Are you there, Twitch? It’s me, Undrea

How video games — and my Dad’s memory — helped me cope

Guillermo Del Toro tweeted:

“I believe that childhood is the forge of our soul — we are hammered and bent and crushed into the steel of our adult years.”

If childhood ‘is the forge of my soul,’ video games were hammered and bent and crushed into the steel of my adult years.

Whether it be a handheld or a controller, key moments in my personal timeline were punctuated by channeling whatever I was going through at the time into what I was playing.

I suffered from really bad night terrors as a kid. Some of my earliest memories are getting up before the sun to turn on the Nintendo (a gift from my Father,) and losing myself in Mario Brothers. Or I’d use my fear to fuel a round — or fifty — of Duck Hunt.

I was bullied a lot in elementary school. Ironically enough, for all the things that I fully embrace now. My love for gaming, anime and manga once made me an easy target for put-downs and negative comments. Now it’s the foundation for meaningful conversation and bonding sessions with complete strangers.

How did I deal with that bullying? I’d wake up early (much like I did as a young child,) to perch in the ultra-comfortable chair in the living room armed with my GameBoy and Tetris, also a gift from my Father. The familiarity of the main theme’s music comforted me as I crushed line after line in an attempt to beat my own high score.

I’d come home from school only to blaze through my homework and park myself in front of the TV for hours in front of my Sega Genesis, working away at games like Samurai Shodown and Landstalker. The music and battles helped drain away the pain from some of the hurtful things said to me by my fellow classmates.

Gaming became a safe place when I couldn’t shoulder the pain by myself anymore.

I was suicidal in Middle School so I sought relief in playing out another character, another life. I didn’t see a future for myself at the time so it gave me a chance to see a different destiny through someone else’s eyes.

Then along came the Sega Saturn, another gift. (Notice a pattern, here? My Dad definitely helped nurture my love of games, even before I fully realized it.) The intrigue of Myst kept me busy, in Virtua Fighter I envisioned the other player I fought as my bullies and NiGHTS Into Dreams provided a colorful alternate universe that I could sink down into.

I felt my own identity crisis echo through Cloud Strife’s of Final Fantasy 7, trying to find who I really was underneath it all. The accompanying soundtrack — which was a belated birthday present from my parents bought directly from Japan — helped soothe and motivate me while I endlessly poured my heart out to the pages of my journal, another avenue of mine to deal with the overwhelming sadness that threatened to engulf me.

Gaming was fun. It was an escape. It was a way to channel my anger, my pain, my happiness. I thrived through each character. With every obstacle faced, it felt like I could endure hard times in my own life. When a boss was defeated, I felt victorious. It was almost as if I had triumphed in slaying a real-life problem.

Gaming was therapeutic … even when I didn’t know that I needed it.

Weekend outings with my Father where we would both game was an essential ritual. For most, an arcade is just a building. But over time, it became a sanctuary to me.

There in front of the massive machine with it’s brightly colored lights, the firm joystick and the cool press of the buttons … nothing could touch me. I was free.

In my early twenties I occasionally gamed, though not as heavily as I did during my young, adolescent and teenage years. Going to college and working full-time took precedence so my once beloved consoles began to collect dust. My Father used the Playstation 3 more than I did, his excitement over new Madden titles contagious as we sat in the living room. He would play contentedly and I’d sit there, just happy to watch him.

Gaming was a past-time that we still both enjoyed but now the dynamics were shifting. Weekend rituals out at the arcade tapered off and were now confined to our living room. Sliding tokens into slots had been replaced with the hum of the television and instead of a joystick, the sounds of a controller being palmed. The loudness was still there, however. (Arcade or not, my Dad would always yell when a game wasn’t going his way.) Looking back, I smirk thinking about his various expressions.

At this time, I had thrown myself into work and was moving along like a well-oiled engine. I had gotten help for my depression, I was learning — and defining — my triggers, my social life was thrumming and I was happy with my studies. Gaming became a fond and distant memory. My Father would still play and I would still watch.

Years passed.

Then I heard about I didn’t broadcast, I merely sought solace in being a part of different people’s chat communities. Twitch brought back the echoes of my youth. Instead of playing, I got to watch other people spend time discovering worlds and delving into the life of another.

