It Gets Better

For people reading this, I hope that you don’t really empathise with what I’m about to tell you.  I hope that the world has changed enough that having an interest in video games makes you cool, popular and sexy.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t my experience. When I was in high school I was bullied really badly. Everyday, every lesson, even outside of school I was bullied. Usually it was the same people who would bully me each time. Both guys and girls… even the teachers seemed to have it in for me for some reason.  It still affects me today… unfortunately. They hated me for being different… for being me.  And at the time Glee wasn’t even on the TV so I could provide a useful metaphor for my situation. They didn’t like the fact that I didn’t care for having boyfriends, I didn’t wear make-up at that time, I was into Star Trek and the Miami Dolphins and I used to love colourful clothes and not conform to the black hipster bootcut trousers and hideous jelled perm hair styles that made them all look like sheep.  Unfortunately, the irony that they were all also acting like sheep was beyond them (but these days a guest spot on the Jeremy Kyle show would probably be within their grasp).

I was also the only gamer that I knew at school. None of the guys ever spoke about gaming and it also wasn’t something that any popular girl would ever do, scratch that – any girl would do. Maybe it was just where I grew up, but they seemed more interested in rings from Elizabeth Duke than the rings in Sonic and the only Mushrooms they had any interest in were the fried ones that they would have with their greasy breakfasts.  That’s right, they weren’t even cool enough to like hallucinogens, at least then I could have spoken to them when they were stoned about riding on the back of cute dinosaurs with a superhero cape and they would have found me fascinating. Still, I was a hardcore girl gamer back then, when even being a hardcore guy gamer was a bit of a niche outside of collecting Panini football stickers and picking on the smart kids. In many of my school projects gaming was my inspiration. From drawing a still life consisting of a SNES, Super Scope and Gameboy, a fox hunting campaign using Fox McCloud on a poster, and also doing a presentation on the demise of the British Earthworm using Earthworm Jim as my mascot.

For me, gaming has always been there. An escape, a refuge… something that gave me entertainment, a way to vent my frustrations on the heads of Goombas and it never judged me (except on some of the Track N Field events). I was brought up with gaming. At the age of about four or five my parents bought me a Commodore 64 for Christmas (blame them, it’s all their fault) and throughout my time at school I owned Game Boys, an Amiga 1200, a Super Nintendo and towards the end of my school time an original PlayStation. (That of course has grown to me owning nearly every home console, I’m such a collector, or hoarder as some would call it).  People say that video games make kids more violent, anti-social and aggressive – so why is it that the kids who were aggressive, anti-social and more than occasionally violent to me weren’t all that into video games?  Put a kid in front of Super Mario World for two hours, or on a Hockey Pitch for two hours, and see which one comes out more aggressive!  I shed a tear for the fate of Aeris in Final Fantasy VII – but nothing has made me cry more than the ‘healthy’ pursuits that the popular media seems to favour over video games. Me going out and spending time in the fresh air with other kids would have meant spending time being insulted and humiliated to other kids until they reduced me to tears and laughed at me.  Forgive me, but that didn’t seem like a healthy pursuit.

Gaming is new, at least to the people who commission news stories, so it’s easier to set up as a bogeyman.  Someone who kills someone over a game is likely to have mental issues anyway, and is looking for an excuse, rather than being influenced by a game.  If someone says that they thought about killing people because of Grand Theft Auto, you could take their console away instead of institutionalising them and it wouldn’t stop them from going out there and doing something awful, they would just say that the toaster looked at them funny and that’s why they had to kill people instead. Still, it’s easy to point at games and say that they’re to blame… it’s easier to blame a thing than to look at yourself and say – I’m a bad parent.  My parents let me play video games, but we always ate dinner together – we always talked… my mum used to watch me play video games so we could interact as a family.  Yes, I got upset when my XBox 360 RROD’d when I just put Dead Space 2 in it, but I wouldn’t kill anyone over that.  My mum and dad raised me better.

What people fail to do is look at the positive aspects of gaming.  Of providing an escape, even teaching morality and important lessons about friendship and moral choices. Lessons much more subtle and long lasting than hollow platitudes from teachers saying they’re against bullying, while standing back and allowing it to happen – if not joining in the mental intimidation themselves.  I know for a fact that gaming saved me. I could forget the real world, it gave me a reason to get up in the mornings – something to look forward to.  The attachment I have to the ‘friends’ I developed then in an unfriendly adolescent world gave me names for all the gold fish and other pets I have had since… including my bunny called Cloud. Gaming made me the person I am today.  If I hadn’t had gaming, if I hadn’t had a sense of a larger world where there were better things and better choices to be made, then I would probably have given in… worn the black hipster bootcut trousers, given myself a hideous jelled perm hair style, lowered my neck line, and my IQ –  and talked about boys like everyone else.

