2007 was a difficult year for me. 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 a game helped me renew my focus and get out of that final year rut. I've played that game more than any other on this generation of hardware. That game is Gears of War.
Gears of War saw release 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 didn't have the confidence to venture online. A lack of disposable income (eaten up by the drink and public transportation costs) 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 were not pleasant ones. Verbal tirades from my teammates, low scores, and abusive direct messages were my only rewards for showing some courage. I also lost my head a lot, as my opponents were often skilled with the Longshot: the game's fearsome iteration of the the sniper rifle. Whenever I saw the icon in the bottom corner of my screen that indicated that an enemy had that gun, I hid away from its harmful payload. Still, I couldn't manage my anxiety when I was one of the few left alive, so I often emerged from my false sanctuaries to have my head taken away from me. 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, though foul-mouthed members of Delta Squad. I started exercising, and even bulked up a bit... not to Marcus Fenix proportions, mind you; but big enough to gain a little bit of confidence. Defeating General RAAM for the third time gave me the strength I needed to return to the online melee.
My regimen began to take shape: mornings consisted of study and exercise, evenings had me at work and then 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 Grade Point Average benefitted significantly from my battle against the Locust Horde.
With the realisation that in six months I'd have two degrees under my belt, my focus became even sharper. I dropped drinking during the week, and when I had the weekend with my girlfriend, I even managed to avoid it on some weekends as well. Sometimes Carly came to visit me, and 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. That being said, I may have overdone it a little.
Those weapon-specific achievements that at first seemed unattainable started popping up during matches. I even managed to net one hundred 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.
That's more like it!
Saving all that money from not drinking also helped me experience other great releases like Halo 3, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and The Orange Box. I still returned to Gears at night, however. It was my alcohol patch: it concentrated all of that negative energy and sent if flying from the barrel of my lancer.
I survived shift after shift of corrosive chemicals, apathetic customers, and worries of love and study, only to 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 knew that my days working in my 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 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 then-girlfriend-now-wife, 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 before? What game from this generation have you played more than any other? Merry Christmas, by the way!