Video games for most of us are a form of fun and entertainment. There are those out there who have their objections to video games, and others who feel games do nothing but bad things. There are plenty of reports that put video games in a negative light, but so few that tell a positive story. With the rare exceptions, how often do you hear about video games doing something good for someone?
I was four years old when I was introduced to video games. It was something that would change my life forever and I remember it as if it was yesterday. My father had received a “broken” NES from one of his colleagues. She told him if he could fix it, he could keep it. When he came home from work that night, we brought it to our local Babbages. They immediately cleaned it with a cleaning kit and then tested it out. The system worked perfectly and the salesman said, “this happens all the time, it just needs to be cleaned.” It was my fate to be introduced to video games on that night.
When I eventually started school, I was not very popular at all. The others would constantly tease me, call me names, and even try to beat me up because I was the fat kid. As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, I didn’t have any friends. Throughout elementary school, I was the kid in class who didn’t get invited to birthday parties or over peoples house’s for play dates. I spent a lot of my time out of school tossing the football to myself in the backyard or playing video games. Naturally, I found video games to be more entertaining than a game of single person catch. Video games helped make not having friends at the young age more bearable. It was how I got to have fun as a kid. While people were at birthday parties I wasn’t invited to, I was playing games that would have made a nice gift. Their loss, right?
School wasn’t the only place where things were rough for me, life at home wasn’t exactly peaches and cream. You could say that my parents didn’t have the perfect marriage. There are too many times I can recall my parents having intense fights and screaming contests. Unlike the kids from school, I could immediately escape the madness going on. Most of the time I would close the door to my room and turn up the game volume. When I was playing whatever game it was, I felt like I wasn’t a part of the war going on outside. Video games were my safe zone when the fighting broke out. I didn’t exactly know what was going on, but as a kid, I was scared of all the yelling and knew it wasn’t good. I just wanted it to go away, and playing video games helped make that happen for me. My parents eventually got divorced when I got to middle school. It was a rough time, but I knew I could pop on a game and forget about my troubles for the time being – and I did just that.
It was in my later years of middle school that I was allowed to start hanging out at places like the local mall. Of course I was only allowed to go if it was with my older sister. At this time I had also just moved to a new school and still had no friends. I was the loser who had to hang out with his sister, but it was better than being cooped up in the house all the time. Although we were supposed to stick together, my sister would ditch me for some boy or to go do whatever it was she was doing. I wanted no part of it and was left on my own. It was intimidating being young and out by myself, so I spent almost all of my time at the EBX (part EB games before GameStop took over) in the mall. Once again, video games were there to help make the situation easier on me. The employees eventually got to know me and would allow me to play any game I wanted on the demo kiosks. I explained my situation and they were more than accommodating. It was something that felt too good to be true and was a luxury most people would never get. Sure I had to stand there and wasn’t all relaxed sitting in a chair, but it ultimately helped me to explore games I didn’t own or couldn’t afford at the time.
When I got to High School, I finally began to make some friends. The close friends I did make shared something in common with me – a love for video games. Every weekend we would get together at my house and play whatever it was we decided to play. At the time, the console to own was the PlayStation 2. We spent a lot of time playing GTA III and Vice City. There were plenty of other games, but those were our favorite. While the majority of the school was out partying and running from real cops, we were trying to not get busted in GTA and lose our turn to play. Ironic how we were playing GTA and staying out of trouble while some of our fellow classmates were the ones out getting in real trouble. As high school progressed, our weekend video game meet-ups were something we looked forward to. High School had it’s ups and it’s downs, but the fun times we had gaming made it easier to get through the week.
Toward the end of High School, My father no longer wanted to live in New York. He moved to California during the middle of my senior year. I ended up living at a friends house so I could finish the year at school with my friends and not have to start fresh with so little time left. It was awkward and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult for me to go through. My friends and I would meet-up on weekends still, and it was something that again helped ease the situation for me. On top of going to school, I was also working a simple retail job. To keep myself busy and make more money, I decided I would pick up a second job on the days I didn’t have work at the other one. I went back to the EBX where I had hung out for most of my early teen years. There was a whole new staff working there at this point, but I still wanted to be a part of it. I was hired shortly after applying for a position. The timing was perfect. Shortly after I began at EBX, the other store I was working for closed down. The assistant manager of our EBX was also leaving and more hours opened up. I was the one asked to fill them up. Again something related to video games had saved the day.
After I finished High School, I moved out of my friends house and in with my mother. My mother and I never really got along very well and I couldn’t really tell you why either. To ease tensions not only between my mother and I, but her and her husband and I as well, can you guess what I did? I went in my room, closed the door, and played video games. For a while, it worked like a charm. I was still working at EBX, but things were starting to fall apart. The new District Manager was a prick and refused to give me a promotion to Assistant Manager. He kept me at my $7.50 an hour Sales Associate salary, but had me to do the work of an Assistant Manager. It was unfair and when I spoke out against it, I was told, “that’s just the way it is Kreyg.” I was upset that things weren’t working out anymore after they had been while I was there. While I was contemplating leaving EBX, another video game store had opened up right down the hall. It was a small mom and pop shop called X-Zone.
