Note: This post is in response to the Bitmob Secret Santa Writing Challenge. Jolly Old Saint Nick gave me a topic that reads "What game this generation have you sunk the most time in?"
I had a difficult 2007. With my longtime girlfriend moving to another city, a dead-end job, and my final year of university study still in hand, I was lost in the throes of alcoholism.
It may sound far-fetched, but Gears of War helped me renew my focus and get out of that rut.
Microsoft released this Xbox-exclusive third-person shooter at the end of 2006, but I didn't really get absorbed in the competitive multiplayer suite until the following year. I played through the campaign by myself and with the help of my brother, but I didn't have the confidence to venture online. A lack of disposable income (drink and public transportation costs ate it up) soon meant that I had to squeeze the most out of every game…so ready or not, I took my fight to the world.
My first memories of the competitive space are not pleasant ones. My only rewards for showing some courage were verbal tirades from my teammates, low scores, and abusive direct messages. My opponents were often skilled with the Longshot (the game's fearsome iteration of the the sniper rifle), so I lost my head a lot. I took cover whenever I saw an icon announce the presence of that evil gun. But I couldn't manage my anxiety when I was one of the few left alive, so I usually emerged from my false sanctuaries to taste sweet death. I was a jittery mess at the best and worst of times.
To calm my nerves I played through the campaign again. I began to identify with the sullen, foul-mouthed members of Delta Squad. I started exercising and even bulked up a bit…not to Marcus Fenix proportions but big enough to gain a little bit of confidence. Defeating General RAAM for the third time gave me the courage I needed to return to the online melee.
My regimen began to take shape: Mornings consisted of study and exercise, I was at work in the evenings, and I went online upon my return. I hardly slept, but I wasn't drinking half as much as I used to. My experiences on the battlefield didn't detract from my grades, either. My battle against the Locust Horde had a significant impact on my GPA.
I realized that I'd have two degrees under my belt in six months, and my focus became even sharper. I stopped drinking during the week and on certain weekends. Sometimes, Carly (my girlfriend) came to visit me, and she fell asleep at my side as I blasted my way up the leaderboards. She knew what it meant to me, and I never heard her complain that I spent too much time playing. But I may have overdone it a little.
Those weapon-specific achievements that seemed unattainable started popping up during matches. I even managed to net 100 kills with the Longshot. Me! The guy who, for the better part of the year, had no head to speak of! 2007 was starting to come around.
Saving all that money from not drinking also helped me experience other great releases like Halo 3, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and The Orange Box. But I still returned to Gears at night. It was my alcohol patch: It concentrated all of that negative energy and sent it flying from the barrel of my lancer.
I survived shift after shift of corrosive chemicals, apathetic customers, and concerns for love and study. Afterwards, I'd return to the fray. My wonderfully rendered, violent sanctuary would call to me as I cleaned ovens and meat slicers. I could now see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I knew that my days working in an oppressively dull job were numbered…thanks in part to Gears.
In the last months of 2007 I finished study (once again with grades far higher than I was used to), and I quit my job at the supermarket. I made plans to move in with my sweetheart. My life finally started to "happen." I still played Gears.
I may be underselling the contribution of my girlfriend, but Gears of War saved me from the brink of alcohol-fueled despair. I've now been married to Carly for just over a year, and I've thoroughly enjoyed every installment of the Gears saga.
Has a game helped you out of a rut? What title from this generation have you played more than any other?