Shenmue: How a videogame helped save me.

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Shenmue Box Art
Shenmue PAL box art

Shenmue has a very special place in my heart. More so than any other videogame, Shenmue helped keep me alive. And I’m not kidding.

You see, back when Shenmue came out, I’d not long since finished doing my degree. As I graduated, my father sadly passed away due to bowel cancer. So I came home to Manchester feeling completely numb. I did all the “right” things. I saw my girlfriend, I helped my mother sort things out that needed sorting. I went for walks with my beloved dog, Eric.

But there was a hollowness inside me that grew each day. I knew deep down I was holding on to emotions that needed letting out. And that is where Shenmue comes in. You see, my brother owned a Dreamcast. And he spent most of the day out at work. So I borrowed it and began to play the various games he had on my tiny 14″ crt whilst lay on my bed.

Eventually I grew bored of the “quick thrills” of the more arcadey Dreamcast titles, and decided to give Shenmue a whirl. I’d read plenty about it, and how deep it was. And this should have been right up my street. yet I had continuously held off from playing it. Until I didn’t.

You see, I’d begun “secret drinking”. Whilst my mother & brother were out of the house during the day, I’d pop to the local off license and buy some cola and some vodka. Not a lot at first, but the amount was creeping up. And I was doing it behind closed doors in my room of an evening. But eventually I started to have a glass or 2 in the afternoon. And combined with my anti-depresants, this wasn’t good.

But then there was Shenmue. I instantly fell into it’s story and world. Here was a videogame protagonist I could genuinely connect with. I felt Ryos struggle to deal with the loss of his father. It spoke to me. And I immersed myself in it’s wonderful depiction of late 80s Japan.

And I played Shenmue through to the absolute end. I rinsed that game. All the little collectibles. The arcade games. To this day, it is the only game I have ever 100% finished.

The drinking stopped too. I was too engrossed in the game. Come the end, I felt better than I had in months. I put myself into a better headspace by allowing myself to become invested in the game. And for that, I shall always love Shenmue. It literally saved me from myself.

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