Twitch piqued my curiosity, but not enough that I would give it a try myself.

Then, my Father passed away.

Abrupt, I know. What occurred was just as sudden as the above sentence.

He was rushed to the ER. I’ll never forget the shock that jolted my system when the nurse told us the news. He was no longer here. My Father was living, breathing and with us one moment. The next he was just … gone.

I didn’t know how to deal. I felt like I was drowning. Mutual loss brought my Mother and I closer together but for months it felt like I was just going through the motions. My old companion depression was there to greet me once again. I withdrew from my friends and social networks because I needed time to grieve and fully process everything that was going on.

I needed time to heal.

Finally — finally, — I was able to start going through my Father’s personal belongings. Oddly enough, one of the first things I did was turn on his Playstation 3. I went through his games — NBA2K and Tekken being some of his favorites — and the oddest twin set of emotions filled me. I was happy because these were titles he adored but I was also filled with anguish because he could never play these games again.

I couldn’t bring myself to do anything else so I just turned the console off. The blackness of the television screen stared back at me as I placed the controller down and silently left the living room.

Months passed.

I was no longer working. (I had fallen ill so a job was out of the question.) I found myself in front of my computer. My mind was wandering but my fingers were busy. I typed in the web address for Twitch without thinking. Then I began to revisit my old chat room stomping grounds.

Being back on Twitch was equal parts home and brand new. The purple and white theme. Listening to a broadcaster’s voice as they shot, drove or launched themselves past opponents. Revisiting Twitch was nice, but it still felt foreign because I hadn’t been there in so long.

What would I do now?

I closed the browser tab for Twitch.

A bit of time passed.

I found myself sitting in my Dad’s old recliner one afternoon, facing the console. So I turned on the Playstation 3 and just stared at his account. I logged in and did more than just browse. I selected a game and played for a while.

It felt weird, but good.

Twitch crossed my mind again.

Shortly afterwards, I began watching broadcasters for a different reason. I started to study them now. How often did they interact with their chat? Did they have a bunch of notifications on-screen or did they keep things simple? Did they have overlays, or none at all?

I immersed myself in all things Twitch until it didn’t feel so distant anymore.

It was one fall day in November of 2014 when I decided to make the leap of faith to become a caster on Twitch. I remember my Mother telling me; ‘Your Father wouldn’t want you to continue to be sad. He’d want you to live.’ And what’s the best way to live? By pursuing your passion. Gaming was something I’d always deeply enjoyed but school, work and life in general had somehow overshadowed my first love.

As I sat there in my room — warring with myself, — I remembered my Dad’s loud laugh whenever a play went off without a hitch in NFL Blitz, his side eye whenever I’d come thiiis close to beating him in Street Fighter (he slayed at Dhalism, by the way) or how he’d ball up his fist in frustration whenever he was losing.

And that’s when I knew that my Mom was right. Dad would want me to go through my grieving process, but he wouldn’t want me to wallow in it.

So I took the plunge and bought a PS4. Then later, I splurged on an Xbox One.

The rest? Is still being written.

I officially started broadcasting on December 12th, 2014 and I’ve loved every single second of it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world! I’ve met such an amazing group of supporters on Twitch and that support grows along with my channel. People have told me: ‘Your streams have gotten me through a rough day,’ but didn’t even know at the time I was struggling and streaming pulled me through, too. I’ve had an incredible experience being on Twitch so far and I hope to be around for many years to come.

As an adult, I now use gaming as an outlet and a way to honor something that both my Father and I loved. Whenever the ‘LIVE’ button shows, it’s a chance for me to explore a new virtual world while allowing me to connect with other souls at the same time. It’s a shared experience. And it’s amazing.

Sometimes … I wonder what it would be like if my Dad were still here. I imagine his reaction to how much games have visually progressed in the last few years. I mull over possibilities and what if’s. I’m sure Dad would prattle off his gun knowledge to help me with my next Hitman mission. He would’ve gotten a complete kick out of the first annual TwitchCon and I know he’d drop into chat to meet everyone.

And even though he isn’t around to see my progress, I know that he’d marvel in the journey.