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I Was Never The Same After… Robin Miller’s Story

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(Photo: Flickr user ricardodiaz11)
Last week I challenged you to help us with our new feature: 'I Was Never the Same After…' and we received some amazing responses. For today's inaugural submission, I have the bittersweet story of someone I only recently started to get to know, Robin Miller.

In the early hours of March 3, I was looking at twitter and saw one post that had been retweeted about the Armed Gamer Mass Effect Marathon. I had seen it several times, coming from several different sources over the course of several days so I decided to check it out before I went to bed. I watched the livestream for a bit while they played through the beginnings of ME1, and learned it was to raise money for a charity called Child’s Play. Having never heard of it, I did a little research.

Child’s Play takes cash donations like the ones Armed Gamer was working for and uses them to purchase consoles, games and more for hospitals and therapy facilities for children. Knowing this I went to bed that morning already thinking about donating for a couple of reasons: any charity that is working to help kids is a noble one and I had some firsthand experience with just how much games can soothe someone who is sick.

When I got up a few hours later and slugged down coffee because I had to go to work and at least act semi-human after getting almost no sleep, I checked the site again and saw that there wasn’t a whole lot of money in either the Paragon or the Renegade (they had set it up so that you could donate to either and whichever had the most was how they would play). I decided to put in my two cents as it were and just as they were finishing up the end of ME1, playing Paragon because it had more donations, I dropped $500 into Renegade and with that went to work. It was a clear challenge to those who had been donating to Paragon – outdo that! It’s for a good cause!

About halfway through my shift the Paragons had still not come close so I sent a tweet to the friend saying that no one had matched me yet, and that was how Steve found me. He sent me a tweet saying I should donate to Paragon just to make it fair. I told him, and I quote “Hell no, I like to call my Shepard a Renegade with a few Paragon virtues!”  That made me think; so I decided I would donate $100 to Paragon for the virtue part. It got Paragon closer, but still didn’t take it over Renegade. Steve was pleased because he had someone matching donations at the time. I had to laugh, but my break was over so I went back to work.

When I checked in again on Sunday, the Paragons had finally met my challenge and Armed Gamer had raised somewhere over $1000 total, but I decided to challenge the Paragons again. So I dropped another $150 into Renegade to take it over Paragon. I have to admit that when I got home from work that night I was totally beat.

Three days of not much sleep between playing the Mass Effect multiplayer demo and watching the livestream had left me dead on my feet and the second they beat the second game, miraculously saving everyone (thanks to some help from the chatroom), I dropped like a stone. Sleep is a good thing. It keeps me from killing customers.

After I got to work Monday, I decided I would again help them out. I checked on a few things, decided it was not only something I wanted to do, it was something I was in a position that I could do and sent Steve a tweet. “I will match all donations from now until the midnight launch, up to $1000. And if you’re really nice I’ll explain why I am so adamantly Renegade then.”

Now during the entire weekend they were doing interviews with various people connected with the game on Skype. Apparently while I was at work, Patrick Weekes logged on and sang.(Editor's Note: The video is sadly lost to time. Sorry, everyone!)  Steve was more than pleased to tell me about the $630 Patrick had managed to raise during his interview. I was jealous! I missed it!  

When I got home that night Steve was off somewhere to buy his copy of ME3 but the last total from him earlier was $768 that I was to match. So at midnight I donated that to Renegade and threw the other $232 that was left of the $1000 at Paragon. I went on chatting with everyone, and generally having a good time. When Steve came back he asked on the stream why I was so adamantly Renegade.

I had decided earlier that if no one asked I wouldn’t say anything, but he did. I don’t think anyone in the room was quite prepared for the answer, but I shared an abbreviated version with them that night and I will share the whole story with you now.

In 2008, my mother was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. For those of you that haven’t had to deal with cancer, consider yourself lucky. For those of you who have – You forever have my sympathies. It strips away dignity and the cure can be as bad as the disease itself. In my mother’s case? It also isolated her. The tumor was right where her esophagus met up with her stomach and it not only made it very, very hard for her to eat without the food catching on the tumor, which in turn caused her to purge – it also caused problems with her pancreas, which put her in a fair amount of pain.

Once the tumor began spreading into her stomach, it caused an overproduction of the slime layer that protects your stomach from the acid it produces. I will spare you the details but suffice it to say that these things were as unpleasant for my eighteen-year-old son and me to watch as it was for her to experience – and she knew it. She refused to let anyone come over and visit her. As I said, the cancer isolated her and there was little we could do about it. My mother was a stubborn woman and she had made up her mind.

There was one thing that she enjoyed that she could still do – she played games. She quite literally took away my son’s Xbox and spent hours playing video games.

You have to understand something about my sixty-three-year-old mother – she was a videogame nerd when there were no home systems. Back in the early ‘80s she would take my friends and me to video arcades and she was every bit as good as we were at Ms Pacman, Asteroids, Centipede, etc. My friends all thought my mother was so cool!

