by Bob Reinhard
This morning, I came across a post by GameSpot‘s official twitter account dropping a new hashtag to trend for the day:
#gamesvdepression. This was attached to a video titled Video Games vs. Depression, presented by Danny O’Dwyer, which I would urge everyone to take twenty minutes out of their day to watch.
Danny’s launching point for the idea to discuss this issue came from playing the recently released indie game Depression Quest, a pay-what-you-want interactive story game which puts you in the position of one of the many, many people who take on the troubles of depression day to day. It’s a powerful experience that I would urge everyone, even those who don’t have depression themselves, to experience at least once. I’ve been happy to see the game receive a lot of positive attention among the community, and I was glad to see it used as a branching point for the video’s content.
The best thing about the video is that, instead of discussing the issue from an outside perspective, it turns to those within the gamer community who deal with depression and lets them do the talking. It’s a great collection of personal stories about gamers who have turned to video games to help them with the different mental health issues. The stories are inspired and to see so many people within the community come forward and share their stories is encouraging. So, I figured I would come forward myself and discuss this issue on a personal level for me.
Now, I’ve never been one to shy away from discussing my own depression. I’ve dealt with it the majority of my life, and the situation has led to close-calls with suicide and severe anxiety problems that have gone so far as to make me have to leave a job in order to avoid complete breakdown. But just as depression has been a part of my life, gaming has been a part of my life perhaps even longer. Having started at a young age (somewhere around 2 or 3 years old with the original NES), gaming has always been my go-to activity.
Gaming provided me with many things as a child. A sense of adventure, of accomplishment, and as I grew older, it began to provide me a place I could always escape to. And even today, as my life continues to be turmoil-filled around me, gaming is an important thing that I hold on to for comfort. A security blanket, if you will. No matter the situation, or how bad things get, I always find some form of comfort when I pick up a controller and play something for awhile.
Now, the story part of things. I grew up without a father. He left before I was able to really create memories. So growing up, it was always me and my mom, struggling against the odds. I’d be lying if I tried to deny that deep down this left some psychological fear of abandonment and my well-rooted fear of being alone. As I grew up, I hit the troubled pre-teen years, even trying therapy and medication for awhile. And as I grew older, the depression seemed to only have worsened.
In school, I was never one to be bullied, despite the fact that someone awkward, small, and with a weird voice is easy set-up for insults, but I was never the most active person. I didn’t partake in many school activities, I didn’t attend parties, and I only saw my friends outside of school a handful of times. A lot of those times involving video games, now that I think about it.
Instead, I spent a lot of time alone. And once I left school, my contact with friends lessened greatly, and I found myself with a lot more alone time. Gaming has consistently been the thing I’ve turned to to fill that alone time. And it’s helped keep me from succumbing to depression many times in my life.
I have low self-esteem, and the few people who know me really well know that I give in to despair and self-hatred violently at times, sometimes out of nowhere. It’s ruined relationships and has left me with a bad tendency to push away anyone who gets close to me. Many friends have talked me down from suicidal breakdowns over many years, and it’s something that to this day I can’t always get a handle on.
The ability to let go of real-life situations for awhile and deal with problems that aren’t real is strangely calming to me. I deal with the constant fear of being a failure and not being able to accomplish goals, something that has ruined me creatively and giving me nothing but self-doubt about being able to achieve things. A lot of “I know I can’t do it” kind of statements made over the years, that sort of thing. But in video games, what is the worst thing that happens if you fail? You start over. Failing in video games is never the end. And accomplishment is much easier to achieve because of it. That sense of satisfaction from beating a tough boss or level allows me something I don’t always get when dealing with real life situations.
The other thing it provides is a sense of escape. It’s like an interactive dream. Something that pulls you out of the real world and plops you down into different places, different lives. I’ve always had a sadness that I carry with me over the state of our world. Seeing tragedies and people struggle weighs heavily on me. And it becomes overwhelming at times. Which is why it becomes so comforting to escape to another world. Cute worlds, beautiful worlds, even other worlds in conflicts that I can abolish, allow me to deal with some of the ugliness in the real world.
Over the last few years though, something even better has come out of my relationship with gaming. I was able to blend my love for writing with my passion for games, and a few years back I decided I wanted to start writing about video games. Eventually, I found myself in the MyIGN community on IGN. Through that, I’ve met a ton of people I count as real friends. And have been able to express myself and expand myself in ways I never thought possible. It’s how this podcast and entire site started, actually.
Through talking with other gamers, attending and hosting video game live streams, talking on podcasts and videos, playing with people online, reading other people’s experiences and stories, and generally just being more involved with a lot of the gamer community, I have come to feel far more sense of belonging than I ever have before. That sense of loneliness isn’t nearly as crippling as it used to be, and my fear of being alone can always be knocked back down by being able to engage in conversation with the many people the video game community has allowed me to meet.
Perhaps the single most profound and important moment to me thanks to video games came from last year’s Extra Life charity marathon I took a part in on my stream channel. I got to team up with Anthony (who I met through MyIGN and now is my co-host for Low On Life and a dear friend of mine who has always supported me) and, with the help of the generosity and togetherness of so many people I’ve met through gaming, we were able to raise over a thousand dollars for the charity. The entire thing has moved me to tears on a number of occasions, and it’s provided a sense of accomplishment and meaning in my life that nothing else has ever done. And this was entirely thanks to sitting around playing video games for 24 hours while people joked around with me. It’s something I’ll carry with me my entire life, something I will always be inspired by for now on. And it’s because of video games being a big part of my life that I now have that.
Knowing that a hobby has allowed me to meet so many people I wouldn’t have met otherwise, provide a base for me to do things I have always wanted to do, and even express myself creatively more, is staggering, and I’m thankful for it every day. The laughs I’ve had with my fellow gamers and the things I’ve been able to achieve thanks to gaming and it’s community will forever be an important part of my life now. It will always help me keep fighting through whatever life throws at me. I hope in the coming years, as I continue to take on whatever life brings, that I’ll have games and the community surrounding them to turn to in times of need.
For anyone reading this, I am grateful for the time. For the support some of you have provided me. For the sense of friendship, accomplishment, belonging, and togetherness you’ve given me by connecting over such a silly thing as games. I believe this is an important message to pass along, and I would love to hear some stories from you about how video games have helped in your life.
Now, let’s all feel a bit better by looking at this beautiful Okami picture…