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Leveling Up: How Playing Video Games Helped Me Find Passion and Purpose

Jacob Rivers, an avid gamer and incoming college freshman, shares how games supported his self-discovery and becoming, preparing him for his next level in life.

By iThrive Games
January 12, 2022

Games have the power to transport us to new worlds where we can safely explore new possibilities and perspectives. They delight us, challenge us, calm us, frustrate us, connect us, excite us, and invite us to uncover new ways of doing and being. Anyone who's played a game, be it digital or tabletop, knows this firsthand.

At iThrive Games, we see springboards for transformation in play's social and emotional value. We believe that when the emotions games evoke are recruited for learning, the learning that happens goes deeper and lasts longer. We champion play as a constructive avenue for academic, social, and emotional growth, co-designing game-based learning experiences with high school students and teachers that leverage the power of play and support teen thriving.

Last year, we launched the Power of Play, a blog series that shared posts from teens reflecting on the many ways games have helped them deal with life, discover possibility and purpose, and question the way things are in the world. We're excited to resume the series this year with the following post from avid gamer Jacob Rivers, an incoming college freshman, who shares a heartfelt story about how video games supported his self-discovery and becoming, preparing him for his next level in life.

"Jake, enough with the video games and get your work done," a phrase I have heard over and over again since elementary school. Being diagnosed with ADD at a young age, school never came easy to me. However, when I opened my Nintendo DS for Christmas, instantly, I was fascinated playing just about any game I could get my hands on, and it helped me become more focused. Once the bus had dropped me off from school, I would run up to my room and immediately play video games. As school got harder and I was about to enter middle school, video games became a sense of escapism for me.

Middle school can be difficult, especially for me who had just moved to a new town and started a new school. Coming from a large city to a small town where I only knew three people was daunting. Although joining a baseball league in sixth grade alleviated the apprehension, I continued to rely on video games. It was around this time that I began to watch Youtubers to learn more and improve my skills. Once I noticed myself getting better, I started to explore the platform of multiplayer. As I transitioned into high school, I became more competitive, and my passion for video games increased.

I was fortunate enough to sign up for an elective as a freshman called App Inventor. It was this class that sparked my interest to one day make my own video game. Knowing what kids enjoy as entertainment and creating something on my own felt like an achievement I could accomplish, and it motivated me even more. Every chance I had, I would take classes to improve my knowledge in the field I wanted to pursue. During sophomore year, one of my friends built his own computer, and this intrigued me. After I had turned sixteen, I got a job to save up the money to make this project happen. It took a lot of time and research to learn how to build a computer and have all the necessary parts. When I completed it, I felt proud, and I knew this was only the beginning of my abilities with computers. As the pandemic hit, I took a leave of absence from work; this caused me to isolate myself from society, and I became more involved with the gaming aspect. When junior year rolled around, I returned back to work. A month later, I was hit by a car, and fortunately enough, I only broke my wrist. Even with this setback, I maintained good grades, and the gaming continued to keep me in check.

As I finish my senior year, I will have the opportunity to take an online coding class where I will learn how to use Python, Java, and C++. This will add to my expertise and give me a head start for what I wish to pursue in college. Looking back at my younger self coping with ADD, I've realized how much I have grown. With the techniques and entertainment of gaming, my struggles of focusing in school lessened. With my wish to major in Game Design, I hope one day to make a game not just for amusement but to help kids who have fought with similar learning disabilities like me. I have finally completed this "level" in my life. Now, it's time to start the next one.


We are always looking to amplify teen voice and share their stories that attest to how games help us understand ourselves, each other, and the world around us. Have something to share? Send us your thoughts, stories, ideas, and reflections at contact@ithrivegames.org with a brief blurb about yourself to see it on our blog this year!