There are campaigns in the States right now called ‘It Gets Better’. They started it for gay kids who were getting bullied at school, telling them that after high school, in the wider world, things do get better.  Kids in the UK are bullied because of their sexuality, or race, or for a million other reasons.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you are in school now – and being bullied like I was.  It gets better.  And one of the things that people never say is that video games can help with that.  As well as giving me a way to deal with the pretty crappy hand I was dealt at my school, it also gave me all my awesome friends I have today. You guys, the ones reading this sentimental heart-filled web page of words. And of course, not forgetting Susan, who will always be my best friend forever.

I wish that I had Ready Up then, I wish that there were friends that I could talk to over XBox Live or the PlayStation network. And if you are getting bullied, use them – talk to someone in whatever way you can, because if you are being bullied, it’s really not you… it’s them.  Believe me. But I am glad that I had the video games. If it wasn’t for video games I would have been unable to escape the trauma I had to put up with everyday because of school (trust me, every time I get a headshot, I still think of my German teacher). If it wasn’t for Cosplay, I would have never got the confidence I have today to express the colourful person that I am inside and had to hide away for so long. If it wasn’t for being who I am and liking geeky stuff like Star Trek in the face of a dull consensus who could only talk about who was the fittest guy in Hollyoaks…. well, I wouldn’t be able to insult those ‘Hab SoSlI’ Quch!’ people in Klingon and I wouldn’t be drinking Earl Grey tea just like Jean Luc Picard.

It seems easier to say now I’m out the other side of it, but sometimes, pressure creates diamonds.  If you have the strength, be true to yourself – you’ll make it through to the other side. Find people who have the same interests you do. Believe me – you’ll have a more interesting life than all the other people who bullied you as they didn’t have the strength of character to do anything different. Until then, there’s nothing wrong with getting a little help from Sonic, Mario, Cloud – or whoever – to see you through.






11 responses to “It Gets Better”

  1. barry avatar

    I was fortunate enough to have never been bullied and lucky to have had a group of friends who were also into gaming as much as I was.

    You don’t need anyone to tell you how wrong they were, your smart, beautiful and have a lot to look forward to in life. The only thing they can look forward to is have yet another baby to finance the 2nd hand HDTV they saw in cash converters! >.<

  2. Paul R avatar
    Paul R

    I had a very similar experience in school because of the way I dressed and the colour of my hair. It got so bad the teachers had to let me leave class 5 minutes early to get to my next class without walking through the school crowd and also one teacher opened their class for me to go to at lunch time. It was truly dreadful, at some points I would have about 60 or so kids, from 1st year to 4rth (most left at 4rth) in one hall screaming at me. It just encouraged me tbh, it was really horrific and things got scary for a while.

    Now, looking back, I find it sickening the vitriol they had for someone who didn’t wear sports trainers or Ben Sherman shirts. It was a real, seething hatred they must have had as you could hear the noise build up in the hall with each moron trying to out do their friend with the harshest putdown.

    During this time I found my first JRPG, FFVII. I was always a huge gamer, but never thought games could be this. I remember there were 2 other friends (who also got a hard time, funny that) and remember I actually wanted to go to school to talk to them about it. Exchanging guides from Playstation Power and copying the JPEGs from the PC version on to 5 floppy discs. That was a big turning point for me. The bullying never seemed to have the same impact after that, I’d be too busy conferring with friends as to how to get that Gold Chocobo, and I was king of the f…… castle when I got Knights of the Round.

    Im rambling. Kudos for having the guts to write this piece. Very inspiring

  3. Mike avatar

    I had a similar experience at school. It’s amazing how much id, aggression and intolerance can be conjured in our school peers whenever we’re different to them, be it in a large or small capacity or through no fault of our own.

    You got through it, though, and as a result you need never think about your time at school ever again. You’ll also have become more emotionally mature than them: the high likelihood is that the same people that bullied you at school are stuck in dead end jobs, unable to make friends outwith each other since nobody is willing to put up with their shit in the real world.