Before I had the chance to even inquire about a job, the late owner Steven Park came to me and said he wanted to make me an offer. He offered me the position of assistant manager and higher salary than what I had at EBX. While I felt my loyalty should belong to EBX, they had no loyalty to me. I told Steven I would consider his offer. It didn’t take me too long to decided after I heard from 2 different co-workers that I had been dubbed “cry-baby” by not only the District Manager, but the Store Manager as well. They felt the title fit after I objected to the workload of Assistant Manager for a Sales Associates wage. After close to 8 months and many weeks as top salesman in our district, I left EBX. Thinking about it now, it’s weird how Steven offered me exactly what I wanted from EBX. I didn’t know him and he barely knew me, he took a gamble and it payed off for not only him, but me as well. It was a strange coincidence that worked itself out for everyone involved. I was thrilled too because I didn’t want to stop working with video games.
While things with my “professional” life at the time were back in order, my personal life was not so great. My friends had all gone away to school while I decided to work for the following year to save up money. Luckily X-Zone did more than give me employment, it gave me many new friends as well. The other 5 employees and I got along great and are still good friends to this day. While that part of my personal life had been solved, there was still the trouble at home. I was eventually thrown out of my mother’s and was forced to leave X-Zone and my friends to live with my father in California. While I was in California I discovered how awesome Xbox Live was. I kept in contact with all of my friends back home and we were still able to game together. While I might have been 3000 miles away from them, we could all still hang out and play games as if I was back in NY. I can tell you that a lot of Halo 2 got played, but there was also a lot of time spent BSing in pre-game lobbies. While it was better than nothing, I wanted to go back.
My sister and her husband eventually offered to house me for a while if I wanted to move back to New York. Missing the few friends I had and X-Zone, I instantly decided to move back. There was only one condition to living with my sister though. I had to have a job within a set time or I would have to move back in with my father. The week before I moved back, I called X-Zone to inquire if I could have my old job back. When I called, I was given the sad news that Steven had just recently passed away. While I thought this meant the end of X-Zone, Steven’s assistant at the time Mike had taken charge and was keeping X-Zone alive. He was thrilled to hear I was coming back and wanted me to stop in and talk when I was in New York. Within 3 hours of being back in New York, I was at X-Zone and talking to Mike. He welcomed me back with open arms, my old position, and a raise. I was back in New York with my friends and once again working with what I loved – video games.
While things were great when I first came back, after a few months, certain parts of my personal life started falling apart - again. My sister and her husband started getting into illegal substances, pills, and alcohol. It wasn’t a great environment to live in and due to objections of certain things, I had been thrown out 2 days before Christmas of 2005. I spent my Christmas in the back room of X-Zone playing practically any game I wanted and eating food my boss had dropped off for me. While I should have been upset or hurt, I had a pretty awesome Christmas that year. I had access to virtually every video game console and every hit title that was out that holiday season. While it’s not exactly a normal way to spend Christmas, it’s one I’ll remember for the rest of my life – guaranteed. Video games saved Christmas for me that year. After a few days, my sister let me come back and stay with her again. It lasted for about another month and then it happened again. My sister kicked me out and this time it was for good.
At this point in time, I had no where else to go. I remember showing up to X-Zone with my packed bags and going into the backroom. Mike came out of the back office, looked at me and said, “where are you going?” I looked at him and before I could say a word, I broke down. I left X-Zone after I gained my composure to think about what I was going to do. My younger sister had taken my room at my father’s, so I couldn’t just move back in with him. Even if I could, at that time, not only did I have my friends and a great job, but a love interest as well. I went back to X-Zone and while I was talking to my co-worker, I was called into the back office. When I walked in the back office, I saw on one of the desks, an air mattress, a pillow, and a blanket. Mike looked at me and said “it’s not much, but you can call it home for now.” I again broke down and embraced him for what he had just done for me – it was amazing.
I was technically homeless, but still had a place to sleep at night. I made it my mission to save all my cash and get an apartment. The time I spent at X-Zone wasn’t exactly what I would call “great,” but video games made the experience easier on me. I had access to games of the past and present. I was once again living what most people would call a little kids dream come true. I made the best of the time there and played as many games as I could to pass the time as quickly as possible. While it might not have been the ideal living situation, it was better than living on the streets. I eventually got out of the backroom of X-Zone and into my own place. I spent 3 years on my own before the economy forced X-Zone to close at the end of 2008. Within the course of a week, I lost not only my job, but my girlfriend of 3 years as well. I should have been devastated by both events being so close, but guess what was there for me again – video games.
I had just started Hot Blooded Gaming and it was like a saving grace to me. Video games had once again did what they had done my whole life, help make the horrible situations I was in that much easier on me. When I wasn’t out looking for a new job, I was writing, broadcasting, or coming up with new and exciting ideas for the broadcast and the site itself. For financial reasons, I eventually moved back in with my father and again, moving 3000 miles away from my friends and life back in New York completely sucked. Despite the amount of suck that was going on, I had the site and a vision for it. I’ve spent the last year now searching for real work, but to no avail. In that time though, I worked on growing HBG. It has made this situation not feel as bad as it should. While it’s no Kotaku, the site has grown significantly over the last year and has helped make this dark period in life more bearable – I am beyond thankful.
Throughout my life, I’ve been put in many tough situations. Through them all I’ve had one thing constantly there – video games. Video games made the bad times good, and the good times even better. Without video games, I feel many parts of my life, especially my childhood would have been a lot harder for me to get through. They made my life easier when I was that fat kid with no friends and when I was the “homeless” guy living in the back room of a video game store. Whether it be by coincidence or design, for the last 20 years of my life, video games have been my guardian angel.