“It’s so funny to say that a video game saved my life,” exclaims Mike Jameson, an athletic 21-year-old psychology major wearing a t-shirt with ARMY in bold letters across the front.
Jameson is referring to his dramatic weight loss, a feat to be envied by the 66% of adult Americans who are obese or overweight, according to The National Center For Health Statistics.
“Experts” are constantly promoting the latest weight loss methods from dieting to surgery. Jameson no longer had need for any of these solutions when he discovered a much more “fun” way to lose weight: playing a video game.
In one year he lost eighty pounds, a feat which he attributes to Dance Dance Revolution (DDR), a video game played by dancing in time on pads connected to the machine. Neighborhood friends introduced Jameson, a junior in high school at the time, to the game and soon he was playing an hour a day, five days a week and spending 50 dollars a week.
Jameson says that he found DDR to be “better than a run, so much more fun,” and he soon beat every song at every level. He eventually bought the game and the dance pads off of E-bay for $200.
Initially his determination in this situation might appear unusual, but a conversation with Jameson quickly revealed that he displays the same passion in all areas of his life.
He laughs as he tells me about joining a swim team for the first time in his life because of a cute swim team girl he met during student orientation. While that relationship didn’t work out, Jameson’s relationship with swimming did, and he ended up going to nationals. And at nationals he discovered a room that had a DDR player.
“I remember sneaking up to the DDR area,” he tells me-he was trying to avoid his coach who was regulating their exercise; he was caught and sent back to the rest of the team.
DDR isn’t the only video game that Jameson has tangled with-he also is an expert at World of Warcraft, a game with 7 million subscribers according to Sunday Times (London).
“It’s like virtual crack,” he says and warns me to never start playing.
Along with DDR and World of Warcraft is Jameson’s addiction to Guitar Hero 3, a popular video game that can be played against opponents on the Internet. At one point he was in ninth place on the Internet out of tens of thousands of players.
“I’m a competitive guy. If I like it, I wanna be the best at it.”
His guitar hero expertise is well known-as he sat down to interview, a friend of his came up and said that she hoped to challenge him sometime because of his reputation.
The guitar hero challenger was not the only student to come up and chat with him during our interview; Mike is not a reclusive video game obsessor. He is very personable, friendly, and surprisingly well adjusted considering his less than ‘perfect’ background.
In 1998, when he was in 7th grade, Mike’s parents divorced, and he and his sister weekly alternated living with each parent. Though he didn’t carry the emotional baggage that often characterizes the children of divorcees-“I have a lot of resilience”-it was at this point that he stopped playing sports and ignored the onset of his weight gain.
Life is tough for most adolescents in high school, and being overweight brought Mike more than his fair share of ridicule.
“When’s your baby due?” was a comment thrown at him-one he said he’ll probably remember for the rest of his life.
“You’d look less gay if you played tuba instead of clarinet,” another student told him, causing him to take up tuba.
Even while he was teased at school, he was supported at home.
In an e-mail interview, Mike’s mother said that she was never too worried about Mike’s weight, but was confidant that once Mike reached puberty, he would react positively to the changes in his body.
His mother’s optimism about Mike’s weight was eventually validated, though not through any ordinary method. During his 11th grade year, as his DDR addiction grew-staying up to four hours on some days-he went from 250 to 170 pounds.
His weight loss was gradual and it didn’t initially register until one day he looked at an old picture and was shocked at the difference.
“Once Mike began to lose weight, he was still our same Mike…because it came off gradually and slowly. However, he was most definitely more confident,” his mother says of the transformation.
And the ladies noticed.
“Girls that I liked before (losing weight) started to like me. I dated a lot-just to date almost.” In his senior year he had twelve girlfriends and, in his words, became “a little cocky,” when people started to notice his new physique.
This is not hard to believe; Jameson is tall, dark, and handsome with a perpetual smile, and an engaging manner.
He soon settled down and was the same friendly and determined boy that he had always been-a boy who loves to entertain.
“I’m a performer,” he explains one reason for his enjoyment of DDR. “I do like being in front.” He describes dancing at Disneyland while people walked by. “At the end of the song I’d hear ‘wow’ and I’d look around.”
Mike’s desire to perform has served him well. Aside from enabling his swimming talents it has allowed him to pursue his current dream-the army.
Mike has recently been contracted into the army through the ROTC program at Biola and is training to become an Army Ranger; he’s not in it for the scholarship money.
“I’m doing something that millions will never do or…try.” His rigorous training-up to ten and a half hours a week-is simply another challenge that he is conquering. This desire to succeed is appreciated by his girlfriend, Karen:
“He’s very ambitious…if he sets his mind to anything, he’ll do it,” she said, in a phone interview, explaining one of the qualities that she admires about him.
Karen also appreciates the effect Mike’s “fat years” has had on his personality. His ugly duckling story has allowed him to avoid the arrogance that taints many “good-looking” guys.
“He’s very different because he grew up with that fat mentality-he’s very genuine.”
Besides being genuine, she also found him easy to talk to; their early phone conversations lasted three hours.
But then, Mike has many traits that set him apart from others.
“Mike is one of the few people I know who easily lets things go…I have never known him to hold a grudge, he has always been loving and forgiving,” his mother said.
When asked about his positive attitude towards life, he says that he has been lucky and blessed.
“I’ve got a good balance…I’m happy with who I am,” are his thoughts on his natural contentedness and perseverance.
This perseverance has guided Mike through video games and “real life” alike; after he beat every song on the video game guitar hero, he developed a desire to play the real guitar. He taught himself and has become a proficient guitarist.
“He’s amazing,” Karen says of his guitar skills. And her appreciation is fully merited; they actually met at a wedding that he was playing guitar at.
And ROTC? It was really just the next step from virtual reality.
“It’s a video game in life.”
*names changed for privacy