by Jason Cordova
Content warning: bullying, homophobia
Starting in the fourth grade, I was very badly bullied in school. It began with this older kid who followed me home every single day, walking less than ten feet behind me, reminding me what a fucking faggot I was. She followed me for the whole half-mile walk from school to home, right up until I got to the building we lived in, taunting me the entire way. Every day.
Eventually, the kids in my class picked up the refrain, and recess and lunch became a contest to see who could call me the most horrible name or who could make me cry. Even our sadistic asshole teacher got involved. He would affect a feminine voice and call me "Cordelia" (a play on my last name, I guess), and do the limp wrist gesture in front of the whole class, which always got a huge laugh. Probably the lowest, most horrible moment of my childhood was one day during PE, when I asked to be excused from playing dodgeball, and instead of granting my request, the same sadistic teacher made me play on a side by myself against the rest of the class and wouldn’t let me sit out after I got hit. I tried my best to play, struggling to defend myself, while the other kids just laughed and took turns pelting me with balls.
I was a lonely, isolated kid. And I was miserable. SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) was in the news around that time, and I remember thinking I wished there was something like that for older kids. The idea of just randomly dying in the middle of the night had a lot of appeal.
But then the Marvel Super Heroes role playing game happened. I was in a comic book shop and convinced my Dad to buy it for me. I didn’t really know what it was, only that it was a game about comic book characters and you got to be them somehow. In fact, I spent weeks poring over it, but I could never figure out, precisely, what I was supposed to be doing. I was still in the fifth grade, and I had never even heard of Dungeons & Dragons or any game like it.
But then this older kid came over one day and ran it for me. I played a villain (I’m pretty sure my powers had something to do with electricity, because the ability to shoot electricity from my hands was probably the most amazing thing I could imagine at the time). He seemed very knowledgeable about it all and gave me a simple starting scenario (robbing a jewelry store), and very gently walked me through how to make things happen in the game. He described things happening. He asked “What do you do?” a lot. He was very patient as he pointed out the things I needed to know about FASERIP. I was enchanted. Maybe it’s because he was being nice to me, but playing this game felt like the best thing I had ever experienced to that point.
I started bringing the game to school. A couple of other social outcasts in my class (Rory and Eric) noticed me reading the books at recess and started asking about it. Eventually, they made characters and we started playing at recess. Our recess sessions turned into an after school thing and we started having sleepovers at each other’s houses. We even dived into nascent game hacking, with Rory having an idea to make a Marvel Super Heroes scenario with video game characters, and we spent a fair amount of time giving FASERIP stats to each of the Mega Man bosses, as I recall.
The kids at school didn’t get any nicer, but at least I had a couple of friends. And, more importantly, I had something in my life that excited me, something I looked forward to every day.
I don’t remember the name of that older kid who taught me Marvel Super Heroes, or even why he was at our apartment in the first place. In fact, I never saw him again. But I wish I could tell him how important that afternoon was for me. He didn’t just kickoff my lifelong passion for tabletop games. He probably saved my life.
This originally appeared as a post on The Gauntlet G+ Community.