So far in this column, I’ve written about relatively light-hearted events throughout my life in which video games were involved in some way. I’m going to be up front here: this post is sad and quite frankly, a little hard to write. I want to be up front about this, not to discourage you from reading, but to emphasize there is a happy ending. I hope this article can encourage those readers who have lost someone special in their own lives.

When I was 8 years old, I was faced with a difficult decision that would affect my life forever. My mother and father had decided to divorce, leaving me in the middle of a terrible situation which neither parent wanted me in, but believed would turn out for the best for everyone. The hard decision? I had to choose who to live with.

Growing up, I was always closer to my mom, as she was always very loving and welcoming. My dad, though I always knew – and still know – that he loved me, was the enforcer. If I got into any kind of trouble, I had my father to answer to. I was old enough in the eyes of the State of California to make a decision on my own, so I was tasked with choosing a side.  I hated it.

In the end, I chose my dad, for some odd reason. It would have made more sense to have gone with my mom, as I felt much closer to her. Once I declared this answer to the court, preparations were made, and I stayed in the house I had grown up in with my father.
 

divorcechoice

A cheesy picture, perhaps, but it symbolizes the feeling I had when I had to choose.


 
At first, I would visit my mom every weekend, going over to her place and spending time with her. We would play games, go to the park, go out and watch movies; we did things we both enjoyed. After 6 months or so, however, my visits began to slow, as she would be busy or I would have some extra-curricular activity during the weekend. We slowly drifted apart, and eventually I stopped seeing her on the weekends. I honestly couldn’t tell you how it happened, or even why it happened, but I didn’t really see her anymore. Phone calls were all that I received.

Time flew by, and the beginning of a new year had arrived – 1995 was upon me. I was just about to pass the mid-way mark for the school year, so I could begin looking forward to Summer. One day in January, on a Friday afternoon, my last class for the day was having a party. It had been mentioned earlier in the week as a surprise party for someone; I didn’t know what the occasion was, but I didn’t care because I didn’t have to do any classwork. As soon as I walked through the doors, my heart dropped into my stomach.

Growing up, I was picked on and bullied constantly. I was the short, overweight kid who was incredibly nerdy, so I suppose I was an easy target for kids who had nothing better to do other than tear people down. Anyway, I had very few friends growing up: two to be exact – Brian and Chris. Needless to say, they were the only reason I had any kind of enjoyment at school, and we were inseparable wherever we went. So, when I walked through the doors of my final class of the day and saw the “We’ll miss you, Michael!” sign hanging up above the whiteboard, I couldn’t comprehend what was happening.

The entire time, people kept coming up to me and saying goodbye, and that they would miss me; all typical superficial responses to my leaving. But, when Brian and Chris came up to me, somewhat avoiding me the entire time, I nearly broke out crying. They both whispered, almost inaudibly, “Goodbye Mike. We will miss you.” I could tell they were holding back their tears because of the looks on their faces; it was the same look that was on mine, and it took everything to not cry.

At the end of class, my dad picked me up from school, and explained to me that we were going to move up to Humboldt County. He had talked about going there, and talked about it a lot, but I had never realized he meant to move there. He was taking me away from the only two true friends I had ever had. I hated him, and what he was doing to me. That Sunday, we had packed everything up and took off on our new journey to the north end of the state of California; to the hills of Humboldt.
 

Moving was unexpected, and honestly, pretty terrible

Moving was unexpected, and honestly, pretty terrible.


 
Fast forward to 1997. I was still the kid no one really wanted to hang out with, was picked on constantly by other kids, and simply tried making my days bearable. It was pretty much the same as when I lived in Sacramento, except I didn’t have any real friends this time around. Yes, there were kids that were nicer to me than others, but they weren’t friends, nor would they call themselves that. I dreaded going to school, and looked forward to days where I could be by myself playing video games or exploring out in the forest. I had finally started to get settled into this new life the best I could, when one day, my father solemnly came to me.

“Michael, come with me for a bit.”

I thought I was in trouble for something, my mind immediately scanning through all that I had been doing that day. We walked out to the front of the garage, and he sat down in front of me, a serious look worn upon his face.

“Michael, I don’t know how to tell you this, so I’m just going to be straight-forward. Your mom fell into a coma last week, and it isn’t looking good.”

My father continued on, telling me that she fell asleep one night the week before – she had just had her birthday party with some friends – and she just hadn’t woken up since then. When they got her to the hospital, they began running tests and found the problem quickly: she had a blood clot lodged in her brain, in an inoperable area. If the doctors attempted to go into surgery, there was an extremely high chance that she would die or have permanent brain damage. But the news didn’t stop there.

