Guest post: "Video games taught me how to treat people"
As a bullied child, Dave Rudden says he found more than companionship in video games - he found an understanding of cause and effect, and a place to be himself
Posted on: Wed 01-Jun-16 16:39:02
(27 comments )
I was that child who excitedly came in to school with books to show to the other children. I was the child full of Star Trek quotes who slowly learned that caring about things wasn't cool, that reading was supposed to be a chore. Gradually, school taught me that enthusiasm can make you a target. In a school with just 150 students, any difference was singled out. I was ridiculed for being invested in books and work. In an effort to lessen the bullying, I tried toeing the line, suppressing the things that made me me, but nothing worked. I was alone.
My refuge came in the form of video games - I discovered role-playing games with plots and worlds as intricate as any in a library, like novels rendered in pixels and code. Most importantly, however, they let me in. The games were like incomplete stories, needing my skills and passion to bring each chapter to life.
Games lessened the sting of loneliness, providing the friends that the bullies denied me. When everyone else in my life told me I was fundamentally wrong, unnecessary and unneeded, I had well-written and complex characters to keep me company, characters that needed me for their survival.
Many games are built around the idea of a morality system, offering a single goal that can be achieved through different strategies. In most, the darkest path is also the easiest – don't deviate from your path, don't stop to help others, don't expend extra effort.
Games lessened the sting of loneliness. When everyone else in my life told me I was fundamentally wrong, unnecessary and unneeded, I had well-written and complex characters to keep me company, characters that needed me for their survival.
It might take a long time for the people who tormented me to understand what they did. This world, after all, is not so neat and binary as a simulated one. Consequences can happen out-of-sight, if they happen at all, and what's out-of-sight is easy to ignore. I wonder have the people who bullied me rationalised it in their head. It was just a bit of fun. Many probably don’t think about it at all.
I don't have that luxury. I live with the consequences of how they treated me every day – the anxiety, the mistrust, the fear that people will turn on me at any moment. Things are better than they were. I write and so I get to do what I love, and there's a great comfort in thinking that sharing my experiences might help others.
That consideration, that knowledge of cause-and-effect came from gaming. Cut a moral corner here and watch potential allies view you with suspicion. Act recklessly in the early stages of a campaign, and find yourself bereft of resources in the final battle. Sometimes the consequences were obvious – it's hard to argue with a GAME OVER screen – and sometimes they arrived hidden in backstory, or simply as a bad taste in your mouth when you realise things could have gone a better way.
These experiences had a profound effect on me as a child. Admittedly, the games I played were written systems that may never approach the complexity of human interaction. But they showed me that your actions mean something to those beyond yourself. I learned how to treat real people from interacting with fictional ones. There are worse ways.
After university, I returned as a teacher to the school in which I had been bullied. My heart still hammers out of time when I think of that first day, that first classroom and thirty pairs of waiting, judging eyes. I went back not just as an exorcism of my fears, but to try and create an atmosphere where young people felt they had permission to care about what they were learning, where they felt listened to in the way my 13-year-old self hadn't.
Classrooms are a fantastic testing ground, each one a different combination of personalities, ambitions and fears that young people often hide because they're afraid to stand out or be different, when it's that difference that makes them who they are.
When I speak to young people, I look for the zeal that they're trying to hide. It might not be writing. It might be coding, or taking cars apart, or running or boxing or video games. I let them see they have permission to care, and I listen to what they care about. It doesn't always work. But for young people, being told to care is a beginning. It's a start. And everyone starts somewhere.
By Dave Rudden
I play a lot of games. I've never found one with a plot as intricate as you'd find in any library.
You clearly need to read more books.
Message withdrawn at poster's request.
Meep, I completely disagree, as soon as you go down the massive multiplayer online games and modded games it releases a critical mass of creativity as deep and rich as any novel.
I have been deeply affected by scenes in games as well as novels, but to shut down the conversation so dismissively kind of illustrates the authors broader points on acceptance and being "allowed" to be enthusiastic.
I know which person I'd rather have in a classroom.
OP thank you for your heartfelt and insightful post. I was bullied and feel it contributed to my failure to fulfil my (significant) academic potential (I became popular by being anti-smart, a smoking, swearing truant - not great for life goals but hey I had "friends"!), so I admire you enormously for finding a way through, to become a successful and fulfilled professional. Hats off! And I second Timeforbiscuit's comment - you would be my choice in a classroom, as a student or teacher!
Meep what a patronising and dismissive response.
People too often underestimate the positives that can be gained from gaming. I have seen some amazing team building, cooperation and negotiation skills gained through multi-player games.
Thank you for a very interesting post Dave
Whoops, I meant what I put, but I was also meaning to add "books vs games war!" or something else, to make it less rude and more of a not at all serious thing.
Sorry to be a dick.
Who wrote this heap of crap? The games being referred to seem like games by Bioware. IE Dragon Age, Neverwinter Night, SWTOR etc. The most evil path certainty isn't the easiest. Certain characters fall into the alignment system and react to different responses. Sounds like someone played 10 mins of Baldurs Gate and got bored
Someone just missed the point of everything
I agree Time. Sounds like someone didn't read the post.
I really enjoyed this post, thank you for sharing it.
My contribution to this thread is that I am both an avid gamer and a librarian, what a conundrum I must be. I have gamed for 35 years.
