The Healing Power of Making Video Games Like ‘Minecraft’

After tragedy and trauma, some game developers have found solace in the poetry of code and the power of storytelling

Keith Stuart
OneZero
Published in
9 min readNov 5, 2019

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Credit: Kelvin Yup/Unsplash

GGranada Hills, Los Angeles, August 1999. Ben Formaker-Olivas was nine years old and jumpy with excitement. He and a bunch of other kids were at the North Valley Jewish Community Center, waiting for a bus on a scruffy back lot just down the hill from the main building. They were heading to Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park, and it was going to be his first ride on a roller coaster.

“The counselors directed us to the buses, and I was in the line to get on,” Formaker-Olivas recalls. “There were these large planters that always had little pink and white flowers in them. I remember being in that spot when I heard the noise echoing down from the campus. It sounded like screaming and glass breaking. I thought it was just kids playing.”

What had actually happened would later make the news around the world. A white supremacist, armed with a semi-automatic rifle, walked into the lobby of the community center. He fired 70 shots into the building, wounding three children, a young counselor, and another employee. He then fled the scene and, 20 minutes later, shot and killed postal worker Joseph Santos Ileto.

For an hour, there was chaos and panic at the community center. The counselors, most of whom were teenagers, herded Formaker-Olivas and his friends onto a bus to be driven away; they eventually ended up at a women’s shelter. The police arrived and took statements. Ben told them what he had heard.

“I just remember this feeling of numbness,” he says. “Off to the side of the room we were in was a smaller room with a desk, and I just crawled underneath and pulled the chair in front. I wanted to feel enclosed. That became a typical behavior for me.”

For two years after the shooting, Formaker-Olivas showed symptoms of PTSD. “One of the ways it would manifest itself was when I felt unsafe,” he remembers, “I wanted to feel enclosed. My parents would find me huddled on the bathroom floor, covered in towels. I slept with the sheets over my head. I was convinced he was going to come to our house and shoot me — that he would finish…

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Keith Stuart
OneZero

Journalist/novelist. Author of A Boy Made of Blocks and Days of Wonder. Veteran video game player. Twitter: @keefstuart