I was one of three of my mother’s children; two were from a previous marriage before she met my father – both much older than me. So, I was faced with yet another impossible decision, this time being only 12 years old.

“You have a few days to decide, Michael, so you can take your time. But you need to decide if you want to keep her on life support, or take her off of it. There’s a high chance she will never wake up. If she does wake up, there’s a high chance she will be a ‘vegetable’ the rest of her life – she won’t be able to take care of herself, won’t be able to move freely, and her brain won’t work normally. You, your brother, and your sister have to make the decision.”

My young mind just couldn’t comprehend what was happening; I was given the task of letting my mother die, or holding on to a potentially bleak future for her. After a couple days, I told my dad I didn’t want her to live her life like a “vegetable,” and I wanted to take her off life support. It turned out my sister thought the same thing, while my brother wanted to keep her on. Two out of three of the children agreed, so it was decided to take her off life support and see if she would come out of her coma. About six days later, my mother passed away.

Not long after, a funeral was made for her, and everyone from both sides of the family gathered to remember her. I couldn’t cry for some reason, even while everyone around me would start sobbing the moment they laid eyes on me. It was a weird feeling that is hard to describe, even to this day. After the funeral, the family spent time together for the next few days in the Sacramento area. Finally, it was time to go back home.

When we moved to Humboldt, I would stay with my brother and his family for most summer and Christmas breaks. I would always want to hang out with my nephews, as we were much closer in age than I was to my own siblings. It had been about nine months since my mother’s funeral. I had a terrible end of the year and even worse beginning of the next year at school. I wanted to forget about everything and just be with my favorite relatives, during what was usually my favorite time of the year.

A few weeks after being dropped off, we all went out to the mall as a family. As was our custom, my older brother from my father’s side took all of the boys to the video game store to pick out our next game. At the time, both my nephews and I had our own Playstation consoles, so we were constantly checking out games for it.
 

Video games and Marvel comics together? This was a must have

Video games and Marvel comics together? This was a must-have.


 
Thirty minutes rolled by very quickly and I came across something that really interested me. I’ve loved comics since I was young, specifically Marvel and the X-Men, so naturally I stopped when I came across the game, Marvel Super Heroes. Originally, I had played this game a few times in arcades, and although I was terrible at it, I enjoyed it immensely. My brother caught me staring at it, and he asked, “Ah, what do you have there? Marvel, huh? You want it?” I looked up at him, kind of taken aback, but I nodded my head in small amount of happiness.

My nephews were happy with my selection, and we couldn’t wait to get back to the house to try it. As soon as we pulled into the driveway, we hopped out and raced inside. We opened up the Playstation, set the disc inside and closed it.  The familiar Sony logo popped up with that iconic music fade-in. Then we began playing.
 

The Sony Playstation intro in all its glory.

 
At first, I was beaten by my oldest newphew Steven,and quite often. As I said before, I was terrible at fighting games. But it didn’t take too long until I figured out the game was built on stringing the individual moves together to create devastating combos. I quickly realized which character would be my “go-to” fighter: Spider-Man. I gravitated towards the quicker, more nimble characters, as I eventually became a master at evasion. Although Wolverine was my favorite, I was definitely a better contender with Spider-Man.
 

SpideyMoves01

The webslinger flies around the screen with ease.

 

 The hardest part was discovering and memorizing move sets. Back, forward, back, square to shoot a web ball. Down, circle, up, down/side + square for an awesome aerial attack. My knowledge began to build, and I started beating my nephews at the game, which spurred them to get better as well. Once I felt like I had mastered Spider-Man, however, I began branching out into other characters.

SpideyMoves02.gif

Wrap up your opponents in webs.

 

SpideyMoves03

Spidey can fling around bigger fighters like rag dolls.


 
Psylocke was my next choice, as I’ve always enjoyed the character and thought her powers were cool. She was also a good transition between the quick and heavier characters. I soon learned her move sets and was winning matches again while my nephews began learning with Hulk and Magneto.  The game was interesting in that you could play as super villains, not just super heroes. We spent hours playing against each other, honing our skills and developing combos to annihilate our opponent.

One thing I admired also was the style and art of this game. It looked like an animated comic book. The game was smooth for its time and utilized vibrant colors. The backdrops were also incredible; one level revolved around a bridge that would be destroyed and fall into a river, one located in front of a ride at a carnival, and another was in a completely different dimension. Heck, there was even a stage where you fought in Hell! The stages were brought to life with active animations that added to the chaos of the fight, on a much grander scale than any Street Fighter game I had played up to that point.
 