The problem as an adult gamer is that quite a few people like to look down their noses at gamers, I think it says a lot more about them as people than us as people that enjoy gaming.
I really enjoyed your piece, especially the last paragraph.
As a side note I bought 3 chest pieces from Xur this morning. I main a Titan, take your warlock rubbish back mate. A hello to my Destiny comrades
But enough of this, what games are you playing Dave?
Thanks for the comments and kind words! In answer to Piemernator, top games for me (in no particular order)
The Starcraft series (super instrumental in learning about forward planning/strategy)
The Dragon Age series (the Redcliffe moral dilemma in Origins broke me)
The Baldur's Gate series (though I do see the point about characters being of a certain alignment, there are also plenty of opportunities to just kill characters who've hired you for quests and keep the loot, or spare people's lives at the expense of gain)
The Mass Effect series (same)
the KOTOR series
... and about eight million more. Thanks for reading guys!
Mass effect and dragon age changed my life. I have litterly cried my eyes out with characters (I'm looking at you thane) (and mordin RIP 😭)
I was the same, bioware gave me friends and made me feel special when I had few rl friends.
pier xur finally had the helmet for my hunter! Love live destiny! Lol
And a very, very odd sexual awakening with The Iron Bull.
Those games are something special. Dammit why did you have to remind me about Mordin! Now I a) have Gilbert & Sullivan stuck in my head and b) am wracked with inconsolable grief.
Damn now I'm hearing it to lol!
My dh was a pure renegade and shot him in the back, I'll never forgive him for that, and love reminding him
I soooo wish they would remaster the entire series for ps4 I miss everyone so much! Looking forward to andromeda though
This post really resonated with me. Thank you for sharing your thoughtful and insightful writing. I'm glad there are children out there to have you as their teacher, not just educating according to the subject, but offering security and a compassionate, astute, and enthusiastic perspective on life.
Hello and thanks for sharing this post. I was bullied in school as my parents did not teach me anything, not even how to be sociable. They were extremely selfish and often busy doing their own thing.. I was afraid of people, that's right! I grew out of it, but did not make most of my studies, due to bullying.. I am 45, so I guess it does not matter now..I do speak my mind often and don't accept to be mistreated..
My daughter is in secondary school and she has told me that to be popular you had to be an a* to everyone. It's like people are bored and don't mind their own business..it's a shame as my girl is very bright and hated in her school for that reason!
She also enjoy games and find comfort on them as well as drawing..
When is society realising that you should treat others as you would like to be treated..:-)
Thank you for this post. You have made me realise what my son may be doing. Wish had a teacher like you.
This was a fantastic read and i have played some well written games and read some rather bland books. So i believe there is no arguement books vs games.
This person was making a point that bullying and not being socially accepted is a huge problem, we are of a generation now where we are all equal, yet if someone wishes to share their passion in a school environment, it then becomes a target for bullies to use on them, thus making them believe that what they love and care about isn't cool, isn't right, isn't accepted.
Yet we are all individuals with different tastes, we shouldn't be clones of one another and children of school age should be taught that what you care about and enjoy gives you substance, gives you value, and should give you strength, never the other way around.
I was a 'goth' in school and the amount of bullying i endured was horrendous, purely because of how i wanted to dress and what i wanted to listen to, my attendence at school was very poor in my final year and so i failed alot of my exams, i worked damn hard all the other years, but it was the final year that mattered, i lost out on getting the best grades and doing better for myself because i was too scared to attend school incase i would be beaten for being different....beaten for being me.
I don't blame certain individuals, i blame the school for not educating children about bullying, about the impact bullying has and not changing the belief system that being different is a bad thing.
We need more teachers like you. You are accepting, caring and understanding. Thank you for this post!
I am an avid reader (at least 1, sometimes 2 books a week) and I also play a lot of video games!
I've played - MMORPG's, casual handheld Nintendo games, non-casual Nintendo, AAA RPG's such as Skyrim and Fallout, story-based AAA titles like the Last of Us, shooters like Battlefield, Call of Duty, Plants vs Zombies... simulation strategy... I would say I've played every type of game there is.
I'm also in my final years (part-time) of studying for an English Literature degree and I've read all Austen, and all Stephen King...
Meep if you think video games do not have deep stories you need to play something other than casual mobile games. Many have the writing, and the budget, of films - the last of us, for example, told a moving story about a man protecting a girl in a zombie apocalypse that brought me to tears.
I was that child at school reading Star Trek books not talking about make up. The teenager that watched the X-files but not friends. Who had no idea about fashion. Who wanted to be a sci fi heroine not a fashion model.
I like games but I have my own world in rp-ing now, creating our own sci fi stories. But I agree. Games can be a refuge
Pink The last of us mentioned only yesterday to online buddies as the reason I have contemplated buying a PS again as I went over to Xbox after my PS2. I just can't though as having 3 gaming systems me as I would never talk to anyone again us they were online.
Thanks for sharing what games you play Dave you are obviously a respectful gamer. One thing that needs addressing for gamers generally is the amount of harassment in games women can get from the low key up to the shockingly offensive. I have only met 4 other women in open game chat, we are out there but many remain muted sadly.
Great post Dave.
Agree with Pie's point re harassment of women gamers.