Dealing with medical illness is a hard task. However, challenges may help you overcome these issues. Find out how in this opinion piece about games and depression.
Gamers are the type of people who want to push forward. You always have a goal to aim for as a gamer. Finding bric-a-brac for NPCs in an RPG, winning a Grand Prix in Mario Kart and not dying twenty times in a row in Dark Souls. These skills can transfer into the real world, pushing forward to achieve your goal be it getting a new job, moving house or just getting through the day. Unlike our video game counterparts, when things get too much we can’t go back to a checkpoint or restart from the last autosave made. People don’t have that luxury.
In February, I was diagnosed with depression. Hearing that word feels like you’ve just been hit by a bus. I was born in a strange age where men’s mental health was stigmatized, but I’ve grown up in a generation where we are encouraged to talk about it. It’s a strange position to be in. Part of me is terrified to talk about my mental health issues, thinking I’m going to be judged because of it, even though when I think about it, rationally, that won’t happen. The other part tells me it’s best to talk about it, that it’ll help me feel better about what has been going on.
I’d like to say that I have received tremendous support since I was diagnosed. My fiancée, family, and friends have been absolutely fantastic support, dragging me from the depths of despair to feeling more human. I have also gotten great support from the NHS and the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) who do amazing work under difficult conditions.
Since being diagnosed, I have had to take time off work because of my mental health. I had a long period off in February and March and I’m currently off just now after my mood took a nosedive that Spider-Man would be proud of. Being off because of mental health is strange. It’s a mix of guilt, numbness, anxiety, and fear. You aren’t physically unwell, but you aren’t capable of doing much.
While I was off, I tried to do everything in my power to lift my mood so I could go back to work. I took my medication, went out walks to get some exercise and fresh air. I tried to eat a bit better, and I took time doing things I enjoyed, mainly playing video games.
For the first week, I felt like I was just playing games for the sole reason to lift my mood. I was feeling pretty low and was finishing a few games in my backlog for the sake of it. I began to worry that I was going off games, at the time I needed them the most. Then I stood up, FromSoftware. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice came out at the end of March, which I bought on the day of release. I spoke to Mrs. GG, stating I was planning on buying it which she was all for if it would help lift my mood. Now, I know what you are thinking, a FromSoftware game sounds like a terrible idea while dealing with mental health issues. A game so hard that people have bunched dry walls, broken controllers and smashed TVs while playing them. However, what happened turned out to be completely different.
Now don’t get me wrong, Sekiro was balls to the wall hard. I’d rank it as the most difficult FromSoftware game due to how different the game was from the Soulsbourne games. Yes, I shouted and swore at the TV. Yes, I did say horrible things about Isshin the Sword Saint’s mother. I put the game off god knows how many times because I took the huff, but I kept pushing on.
The more I played Sekiro, the more I felt like I was worthy to finish it. It’s strange, but as I worked my way through the game, getting to new areas or beating a boss who handed my arse to be god knows how many times, I felt like I could do this in real life. I had been knocked down by depression. I began to look at it like a boss from Sekiro. Every boss in a soulsbourne game is 100% beatable. It’s just about how you do it.
The more Sekiro knocked me down, the more I got back up to fight again. Fighting the final boss took a grand total of 8 hours over four days. I shouted, I swore, I wrote angry things about the game on Sekiro Facebook pages. However, I got gud. I beat the final boss and felt an elation that I hadn’t felt in months. The trophy popped and I screamed, “I DID IT”. I was so proud of myself for pushing on with the game. I didn’t let it beat me. I strived to see the end credits and I did. For the first time in weeks, I felt that I would be able to push forward with my life and not let depression beat me. It was time to get back in the habit and work towards getting better. And for a while, it worked.
6 months later, my mental health got worse after I finished my medication. I believed that I was feeling great, and I could get on with my life without the need for medication. Oh boy, how wrong I was. I had a breakdown on Sunday, with my mood hitting rock bottom. I felt like I had let everyone down because this had happened again. Shame is a feeling no one should ever experience, but I had it in droves. Again I had fantastic support from those around me. I set out to try and lift my mood and looked to games to try and distract me from how I was feeling. I wanted something I could get lost in, something that for a few hours can make me completely forget about depression. That game was Dragon Quest 11.
Since I started DQ 11, I have become completely engrossed in its world, characters and particularly its story. I’m only around halfway through, but the hero, the luminary’s main quest has made me think about my own struggle with my mental health. No matter what has happened in his life, he has been able to push on with the help of his friends. The hero has lost his parents, been accused of being the evil “Darkspawn”, saw his home town destroyed but he keeps getting back up, regardless of what hits him. It makes me feel that no matter how many bumps on the road, I’ll always be able to get back up, with the help of my loved ones.
Everything from the world design to the brilliantly written characters and the hugely enjoyable story has been able to help me switch off for a few hours, putting depression on the back burner while I explore Erdrea. Sometimes, I just close my eyes and listen to the main theme or the overworld. It helps me relax and get invested in the world.
I am currently working towards getting over this slight blip in my mental health. I have accepted all manner of help I have been offered which is important when you are struggling. Gaming will always be an escape for me, something to help me switch off and forget about what is going on in my head. I can be a ninja or a legendary hero on a massive fantasy land.
Gaming has helped me come to terms with depression and has helped me see the light again in what was one of the darkest periods of my life.
I just wanted to say thank you for reading this. I hummed and hawed about writing this, but I feel that if I can help anyone who is in the same position I have been in, then going public about my mental health is a good thing. If you are feeling low, or need help, then reach out and get help. No one deserves to suffer in silence. There are a plethora of organizations out there who can help you. It just takes a small, but a brave step to get help.