    You could also look at it in a positive way: your time at school has shaped you into the awesome person you are today and all of us are glad to have such a cool friend. 🙂

  4. Lauren avatar

    I was tormented in school for not being a girly girl in school and it was the slutty girls, who now try and add me off Facebook! Piss off lol. I agree that games helped me escape the harsh realities of school, but sadly if I tried to use games in anything, mainly art, I was always failed! My art teacher hated games and anime and failed me each and everytime I tired to use one in my work to the point where I gave up using them.

    Its frustrating how a teenager can tell another teenager theyre not cool, who made you the fashion police and put you in charge??!? Seriously, dont like how I am, then dont talk to me. Leave me alone. Youre lifes that pathetic you make mine a mess. I seriously HATE bullies. Shallow, nasty little parasites that hate themselves and use some poor person as the object to make them feel better!

    END RANT! Lol.

    I cant believe you were bullied Fran, yet look at you now! Youre an awesome person with a cool job and so popular its great! And the ones who bullied you are most likely on the Jeremy Kyle show now ^^

  5. Martin avatar

    I’ll throw my name in to the pile here. You might not believe it looking at me now but I was bullied from the end of primary school and through most of secondary school. I was the short, fat, quiet kid! Perfect bullying fodder. I became quite introverted and combined with my parents moving us to the middle of nowhwere, I was off the radar.

    Luckily I had the company of my ZX Spectrum in the early days, progressing on to SNES and Mega Drives and so much more. I had gaming friends at school and we would swap games, but even then we were a niche, it seemed like a thing the decent kids did.

    Luckier still, I grew in height and stature and all the scum that had made my life a misery were now petrified of me, lucky for them that I’m a lover not a fighter. It really does get better, just takes time. Listening to the Foo Fighters “Times like these” always gets me through.

    I don’t need to tell you, Fran, or anyone else that has read your blog and can relate, you are all awesome, never let anyone take that away. Karma is a bitch 🙂

  6. Susan avatar

    I think that that all of the responses you’re getting both here and elsewhere shows that you definitely weren’t alone in your experience, nor are you alone now.

  7. Emily avatar

    Ahh, something a lot of us can relate to.
    The most liberating fact is when you’re coming out the other end, and watching pathetic people like that slip out of your life entirely.
    I did have a spectacular moment when a select few school friends and I met up while we were all in the midst of university life, we came home and went bowling.
    None other than one of my old bullies was behind the counter, fetching my shoes for me. Very good.

  8. Simon avatar

    Pressure creates diamonds 🙂

  9. Noozles avatar

    Im one of the lucky ones… Gaming culture was a massive part of my school, which seems really strange now. We used to have really big Street Figther tournaments on the SNES when I was 15 or so… classrooms full of people cheering. The winner would be a god, for a day…. Sadly I have more comments made about gaming now Im at work, although Im in my mid thirties and married so it doesnt effect me…

    Its so sad reading the rather wonderful blog…. Im so sorry for anyone that got bullied for gaming…. I only wish you’d all gone to my school in sleepy Devon instead….

  10. Anon avatar

    as a kid that is still in school, I find it hard to see the negatives of gaming. It is what me and my freinds have in common, and it has developed me as a person and given me something to strive for ( I hope to one day work in the gaming industry), and still take the name ‘nerd’ or ‘geek’ to be a compliment. I agree with everything you said, and thank you for reminding me what a wonderful gift being the geek can be

  11. Arkayla avatar

    I had a pretty bad time of it for the majority of my school life, it wasn’t until I had reached 6th form before I made any real friends and even then it was very few. I was never outright bullied but was ostracized because I’d rather play a video game than do ‘cool’ stuff that ‘popular’ kids did. The all boys grammar school environment cared little unless you could run with an egg shaped ball under a goal post. In fact during my early secondary school years it all got much worse because I wouldn’t join the rugby team because I wanted to play Starcraft. It’s only by virtue of being the size that I am that kept physical stuff from happening to me but the when I overheard comments that were made behind my back it hurt.

    I’m so glad that I kept gaming though, without it, as you describe, I wouldn’t have had anything to get up for. The worlds I could explore, the things I could do kept me going through the hard times I’ve had to endure over the years. Whether it be getting up very early to get a good amount of Freelancer in before school or coming home and playing Final Fantasy 7 (my biggest saviour) all evening video games made my life bearable and now, as a result of them, I have made the most awesome friends I could ever have hoped for.

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