This post will contain words that I detest, but never the less are necessary in the telling of this story.
I hate bullies. I hate them to the very core of my being. All forms from the real world ones that want to shove kids around or harass them based on their race, creed, gender or gender/sexual identity all the way to the ones who do the same over the internet. When I see someone picking on someone else it stirs something in the very core of me to take action, to do something, to reach out and let the person being bullied know they aren’t alone. It’s something I abhor and will do anything I can to help stamp out. And yes, it’s something personal.
When I was a kid, gaming was my escape. Escape from things I didn’t want to, or couldn’t deal with in my every day real life. This includes an abusive father who visited random acts of violence upon me, and constant bullying in grade school for being smarter than the average student. Yes, I was the nerd that got picked on. The story of my home life with my father is something that deserves it’s own post, and I’ll get to that another time.
After my father left, it lessened one burden, but then I still had the constant bullying at school to deal with. It lasted all through grade school. Kids would taunt me for being smart, for wearing glasses, for reading books. They’d steal my books from my desk and tear them up and throw them out the windows. I was called a faggot, gay, fat. I was called every derogatory name they could think of, and many times they told me that I should just go kill myself because I was a useless sack of shit.
Every day was a fight, literally. Every day was a struggle emotionally. Everyday was my own personal war. I was being punished for who I was. Geek, nerd, etc. It was so hard to wake up and face every day wondering what I’d have to do to get through the day in one piece.
Through it all, gaming became a safe haven for me. Dungeons and Dragons let me be the hero that could save the world, video games distracted me and let me absorb myself in something other than my daily life. It wasn’t that I couldn’t separate fantasy from reality, it was just that my reality sucked. Everyday I would come home, black eyes, scrapes and bruises from getting picked on and fighting back. It got to the point where as much as I loved my family and friends I had considered leaving this world behind. If it wasn’t for my big brother, my mentor and my gaming friend who pulled me aside, who answered my call when I needed it and spent the time with me to make sure I didn’t do it, and to make sure I knew I wasn’t alone and to help fight back against the bullies, I wouldn’t be here.
He’s the one that helped me use gaming to socialize instead of escape, who taught me quite literally how to fight back. How to stand up for myself and how to cope and handle and eventually silence the bullies. If not for him, and if not for the support structure I gained through my gaming group I hate to say it but I would have made the wrong choice.
Now, this isn’t the only reason that I detest the cowardice of bullies, but it should help frame the mindset I’ve been in about the topic for a long time. About ten years ago, I was a staple at the local gaming store. I would run Dungeons and Dragons games, play magic, and socialize with not only my group of friends but younger kids that were coming into their geekness. Enter my friend Mark. Mark was 14 when I met him. He was just in the process of selecting a High School, and had just realized that he loved geeky things. I saw a lot of myself in him, and wound up becoming his sort of mentor. I helped him pick a high school and pick a major. I answered his questions and let him shadow me at college.
I found out that our pasts were very similar, and that he was having a hard time coping with bullying from his peers, and abuse from his father. He was called a geek, loser, nerd. Kids made fun of him calling him weak, gay, faggot. They would tell him that he should choke on a dick and die, that he should kill himself, that the world would be better off without him.
I did everything I could to try and help him, just like my mentor did for me. I told him he wasn’t alone, helped him socialize and give him a support network of friends. Unlike me though, Mark’s father never left, and so he still went home to that. We called CPS, but they didn’t really do anything to help. I was on my way home from class, and my cell phone was just dead, out of juice. I get home and find I had missed a call from Mark. Also as I got home, Mark’s parents were calling my house demanding that I sent him home.
Mark had run away from home, and his parents thought I was hiding him. After I assured them he wasn’t with me and that I would contact them the minute I found out where he was, I plugged my cell phone in to charge. When it powered on I noticed I had a voicemail, I listened to it and it was Mark, asking for help. I missed the most important phone call of my life. Unlike my mentor I wasn’t there are the right time, at the tipping point. We looked for Mark for days. We combed the city, I didn’t sleep at all that week. All I could do was worry, and wonder and hope that someone got to him. Some voice of reason, some friendly hand.
He was found later that same week, having hung himself from a tree. He died alone in the cold of winter, and since then I’ve been haunted by him. Not his ghost in a supernatural way, but the memory that I wasn’t there to help save a person’s life. That an intelligent and wonderful human being was gone. That the constant bullying, the picking on the belittling and the abuse got to the point where he honestly felt there was no way out but suicide. I got angry, hell I’m still angry.
When people tell me that internet bullying isn’t a problem, I see Mark’s face. When they say harassment and bullying is just part of the “gaming culture” my blood boils. I tell them they have no clue what they’re talking about. I fight back. I try to help clean up and stop the harassment, I don’t just let it sit there and fester. I don’t just turn a blind eye to it. I can’t. If I do then I let Mark down again. I can’t do that. I donate to the Trevor Project and other organizations that help kids and people in these same situations. I fight back and help CMs and GMs keep communities clean of the taint that is bullying as much as I can. I report it, I fight back.
It’s not OK. It’s not OK to be silent when you see something like this happening. Gaming is a haven for many people, it’s a way to find support, to find something better than what they have. You may think that’s a line, but it’s the truth. If you see something happen, report it. If you know someone who is being bullied or harassed, help them. There are more of us than there are of them, we just need to be louder and be willing to fight back. I urge you to act instead of walk away. It is not just up to those that manage the communities to do this, it’s up to each and everyone of us as gamers, as community members, to keep the house clean so to speak. To support those that need it, and to not just let this cancer fester. Please, do something.
Because if you do nothing, it’s the same as saying the behavior is OK, and your silence supports the bullies and the harassers.