Suga Suga: Confessions of a former gamer

A rather catchy rap song with face palm-worthy lyrics,
Listen to it, you’ll hear it, the line that’s nothing short of cringy,
Somehow stormed through the charts way back in 2004,
Was riding high on the day I took a massive step forward,
A rather lengthy entry, another step back in time,
Here it comes, a glimpse into a past life.

I was never considered the ‘rebellious type’ as a kid. I never skipped class or vandalized a teacher’s house although I’d be lying if I said I’d never considered the latter. I got along well with my family and friends and didn’t engage in any form of delinquent behavior as a teenager with the intent of showing off to my friends how much of a ‘hard guy’ I was and all that nonsense.
You could say that I was a ‘good boy’ with no serious vices.
Well, almost.
I may not have been a wild child but I still drove my family up the wall in another way.
You see, I was also a gamer.
Nothing wrong with that, but I was a rather die-hard gamer. That was sometimes a problem.
Every weekend, and especially during school breaks, you would likely find me parked in front of the TV set, controller in hand, or in front of the computer, having completely shut myself away from the world like a hermit. For the most part it didn’t cause much conflict between my family and me but there were times when we’d bicker over little things caused by my gaming like a clash of TV schedules, arguing for a turn on the computer and the most exasperating of all, trying to get my attention while my mind was elsewhere. Lord knows there have been numerous times when my parents and sister have had to call my name several times before I finally snapped into action. They might as well have been talking to a stone statue of a boy seated.
I continued to play through my teenage years but once school was over, my gaming ‘career’ also came to an end. As I look back on it now, how I got to that point is quite an interesting tale.

During a family conversation a few years ago, my mother revealed that I was fascinated with cars as a young boy and it got to the point where one glimpse was all I needed to accurately name the make and model of a vehicle. I couldn’t do that now, not unless I see a logo and even then I wouldn’t know what model and year it was from. The four-year old version of me would have face-palmed himself and wondered how the hell he grew up to be a total loser before getting back to his toy vehicles and superheroes, the poor cars eventually reduced to rubble in the aftermath of a titanic fistfight between Batman and Superman that was as thrilling as The Thrilla In Manila.
I can also remember being fascinated by tall buildings, marveling at their sheer size and majesty whenever my parents took my sister and I on outings to the city and I can also recall a time where I was damn near obsessed with drawing clock faces and pie graphs on countless pieces of paper. Yup, somehow drawing circles with numbers and various arm positions was enough to keep me entertained for hours.
My parents should have seen that as an early sign of the rather weird kid that I would soon become.
My mother also added that I would also watch the wheels of another vehicle go round and round whenever we drove beside another car or truck on the highway. My sister took that as an opportunity to joke that I could have been an engineer or a scientist if only I didn’t get sidetracked by video games.

Me? A scientist or engineer? Good one, Sis. Surely you jest?

I can’t quite remember that either but if all of this is true then she might have been spot on about the video games. Whatever engineering or scientific potential I once had, it was obliterated by the time I was ten years old. I can’t speak for my parents but they probably would have agreed, though probably more out of blaming every shortcoming I had on something that they felt was mostly a negative influence on me (let’s be real, all parents do that!). While they did let me play, they probably would have preferred that I was physically more active and academically-conscious. Sure, I had other activities on the side but I can’t say that I attacked them with the same amount of enthusiasm and glee as gaming.

It all started innocently enough. I was introduced to gaming by some of my older cousins and it was love at first sight. We’d spend most family gatherings battling one another, with me frequently on the losing end as they would use every trick in the book against me without letting me in on their secrets, but it was fun. And since most of my friends and classmates at school were also gaming my parents somewhat reluctantly allowed me to play games on some of my dad’s computers and eventually bought me a few consoles so I wouldn’t feel left out and I dove in head-first.

Bye bye, world!

Talk about being caught hook, line and sinker.

But in my defense, while my folks might have felt that I was ‘obsessed’ with gaming, I wasn’t getting my fix nearly as many times as some of my peers. For a start, I wasn’t gaming every single day since I was only allowed to do so on weekends and during school holidays so as not to clash with my schoolwork, extracurricular activities and health and even then my parents allowed me only sixty minutes max per day of gaming time. That’s right, one hour maximum per gaming day. I could either break it down into two thirty-minute sessions or one sixty minute epic.

