Living in abuse and learning to fear games.

CW: a personal story about violent domestic abuse.

I realised the day before I was leaving home that he’d broken me. I wasn’t leaving on this short notice realisation, I was going to uni. It was just him barging into my room and taking my stuff down to the car, to help, and making out like it shouldn’t be as hard as we were all making it. That was it. I just sat there, scrunched up on the floor, furious and cold, with it all done thinking, “I didn’t want him to do it, I didn’t want him to be involved.”

When I tried to explain this, to my mum who came to see where I was, it was the typical dismissal, that it was my fault essentially for being sensitive. It was then that I started looking at it differently, when I thought about how my mum could be a professional survivor counsellor and advocate, working and receiving awards in one of the most essential roles for vulnerable people, and not see me. I would send texts when in these positions, because I couldn’t face the words, and asked her to speak to me like I was one of her clients.

Looking at that now I know that she, alongside me and my siblings, were being abused by a violent, controlling narcissist.

My step-dad and abuser was funny, loving and fiercely protective of us. We had great conversations, and bonded well over videogames. He would make my body convulse in fear. Both of us really liked the Call of Duty franchise at the time, and it’s releases from CoD 4: Modern Warfare to Black Ops III map to about the length of time he spent abusing me and my family.

Before I met him, and he became part of the us, I was pretty into online gaming. One of my early memories is watching my Mum play Everquest late into the night, and fetching orange ice lollies for us both from the freezer since they were her pregnancy craving, slaying dragons and waiting for my little brother.

A few years later, around 9years old I became totally embedded in World of Warcraft, playing for the couple of hours alloted to me every night and watching mum and my brothers over their shoulders from the couch. It seems weird now but I’d make real friends, online, as a little kid, my long-bearded Dwarf paladin hanging out with people in my Mum’s guild and stuff on the varied strange grounds of Azeroth. PvP arenas were scary but exhilarating and dungeons were a bit too much pressure, since I’ve always panicked in effective group battle. I was comfortable in this world, it was exciting and fun and something me and friends and family could all just bond over.

There’s no dramatic story here about my step-dad suddenly stepping in and demanding we burn our computer to the ground or anything. In fact he loved online multiplayer games, they were one of the main things he was into as a stay home dad, and got me and my brothers into it all further by dominating the main TV in the house for most of the day playing in online battlegrounds. Specifically in the Team Deathmatch modes of Call of Duty games, around the end of the 00s to the beginning and middle of the 2010s. This was prime Xbox toxic culture era, prime gamergate years and while he wasn’t out to destroy people’s lives, he was a violent, loud and verbally abusive player, and got the same back until he would just mute entire games and instead loudly shout to no-one the woes of being camped over and over by twelve year olds.

This rubbed off on me and my brothers in weirdly opposite fashions. While they both got really into it all, I kind of gave up online games altogether, because of a meanness inside the Call of Duty servers and my step-dad’s voice that was anathema to what I’d felt before about being online. There was no thrill to being verbally abused, nothing exciting to being shunned and repeatedly reminded of your own ineptitude. Of course that wasn’t the case if it was sibling versus sibling, then it was all guns blazing, whether in game or in life, the potential to mock each other for messing up, frequently endorsed by my step-dad, was capitalised on fully.

My retreat from online gaming hasn’t stopped, since I ducked away from the harshness of Team Deathmatch servers either. I haven’t wanted to play in these spaces for a long time, because I fear running into people like him. The last time I played online was when I was drawn to a stick figure fighting game from Steam, and soon attacked by fuckers announcing racist, queerphobic hate. It’s that kind of interaction, with the people who seem to run these spaces, qualifying themselves and their skills in manipulation and abuse, that puts me into an intense anxiety. Their piggybacking off of a continual and brutal cycle of abusive coercion and cynicism to fuel what… what exactly… I don’t know. Fun?

Games, unfortunately for everyone, have been, can be and will be, vehicles and tools for abuse, and as shown in the past decade the more power you give to that side of a game’s design, the more likely and obvious it is you end up with real world cultures of hatred.

I know this isn’t the whole story, online games can be good, and cute and tactical and real smart and all that. But, ultimately, how I’ve experienced them was at the height of their potential to be exploited for abuse, being used by a man who would end up seriously threatening to kill me in my own home in front of my mum and siblings. The threats of death to these kids across the globe camping and no-scoping all day, being made real in my life.

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