Last month, the Woman Write About Comics website published an article written by Rosie Knight which focused on her abusive relationship, and how the beloved game Animal Crossing helped her through it. After reading the article, I became extremely overwhelmed, thinking back to my own experience within an abusive relationship. Upon discussing this article with other peers in my video gaming community, I realized that this experience is all too familiar. Like Knight, I dated my boyfriend for three years and I believed he was perfect. He was an older, intelligent and quirky man who won me over through our love for all that is nerdy. I truly believed I had found my soulmate – making it that much harder to realize that the way he treated me was far from perfect.

Even though our relationship did start off as “perfect”, there were early signs of abusive behavior that I now recognize when looking back. He loved that I was “quiet” and “awkward” and “submissive” – adjectives that I’ve come to realize are attractive to those looking for control within a given relationship. However, the problems really started when I moved in with him. I was 19 and pretty much listened and believed everything he told me. If he enjoyed something then I was sure as hell going to like it too.

This brings us to video games. I had always loved video games, but my parents never bought me a PlayStation or an Xbox. My realm of knowledge was limited to Nintendo and whatever games I could play at my friend’s houses. But with him and his plethora of consoles, I was able to play all the “essential” games that I had missed. It was so eye-opening to be playing games that I had only heard of. We would stay in most nights just watching anime and playing new games. But around this time, things started to get worse as he started to have more and more control over my life. I can only describe this period as being the most mentally and psychologically exhausting thing I have ever experienced. The worst of it came when he would harp at me when my friends (often times male) would text me asking to hang out (or even a general “Hey, you coming to class?”). Didn’t I just want to relax, stay in and play videogames with him? Why would I want to hang out with guys when I had him? Did I want to cheat on him? Why was I hiding my phone from him? Why was I lying all the time (when I wasn’t)? It became so bad that I would physically convulse when someone texted me at night, dreading the eventual “Who’s texting you” conversation that was bound to happen, and which usually ended in tears. Most often, I told my friends to please not text me after supper, when I knew we would both be home. So, I shut up and played video games with him. But then, even that became a dreadful thing. If I messed up or took too long to complete a level, he would laugh at me or take the controllers away to complete it for me. He always made fun of more “mainstream” games that I was interested in playing (*cough cough* Assassin’s Creed), so I too became disinterested in them. What can only be described as an ideal date for some became a nightmare for me. I started to play the games more when I was home alone. Was it to impress him? Of course – but I developed a deeper passion for video games because of it.

But playing video games alone quickly turned from impressing him to having a safe space. Now, I would definitely not consider Lollipop Chainsaw to be the first game to come to your mind when you envision a “safe space”, but it was one I truly enjoyed playing for hours a day. Animal Crossing, Super Meat Boy and Pokemon X were among my favorites and I became truly invested in those worlds. They allowed for me to care about someone’s story other than his or my own. I wanted these characters to succeed in whatever it was that they needed to do. Move into my town? Go ahead, I won’t bite. Need my help to catch Dr. Fetus and win Bandage Girl back? I got you buddy. Need more potions to defeat the Elite Four? Let’s do this. For a few hours at a time I didn’t have to worry about all the things I was doing wrong because in these games I was doing something right. These video games (and many others, of course) helped me relax and think about myself for a change. Although I was scared for the fights that would eventually happen when my boyfriend came home, I appreciated the escapism that I found within video games.

I won’t lie to you – since this relationship, I now have to overcome severe anxiety and PTSD every day. I cannot have someone raise their voice at me in the slightest or I begin to cry. I am so constantly over thinking the way I behave that I’d much rather prefer to be home. I cannot even explain to you how this experience affects the way I think and interact with those around me. My relationships are still a work in progress, but I’m happy to say that I am getting better! Playing video games on my own gave me confidence, and I began to search for other friends who shared that. It led me to a new community of wonderful people who are just as passionate as I am. It’s still hard sometimes, especially on days where my anxiety is the worst – but I know that I can simply turn on my PS4 and escape for a few moments.