I fell in love with gaming when I was 9. My dad came home one day carrying a blue Best Buy bag with an imprint of a small, rectangular box sticking out the side. My eyes shifted like a cat following a ball of yarn—from his face, to the bag, and back to his face— until I noticed him smile, reach into the bag and pull out a bright green video game box. There was an ominous shadowy figure holding two guns on the cover. The box read Call of Duty: Black Ops III.
We loaded the game up, and a few levels in, I began to grow antsy watching my dad repeatedly fail Level Eight because he didn’t know how to duck behind pieces of cover to save his life. I couldn’t take it anymore. I burst out with a step-by-step walkthrough of what he was doing wrong. I was afraid he’d be mad, but all he did was smile and hand me the camo-colored controller and say, “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
After a few seconds of clicking joysticks and pressing buttons, a deep voice, belonging to the campaign narrator said: “Good job soldier, you’re ready to move on.” I had never heard anything better.
I was finally good at something that a girl apparently shouldn’t be good at, and since then, I’ve played video games almost every single day.
Building an Alternate Life
Before I knew how to play video games on my own, I was consumed by YouTube and spent countless hours watching other gamers play a variety of titles that I had seen on TV. Eventually, I realized that I was only interested in Minecraft, a three dimensional sandbox video game where players create their own worlds and experiences with building blocks.
Video games were not only fun, but a place to carve out a slice of independence. At home, I was living under the rules of my parents, but they couldn’t control what I did in my world—whether it was stealing my sister’s diamonds, having five dogs, living in my very own five-floor mansion, or cliff diving into an ocean. The $30 game made me feel free.
After playing, though, I soon realized that there were some unexpected terms and conditions to playing this game that I had previously considered to solely be extremely fun and liberating—it was a game that others didn’t always consider in the same way.
When a Virtual World Becomes Too Real
One night as I was about to get ready for bed, I quickly logged onto my favorite Minecraft server to collect my daily reward. I saw this in the chat:
PaulBadge58: !!!!GIVING AWAY FREE DIAMONDS!!!! COME TO MY ISLAND!
I collected my daily reward and visited this island, assuming that it would be a quick trip and I could go to bed after. So I typed the command:
/is visit PaulBadge58
and hit enter.
After being teleported, I began exploring the island until I stumbled upon a green figure dressed in diamond blue armor, holding a diamond in his green hand. Afraid that other people would notice he was giving away free diamonds, I decided to direct message him.
/msg PaulBadge58 hi :)! heard u were giving away free diamonds
From PaulBadge58: hi!! yes how many u want?
/msg PaulBadge58 idk, how many u want to give me? how is ur day going btw? 🙂
From PaulBadge58: here take all of it. ig it’s going ok
/msg PaulBadge58 ty! sorry to hear! u sure you dont want some back?
From PaulBadge58: nah its okay, not going to play anymore.
/msg PaulBadge58 awwww why?
From PaulBadge58: bc i’m gonna end it all and k-ll myself tonight
The bright screen of my dad’s beat-up laptop seemed to slowly dim as my heart beat faster and my hands shook, struggling to stay on the keyboard. I didn’t know what to do and thought about leaving and just going to bed, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I didn’t do something. I was only 10, and although I was used to taking care of my little sister, I didn’t know how to comfort a stranger online, let alone one in this situation—one that could be a complete lie. All I could think about as I stared at the screen was: What if this person dies because of me? What if I say something wrong?
I was supposed to be in bed so I started panicking even more. I tried my best to calm down, taking deep breaths, but my hands still shook when I typed:
/msg PaulBadge58 DONT. there is so much more to the world and u are worth more than u know. why do u feel like this
It felt like my heart was about to burst out of my chest while I anxiously waited for a response.
From PaulBadge58: i dont want to live. as simple as that. i dont matter
/msg PaulBadge58 no dont think like that. you are enough and you always will be. the world would be so different without u
From PaulBadge58: ur just saying that. nothing would change if i died, so whats the point in continuing to live
/msg PaulBadge58 yes it would. think about ur family and ur friends, they wouldnt want u to do this and i dont either. please dont do it
From PaulBadge58: they dont care so why do u care. u shouldnt care
I worried that everything I said meant nothing at all. Nothing seemed to be working.
/msg PaulBadge58 its not a matter of us caring, but u caring and i dont know whats going on in ur life right now but u are going to do great things as u grow up. youre enough. more than enough. i want u to know that i am here if u need to talk because no one should ever feel like that. problems will go away as time passes and everything will change, u will be happy again. so please don’t k-ll yourself. the world will miss you and i will too.
I hit enter, smushed my face into my blankets and screamed. I didn’t want to see his response, but I had to check anyway.
From PaulBadge58: okay thank you. i wont end it all tonight.
/msg PaulBadge58 promise me
From PaulBadge58: i promise
I let out a sigh of relief, as my eyes teared up.
/msg PaulBadge58 sorry I have to go now! keep the diamonds, and have a good rest of ur night! get some rest tonight please. Bye!
I gently closed my laptop, got into bed, and softly cried into my pillow.
Leaving and Then Returning to Gaming
After this encounter, I stopped playing Minecraft, afraid of what might happen. I found myself worrying about PaulBadge58 constantly throughout the day, wondering if he was OK, second-guessing why I trusted him in the first place, and asking myself if I did enough for him.
I also became super introverted at school and at home. My parents often assumed I was sick when I went to bed early instead of playing, or whenever I was early for dinner, they were clearly surprised and asked why. My friends had also asked what was wrong, but I just told everyone I was tired because I wasn’t getting enough sleep.
I never told anyone what happened. I was terrified that no one would believe me, or they’d make fun of me for choosing to help (or call me dumb because he was “obviously” lying), and invalidate how stressed and traumatic I considered the incident to be.
I struggled to touch any sort of video game, until a few weeks later one day at school, a friend of mine asked if I played Minecraft and when I nodded, she proceeded to invite me to play with them once I got home.
I didn’t know anyone else at school who played Minecraft, especially the girls who I thought were caught up in makeup, clothing, and shoes. I didn’t judge them for their interests, but I was surprised to find out that another girl liked video games and wanted to play with me. I knew it was an opportunity I had to take.
When I got home, I turned on my laptop and each click felt better than the last. Soon, I saw:
AJMIN3R has invited you to join their party!
You have 60 seconds to accept. Click here to join!
I knew that I had fallen back in love with the game again and I haven’t stopped since.
Although I’ve certainly had some hard and emotional experiences during the time that I’ve been playing, I couldn’t be more grateful about what all that gaming has also brought me. Gaming has provided me with opportunities to try to help others and also feel welcomed in return.
Lately, I’ve been playing first-person shooter (fps) games like Valorant, where I’ve peaked at Diamond 3. Regardless of what happened with PaulBadge58, I haven’t lost any of the love I have for games that raised me, like Minecraft and the Call of Duty branches. Still, as fun as the games are and as much as I’ve developed, I don’t take the competitive aspects of them too seriously, because you never know the full story of who’s on the other side of the screen.
If you ever have thoughts of suicide or need someone to talk to, call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing the numbers 9-8-8.