What a gyp! The other kids are so lucky.

Seeing as how I am the type to completely lose myself whenever my mind enters into another world, be it while reading a book or gaming, I would use up those sixty minutes in a single session. One hour would come and go quicker than I could believe and before I knew it, it was ‘see you next time, buddy’, much to the relief of my family who must’ve had to endure the longest hour of their lives whenever they wanted to watch TV in the living room or use the computer. That sixty-minute rule might have seemed archaic but somehow, I acclimatized to it very quickly. I guess it was better than zero hours and that’s probably what I would have been left with if I challenged my parents in family court with the odds stacked against me and with only my young dumbass self as my own attorney.
My parents also drilled it into my mind numerous times that I needed to put school ahead of gaming and that I would be banned from playing if my grades went to the dogs. It was a reasonable arrangement but for me it was equal parts fucking horse shit and a threat tantamount to being held at gunpoint. I hated school with a passion but I still put in as decent an effort as I could muster. Sure, the positive feedback from my teachers and the praise from my parents were sweet but truthfully, those good grades were merely my tickets to more gaming time. I couldn’t care less about being the top performer in my class.
I had also picked up some extracurricular activities throughout my elementary school years, starting with swimming and karate on Saturdays and Fridays, respectively, and then eventually guitar lessons on Tuesdays after I had dropped the swimming. I guess you could say that I had other ‘distractions’ in my life besides school that prevented me from becoming a full-blown gaming addict.

All up it seems that gaming didn’t leave me completely damaged, right? Well, I wouldn’t go that far. See, while I remained mentally and psychologically intact my physique certainly suffered. Being a growing boy with an enormous appetite and an aversion to any activity that required physical effort, my body soon crossed over into roly-poly territory and at times I heard it loud and clear from my leaner classmates.  Swimming lessons as a child certainly were a doozy. That I could swim faster than some of those little jerks and was learning karate on the side didn’t mean shit once they caught a glimpse of the wobbly gut and the man-titties and no amount of comebacks from me could put an end to their jabs.  
I also wear glasses now due to near-sightedness but I don’t recall being born with crappy vision. It’s rather difficult to point out when my eyesight went to shit but I would say that the teacher’s notes on the whiteboard began to look fuzzy once I had entered the seventh grade and it was downhill from there. I soon found myself frequently sitting at the front of the class against my will simply because it was the only way I could copy the notes on the board without bothering my seatmate until I finally swallowed my pride and got glasses as a seventeen-year old.

Looks like it wasn’t just any potential I ever had as a scientist or engineer that was torpedoed.

And finally, all that gaming made me rather oblivious in my youth to what was happening in ‘the outside world’ since most of my downtime was spent conjuring up a battle plan in my mind like some sort of army intelligence officer for my next gaming session. I even did that shit sometimes in the classroom when my brain switched off from the teacher’s incessant rambling. I wasn’t totally detached from reality, I was generally aware of what was happening around the world and within my family and social circles, but when it came to movies, music, TV, fashion trends and everything else one needed to know to be ‘cool’ or ‘hip’, there were definitely times where I would listen to my friends converse and nod along as though I thoroughly understood what they were discussing when nothing could be further from the truth, just like Joey Tribbiani from that TV show Friends. I could only respond with stone-cold silence when I was asked for my input and boy was that awkward as hell.

I dropped my extra-curricular activities as I entered high school due to the extra workload and the first salvo was fired when I started getting homework on Friday afternoons right in my very first week of seventh grade, which at first proved to be extremely difficult to accept but I quickly adjusted to, though that never made it any more fun despite my father encouraging me to try to enjoy it.

Geez, you try to enjoy having to do math equations on a Saturday!

Anyway, with the karate, swimming and guitar lessons now confined to the past I had more time for gaming away from my schoolwork, especially since my parents had slightly relaxed their sixty-minute limit as they felt that I was older and should be made more responsible for the way I managed my time. Or perhaps they wanted to test my ability to stay disciplined. If that was the case then I guess I passed with flying colors since I continued to earn good grades in school and never allowed my gaming sessions to take up too much of my time.

Rest easy, y’all. You taught your boy well.

And then came the year 2001, the beginning of the slow end of the gamer life.

