Beyond the Final Boss

I’ve exchanged a series of tweets tonight with fellow video games industry figures Mike Bithell and Byron Atkinson-Jones. To my amazement, if not surprise, both Mike and Byron were bullied as kids. It looks like they’ve had the last laugh.

That’s incredibly powerful. Isn’t it?

Kids are still getting bullied today, and whilst racism (including Islamophobia and antisemitism) and homophobia were often triggers for bullying in the past, mostly, bullies pick targets and then carry on driving the dagger home, ruining lives. Even today, it seems that the lives of some children are destroyed by bullying. So whilst schools have been by and large much better at handling bullying in recent years, survivors of bullying know just how rough things can be regardless of any and all preventative measures.

What struck me about the conversation with Mike and Byron is that we all felt helpless and without wishing to speak for them, I know that for a long time I carried that pain with me. I’ve overcome it now, but am sensitive to the pain in others. Not everyone recovers. Not everyone survives. There is a silver lining to this cloud. Some of us don’t just survive, some of us become winners, leading amazing lives, charmed lives, blessed lives, way beyond the dark nightmares of our childhood when we didn’t see a way through the wall of hatred we’d have our lives smashed against by our fellow pupils on a daily basis; when there seemed to be no escape.

We made it through and we won and it’s our world now.

Yesterday, a guy in Selfridges was being aggressive towards me and wanted me out of the way. I stood up to him and raised my voice to match his, without becoming rude, or matching his aggression. I took the moral high ground, asserted myself and felt good about doing that. The younger me might not have been able to do that.

It’s possible to survive bullying, it’s possible to win despite it. We think that’s a powerful message to give to youngsters, so we’re going to get together to start talking about how to do this. We could do YouTube videos to begin with, and we could present to schools. I think we need to move past the idea that you can just “survive” bullying. To show vulnerable young people real, living examples of people who can thrive despite having endured bullying is a hugely empowering message and I think it’s one we need to get out. Video games are now the epitome of cool, as valid an art form as music and film. Those who are successful in this field can serve as very useful examples to the next generation.

If you’re interested in supporting our agenda, drop me a line (shahid@shhd.org) and I’ll add you to our mail list. Soon we will have a web site / Facebook page / YouTube channel and all that jazz.

I feel like video games, an industry in which I’ve had the privilege of serving for over 30 years now gave me a new lease of life beyond the pain I knew as a child.

Here’s some of Mike’s story:

I was bullied for most of my secondary school years. I was pretty much the lowest rung in my school, mainly because of nerdiness I think, but I was also a bit overweight, at least at the start. Mine wasn’t nearly as bad as many.. I remember constant verbal abuse and name calling, and getting beaten up by groups. I was also regularly locked in cupboards. My head of year’s response was to tell me to avoid populated areas of my school. Dickhead.

 

Two things shifted it.

 

The physical stuff was first, I hit six foot two at about 14, and gangs of bullies quickly learned that trying to hit me was a bad idea. I’m not violent, so I still got the verbal stuff, name calling, being told I was a loser. I never lashed out so was perceived as weak and targetted.

 

Year 11 was the big one. I remember it being over night, but it probably wasn’t. Male power ceased to be about strength or macho supremacy, it became about how often girls laughed at your jokes. Being the weird one who’d had to cultivate a sense of humour as a coping strategy suddenly made me OK. I was still a nerd, but from that point on those who didn’t like me just avoided me. Very preferable.

 

Now for Byron’s story. Some of you who went through some of what he went through will know the pain he felt when he was recounting these experiences in abbreviated form. Byron is a hero for me. I want other kids who are bullied today to know that they can get to where Byron is today, where Mike is today, where some of you who are reading this from the video games business are today and hold on by their fingernails to the hope that while the pain never completely goes away, hope and joy and camaraderie and self-respect and joy and mutual respect can eclipse it.

