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“A game is an opportunity to focus our energy, with relentless optimism, at something we’re good at (or getting better at) and enjoy. In other words, gameplay is the direct emotional opposite of depression.”
― Jane McGonigal, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World
Hi. I’m Kaitie and I struggle with depression and anxiety. Sound a little too AA? Maybe. But it’s the truth. Lately I have been thinking about all the ways that gaming has helped me manage stress, anxiety, depression, and even helped me cope with trauma. I actually credit video games with saving my life. It may sound ridiculous, but buckle up because I definitely have some things you guys need to know.
So often we hear back and forth dialogue or straight up arguments about the benefits and pitfalls of video games, especially in young humans. I’m sure that many of us recognize that gaming can be an addiction, but it also has so many benefits to our mental health. Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or psychologist. I’ve done really basic internet research on this topic and that's it. Everything I’m about to say is part of my personal journey as a gamer and someone who has struggled with various mental health issues for years. Again. Not a doctor.
Gaming, for me, is more than just escapism. It’s a way to vent frustration, aggression, and just generally blow off steam. Cool. I’d rather blow up virtual things than go on some kind of rampage. That seems normal. But I’ve also found that video games can help me reinvent myself. They boost my self esteem. They make me feel like I can be anything I want to be. I can take a character who is a blank slate and turn it into everything I aspire to be. I can be noble or a villain. I can be strong and courageous and even magical. I invest real time into training the virtual representation of my current self. I make those representations of me better and more skilled. As I train a character, I gain a real emotional boost. I feel proud. My confidence increases. It’s really kind of a fantastic phenomenon. I may not know how to shoot a bow (that’s a lie, I do know how… I’m just terrible) but my character does and she/he is a badass, therefore I am also a badass. See how that works?
I knew I couldn’t be the only one experiencing this. Hell, look at how many people of all ages and genders are regular gamers of some variety. So, I went on a quest. A real one. I talked to real people. It was scary but damnit I am a wizard princess elf knight and I got this! Anyways, I went on this quest and interacted with real humans that I knew with physical and emotional challenges and asked them if gaming had an impact on their lives. The results were…kind of crazy. I found that people with social and general anxiety often felt that games could connect them to like minded people, but keep them in control of the interaction so they didn’t feel pressure and therefore it helped alleviate anxiety. “You can’t always walk away from an intimidating person, you can always turn a game off.” – source who would prefer to be nameless. I found this to be true for myself also. If I ever become overstimulated, I just log off. It’s a peaceful feeling.
I’ve also used gaming to cope with trauma and know several others who’ve done the same. For me, part of my recovery was Minecraft. Silly right? Nope. At a point in my life when I was the most vulnerable and I was scared…I had seriously contemplated ending my life. But then, I found myself with the ability to literally create and destroy worlds. I could use presets or I could meticulously craft my world brick by brick. I took my power back and felt liberated. I may have been a hermit for a few weeks, but at some point it helped me to feel confident enough to rejoin the human race. After all, what is trauma but an Enderman? What is anxiety but a Creeper? Amiright? The point is that a game, by some strange magic, brought me back from the brink of suicide. It saved me. I saved me. I was able to be my own hero using that game as a tool and a shield.
So right now I’m thinking to myself, all of this sounds like control. Gaming gives us control. Okay, yeah. But it’s not just that. I remember going to a small little convention a while back with my husband. He got his butt soundly beaten at a MarioKart tournament by a woman while her husband watched in amusement with their newborn in a stroller. Her husband then explained that she had been on bedrest during her pregnancy and all she had done was play MarioKart so he knew she would win. That got the wheels turning, so I reached out to a friend who was also a gamer and on bedrest with her first pregnancy, and I asked her if gaming had helped her cope and why. She said it had and then said something that has stuck with me since that moment. She said “gaming can take you places, even if you can’t leave your bed” and … I had never really thought of it like that. Rita, if you’re reading this, that one sentence sent me on the next phase of my quest and the one that really blew my mind the hardest. Thank you.
After that simple yet mind altering statement, I started looking up the statistics for people who are handicapped and game. You guys…I was floored. Its pretty high. I never nailed down a real set of numbers I’d put my reputation against…but there was no end of dialogue surrounding it. I then remembered that I do actually know someone who is wheelchair bound and an avid gamer. So this reiterated Rita’s statement in a whole new way. At this point I paused my quest for a while because I was getting well and truly emotional reading all the positive ways that video games have touched lives. So this seemed like a natural stopping point for me.
What I want you guys to take away from this is that for some gaming is a hobby, for some its an obsession, for some it’s more. For a lot of people it is a way to heal hurts, cope, and even build a better life. Today I want to hear all your stories about how gaming has positively impacted your life. Comment, or even message me privately if you want, but let me hear your stories. That’s the last leg of my quest.