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“Tamer Finding Identity Through Loneliness”

I’m Tamer Asfahani, a broadcast journalist and producer. I’ve worked at most of the big broadcasters and founded ArabicGamers and Checkpoint. I am the eldest of three siblings and a father of two under 10s. I’ve been a gamer my whole life and have always tried to shoehorn gaming and the learnings I’ve taken away into anything I do.

Growing up as a Muslim Arab in Lincoln, surrounded by people who may have looked like me (but certainly didn’t think like me), loneliness wasn’t that obvious initially. Somehow I always felt a little bit like the odd one out. Not because I was treated differently (on the whole), but more because I knew culturally I was different. That feeling stayed with me over the years from childhood into adulthood.

Video games have played a part in navigating and coming to terms with my loneliness. Over the years games have offered me different ways to cope and mitigate this. There was the first excitement of discovering Jet Set Willy when visiting my family in Syria, specifically the Spectrum ZX my uncle owned. There was how my love of Sonic the Hedgehog was a bridge to unfamiliar American children at the American International school I attended in Saudi. There was the affirming identity found in playing Worms. And most recently they’ve become a way to embrace and make peace with loneliness, an example being No Man’s Sky when I was away for a number of weeks for work.

Over the years it has become clear that I actually quite enjoy my loneliness. It’s been important for me to explore it, and by playing a video game I can be lonely on my own terms. This may sound a bit morbid, but it’s actually not at all.

Video games let me choose how and when to step into the deep dark parts of my world. They enable me to be honest about how I feel but in a way that doesn’t take control away from me. Games don’t ask who I am, what I do or what I look like. They ask me where I want to go and who I want to become.
 

Outcome
Acceptance of solitary time through gaming routines to create space and energy for connection and conversation.


This outcome arises from the following 5 milestones over the span of 32 years, from 6 - 38 years-old:

DetailsPathway Details

Name: Tamer Asfanhani
Stage of Life: 6 - 38 years-old
Genres: Action, Fighting, Open World, Platform, Race, Shooting, Simulation and Sports
Platforms: PC and Sega Genesis / Megadrive
 

 

An Uncle’s Introduction

Age: 6-years-old / 01/01/1986 / 36 years ago

Tamer got into gaming early in his childhood. One strong memory of this was playing on his uncle’s Spectrum ZX in Syria. He talked about how evocative even the sound of the game loading was to him, and how he was reminded of this when first going online with a dial-up modem that made similar sounds.

He would watch his uncle play and help by translating the text in the game so they could progress through the levels. Later on, Tamer got more into gaming and his gaming experience expanded to include Harrier Attack and Captain Planet on the C64, but Jet Set Willy was the most memorable of these and set him on the path to seek out video games to play when back in Syria.

Tamer connected with his uncle while playing, and helping translating the text in the game.

Saudi Cultural Connections

Age: 11-years-old / 01/01/1991 / 31 years ago

Platform: Sega Genesis / Megadrive

Tamer remembers that back in Lincoln it took some time before he had his own game console. His parents set him the task of passing his swimming gold medal before he was allowed to get his own console. When he finally got the medal, he chose the Sega Megadrive and could access a wide range of games from Sonic the Hedgehog to the first ever iterations of FIFA.

It was at this time in his life that he moved to Saudi Arabia. A new country, a new school and a new challenge to his sense of loneliness. It felt, just as he was starting to understand who he was, he had to start again. Although he soon made friends, he was “culturally lonely”. The other children didn’t understand his Arabic traditions and festivals. They weren’t fasting, praying or reading the Quran. They were also American, so his British nuances were also lost, making him feel more lonely than he’d ever been or thought he could be. The cultural divide was greater, and Tamer felt he really didn’t belong anywhere.

The console and games he played became an important way for him to make deeper connections with other (mostly American) students at his school. Not only knowing about specific games but the wider subculture of gaming. He would play and swap games with other kids in the school and found an easy way to make connections and navigate the unfamiliar setting. Not least were the games Tamer played before going to the American school system that gave him insight into American culture and sport, such as NHL Hockey, Baseball and NBA Jam. This was a hugely useful tool for integrating into "Americana”.

