Name and Twitter handle:
Phil Gaskell @ripstoner
What do you do now?
Creative Director and Co-Founder of a digital publisher called Ripstone.
A small town about halfway between Liverpool and Manchester called Leigh
Currently residing where in the world?
A small town about halfway between Liverpool and Manchester called Lowton…next to Leigh.
Favourite video game of all time?
I’ve been playing games for over 20 years and in that time there are many that have influenced me and impressed me but only a handful that I regularly went back to play over and over again, particularly as a boy. System 3’s “The Last Ninja” was probably the one that stands out the most; full of mystery, adventure and awesome kicks-ass ninja moves. I was particularly proud of my private rendition of the box art in DPaint that I toiled over, and I still enjoy listening to Ben Daglish and Anthony Lee’s soundtrack in the car now and again.
What was the last game you enjoyed and why?
“Papers, Please” by Lucas Pope. I had quite low expectations given the monotony the core game loop (stamping passports) might bring and the relatively low rent visuals, but all that melted away into glee and admiration from the moment I heard the imposing Eastern Bloc title music. Within a few minutes I was beginning to feel drunk with power as I rejected one immigrant after another, and then the game started plucking on my emotional heartstrings. No spoilers, it’s a brilliant game that is both a poke in the eye to the way border control procedures and immigration are handled by countries, and at the same time very much not about stamping passports. All hail Arstotzka!
Describe very briefly any of the bullying you experienced.
There were three main periods in my life when I experienced bullying, each lasting a number of years. The first time was when I attended primary school; a kid with an amputated arm would hit me over the head with his prosthetic, it actually hurt more when he didn’t wear it and I got clobbered with the boney bit! I was removed from the school by my parents fairly quickly but not for the reasons I thought. I was under the impression it was for retaliating and pushing the kid down some stairs after he attacked me from behind and I’d had enough. Only later in life did I find out that it was due to one of the teachers excluding me from the classroom for something trivial, and I was found stood outside the door in floods of tears by an aunt that worked at the school. I don’t recall that event, but this led to my mother having a huge fallout with the headmistress. I do recall that though!
The second time was during my secondary school years, so I would have been aged around 12, and this period was the longest and most upsetting. It lasted pretty much the length of my secondary school education so I don’t have any fond memories of those times. There were several sets of bullies that targeted me. One kid would greet me every morning as I came into the form-room before school began and get me in a headlock, drag me out and demand I stay outside. Another kid lost his father when we were around 13 years old which must have been very traumatising and difficult to come to terms with at that age. His frustration and grief was channelled at me and I hated attending the lessons that we shared. Mostly name calling, and threats of violence if I didn’t do exactly what he said. Another kid targeted me with taunts about my mother being a prostitute (probably stating the obvious but she wasn’t), and unfortunately for me the girl next-door shared a tale in her English class about one of her earliest childhood memories which involved us both being found hiding in a wardrobe when we were aged about 4 or 5 innocently swapping clothes with each other, and this led to further taunts of me being a transvestite. Physical abuse never bothered me that much, it’s rough and tumble and never hurt me badly, but the mental torture was harrowing. It was the fear and anticipation I hated, my stomach would tie itself into knots knowing the name-calling and threats were going to happen and that it was just a matter of time each day.
The final time was in my late teens when I worked at a local McDonalds to earn weekend party money. There were a couple of alpha males in the group that I started hanging around with that liked to tell me how to behave and belittle me. One particular event sticks in my mind when some of us went for a short holiday to Minehead and I was ‘kangaroo courted’ by them for making friends with some younger kids. That was a particularly intensive mental battering that almost broke me. Although I did get my own back on one of them when we returned by letting his girlfriend know he’d shagged one of the chalet cleaners!
When did you finally learn how to manage the bullying? How?
Advice like ignore it, or report it didn’t seem effective when I was young as the issue didn’t seem to be taken anywhere near as seriously as it is today. I did report it once in my early years when the kid who lost his dad started bullying me, but it didn’t stop him (however it did stop his accomplice). I developed coping strategies for it, although when it got very bad I did once run home, only to be marched back by my mother to pick up my cooking that I’d left! Right at the end when the whole prostitute thing flared up I did retaliate and stand up to the bully, which worked. But I would look forward to the time I could leave school for good and forge a new path away from the bullies. This led me to work hard in lessons and make sure I achieved good grades. It focused me on being better than them.
What effect do you think bullying had on you?