My Father was in the Army so every couple of years I would find myself at a new school (9 in total) and in each one of those schools there was a core group of bullies that made other kids lives hell, I realise that now but at the time it felt like they were singling me out. Each time the form of bullying would be different.

In one school I went through my entire time there being called ‘Gay’ I didn’t know what it meant but they kept at it and any kind of names intended to hurt do so if said enough and all the other kids who didn’t want to be picked on would join in out of fear for themselves.
 
We moved back to the UK (Wales) and in the school there one of the bullies took great delight in physical harm. One time he and his friend pretended to be friendly, got me to climb a tree and then spent what felt like a lifetime throwing stones at me, I couldn’t get out or down from the tree and in all this time my house was in line of sight and I remember just wishing my mother would come out to rescue me. He would also sneak up on me at school and push me down stairs and kick me in the genitals. It got so bad that I eventually spoke to a teacher about it, they took me to the headmaster and he then threatened to cane me for telling stories.
 
In one school I was bullied by a teacher, this was in Germany in an Army run school. I was given special math lessons, just myself and him. If I got something wrong he would hit me hard on the head.
 
Part of living in NATO headquarters meant having to go to a weekly boarding school some distance from home. At home my best friend was Charles, the son of an American soldier and he was black. I’d never encountered racism before and it never even occurred to me that there was a difference. Only british kids were sent to the boarding school because the high-school was based on the American education system which was vastly different from the UK one which meant Charles didn’t come with me. My first week there a gang of older kids asked us younger ones if we knew any black people and me not knowing any different said yes, my best friend. They proceeded to beat me up until I renounced him and all black people – which I refused to do. Eventually even older kids who were my neighbours at home found us and stepped in to save me. This had a profound affect on me, I feel more comfortable around non-whites than I do whites, which I suppose makes me a little racist now? It was at this same boarding school that another kid held a knife to my throat and threatened to stab me.
 
Thing is I just wasn’t an aggressive kid, my parents realised I was being bullied and tried to do something about it. The schools were powerless and if the teachers said anything then the bullying go worse. The answer was to try and toughen me up and at that time it meant sending me to learn Martial arts and I did a lot. Did it toughen me up – not really but it did teach me how to get myself out of situations and a knowledge that if I needed to do some damage, I could. I just refused to lower myself to the level of the bullies, I refused to do to them what they did to me which to them seemed like I was afraid so they kept on. I think this introspection saved me but at the same time makes me want to stand up now and tell kids going through this how to deal with it.
 
I have more stories like this.. as I mentioned on Twitter, I was born in Hong Kong so that made me a Chink to some kids, being raised in Germany made me a Kraut to others and having Welsh parents made me a sheep shagger to all the rest.
 
I would be bloody hard for me but as I said, if you get something moving about this then I will stand up and tell my story.
 

Write to me at shahid@shhd.org if you want to:

  • Be kept up to date on our activities
  • Take part in meetings
  • Be prepared to discuss your experience in a YouTube video
  • Contribute your time or skills to help us get the message out
  • Talk to kids at school (I can help arrange this, starting in London)
  • Stand alongside the likes of Mike and Byron

We are determined to make a difference. I know that recounting the pain is difficult, so I don’t expect everyone to do it. It’s not where I think we should focus anyway. The focus should be on what lies beyond the pain and perhaps how our experiences helped make us what we are today. I know this is painful for many. You don’t need to jump in straight away, but let the group give you strength. You’re not alone.

 

***

Mike Bithell 

Mike is a game designer. He’s worked in games development for 5 years. Mike’s designed games for console, PC and web. He’s also fiddled with mobile, but has yet to make anything of value. Probably best known for Thomas Was Alone, a pretentious indie platformer for Mac and PC. He spends far too much time on twitter.

