Video games gave my son a safe haven from bullying

Luke has fast twitch muscles and an ultra-fast reaction time. This is what made him good at tae kwon do, violin and games. It also made him a good catcher in baseball, where he had a chance during the summer after sixth year to tag his fourth-year bully at home plate. One aspect of ADHD is hyper-focus. Luke could play Lego Star Wars and Super Paper Mario for hours on end, his hands never leaving the remote control, his concentration fixed on the screen.

Luke with Josh and Justin from Novelline, developers of Dark.Photo: Linda Cutting

Eventually, Luke started messing with strangers online. It worried me. We had hoped he would make more friends IRL, but his reputation for being bullied has followed him like a dark shadow. I had read that online bullying is real and can be just as damaging as bullying in person. A 2017 BBC article quotes a 16-year-old player: “If you go to school every day and you’re being bullied at school, you want to go home to escape,” says- he. “So if you’re abused more, it will stop you from doing anything social – that’s the case for a lot of people I know, myself included.”

Despite my concerns, Luke’s online gaming experience turned out to be the opposite of his IRL dating. Luke met people who had no preconceptions about him, and his online social world grew. My husband, Keith, commented: “IRL friend groups can be localized. This was the case with Luke in high school, where it was difficult to escape his reputation. But online, you have the ability to create your own worlds and populate them with friends from around the world. The ability to break out of ‘local’ bullying appears to be a key component of online friendships. Even if there are bullies online, you can always evade them and start over with a clean slate.

While he was online, we heard Luke laugh a lot, swear a lot (like gamers do), and he just seemed happy. So we let him play. We also hovered nearby for hours until he finished his homework.

“In online gaming spaces, I felt 100% more welcome,” says Luke. “When you play an online game with someone, nobody cares about your appearance. They don’t care about your race, if you’re tall, if you’re skinny. The only thing they care about is is how good your game is. And that’s only in competitive games. For cooperative games like Drifting Worlds (the one I played with my lifelong friend Aaron, which was unfortunately cancelled), GTFO, Destiny 2, virtual reality chat, and Dungeons and Dragons, people go out of their way to be welcoming and try to introduce people to the community. When you meet people online, you play the game. But there is also that part of the game where you chat online. There are people I’ll ask out, and then there’s my friends, my few close friends.


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