Keith Andrew / @tweeting_keith
What do you do now?
That’s a tough one to describe, really. Currently, I’m editor of PocketGamer.biz, which is a business-to-business site for firms working in the mobile gaming arena – developers, engines, platform holders, monetisation experts etc.
That, I guess, makes me a ‘games journalist’, though my muddled path to such a profession – starting off doing a degree in Advertising and PR and only venturing into writing while waiting for the job that never came – means it’s sometimes hard to track what I do now.
The long and short of it is, I write about games. A lot. Go to some nice events. Meet some lovely developers. And tweet. Too much.
Where were you born?
In a hospital in Chelmsford, Essex, in the UK, which I’m told no longer exists and is now a block of apartments. And they’re not even named after me. Oh well.
And whereabouts do you live now?
‘Oop north’, as they say, in lovely Manchester, just around the corner from Piccadilly Station. Indeed, if you’ve ever found yourself waiting on the platform for a (late) train there, I’ve probably spied you from my window.
What’s your favourite game of all time?
Shenmue II. By some distance. I was saying to a friend last week, in fact, that, as much as I’d love to see a sequel, there’s something brilliant about leaving the series half way through. It’s given it this legendary status that the game as a whole totally deserves. Some of the latter stages served up some of the most magical moments I’ve ever encountered in a game.
(We’re talking about the original Dreamcast version here, of course.)
What was the last game you enjoyed and why?
Eek. ‘Enjoyed’ is a wide definition. I’d say, actually, that the last game I got massively into for a short burst was Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing Transformed on Xbox 360. Some simply brilliant levels, and Sumo Digital really have that franchise down now – it’s almost quite Project Gotham Racing in places, bizarrely.
Also, The Walking Dead made an impression fairly recently. I’m reluctant to finish it, though, as I don’t want it to be over.
**Please describe a little of the bullying you experienced. **
It’s a little difficult to remember now. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve ‘blocked it out’ or anything that dramatic, but my mind has certainly managed to file it away somewhere that means it’s not that easy to access.
Specific instances are hard to pin down, but essentially, the bullying with me was never physical. Funnily enough, had it been, that would have been far easier for me to manage. Rather, it was a gradual but consistent chipping away at my confidence to the point where I genuinely had none left, and I was putty in their hands.
Funnily enough, until it started – midway through high school – I’d go so far as to say I’d always been quite popular with a nice base of friends. To cut a long story short, however, my best friend at the time was diagnosed with ME, which meant he couldn’t really run around or exercise without becoming ill. As a result of that, he was forced to spend breaks and lunch periods inside, and the school allowed a select band of his friends to stay with him so he wasn’t on his own.
As the weeks went by, it was only me that stayed with him while everyone else went outside as normal. A year later, his family moved away to the US, and suddenly I found that all the friendships I had before weren’t really there anymore, and I’d lost touch with everyone. People I’d previously been friendly with then saw me as ‘the weakest link’, as it were, and I quickly became the butt of all jokes. When they saw I didn’t take too well to it – I’ve never been mister confident – things expanded, the jokes became direct attacks and I started to fear being around them.
It’s very easy to think of bullies as stupid people who thump other kids or somesuch, but in my case, that wasn’t true. The chaps who began to circle round me were actually well regarded in the school, and they were very clever to make sure that the taunts, the snipes and the general wearing of me down only went on when no-one of influence was around. Kids can pick out a particular weakness very quickly, and having always been concerned about my appearance, that quickly became their target.
I’d never been especially good at sports either, bar running, and so P.E. lessons – which tended to split boys and girls at that time – were pretty much hell. Not only was I surrounded only by people who hated me, but I also forced to do things I couldn’t do in front of them, which only added to their jibes and increased my isolation.
I ended up putting on quite a bit of weight as a result – rushing home off the bus to, essentially, stuff my face while crying – and making myself rather ill. Such was the fear of going to school during the peak of the bullying, that I would spend most days feeling sick as a pig – even if nothing actually happened that day.
When did you manage the bullying?
I don’t think I ever did, really.
As I say, my solution was to try and crawl into a corner and to stuff my face, both of which were things that only set me apart further. In the end, I went on antidepressants, which – while they didn’t solve the problem – certainly stopped me sinking low enough to contemplate doing anything stupid.
Things calmed a little when my mother confronted my form tutor during a parent’s evening. Such was the crappy nature of my school, that the kids who were bullying me – at this point known by the school – were about to be made prefects, and I was not. As I say, bullies are clever, and these chaps were very pally with prominent teachers, who I suspect had subconsciously marked me down as a weakling deserving of the taunts.
It was only my mother’s fury – and I mean fury – that eventually began to sort things. I was made a prefect, I was isolated from this particular group of lads as much as I could be (not a longterm solution, but certainly a quick fix which needed to be done), and I was allowed to find my feet.
