Throughout elementary and middle school, I was the textbook definition of a bully target. I was weak, shy, and a bit of a loner. I had a few friends, but we all fell into the same category of bully magnets. Since we all fell into the same social category, we formed a fairly tight-knit group and kept to our own little social circle. Even then, I was still a loser. I wasn't too good at meeting people and making new friends. If I ended up in a class without anybody I knew, I'd just fade into the background of the class.
I was cursed by my shyness when it came to meeting new people. I'd look for my first chance to escape and hightail it to the nearest quiet corner of the school.
This curse began to carry on through high school until my Sophomore year, when one of the school bullies noticed me reading the December 1998 copy of EGM in my Graphic Arts class. Normally, I'd just catch my daily dose of harassment from him so I braced myself when he started walking towards me. But as he got closer he stopped, looked at what I was reading, then sat next to me and asked what kind of score Metal Gear Solid got.
This scared the ever-living crap out of me and I immediately began looking for the first opening to run. This bully was one of my daily tormentors; why would he want to be nice to me? Feeling cornered, I quickly gave him the answer and then buried my nose in the magazine. The bully asked to read the reviews, so I quickly handed him the magazine. He took a quick read over the reviews, then asked me if I had read much about Metal Gear Solid. I gave him a quick "yes," still feeling cornered. The bully asked me what I thought of the game, based on what I'd read. Before I could answer, he started to tell me in detail what he'd read about MGS and how excited he was about it.
I eventually relaxed, and told him what I'd read about MGS. I'd spent a lot of time reading every magazine article I could on it and surprised the bully with how much I knew. By the time I told him that I had saved as much as I could to get a PlayStation just to play MGS, the class was over. We both had the same lunch (which I never knew before because I usually avoided him) so we agreed to meet up then and talk about the game more.
At lunch I met some of the bully's friends, who happened to be more of my daily tormentors. He told them I was "cool," and that I knew a lot about MGS, a game they were all interested in. We spent the entire lunch period talking about games, and I started to gain a little acceptance outside of my normal social circle.
As the school year went on, I spent more time hanging out with the bully. He eventually went from bully to friend, and I began to make even more friends thanks to a shared interest in Pokémon. Due to the fact that Game Boys weren't allowed in school for any reason, I became part of an elite covert group of Pokémon traders. During our free time in classes and in between classes, we would hammer out trade agreements, sometimes going into intense haggling bouts to try to get the best trade. It could take days for trades between rare and/or high level Pokémon to be finalized. At lunch we would put our backpacks on the lunch table, with our Game Boys conveniently nestled inside. We'd use the lunch trays to conceal the link cable, which ran across the table. When the lunch monitors were distracted we'd quickly make the trades. Pokémon battles could be just as daunting. Battles would be negotiated like prized boxing fights and created many heated rivalries.
I kept meeting new people through the common connection of videogames and eventually began to get recognized more in school. I also noticed that I wasn't as afraid of stepping outside of my social circle as I used to be. With the friends I made through gaming I started to branch out, taking what I'd learned by making friends through gaming and started meeting new people through other shared interests.
By my Senior year, I made a lot of progress socially. I was still a gaming nerd, but I'd become a "cool" gaming nerd. I'd become friends with other kids from a bunch of different social circles. From the jocks to the art kids and everywhere in between. I even became friends with most of the kids who had bullied me previously. And even if I wasn't a friend with everyone in my school, I was at least accepted by most of them. By the time I graduated the only people who still picked on me were part of a small group of very stuck-up snobs.
My entire social education was thanks to videogames. I love to tell my story every time I hear someone say that videogames are anti-social, that they encourage kids to isolate themselves alone in front of a screen. I'm living proof that games are just the opposite. Since most kids are gamers, gaming gives them a massive common ground, something that they all can relate to, no matter which social circle they're in.
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