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Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Cruelty of Fate, and The Kindness of Strangers

When I was 14, my parents were involved in a very, very serious car accident. My Father nearly lost his hand, and because he's a plumber, roofer and gas-fitter by trade, this was bad. But it was my Mother that copped the worst of it. She broke her neck, or, to be more accurate, basically crushed one of the discs in her neck out of existence. She was hospitalized for six months, and was told by the doctors that she was the only person with those injuries they'd seen that could still move her legs. She did, however, suffer a lot of nerve damage, and to this day can barely move because those nerves keep sending pain signals to her brain 24/7, and it's my job (and I do it gladly) to care for her and try and give her at least some quality of life. But a very nice thing happened that helped her a lot, so if you'll follow me after the jump, I'll tell you how the kindness of gamer-strangers helped her a great deal.
My Mum had been home for a while, but she still had her Halo brace, which is a brace that's screwed, via electric drill, into the patient's skull, then a circular piece of metal, or 'halo', is affixed to the metal screws. Support posts are attached to this, which are then attached to a brace worn around the upper-half of the patient's body; it's purpose is to take all the weight of the patient's head, as well as anywhere up to 60 pounds of additional weight, as this weight is used to not only immobilize the patient's head, but the added weight stretches the upper portion of the patient's neck so that healing can properly take place. I'm sure this is probably the worst description of this process ever, but if you're interested, a good place to start is clicking 'Halo brace' link.

Anyway, there's a videogame magazine in Australia called Hyper, which I've been buying since issue #1 came out in October of '93 (I was 11), and which I still purchase every month. I'd developed something of a relationship with the guys (and by 'relationship' I mean 'they, very, very vaguely knew I existed) due to the fact that I'd gotten Letter of The Month four times in a short period. This will be important a little later.

My Mum was hugely upset, understandably, but it hurt her moreso because, prior to the accident, she was a very active woman, and at no time during my childhood did she work any less than three jobs at a time. So after the accident, she came to live with the pain as best she could, but she was extremely upset because she'd lost 70% of the movement in her hands. Another hobby she had prior to the accident was playing games on my Master System; she had what could almost be described as an obsession with the 'Sonic the Hedgehog' games, and after I got my SNES, she transfered that obsession to Super Mario World, and Super Metroid, games she finished again and again.

However, while she was still in hospital and I was living with a family I'd grown close to over the years, some idiot thought it would be awesome to break into our house while both my parents were in hospital and steal my SNES and my PlayStation. We were a poor family, and it had taken us years to save and buy those consoles, and even then we could only buy them after they had been on the market for a few years. (The SNES was reduced to $99 when we could finally afford to buy it, and all the games we played on both it and the PlayStation were cheap rentals.) So this was salt rubbed into an already gaping wound.

So anyway, back to Mum, and the loss of movement in her hands. I thought that if I could get her back into gaming it would be great physical therapy, so I wrote a letter to Hyper magazine, explaining our plight, and the theft of our consoles. I didn't expect much in return, and wouldn't have blamed them if they thought the whole thing was a scam. But lo and behold, a month after I sent the letter, a SNES with a copy of Super Metroid, Super Mario World, and Super Star Wars arrived on our doorstep! After writing them a letter of thanks, I hooked it up, and got Mum to start playing.

At first, she got very frustrated, because she knew how good she was at those games, and now she could barely stomp a Goomba. But I exhorted her to keep trying, and after weeks and months of non-stop playing, not only did she regain almost all the movement in her hands, but because she had a goal to focus on, and because of the incremental improvements she was making, it also helped lift her out of the deep depression she was, quite understandably, suffering from.

We moved on from the SNES as our financial situation improved, and now she's addicted to the Tomb Raider series. She completed all the PS1 TR's, all the PS2 iterations, and now she's finished the Xbox 360 Tomb Raider, and waiting with baited breath for the next one. And my God, she's an absolute gun at those games, completing all the puzzles without help, and she makes my attempts at playing those games look ridiculous by comparison, and I cannot tell you how proud of her I am, and more importantly, how proud she is of herself, and holy hell, it's pride she deserves to revel in. I love my Mum more than anything, and I'm so grateful to Hyper for getting her onto a path that saved her, both physically, and most importantly, mentally. Love you, Mum, and I'm so proud of you.

So if ANYONE tries to tell you games are a waste of time, make that idiot read this, and then tell them to try and make that same argument.

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