I continued to play whenever I had the chance to but I no longer attacked those sessions with the same amount of zeal as I had as a child. Had I been a professional athlete this would be the year in which commentators would notice a dip in my form. It could have been due to an ever-increasing school workload since those merciless teachers began to dump assignments, exams and homework on us in stacks, but the real reason arrived on the day that my father gave me an old piece of exercise equipment that he encouraged me to try. He thought that since I was old enough to learn how to drive (though I would put that off until the following year) and no longer had extracurricular activities I might as well use that free time to get into shape.
I had to admit, as a rather skinny teenager and former chubby kid, the challenge was appealing.
At first I used this contraption more out of curiosity than anything, skeptical of its power to transform my skinny-soft body, but I felt so good and so strong afterwards that I used it again the next day and the day after that and so on and once I began to see and feel subtle but positive changes to my physique and overall well-being that was it. I had found my new home! The gaming gradually began to take a backseat in favor of chasing the good vibes and ‘the pump’ that I would get from training and somewhere deep inside, the chubby kid that I once was must have been sticking it to all the skinny twerps that had tormented him in school.

Check out these guns, assholes!

I was no Adonis but I was in much better shape than I had ever been.

This continued during my last two years as a high school student as the school work and assignments continued to pile up, all of which culminated in the Higher School Certificate (HSC) during my final semester in the twelfth grade. Free times were increasingly difficult to come by and so stress-relievers became a necessity. But what did I do when I wasn’t studying and wanted to blow off steam? I was listening to music and working out, further pushing gaming out of my life. Unlike my childhood years I no longer panicked whenever I missed a gaming session and the sight of me in front of a screen was no longer a regular occurrence. My family must have silently breathed a sigh of relief.

And then one day, it was all over.

Having received a DVD player a few Christmases ago (it was the early 2000’s, folks. Those things were still a big deal) the DVD collection had slowly been growing but in early 2004, we needed more space to house some of those discs since we had filled up a few small shelves already. The only option outside of building another DVD shelf and possibly congesting the living room was some space in the shelf that housed the DVD and VCR that were currently occupied.
What were the items that took up that space? You guessed it, my consoles. And one day, I found myself saddled with thoughts I daren’t have ever entertained ten years earlier. I looked at my consoles, all but forgotten and gathering dust, and took a deep breath.

It’s time to pull the plug.

It was for the best. They would have been doomed to a life of decay and neglect if they stayed in that shelf and given the fond childhood memories I have had as a gamer I couldn’t do that to my old electrical friends. They deserved far better than that. So one day, with some resignation but no regrets, I told my parents and sister that I would pack away my consoles and make some space for those DVDs. In a moment that was fairly reminiscent of that scene in Toy Story 3 during which a teenage Andy is shown playing with Woody and his other toys for the last time before leaving them with Bonnie, I played a game on the old Super Nintendo for the final time one morning while I was home alone (it was the first console I ever owned so I felt that it was kind of symbolic – and corny) for about an hour before spending the next hour unplugging, cleaning and storing my old friends back into their boxes and stuffing them into my wardrobe.

So long, guys. Thanks for everything, it was a blast.

As cheesy as it sounds I felt like a retiring athlete that had just finished their final game. No emotional final press conference and retirement ceremony here, though. I simply shut my wardrobe and got on with the rest of the day. I guess this marked the official end of my youth and the beginning of the adulthood. To borrow a lyric from a Blink-182 song, ‘well I guess this is growing up.’

The gaming landscape has changed dramatically over the years since I had ‘retired’ from that life. People can now make a living from being ‘professional’ gamers for a start, on their own or as part of a team to compete with other gamers in the country and around the world. That’s a gig that the young version of me surely would have loved to have been involved in.

Where the hell was this when I was still active!?

Before you ask, yes, I have considered ending my sabbatical and getting back ‘into the game’, so to speak. Some of my favorite games as a kid have marched on (The Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat games were probably my all-time favorites) and watching clips of the gameplay on youtube, complete with insane graphics, sound and effects are enough to rekindle the old competitive juices within.

Damn, this is some next level stuff! I’ve got to try this!

Even taking a trip back down memory lane and watching youtube clips of some of the games that I used to kill time with has had the same effect.

But I never succumbed to the temptation. I remain retired.

