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How Video Games Saved My Life

Video games saved my life. Given how video games get such a bad rap these days from the NRA, politicians, and your mama, I figured a testimonial on how games can have a positive impact is warranted. Here�s my story.

Me, The Class Clown
I was a pretty lost cause as a kid. Me = The class clown. Getting into trouble was something I did daily. Talking in class. Doing mischievous things. It was the one thing I figured I was good at, so rather than fight it, I relished it.

Back in 5th grade, my best friend Jerrod (class clown #2) and I were assigned to sit in the front of the class. Not the first row, but literally right up against the chalkboard, so that we were separated from each other and from the rest of the class. All that did was give us a stage to perform. When the teacher turned his back, we would come up with new antics. We had a regular �fuck off� contest, where we would give the international arm gesture to fuck off in rapid fire, seeing who could do the most in 1 minute. One day I came home with my arm beaten black and blue and my mom thought I was in a fight. I was. And I won. I was fuck off champ.

Jerrod and I - Class clowns extraordinaire

Instead of doing class work, I would just doodle all the time, drawing monsters as if I was on some deadline to create new machinations for the D&D monster manual. Needless to say, my grades were poor. Coming from a Chinese family where all my cousins got straight A�s, it was a �shame to the family.� At one point my mom just gave in and said that if I could just get straight C�s, she would be proud. I heard the term �black sheep� used once. Thanks mom for being a believer.

Not that I was a complete idiot. I had a natural gift with math, which I�m sure is genetic because my dad was a math wiz (PhD in artificial Intelligence. He even invented his own geometry theorem...) I would easily win timed math tests, beating out the math nerds all the time. But math was boring, so I never really studied. I only wanted to win the speed tests because it was a game.

Me, The Delinquent
I would get into rock fights with friends, throwing rocks at each other like gang warfare. You know, for fun. And it was fun til we hit a little girl right in her sweet noggin, and got called into the principal�s office. My friends got off because they were good students. I didn�t.

I did I have a knack for puzzle solving. But I didn�t really put that to good use. I figured out how to crack Master locks, and bike locks. I wasn�t malicious in nature, so instead of stealing bikes, I'd steal bike locks. That hobby ended when my mom found my collection of 100 locks in my closet.

My old school. Is that a bike I see? Must have a bike lock worth stealing.

By the time I was 7th grade, I got into hacking computers. Just something I figured out how to do from playing games so much, since I wanted to know how computers worked. In fact, that was pretty much how I ended up �wasting� much of my time. I played a lot of games. And it was through games that my world started to really come together.

Me, The Game Creator
It wasn�t until 8th grade when games really started to have an impact on me. For my American History class, I create a game instead of writing a paper because I hated writing essays (who doesn�t?) I took an adventure game I was cobbling together in BASIC, and turned it into a game about colonial America (Objective: Stop a time travelling assassin from killing Benji Franklin!) As you explored Philly hunting down the assassin, you learned about life back then, which I just cut and pasted info from my textbook. Creating a game gave me focus. My doodles turned into in-game art. My knack for puzzles resulted in some clever in-game mechanics. And math suddenly became interesting. I even started to find colonial America interesting. *Gasp*

The Apple 2e - What I created my first game on. Loved it more than my Atari 2600. And pizza.

Later that week, I was mortified to find out I had to give a presentation on my �essay�. I never bothered to mention to the teacher what I was doing. But my mind was elsewhere during the presentation because I could sense explosive diarrhea coming... So I tore through that presentation fast, and then just ran out the door. I figured I screwed up the project anyways, because all I could see were my classmates looking at me like �what they hell was that?�

But something magical happened. The teacher loved it. People thought the game was cool. Not only did I get an A+, the teacher wanted to use the game as a teaching tool. The school eventually bought the game from me. And I now had some cash to buy lots of pizza and slushies. Two of my fave things as a kid. Well, besides games, but most of my games were pirated...

I realize now that my mischievous & restless behavior could have led to a very different life had it not been for games. Not that I turned my life around all of a sudden to become a model citizen. It still took many years of guidance, luck, and eventually hard work to make it all come together. I eventually broke into the game industry, and that�s all I been doing ever since. Launched a successful start up, climbed the corp later to become a senior exec at a games publisher, and still have a mischievous streak in me.

Games saved my life. Creating games gave me purpose. It channeled all that stuff that could have turned me into a hooligan into someone who is a productive member of society (I still question whether I�m a model citizen.) I�m a better man because of games.

Old School Gaming - Saved My Life
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About johnmasterleeone of us since 2:56 PM on 02.11.2013


I'm a game developer, and head up several gaming studios, including Wicked Loot and FitGoFun. Been in the game industry for many years now. It's the only life I know.

I pretty much done it all. QA. Marketing. Game Design. Coding. Editor. The guy who had to wear the (stank) mascot costume at a gaming event. The guy who drove a truck to deliver games to a warehouse. For the love of the game.

It's sorta about games. But mostly about my life.