If you traveled back in time 25 years and ended up in one particular trailer park in Jacksonville, NC you might meet a small boy running away from home.  His destination: a kind teenage girl’s house that babysat him.  There were a couple places he ran to, but she was the nicest and she had a Nintendo Entertainment System and The Legend of Zelda and Megaman and some crummy Wheel of Fortune game.

He was running because his bi-polar mother had a couple of her “really scary” friends over.  And the punishment he’d receive for sneaking out the laundry room door was less painful and traumatic than sticking around those people.

When I returned home my mother was always somewhere between panicked and pissed off.  Usually drunk.  Consequences varied from the routine ass-whooping to being grounded.  Sometimes I was locked out of the house.  Others she’d hug me and apologize she let Star and her friends over again.

Honestly, I was very young.  As I grew up those memories quit being mine; just fragments of a past some other kid experienced.

I can remember feeling safe in the world of Hyrule.  Video game escapism caught me early on.  I have problems with escapism to this day.  It’s a lot easier to play a round of League of Legends than get frustrated with bills I’m falling behind on.

But video games did keep me off the street and kept me from growing up more maladjusted than I could’ve.  They were my safe haven.

Many kids in my predicament or worse grew up without any sanctuary and, well, you know what happens.  They’re the kids featured in a tragic news story.  Some grow up to become the adults you warn your children about on the playground.

I guess what I’m saying is.  I hope my son grows up with more solid coping mechanisms than a controller or mouse and keyboard.  But there are worse habits.

Tonight’s confession isn’t just about my past tragedies.  It’s about the time I enjoyed Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and the lesson that can be taken away.

February was my mother’s funeral.  Now I skipped a lot between the boy in the trailer park, the teenager that ran away to Wisconsin to escape his mother once-and-for-all, and the father that drove his 4 month-old-son down to a funeral in North Carolina.

February 2013 will probably go down as the most difficult stage this gamer has ever played in his life.

The closer I got to North Carolina the quieter I became.  That boy who had all the bad memories was riding beside me in the car.  Right between me and my son.  By the time I reached Jacksonville me and the boy were the same again.  All his memories were mine. All his darkness had slipped back inside me.  I was consumed.

When the purple line of my GPS told me I had reached my destination I looked up in awe.  The house my mom had died in wasn’t a trailer but a real house.  With multiple cars in the garage and even a motorcycle.  The pictures on the walls inside were of a happy family.

It tore me apart.

She was not the woman I had left.  She was someone’s real mom.  A caregiver.  A wife.

I’ll spare further details on my emotional state.  But it was very hard.

After the funeral something happened.  At my mom’s house, my little brother (who I’d only briefly met a couple times before) busted out his xbox 360.  We sat down and played CoD: MW3 of all games.

It was the best I felt all week.  It was the best I’d feel for months to come.

I remembered something I try every day not to forget about video games.  I may hate your game.  The industry may be poisoning this vice I love.  But sometimes just holding a controller and being not in your own shitty house, experiencing your own shitty emotions, can be exactly what you need.  Even bad games can be fun, if experienced the right way.

For me CoD: MW3 had to be experienced in the wake of a funeral to become fun.  And I guess that’s something.