Tamer found connection and camaraderie while playing with other teenagers at his new Saudi school.

Boarding School Escape

Age: 16-years-old / 01/01/1996 / 26 years ago

Platform: PC

Back in Lincolnshire at boarding school, a new game became a way for Tamer to find connections with other students. It would be lights out at 11 O'Clock but then he and his friends would sneak out to the IT Room where Worms was installed.

They would often play into the small hours of the night. A combination of the competitive nature of the game and the camaraderie of playing together was the perfect context for strong friendships to be forged.

Tamer made connections with other students through playing Worms after lights out.

Taking Action At University

Age: 17-years-old / 01/01/1997 / 25 years ago

Moving on to the PlayStation (though it had been out for a while) era as he went to University meant that games offered Tamer something new: space to escape from the social hubbub and pressure of study. “They gave me space to explore my own interests. I was able to negotiate my crisis of identity by having somewhere that didn’t ask me for my identity. But let me make choices on my own terms.”

Games like Gran Turismo were a useful way to balance the other pressures of life for Tamer. But he also described how it was more than escapism. “Playing games built my confidence. It turned a feeling of isolation and potential loneliness into being able to take action. These games become a vehicle for perseverance and discovery of identity.”

It was here that Tamer described being able to explore the darker side of his personality rather than avoid it. The games were a safe space where he could explore his identity and discover his boundaries. A part of this was his Muslim heritage. He talked about the space games made offering a gentle way to engage with this part of life. “Not breaking down the religious system, but learning about me and figuring out what I was comfortable with and how I fitted within it.”

Tamer found having space for his own gaming time helped create space for himself which led to taking action in life.
Tamer found this was a safe space where he could explore his identity and discover his boundaries. A part of this was his Muslim heritage.

Embracing Aloneness At Edinburgh Fringe

Age: 38-years-old / 01/01/2018 / 4 years ago

Producing work took Tamer to Scotland and the Edinburgh Fringe to film a TV show about the mental health of performers at the festival. After long days working he found that escaping to play a game was a lifesaver for his own wellbeing.

The game was now No Man’s Sky. It’s a sci-fi experience that enabled him to “explore the universe in the way I wanted to explore it” as he put it. The game had been released the previous year and it needed a lot of time to play. So Tamer took the Xbox with him to Scotland.

The vast open experience of the game mirrored and magnified the loneliness he saw around him at the festival. But here it was loneliness out of choice. The choice to step into the deep dark parts of the game universe. Unlike the loneliness in the real world that I hadn’t chosen, here he could choose the terms. “In doing this I was able to be honest about how I felt but do that in a way that offered me control.”

Tamer found a sense of control of being able to choose how and when to enter into the loneliness of space.

Pathway Outcome

The culmination of the milestones in the pathway lead to Tamer acceptance of solitary time through gaming routines to create space and energy for connection and conversation. . We have described it as a linear journey, but of course, there is always a fair amount of back and forth between the games they played.

Along with the main outcome Tamer also changed in the following ways:

  • Behaviour: Tamer found having space for his own gaming time helped create space for himself which led to taking action in life.
  • Belief: Tamer found this was a safe space where he could explore his identity and discover his boundaries. A part of this was his Muslim heritage.
  • Disposition: Tamer found a sense of control of being able to choose how and when to enter into the loneliness of space.
  • Identity: Tamer found connection and camaraderie while playing with other teenagers at his new Saudi school.
  • Relationships: Tamer made connections with other students through playing Worms after lights out.
  • Relationships: Tamer connected with his uncle while playing, and helping translating the text in the game.

Taming Gaming Book Written by parents for parents, the database complements the in-depth discussion about video game addiction, violence, spending and online safety in the Taming Gaming book. We are an editorially independent, free resource without adverts that is supported by partnerships.

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