In 2012 I was diagnosed with severe depression, it sounds cliché, but it had been a hard few years in the run up to my diagnosis. One place I found solace was video games, during those times it helped steady the boat if you will. The games I’ve played and the friends I’ve made have helped me through some hard things and it has been an important part of my recovery.
I’ve been enjoying video games in some form or another for almost two decades, but it became more prevalent since I bought an Xbox 360 in 2007. What started out as an occasional hobby became something that I love doing, a place where I made friends and somewhere to distract me from suicidal thoughts and to make me feel happy. They are something I can do to focus on something other than how I feel, they can make you feel so many different things over the course of a story. They also allow you to go places you wouldn’t ordinarily go, places you wouldn’t imagine, both real and fictional.
I believe that video games can be a powerful tool when dealing with depression. In my own experience it allows me a bit of breathing room, a chance to have a break and to try and to get on a good level again. Think of any other entertainment medium you might enjoy, movies, TV shows and books particularly, the sorts of things you might love about are all there in video games, the story, character development, the soundtrack, relationships, and a plethora of other things. The one thing that Games have that other mediums do not is that to varying degrees is that you are in control of their actions, choices, skill set and moral alignment. You are in control of the story and its pace, you can approach various challenges in unique ways and challenge other to do the same or better.
When I play Video Games I get to be someone else for a while, a new character, with something to achieve and to work towards. I get to be involved in someone else’s story for a while. I don’t have to be the person who struggles with social situations but wants to socialize without risking a panic attack. I get to not feel so lonely when I’m playing as a character because as I play as them I get to form different relationships with a load of other characters. Getting attached to characters helps, it allows me to feel things other than anxiety or the oppressive burden of depression. You ride their high and you help deal with their lows, you go on a journey with them and you follow it to a conclusion.
I get to escape for a while, go to a different world, go on adventures with a variety of characters and surround myself with a new world. Being immersed in a story or character or world is relaxing, being able to go and explore somewhere else takes me away from my own thoughts and my own reality. The escapism feels like it takes a weight off my shoulders and provides a light to the darkness. I can get absorbed in the visuals or the more, I can get attached to the characters, feel for them, I can roleplay as someone else. This allows to feel something other than the oppressive density of my own thoughts.
I know many people might see the violence, gore, certain themes, and language in video games as detrimental to someone’s mental state and I can understand some of the arguments that sort those points of view in some cases. I’m certainly not saying video games should used as a form of therapy, but from personal experience those things that people off can sometimes feel cathartic. Being able to take out frustrations and pent up feelings on virtual drone feels like a less sweaty version of beating a punch bag. It allows for a release in a way, like squeezing a stress ball, you can take out your frustrations without hurting anyone.
There have always been games I return to I find whenever I’m hurting, down or feeling overwhelmed. I have many fond memories of the Gears of War series, particularly the first one, as that game was my first foray in to online gaming. I made a lot of friends playing Gears of War online, although we were hundreds and even thousands of miles away, in different countries and continents, we would come together to play a game, to unwind and relax. Having that social element has only increased my affection for video games, being able to socialise whilst in the comfort on your own home helps with being lonely without the risk of panic attacks. Another example is Skyrim, that game is famous for having a large world to explore and lots to do with quests to complete that you can easily spend a triple digit number of hours playing just one playthrough. Even when you go back to it years later thinking you’ve played it most ways you would want to you find a new way of playing it and it becomes your life for a bit and everything is ok for a while because you are not you, you are someone with power and the ability to change a world. More recently I rediscovered my love for the Legend of Zelda series of games with Breath of the Wild. Not only is this game a masterpiece on so many levels it takes me back to being a kid again, it reminds me of how and why I fell in love with video games and every time I go back to it, I’m filled with something akin to happiness as it’s not just great fun but a great challenge as well. It’s a game that draws you in with its looks and keeps you hooked with its story while challenging you with its puzzles and quests. These are just some of the games that have pulled me out of dark places, I could go on and on about the games that have helped me cope in various ways, but maybe that’s a different article all together.
It may just be escapism, but sometimes escapism can be just what you need to be able to recalibrate how you are and how you’re thinking and feeling. It’s refreshing to take a break from reality for a while to get a chance to catch your breath and refocus. Besides everyone needs a way out for a while.
If you or someone you know struggle with their mental health, there are many services and charities available who may be able to offer guidance and support. You are not alone. Here are some services that we wanted to share with you:
Samaritans – In the UK – 116 123
Befrienders – worldwide
In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255
In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14