Too many things have changed over time and I wouldn’t have a clue where to start. ‘Download this’, ‘download that’, ‘online this,’ ‘online that,’ ‘go live on this,’ ‘go live on that’…….and then you see more consoles being churned out faster than you can say ‘slow down!!!!’. Gameplay is no longer as straightforward as it used to be. It is too overwhelming and I would probably waste a ton of money on downloads and extra ‘accessories’ just trying to finish ONE particular game plus a hell of a lot of computer data in the process.

All of that aside, I just wouldn’t have time anymore and the desire is gone. Would you try to convince a retired athlete that no longer has the drive to train and compete in their chosen sport to make a comeback just for the sake of ego and chasing past glories? I’ve filled up my spare time with hobbies that are far healthier and more fulfilling for me, physically, mentally and spiritually, than gaming ever was. Learning a new exercise? That’s exciting. Exploring a new place? That’s exciting. Reading a new book? That’s exciting. Hanging out with family and friends? That’s fucking exciting! Writing another blog or poem that, hopefully, would entertain my readers? Hell yeah that’s exciting!

This is not to slight any gamers out there, everyone is entitled to their hobbies and interests and I will always say that gaming was one of the reasons why my childhood was so awesome. It may have killed my shot at being some kind of genius and wreaked havoc on my physique and social skills but I think it also helped me develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills as a kid although those skills inexplicably deserted me during math exams. I also have friends now that are gamers on the side and they are some of the coolest people I know and are the complete opposite of the nerdy, ill-disciplined, socially-maladjusted, psychopaths-in-the-making types often portrayed by the media. If people want to play games then they should be free to do so as long as they enjoy it at reasonable levels.

Which brings us to the other end of the spectrum and why, looking back, I should consider myself lucky that my parents had set rules for me as a child when it came to my gaming habits. I cringe whenever I see or hear news reports of kids and even some adults literally spending days at a time gaming non-stop, forgoing meals, work, school, sleep and even using the bathroom (adult diapers will take care of that), neglecting their families, friends and lives in the process. Two trains of thought immediately come to mind when I hear about that shit; what their caves must smell like and also how could people do that to themselves. Ok, there may be some out there that would praise these folks for their dedication and passion but man, I ain’t buying into that garbage. You know you need serious help when you’ve reduced yourself to wearing diapers beyond toddler age because you can’t get up long enough to take a shit or piss and are a slave to your machine.
Sadly, people have died doing that shit. Imagine the obituary; ‘Here lies so-and-so. Died by video gaming. He / she shat their drawers’. What a way to go, huh?
And then you also have gamers that respond violently when told to get the fuck up and rejoin the real world. Just like our shut-in from the previous paragraph this type of chump only feeds into that stereotype of the obsessed psychopath gamer image that level-headed gamers have had to put up with. I do sometimes wonder if I could have gone down that path had my parents not set limits to my gaming habits. Like I wrote earlier, I used up those sixty minutes in one sitting and if I had it my way I would have gone on and on until boredom finally got the better of me or I finished out of my own free will – and as a child I had no semblance of self-discipline and gaming was NEVER boring for me. So while that weekends-only, sixty minutes max rule was bullshit at the time, I guess in the long term it saved me from a much sadder – and disturbing – fate.

Thanks, Fam. I get it now.

If I ever have kids and they decide that they want to follow in daddy’s (childhood) footsteps they’d better be prepared to follow some rules and that shit will be non-negotiable. It’s my way or you don’t play, simple as that.
And if they want to go online before they are teenagers…..forget it. Not on my watch, no matter how many times I have to hear ‘I HATE you!’, ‘You’re ruining my life!’ and that old knee-slapper, ‘You NEVER let me do anything!’. Naw, Son-or-Daughter. None of that shit until you are old enough to grasp the responsibility and dangers associated with the Internet. You never know how many creeps out there are looking to prey on kids.

I sometimes stand before my open bedroom wardrobe staring at those boxes, allowing nostalgia to transport me back to my youth where I spent those sixty minutes in front of a screen, the outside world ceasing to exist as I had the time of my life in gaming heaven. Sometimes I can hear that young boy in my mind urging me to plug in and have one more go, just for old times’ sake.

Sorry, Kid. The fire is gone.

That gamer kid, chubby, hopeful and smiley, exists now only in my memory and in the various photo albums that my parents kept in their bedroom while the consoles that were his best friends and temporary escape from real life remain unused and untouched, sealed in their boxes, serving now only as a reminder to a past life.

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