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Because Games Matter – How Video Games Saved My Life – Extra Credits

September 20, 2019


Welcome to the third and final installment in our December series of your stories on why games matter. Today’s is brought to us by Zhenghua Yang, who also goes by Z. Enjoy! Yesterday I spent three hours hanging out with some of my best friends whom I haven’t seen for years. And today, with only three hours of time, I accomplished a major goal in life, and I feel absolutely amazing. What did I do? I played three hours of League of Legends. And that may not seem like a big thing to you, But to even be able to do that is unbelievable to me. Video games define our world. They have played a huge part in my life, and I would not be here today without them. It all started in my freshman year of college. The day before Halloween, I began having a steady nosebleed. Being the introverted nerve that I am, I continued to study for my midterm the next day while trying to plug it up with paper tissues. It wasn’t until later that night that I knew I needed help: I continuously choked on my own blood trying to get some sleep. After a friend ardently urged me to go, I brought myself up to the college health center to get my blood tested. My nosebleed lasted 14 hours that day, and it turned out that the reason was that my platelets were at a mere 22 K per liter of blood, the normal range being 150 to 400 K. I was instructed to go home, get some rest, and come back the next morning for further monitoring. Halloween came and I went back to the health center first thing in the morning. The result was, unfortunately, not good. My platelets were now at 20k per liter of blood. Dropping 2K overnight. The doctor told me to go to the City Hospital ER immediately. As soon as I arrived at the hospital, the staff went nuts. Nurses would stab me with countless needles for blood testing and doctors would conduct interviews with classes of students following them around. I was confused and frightened. I finally called one of the nurses and asked them what is causing all of the commotion. He pulled out my paperwork and pointed to a number and my heart sank. It turns out that, due to the number being so low, the previous doctor misread my platelet count. It was not 20k that morning, it was 2k, and it was dropping rapidly. Within an hour I began bleeding out of my body, out of my nostrils, and countless bruises began to take form. I quickly lost consciousness due to low blood pressure. Hours later I woke up in a dark and gloomy room. A nurse walked in and explained how they were unable to find the cause of my illness. She told me I was gonna die in a few hours. She handed me my will and left me in silence. Miraculously, I didn’t die that night. However, I ended up hospitalized for two straight years. From the age of 18 to 20. These were the two most difficult years I have ever had. Not because of the pain or because therapy was difficult. It was hard, because I had lost the hope to accomplish anything in life. I no longer had a future. I lost contact with all of my friends, I had people who later told me they thought I was dead. My family suffered alongside me. My parents didn’t know what to do or how to make me feel better. We all lived with the constant danger that I could die at any moment. Through these two years, through my loneliness and despair, I turned to the one thing that gave me meaning: playing video games. I began playing all sorts of games: single-player games like Final Fantasy or Braid and multiplayer games like World of Warcraft or League of Legends. In these single-player RPGs I regained the will to continue living. Helping people and saving the world in games like Chronotrigger would give me greater meaning in life. Even though the game wasn’t real, it was the closest I had to having any purpose to survive. Then there were the multiplayer games. With over 10,000 hours logged in mmorpgs I made friends from all over the world. These internet friends of mine didn’t always even speak English, but they would check up on me, making sure that I’d been taking my medicine and asking me, if I’d been getting rest. Not only that, one of my online friends was a medical researcher and he connected me with some of the world’s best hematologists. With his recommendations I met with doctors who gave me critical advice that kept me alive. The amazing thing is, to this day, I still don’t know that friends real name. By playing video games, by gaining a new perspective on life I slowly began to recover. By 2011 I was able to go back to school to continue my education. However, I couldn’t help that think back and ask myself: these games, like Final Fantasy and League of Legends, they weren’t designed to help me and yet, they did. What if we began creating games with the intention to help others? That’s when I began my career in creating value driven games. I started Serenity Forge, a game development and publishing company that focuses on meaningful games. I began by turning the story of my illness into a non-fictional visual novel called Loving Life and released it online for free. Since then we’ve created dozens of games and interactive experiences that would inspire art, foster education and promote health. Through my near fatal illness and my newfound passion in the game industry I learned a valuable lesson: videogames are no longer just toys for kids and we must begin treating them with a practical perspective. Games can teach practical skills, they can advance science, they can heal trauma and they can solve conflicts. Two gamers can play side by side virtually in a game of League of Legends working together to achieve a common goal. They don’t need to share the same language, the same culture, even the same world beliefs. It doesn’t matter if they’re American or Chinese, Israeli or Palestinian. Our next Nobel Peace prize winners are no longer just gonna be the influential artists or the policy generators, but maybe, instead, it’ll be the kid who’s in a garage right now creating the next big game that brings the world together through play. When I was going through chemotherapy, when I was on my deathbed, I had no hope of a future in the end. In the end, video games saved my life, and they just might save yours, too. Thanks again to Z for his story and to all of you for watching! Extra Credits is going to go on a bit of a break to catch up with the family for the holidays and to get some much-needed rest. We will be back in mid-January with our regular content. Until then, I hope all of you have a wonderful holiday! Take care of each other. We’ll see you soon!

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