Twitter: @mikebithell

Byron Atkinson-Jones

Byron has been making games on and off for 20 years, working for companies like Lionhead studios, EA and indie legends Introversion and PomPom. Byron now runs his own small company called Xiotex Studios where he continues to make games. You can find him on twitter as @xiotex where he mostly goes on about his obsession with Nando’s and game making.

9 thoughts on “Beyond the Final Boss”

  1. These are very well written accounts. I am always shocked by the continuing apathy shown by teachers towards bullying. Something wrong there…

    A gaming industry based group sounds like a stunning idea.

    (I didn’t suffer any persistent bullying in school, though certainly the odd moment. I was notably perverse, and not beyond goading stupid kids myslf. Our inner London secondary school, which was attended by the blog owner, was fairly violent with many tiers of abuse. This probably mitigated against low level bullying from one gang – the bigger fish effect. I always remember the truly hard cases were fairly quiet and wholly unpredictable.)

  2. It’s true, people focus on ‘surviving’ or putting up with misery instead of dealing with the problems properly. I was bullied for years at highschool and nothing was done about it. Teachers were often as vunerable to abuse as the rest of us.
    The one thing I know though is that coming out the other end and looking down on the people who dedicated their life to ruining your own is the best feeling. All those people amounted to nothing and wasted their lives on negativity. Karma is the best.

    Thanks for sharing ~ It’s a great idea.

  3. I was bullied throughout school, now working as an AD in the industry, and I would be more than happy to help out in any way I can.

  4. I was bullied throughout all of my school years, both at school, and at home amongst the neighborhood kids. Just reading these accounts, made me recollect just how bad it really was for me, and has left me a bit stupified. I don’t even know what to say, or how I could really help, as I have not become some grand figure in life….I am happy though. I no longer feel like I have no worth, or that I’d be an easy target for a bully. Somewhere along the lines I guess, something must’ve clicked. I’m struggling to put my finger on just what it was, so that maybe I COULD help in some way…but I guess I’d really need to think about it some more to figure out how I got through it.

    My heart goes out to everyone who was ever bullied, or who is going through it now. I know that feeling of being completely worthless I got as a result of being tormented, and physically abused. I wish we could just say to kids, and have them KNOW it to be true, that things can, and WILL change for them. …that it won’t always be this way, and that you are someone who should be cherished.

    Please let me know if you have any ideas of how I could help in some way.

    Jacqui

    1. Hi Jacqui,

      Thanks so much for sharing your story, I know it’s not easy. You no longer feel worthless? No longer feel a target? Then you have succeeded! Can we add your email to our mailshot list?

      All the best.

      Shahid

  5. HI,

    I was bullied during my young school times, from 8 years to about 14, 15. There was a kid that always hit me in the stomach when something didn’t like him. I, to this day haven’t punch anyone and I intent to keep it that way, as a moral value to past to my kids.

    I was always bad at sports, not too good at studying but I was good at something, I was chatty and somewhat funny. I learned how to dance ;). And have an interest in different things like mangas. Monster movies, and programing, taking computers apart and put them back together, and most of all videogames, and I play a lot and I was good!.

    I learned a bunch of cool stuff, mostly useless for a school 11 year old kid.

    I was most of the time at home, alone, but I was never sad! I never stop liking who i was back then and remember being a little lonely but a very entertain kid,

    So how did I survive? we grew up. The bully then realize that he was getting left behind with no friends because bullying was something bad, and we all knew that, even at that age.

    I grew up, I got to college and found a lot of people with the same interest as me . Got a degree on IT and science, got married with the love of my life. Now I work at Oracle as a programer, nothing fancy but I am quite please. looking forward to the future.

    And I still found me somewhat cool(not in a cocky way, in a little proud way, like a kid that poop alone for the first time)…but it is just me :), but that’s okey, i like myself and that’s the best way to deal with all the rest of the world. like yourself , so you can be sincere and genuine with the people around you, to let people see who you really are, I bet you are pretty cool too ;).

    Laved the site I hope the best for you all

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