She made sure when the Atari came out that I had one. It just went on from there. We graduated systems as time went on and by the time my kids were around we had Playstation. My kids grew up playing Final Fantasy (one of her favorite franchises), Spyro The Dragon, Parasite Eve and Crash Bandicoot. We have more than a few of those on my Playstation 3 even today. She may not have had the hand-eye coordination that I or even my kids have because we grew up playing these systems, but she had the drive to try. Sometimes it was painful to watch her but she just kept on chugging until either she got it right or she finally got disgusted and handed off the controller so someone else could do it.

So while she was sick? We catered to that. Bought games, DVDs, anything she might like, and basically spoiled her. I never told my kids that the doctors told her chemotherapy and radiation were probably not going to work and that removing the tumor wasn’t an option. Essentially, the day she was told she had cancer was the day she was told she was going to die from it; the only question was how long. By the time she picked up Mass Effect she was getting pretty bad.

She enjoyed it. She sucked at the combat, died a whole lot, cursed at the top of her lungs often but she really enjoyed that game.

As it would turn out, it was the last game she ever finished. In January of 2009, it was decided that the chemo was not working and they took her off it and started radiation instead. We only realized later that the treatment might not have been shrinking the tumor but it was slowing it down considerably. Once the chemo was gone, it exploded and began spreading into her stomach. The radiation treatments just couldn’t keep up with it. She started throwing up blood because the tumor was, as they put it “shedding blood,” just fancy talk for bleeding. Several times she had to be hospitalized for low blood pressure, and she just got weaker and weaker every day.

On March 30th, 2009 at 7:35pm she died from complications caused by a feeding tube that had been put into her stomach because the cancer rendered her completely unable to eat. By that time, I think she was just tired of being sick and decided enough was enough.

It was, all told, seven months from diagnosis to death.

In all this time I hadn’t touched a game. I was too busy, tired, and depressed by the whole situation. I was working six days a week back then and my one day off would be chemo or later radiation and doctors’ appointments. I’d get a few hours sleep and do it all again, over and over. I was actually at work when hospice called me to tell me she’d died – it wasn’t a pretty sight. I was the only clerk there, had a line of customers and was sitting behind the counter on the floor completely falling apart. I knew it was coming… but the reality?

Oh, it was much worse than I had expected. Thankfully, one of my regular customers who knew my mother was sick figured out what was going on, chased everyone out of the store and locked the doors for me. He even called my store manager because by that point I was beyond doing it myself. I will forever be grateful to him because he calmed me down and made me realize that I had things that had to be done now.

And that was how I spent the first year after she died – I had things that I had to do. I didn’t touch the Xbox. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. So for Christmas I bought a Playstation 3. When Mass Effect 2 came out one of the boys bought it but I ignored it. It wasn’t until March 2010 that I even looked at the Xbox. The boys were at their father’s house for the month and I decided one night it was about time I at least turned the thing on. That was when I found her Mass Effect, saved on my memory card because she didn’t have one of her own. I thought about that for a long time – why would she do that? All her other games were saved on the drive, why did she put that one on my memory card? And I came to a decision.

On March 30, 2010, at 7:35 pm I put Mass Effect 2 into the Xbox and loaded her ME1 save into it and played. I played all that night and most of the next day because I had asked for those days off. I died a lot because not only am I not terribly skilled at shooters, I cried on and off the whole time, but I played and continued to play; and played her Shepard her way – a total asshole. She got such a kick out of being able to play a character that way. Literally the only people he was nice to were Liara (whom she romanced) and Tali (just because Mom thought she was cute). Everyone else stay out of her sights. In the end I lost Miranda and Thane but it was all good. I’d finished the second installment of her game, just like I think she meant me to. And now, in 2012 I have finished her game for her. I played Mass Effect 3.

You see, when I tell people ‘my’ Shepard that is only half true. He’s ‘our’ Shepard. And his story is now finally finished. Izzy from VidyaGirls was there that night when I explained and she asked me how I thought it would feel, finishing her game. I told her then I didn’t know. And I still don’t know. But one thing I do know is that these games are something that my mother and I share, even with her gone and that is something special. Her headstone says “Not Your Average Cliché,” a line I got from a Tantric song that I adore and that literally says everything about my mother and her entire life in 4 simple words. Why did I expect her to be any different in death?

And that is why I donated so much to so worthy a cause. I know how video games can distract someone who is sick and in pain. I know how they give someone like that a reason sometimes to get up, because they want to see what comes next and sometimes that is the closest thing to hope they have. Because of the money she left me, I was in a position that I could give and I did.

Now I can say I know how they help someone deal with grief and the just plain shit that life can and does throw at you. I know.

I would like everyone else to know I did it because my mother was an extraordinary person, one that never got old in her own mind until that evil, evil disease made her face her own mortality. She was 64-years-old the day she died and for those of us who knew her – the world is now one hell of a lot smaller a place.

I love you Mom. Rest in peace now. I finished for you. And for me. I thank you for that.

About Stephen Crane

Stephen was hooked by the NES at a very young age and never looked back. He games on a daily basis and is currently trying to climb his way up the ranked ladder on League of Legends! Outside of the video game world he actually likes running and owns a rapidly growing collection of toed shoes. Stephen Crane is the owner of Armed Gamer.

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