Nothing I'm about to write here is a sob story. With perspective and a better look back, the problems I had as a kid were very typical and very minor. Gaming, though, during some of my rougher years was very important to me as a way to escape my real life. It was not an alternative reality I lived in because I felt anyone owed me anything. I did it on my terms.
The first computer game I can remember playing was Little Brickout on my grandmother's Apple II in 1982 or 1983. I was not exposed to games like Pong and we couldn't afford gaming consoles when I was young, so I would have to grab a flash of a game here and there. At the same time, I was transfixed by computers and the idea of programming. I've known I wanted to be a programmer since I was a kid. Little Brickout was what got me started.
From there, I would sometimes spend a few minutes here and there playing on friends consoles. One time, I got to play the first King's Quest on a friend's PC Jr.
This was a whole new ballgame for me. I never got to fully play the game but I was hooked even more. I loved playing computer games, but I just never got a chance to play them much.
Finally in 1987, my parents put together enough money to buy a Tandy 1000 HX, our first real home computer. One of the biggest turning points in my life was learning there was a GW-BASIC interpreter built in along with a manual. I could now program. But I also could now game. The first two games we had were "Earl Weaver's Baseball" and "Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Simulator". EWB is considered one of of the greatest games of all time, and Chuck Yeager is also remembered fondly. My grandparents then bought us Starflight, which if you know that game, you know it as one of the greatest games of all time. In fact, Starflight still competes well with modern games in my opinion.
From there I played a ton of games. I eventually got into the rest of the King's Quest series, the Police Quest series, and the Space Quest series. I got into games like Populous, a sneakily amazing game. SimCity, Civilization, & Jones in the Fast Lane were huge for me. I also spent many, many hours playing all sorts of TSR Gold Box D&D games, starting with Pool of Radiance. I'm probably forgetting some games here and there, but that's what dominated a lot of my time in high school.
High school for me, like so many people, wasn't a whole lot of fun. I was shy, awkward, and unable to ever break out of the stereotype of being a nerd. Even when I spent time with friends I was still not really included. Parties and girlfriends were all out of reach. However, unlike most of my friends, I already knew what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be a computer programmer. There was never a doubt in my mind. So while the people around me were often acting like they had it figured out, I actually did. I knew I basically had to wait it out, and get to college where I could really explore computers and meet a different set of people. College came with its own sort of challenges, mainly learning all the social cues and interactions I missed in high school, but I was essentially right.
So for me, gaming was a great way to pass the time during the four worse years of my life (it's all relative though). It's probably a total cliche, but when my friends were sometimes at parties, I was at home trying to figure out how to kill Tyranthraxus or how to tax my city without killing jobs.
When I see gaming attacked for being something nefarious, I have a natural inclination to get pissed and tell that person to fuck off. I can't say that all of the games I played back then are games that didn't contain issues of racism and/or sexism. I'm sure many of them did. But I was playing games like the Perils of Rosella and Space Quest II, not Custer's Revenge. I could separate what's fantasy and what's real, and I don't remember any of it affecting how I viewed women. In fact, during high school, while girlfriends were out of the question, girl friends were not, and I was one of the few of my friends who could be just friends with a girl without it being a big deal. I don't think whether or not my characters in the Secret of the Silver Blades were saving a female character meant I was unable to just have a normal conversation with a girl in the real world.
For a while, I did let gaming slip out of my life, but in the last ten years or so I've returned to gaming a lot. I prefer games like Civilization and Fallout. Large open worlds where I have to make moral choices. I admit, I often play male characters because I'm trying to put myself in the games, but I do play female characters now and then to change it up. In fact, my current character in Dragon Age: Inquisition is a female Dalish elf, in a world where elves are looked down upon.
I don't have drudgery in my life now and I've long stopped worrying about being one of the "cool kids" (for god sakes, I'm almost 40!). I play games now because they are entertaining and challenging. I like having to make tough decisions, to plan, to strategize. The graphics are so good these days, it's like being in a 50-60 hour movie. The worlds are detailed, have their own character, and if I play enough, become as familiar to me as the city I buy groceries in.
I find that if I play a couple hours of video games at night, the next day I'm more productive and relaxed at work. The fact that you have to do so much thinking, I think keeps my mind sharp. From the creative side, you do have to think about how you want your character to be. You have to give it personality and morality.
I can't imagine not playing games now, even when I'm 70. I can't imagine not having played games during my high school years. My only regrets are that I missed out on some games during my mid to late 20's while I was working so much. I think the future of gaming holds a lot of promise for so many things, I can't wait until I'm 70 to see what kind of games there are.
So that's why I game.