Why I Game – To Escape
My name is Yaris Alex Gutierrez. Some of you might recognize the piece I am currently sharing with you being that it was once posted on another site. I have, since then, formed a site in which I decided to re-share my experiences with the gaming community, and how gaming helped me elude a life that overwhelms so many. I hope that, with this piece, some of you – who are skeptical on the positive influences gaming can have on an individual – will use my archetype as averments to which to base any future opinions on the subject.
Tragedy and violence convoluted my life ever since I became self-conscious. I wouldn’t wish it upon my most hated enemy living the life I’ve lived. Some people would call it luck, while others might think it was destiny. Whatever it was, it assisted with battling my demons. Growing up when and where I did would seem like something out of a movie – or the constant crap you hear and see in the media revolving gangs and whatnot. I’m not saying I’ve lived the worst of lives, but I think that at my age, I’ve seen things that would put what most have seen to shame, sadly. Fortunate for me, I found my Mecca in gaming – a hobby that would save my life from the clutches of the stereotypical lives lived by those who were my neighbors, my friends and even my family; a solemn life that egregiously leads to incarceration or death.
I was born and raised in New York City – the south Bronx, to be exact. A place congested with the foul substances of drug dealing and drug consumption. Narcissistic thugs that promoted callowness and lunacy, religiously, as a Christian churchman would promote Jesus in the parabolic hell that motivated a psychological erection of machismo on a day-to-day basis. Life was unfair and financially depressing in every way. I would later stand in the very place where the people I hated stood. Doing the same thing in a different time. Cynically defining myself as a product of the environment that etched a life of bereavement and indecency.
My father introduced me to Nintendo in 1985 – the same year when I realized I wanted nothing more than to be entwined with gaming. I know this because I remember it. I was two then. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t hold the controller the correct way, or that I couldn’t read the fuzzy text on our monstrous wooden Sharp TV. None of that mattered. It was just me, Super Mario Bros., and the 8-bit sounds that permeated my basement living room. Those were the days when my innocence wasn’t smudged with the cruel world of reality because reality didn’t exist in my two year-old macrocosm. The purity of youth – where money and personal necessities weren’t relevant – would come to an end, unfortunately.
Once I hit Junior High, things began to change. I was still gaming, occasionally, but not as much as I wanted. I was more obsessed with looking cool like the rest of the kids who sported the latest Nike’s and Tommy Hilfiger apparel. Trying my hardest to fit in. But all this was nothing but a mere taste of luxury that my parents couldn’t afford for me. I was constantly considered “wealthier” than other kids simply because my parents owned a house in a neighborhood surrounded by apartment buildings. Made fun of because of it too. You know, because it’s real funny that my parents could afford a home and yours had to raise you on Section 8. But what these very kids failed to realize is that with a home comes more bills. The money my parents spent in giving me a home deprived me of enjoying the very things that I wanted. I had to settle for the lesser quality brands of clothing and was given a game about twice a year. Eventually, I would grow tired of this and step out into a world convoluted with the very crap my parents tried to protect me from.
I joined a gang at thirteen. I’m not going to disclose what I did during this time, but it’s not something that I’m proud of. I began hanging around the wrong people, befriended would-be criminals and junkies, and created brotherly relationships with two of my closest friends (Tristian and Lionell) that would both end up murdered. I was surrounded in a world of money, popularity and respect. A place that made New Jack City look like a petting zoo. Doing the dumbest of things because of how “cool” I thought it was. Gaming was not longer present in my life at this time as much. PlayStation, N64, Sega Saturn, these were all just “meh” objects that didn’t receive the attention they deserved. All I was concerned about was how much money I had in my pocket and how clean the suede on my sneakers were.
This run lasted until I was seventeen. At seventeen I was already hardened by the life of ignorance I lead. I had been in numerous fights, stabbed, participated in numerous crimes that would later catch up to me, and most of my “friends” were already incarcerated. It was during this time that both my close friends were killed. Lionell, who was like my little brother, was skating at a local skating ring where he was shot in the head because of a dilemma a year before. Tristian was riding a motorcycle that very summer and was killed by a rival gang-member who ran him off his bike. What’s funny is that it didn’t take stabbings, or fights, or time in jail to make me realize that what I was doing was stupid. It took the death of my friends for me to open my eyes and see that I’d been living the life my parents were trying to prevent for me. The stereotypical life that affected the lives of my race and economic class. I sat home for weeks, depressed, trying to figure out what to do. I sat in my bedroom blankly staring at the floor and noticed my PlayStation 2 was accumulating dust. I picked up the DualShock 2, turned on the PS2 and began rocking Devil May Cry. And this is where gaming became relevant in my life.
To escape the reality of the world outside my home, I would sit home with local friends and game. Whether it would be Halo matches on the original Xbox via XboxConnect, or RPG’s on the PlayStation 2, I was distracted. It served as a form of therapy that would drive me away from the real world of solitude and danger and pry myself away from those who didn’t know any better than I did. I would leave my neighborhood whenever I got the chance and would run to local Halo tournaments or LAN parties. Gaming became my escape from the harsh world outside my windows. The place that transforms its innocent youths into savages lusting for the unimportance of material possessions and a life of wealth in a community of poor.
Some of you might think that I’m a pussy for not facing my fears, realistically, by confronting my demons. When you’ve lived your childhood and teenage life dodging bullets and overcoming drugs, you tend to not face those things again. I will say that, personally, that life was harder to give up than it was to begin. I have regrets just like any human being. But my regrets are less personal and more acute to the harm I’ve caused to those outside myself.
People who don’t understand or habitually play video games will never grasp the positive influence it holds for this generation. They sit pointing their finger of judgment unwilling to understand that gaming can contribute to perks such as recreation, creativity, social abundance, technology and even motor skills. We are attacked for using video games as a form of entertainment – a means to indulge ourselves in something that lets us, momentarily, meditate in graphical ecstasy. We’re judged individually as gamers, but judged as a group when something drastic occurs that relates to gaming. One person kills his parents over a Halo game and all of a sudden the gaming community are all considered violent, unpredictable plebeians that need to conform to other means of entertainment.
My life revolved around a place where violence and cruelty was embraced as a means of survival. I’ve seen what causes people to turn to robbery and murder. Hell, I was surrounded by it. Was it a result of constant gaming? No. It was the result of socio-economics – the barriers of opportunity that stagnates progress for some of the less fortunate. To this day I witness how children and adults around here use gaming as a distraction from what goes on beyond their homes. Their mothers who turn to the egregious embrace of crack or their dead-beat fathers who roam the streets begging for nickels and dimes. This isn’t a result of Grand Theft Auto. This is a result of opportunistic callowness and life. Gaming has become a tool of salvation and a window of ingenuity for many. It helped me evade a heinous path and pursue the road of morality and education. I am what I am and do what I do because of the influence and motivation the video games and the industry instilled in my genius.
Some would argue that gaming can’t be used as a form of therapy or as a means to escape from your problems. I’m sure as hell proof that it can serve as both. It greatly inspired me to continue school and pursue a degree in Computer Science and Mathematics, it has inspired me to write, and it has driven me to work with great buddies here at DualShockers. I’m pretty sure that if that PlayStation 2 wasn’t there to take hold of me when it did, I would have either ended up dead or probably somewhere upstate getting duked by a bunch of skinheads in prison. I can definitely say that destiny intervened somewhere in there.