Things only really stopped, however, when I left to start sixth form college. Luckily my high school didn’t have one attached, so I had to travel 10 miles in the other direction. Some of my former bullies went there too, but the combination of having a fresh start and it being a really brilliant, open, tolerant and liberal sixth form saved me.
I came out as gay at sixth form, and not only was this accepted, but it also made me something of a tourist attraction for a few weeks. Bizarrely, I’d never actually been bullied for being gay – not something the bullies had ever picked up on – and the confidence I drew from my whole sixth form experience carried me through university and beyond.
What effect do you think the bullying had on you?
I think it’s important to acknowledge that, with all things in life, it’s swings and roundabouts.
At the immediate time, it had a devastating effect. I was worn away until I was paper thin, and I was about as unconfident and weak as anyone can be. I’d go so far as to say that I came close to becoming a recluse – I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything. I was only safe by myself, in my room.
That’s ultimately something I still have to fight now, and I’ll forever be someone who worries about everything and makes themselves ill over the mundane of things. Maybe that’s just in my nature, but it’s something that was certainly amplified by my experiences at school.
I’m also overly concerned about my appearance and weight, and it has no bearing on whether I’m actually in shape or not. Even when I’ve been at my thinnest – which I’m certainly not now – I’ve hated how I look and been convinced that I look around 50 stone. That said, that’s not a cross that only I have to bear – half the world thinks that way these days.
There have, however, been positives, too. I think for anyone being bullied now, it’s important for me, standing on the other side, to admit that.
It made me quite quick-thinking and witty. You have to be, essentially, to get yourself out of certain situations. Sometimes, if you can make the person bearing down on you laugh, they’ll give you a break. Just for that one day. And – though I’m certainly not a comedian – I like to think that I have quite a quick wit even now, and that’s a useful tool in the job I do, meeting people for the first time.
I think it’s also helped make me quite a sensitive person, and I think that’s a good thing, overall. I know I value friendships more than a lot of people, and I think the whole bullying experience has humanised me in a way that I wouldn’t have been if left to my own devices. (If that doesn’t sound too cheesy.)
How is your life better now?
It’s better now in that I actually have one. Back then, even getting through the day sometimes seemed impossible, but now I’m the same as everyone else – working to earn money to pay the bills. Heh.
I think it’s also important to note that, many of the qualities I had that made me a target back then are things that people are actually drawn to me now for.
The sensitive, different part of me then is the same part of my brain that does all the creative stuff. Bizarrely, I’d say I’m a better writer because I’m a little sensitive, a little paranoid, a little over analytical. Everyone is the product of what they’ve been through, good and bad, so naturally, the things that happened back then still have an impact now.
Did you ever think your life was going to be this good?
I think for many kids being bullied, they don’t even contemplate the future. It’s not that they think they won’t be alive, but it’s hard enough worrying about what’s going to happen the next day at school, let alone what you’ll do when you leave.
You can’t see beyond the next day. There’s a big dark wall in the way, effectively.
But no, I don’t think I thought I’d be capable of living the life I do today. Lets not be dramatic – I don’t do anything amazing. But, back then, even leaving the house became an ordeal, let alone – most recently – hopping on a few planes to fly to San Francisco for GDC, or talking to people I didn’t know without turning into a shivering wreck.
I do things now almost on a daily basis that, to me, are like climbing Everest. And I think the best thing about it is, most of the time, it’s only me that knows that I’m struggling through something. If I look composed on the outside, the eventually – at the fifth or sixth time of asking – I’ll be composed and calm on the inside, too.
What would you like to say to a youngster thinking about getting into video games who is experiencing bullying right now?
It’s hard to know. Everyone’s experience will be different, and it’s unlikely that anything I went through matches exactly anything anyone reading this is going through now.
What I would repeat is, many of the things people seem to hate about you now will genuinely set you apart from the rest of the crowd in a couple of year’s time. It’s also certainly true that those who bully – physically or, as in my case, more mentally – do so because, they too, have certain issues.
Bizarrely, I’ve since spoken to one of the chaps behind my bullying, and he genuinely had no idea the impact it had on me at the time. We have to remember that, children aren’t the finished article, and the do all kinds of crappy things that, as an adult, they’d be ashamed of.
You just need to do what you need to do to get through it. That’s not an empty statement – there’s no one size fits all solution. My school was crap and, for a while, actively made things more difficult. But maybe yours is a good school. Maybe you should tell them.
I was lucky in that my parents were brilliant, but that won’t be the case for everyone. But is there anyone else around that, in some small way, can help pull you through?
The best thing I can say is, it won’t last forever. School proves to be such a short period of your life that, in a few year’s time, you’ll find yourself looking back and wondering how time flew by so quickly.
Also, be funny. Genuinely. You’ll be surprised what situations a bit of humour can get you out of.