a negative light, because for me it was my escape and the only light I had at the end of a very dark tunnel filled with bullying and depression. Sometimes, video games can do good things to, and there’s not nearly enough stories about that. We should celebrate those stories, for it is the very foundation our industry is built on. Aren’t those stories the reason we do what we do? Isn’t that the feeling we get when we’re in a stadium cheering for our favourite team, or the feeling we get when a new trailer drops, or the tears in our eyes when a game brings you a story that’s so engaging? I think it’s those stories that are worth celebrating, and those stories can be found everywhere if we are just willing to listen. Fallout 3 changed my life, and in a way saved it – and I want everyone to know. I want the entire world to know that for all the “wrong” video games have done, it has also done so many more things right. It saved my life, and I’m positive that I’m not the only one that feels that way. So let’s celebrate video games, let’s share our stories, and let’s work towards a more positive view of our industry and the stories that come with.
Do you have a positive story about video games? Share it on twitter with the hashtag #WhyIGame, and let’s change the overall perception of videogames together!