PsylockeVsBlackheart

Psylocke: my favorite after Spider-Man; here she beats up Blackheart on his own turf: Hell.


 
In addition to fighting each other, we took turns trying to finish the story mode within the game, going through a set of competitors, trying to reach the final boss. The first time we finally finished it (I was the one who did it!), we were surprised by the extra playable character, Thanos. Of course we all wanted to be Thanos, as we had been able to play with all the other characters extensively. There weren’t a lot of characters to pick from compared to modern fighting games. I remember the first time I played as Thanos, ready to kick some tail, when I was served a slice of humble pie; my nephew completely dominated me as Iron Man. Thanos was hard for me to learn and he was only playable if you beat the story mode.
 
IronManVsThanos

Thanos is a mutant Eternal from Titan, but he doesn’t stand a chance against Iron Man.


 
Finally, the game implemented something else that could change the way a fight turned out; the Infinity Gems. Each gem granted a different boost in power: one would boost strength, another special powers, another speed, and so on. Plus, the player could use their Infinity Gem to perform a special type of move or action, which would completely eliminate the gem from the fight altogether. It was a great addition to already solid gameplay, and it changed the way a match would turn out many times, for better or worse.
 
MSHCharSelect

I rarely saw “Press Start Button” on the screen as I almost always played with one of my nephews.


 
So, why was this game so important to me, and what’s it doing in an article like this? It was a means to combat loneliness and the feeling of loss. When I lost my mother, I felt helpless, and the concept of death had never truly shown its ugly face like it had with her passing.

When would I die? What about my dad? I never got to really hang out with my mom much before her passing. Does that make me a bad person? Why hadn’t she wanted hang out with me? Why was she so busy? Would my dad be the same way? I don’t want to die. I don’t want my dad to die, or anyone else in my family.

These are rather heavy thoughts for a 12-year-old, but it had been brought upon me, regardless. Playing a simple fighting game with characters I had grown to love over the years wasn’t the answer to my helplessness. It was a means for true friendship and bonds to be developed. I know that my affinity for local multiplayer gaming stemmed from this period in my life. Being around those I love, trash-talking and spurring each other on to be better gamers, are what had a drastic impact on my life. Sharing this time with my nephews and feeling like a normal kid was what I needed during that time.

None of this would bring my mom back, nor was it any kind of resolution for the situation, but it was a light in a very dark tunnel. Eventually, I was able to face it head on, cope, and become a better person. It taught me how valuable life is and to spend time with those you love, even if that takes the form of beating the snot out of them with comic book characters. I loved the time I spent with my nephews that summer, and it gave me a new outlook on gaming in general. The camaraderie built between us still stands to this day. I speak with the older of the two nephews regularly, and I have been incredibly blessed to see new chapters in his life. Thanks to a simple fighting game, our bond will last a lifetime.

If there is one thing to gather from my rambling, it’s this: never give up, and don’t let life keep you on the ground. You’ll most assuredly be struck by pain, and you may have already experienced some already. But remember that all it takes is one instance to change that, even if it’s something like a video game. When you’re hit hard, gather yourself up, reach out your hand to those who want to help, and get back into the fight. Fight on, my fellow gamers. Fight on.

  • I’m stunned, sorrowful, and uplifted. I am so thankful that you shared this. I had a brother that died from a brain tumor in the mid 90s and gaming, especially PSone & Sega Saturn was a huge part of our lives. When he was sick we all played together and there were moments where we forgot about the cancer, he eventually became bedridden but still wanted me and my older brother to play because it brought him joy. It brought us together and provided distraction and that camaraderie that you wrote of.

    We’d play Virtua Cop, mastering the levels, and making up rules like Terminator 2 mode (knee shots only) and say in a terrible Arnie voice “He’ll live.” We’d laugh at the other’s failings, and revel in our victories.

    When he passed me and my older brother still played and to this day play games together because of how much it means to us and how much it meant to Kyle.

    Thank you again for sharing this.

  • And thank you for sharing yourself. This was my hope for this article: to show that when we go through loss, we aren’t alone. And to show how something as simple as gaming can help establish bonds that last, even through and after death.

  • This was beautifully written Mike. I am so sorry for what you had to go through. But your positivity never ceases to amaze me. Bravo for a sobering, but also heart warming article.

  • Thank you for the kind words :)

    I write these articles, especially this one, in hope that they show there are others who can relate, and how even games can unite, as silly as that may sound

  • BanterwithBowman

    Very touching article. Glad you found a way to enjoy life regardless of the substantial difficulties you faced.