I have a younger brother and I’m ashamed to say that I behaved in a very controlling way with him due to how I was being treated. I also focused on playing video games a lot during that time (I got my first computer aged 10) as games were the perfect way to escape for me. I could control the situations I was in; I could be heroic, strong, and victorious. All the things I wasn’t being in real-life. Nowadays I’m pretty good in my own company, I’m not the type of person that needs people around them but I’m also not always easy to work with for that reason. I can sometimes appear cold and distant with people for no reason. I’m a very driven person with strong ambition and determination, a hatred for being wrong (or should that be an obsession for being right?), and I’m very strong mentally. I’ve developed quite a thick skin so criticism is something I can deal with. I also have a strong morale sense of what’s right and what’s wrong, so I will often not stand by and let bad behaviour go unchallenged.
How is your life better now?
My dad would often say to me that, when the time came and I had to go to work for a living, I would look back on my school days with envy – I guess he thought school was much easier and less stressful than work. He was wrong. I have my dream job, and because it’s a hobby it’s never once felt like work. The icing on the cake is I get paid to do it! What’s not to like? I’ve travelled the world, I’ve eaten some of the craziest things, I’ve made some amazing friends and gone from being a geek in the 80’s to chic today. My name is forever immortalised in some fantastic entertainment products (and some stinkers too!), and I’ve enjoyed every single moment, even the tough ones. Today as I write this I’m proudly supporting lots of young and new game companies through Ripstone, and hope to help even more realise their artistic visions before the year is out. I’m a Games Ambassador and a mentor to young students studying video game courses in schools, and I still love sitting with kids and talking about the games they’re playing. Like most 7yr olds my eldest son is obsessed with Minecraft and I get a kick out of sitting with him and giving him tips, challenging him to think about what he wants to build, to plan it out, and to be creative with it.
As you grow up and mature you’re able to reflect on the past and come to terms with it more easily. When you’re being bullied, and perhaps the age you are when it happens, you often aren’t well equipped to deal with it. I don’t blame any of the bullies that tormented me, I still see some of them and I pity them because they have to live with their actions. Some of them had tough lives when they were growing up, much tougher than I did at home, and some of them haven’t really made much of their lives today. Some turned to hard drugs, some have low paid unskilled jobs and struggle to get by, and those I met and spoke to later in life are clearly ashamed of how they behaved. Particularly the ones who have kids themselves now and realise how much they would hate it if their kids were the subject of the things they said and did.
I have two adorable young sons in whom I try to instil good values, I help them avoid the mistakes I made, and be better people than me. My life is fantastic, my work is fulfilling and exciting, and I believe I’m a good person who is respected and loved.
Did you think your life was ever going to be this good?
There were dark times when I was growing up, when I thought things couldn’t ever get better, and being raised in a religious family my thoughts crossed over to the dark side more than once. I certainly didn’t think I would be working in games and having so many good times with so many fantastic, talented, and kind people. As you get older your life gets better, because as you mature you see better what life is really about, what is important, and what isn’t. There is more goodness in this world than you might at first think.
What would you like to say to a youngster thinking about getting into video games who is experiencing bullying right now?
First of all tell someone, share with your friends what is going on. We all have the strength to rise above the situation we find ourselves in and conquer it in our own way, but we don’t ever have to do that alone. I bottled it up and it really didn’t help. Tell a teacher, tell your parents, tell any of us on this site. This can be really hard, I know I would have found it hard, I would have been fearful of the reprecussions and of making it worse. So if you find it hard to talk to someone then write them an email or a letter. In this day and age of electronic mail a hand written letter actually is a very powerful and personal way of communicating. Most of all stay strong, it might not feel like it but it will always get better.
A career in a creative industry is hard work, but also incredibly rewarding. Nothing beats the feeling of seeing something you’ve created appearing on a shelf in the store, or hearing someone you’ve never met saying positive things about it. In particular the indie scene is a wonderfully supportive and positive place to be, and the games that spring up from this are often very personal. Look at Ryan Green’s “That Dragon, Cancer” for a fine example of how sharing a personal story can be powerful and moving for the player, and perhaps even cathartic for the creator. So work hard at school, play hard at home, and be inquisitive. Ask questions of yourself when you play – “Why did I behave that way in the game? What made me do that?”, feel free to ask questions of the people making the games you play and I think you’ll be surprised how many get back to you with answers, and most of all keep creating.
The famous French artist Henri Matisse said “Creativity takes courage” so be brave!