I’ve always played The Game.

It started when I was about seven, the earliest I can really remember. There were one or two others that played, though in hindsight I don’t think they really understood what was going on at that age.

At the age of eight, I’d reached a new town and school. I got other people involved in The Game. Two, sometimes three, extra players, up-to eight by the time I had reached twelve. Some players phased in and out, while the core few remained.

People grow and drift throughout school years, and I slowly lost my players to sport, girls or underage drinking and drug use. I tried to jump on the band-wagon with all of the above to no avail, I always fell back into playing The Game.

So what was the game? It had no name and was somewhat difficult to describe to others. It was a fully immersive role-playing world of imagination with a variety of influences that changed throughout the years. I would go to a field with my best (real life) friends, and the group of us would battle enemies; make friends and allies; go on incredible adventures; save the world that we created on a daily basis. The closest match would probably be Dungeons and Dragons except we had no cards or board, nothing was ever written down aside from a few maps we drew up together, and the theme of the world changed every-so-often when the players craved it.

Our themes were varied: Sometimes we would play a sci-fi version, space age with an ongoing intergalactic war; Sometimes we would be an up-and-coming tribal gang in a post-apocalyptic world; Often we were in medieval times with the wonder of magic and the might of dragons to guide our way.

The earliest influence was the children’s morning TV show The Power Rangers, long before we’d discovered Dragon Ball Z. Computer games were the biggest influences during The Game’s Golden Age when it was mostly three players.

Throughout the years, throughout all the themes, characters, personalities and politics we created, there were always common denominators that I only see now in hindsight. We always started The Game off as low-powered, unknown beings from different backgrounds that happen to meet, whether it be at a spy-training academy or a mystical summit. Something would happen which would set us on a quest or mission, which would inevitably lead to an unending storyline with bigger and stronger enemies to take down. There was always a memorised levelling system, with an agreed upon maximum: our goal. If we ever hit the maximum level, which happened only once during a theme that lasted over a year, we would invent a new system (discovering a new planet with stronger enemies, or finding a portal to a new world), putting us straight back at the bottom of a more powerful world.

I was always insistent that this extreme form of escapism was somehow good for us, that the worlds we created helped us learn how to live and deal with obstacles ahead. I remember starting secondary school, meeting my new classmates for the first time in a large circle of tables, name badges and everything. In my head, I had been called into an international assassins academy, along with two lifelong bounty hunter friends, to be tested against the best of the best. I would meet at the back of the room with another player having secret in-game conversations, while our third comrade was in another class alone. He still played, The Game was great for playing solo as well, we would just catch each other up when we met.

So did playing The Game help me on my long and treacherous path through life? Helping me make the right decisions and boost my confidence?

Unfortunately, I have to be honest, not really. In reality, The Game made it really easy for me to escape harsh realities of life. When all the other players left for better things, I played alone until about the age of sixteen. I developed a bit of a complex about my maturity and became embarrassed if caught running around and jumping off of things, and it was always difficult to explain to the police why I was climbing on walls looking sketchy. So I began to try and avoid The Game, tried to be more normal. I tried to like more normal things. However, there were a couple of really hard times after that, where I needed escapism to get me through.

The most difficult time was when I was twenty. I abandoned the acting-out parts of The Game for fear of ridicule and settled for laying with my eyes shut while playing. I engulfed my world in The Game to an extent greater than ever before, rarely leaving bed, speaking to no-one, just completely detached. It was deep within that particular game, that I found what I was looking for, I found that moment of clarity.

I reached the maximum power level I’d created, then pushed it further. The bigger, stronger enemies would fall beneath me, and when I stood as a God, I grew bored. I introduced time travel, multiple dimensions and played out the most convoluted storyline I’d ever conceived (Reading Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time was a big influence this time around). When I finally overcame every obstacle I would muster up, I entered the final battle, a battle that threatened to destroy the universe. My enemy was defeated of course, but in the process, so was my character. I killed him off.

I realised that the goal was not to reach the highest possible level in my imagined universe, the goal was the universe itself. The creation and empowerment of a new world, a world I could invite others to enjoy, no matter how long they stayed.

It was at that moment, I realised that I had always been a story-writer, I’d just never written anything down.

After that my life as a writer began.


Originally written for Hour of Writes