-by Dylan DiBona
A while back Athena from ambigamingcorner and I asked all of our readers to send us their stories on how playing video games helped them cope with something in their lives. Below are the questions and a compilation of excerpts from answers, completely anonymous like we promised.
If you would like to see my original content connecting to this, click here.
- Has a video game ever helped you cope with something difficult happening in your life? What was happening?
— When I was a sophomore in college, I was dealing with the death of my grandmother—the first loss that really impacted me in a major way—and a recent change of academic major that I was not at all certain about. It was a stressful time, but I found some reprieve while playing video games.
— Out of nothing, persistent nautical vertigo struck, while at work […]. I then developed debilitating anxiety because of doctors not figuring out what this crap is. That’s where all went downhill. [My girlfriend] cheated (several times), with a resulting breakup, quarreling, disagreement about who’s keeping the dog and apartment.
With a chronic disease, responsibilities and hell at work, [I] more than flirted with alcoholism as self-medicating the anxiety[…] I am, after a 4-year ordeal, out of this mess, after cutting ties, acquiring a new place to live, and in general reordered my life into a more comfortable existence (still dizzy as shit, though).
During this whole shit-storm, I found (de)focus, escapism (especially from the vertigo, still does today on my word days), and a small sense of achievement and control through playing RPG’s and building/management-games. Most notably Skyrim, Cities:Skylines, Zoo Tycoon (lol, I know).
I gradually said “no” to more and more destructive social gatherings, in favor of staying at home nurturing my favorite hobby, video games (and caring for my dog).
A life-changing realization grew in the back of my head, that the pointless, downward spiral would eventually prevent me from enjoying my favorite pastime at some point, I[…] changed behavioral patterns, slowly, one thing at a time.
— Yes. During my second year of university. I had been struggling with a bad break of OCD that started during my last year of high school, and it was made worse by the new environment.
— I’ve actually been using video games as a coping mechanism for almost my whole life. It all started when I was 5 years old. [I had been hospitalized and was] terrified out of my little mind, but when I picked up a video game controller for the first time, it offered me a happy escape from the traumatic situation. When I was released from the hospital, my parents got me my very own console, and video games have been helping me cope ever since. My parents always made sure I had the latest and greatest video game things, and I have fond memories of spending an entire summer playing games with my mom.
… Cheerful video games, like Diddy Kong Racing & Banjo-Kazooie, helped me forget about my constant fears of mortality during [my hospitalizations]. I refused to tell anyone (including my parents) about my fears. They didn’t show it, but I could sense that the situations were very difficult on my parents, and I didn’t want them to worry about me so I tried to seem strong.
[Between my health problems and being bullied at school], I started bottling up my pain in the form of volatile repressed rage. All that anger at least made me feel strong. Soon, I shut out my few friends and shut myself away from everyone, even my best friend. Games like Grand Theft Auto San Andreas and Resident Evil 4 helped me by giving me a safe outlet for my silent aggression. I also started blogging about video games online during this time. It was a blessing to connect with other people through this.
After I graduated college I [pursued] my first career type job in a small town I never felt welcome in. The work environment was hostile… My repressed rage frequently lashed out on toxic people, and… Eventually I was hauled into the unstable boss’s office and given a rather callous layoff notice (officially due to “economic reasons”)… In the unending days that followed, I felt like less than nothing as I dealt with my misery alone. All of my former coworkers wanted nothing more to do with me…The only thing that kept me sane during that time was World of Warcraft. At least I could still achieve things in the virtual world. In a few weeks, I had no choice but to move back in with my parents while looking for work. For their sake, I pretended everything was okay until even I was convinced.
I landed a dream job (I still have it too) and got back on my own two feet. It was an overwhelmingly positive work environment, [and] I got paid much more than my previous job, [yet] while I was all smiles at work, I was a lonely train-wreck at home… One distressing night, it just popped into my messed-up mind that I should just try this […] game I found in a discount bin…
— My father died on Christmas Eve when I was senior in high school. I was so angry. He had been sick for a long, long time, and I remember praying – I was actually a fairly religious person at that point, if you can believe that – that he would be healed. As Christmas came closer, and his health declined, I became desperate and my prayers were more frantic. A Christmas miracle… please? I’m not sure I could have asked for that any harder. It seems silly now, asking for a miracle just because it was going to be Christmas, but… Well, it was not only earth-shattering when my father died, but also a colossal cosmic slap in the face that he died on Christmas. I guess you could say I lost my father and my faith all in the same day. It’s not something I’d recommend, to say the very absolute least.
My dad and I had always been close, and I was so lost. More than lost. I’m not sure there’s a word to describe how I felt. But it was one whirlwind week, and after the wake was over and the funeral was over, I was left in my house alone with my grieving mother. I always stayed up late with my dad, talking or watching movies, sometimes playing games, and he and I were the only ones who made it to midnight on New Year’s Eve. It was so strange to be awake on New Year’s alone, my mother having gone to bed long before midnight struck. I popped in Metal Gear Solid 2 because it was the game that was in the console and I didn’t even want to bother deciding on a game to play. I played that game from around 9:00pm until around 5:00am the next day. It was like instead of my dad, I was spending New Year’s with Solid Snake.
— I was away at school. The stress brought up practically every insecurity I had, which took a toll on my sense of self. Old thoughts that no one would like me, I wasn’t worthy of friendship or love all came flooding back.
— A few years ago I was in an abusive relationship. My girlfriend took away the little self esteem I had and made it so I needed her approval for everything, or else I felt completely worthless. Although I felt completely worthless anyway. For a long time I was under her total control. I wasn’t allowed to be my own person, I belonged to her. She used my intense feelings of guilt to convince me that I was the worst person on Earth. And through it she had me convinced that I was always the one at fault for her actions. Even after she broke up with me she basically used me as her slave and made me feel like I was worthless. At this point self harm became a problem and I soon realized that it was clear I suffered from depression. And again, I had no control over my life. Because of her I was in a constant war with the people I cared about. My withdrawal from close family and friends and my constant dependence on my girlfriend caused so many fights I can’t even remember what most of them were about. For a long time there was no one and nothing I could turn to.
— Yes, by escape
- Was there one video game in particular that you were drawn to? What was it?
— I had recently picked up The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Game of the Year Edition for pretty cheap. I knew nothing about the franchise, but the game quickly captivated me.
— Yes. WildTangent’s Fate. It was a pretty ubiquitous PC game in the mid 2000s. I got hooked on the series and then its spiritual successors, Torchlight and Torchlight II (no surprises there, since Fate’s creator went on to develop those two games).
I think what made me want to try it was that you couldn’t perma-die, instead, you could be resurrected at the cost of experience, money or fame. If you didn’t want to lose any of those things you went back to the surface and had to fight your way down again. Spending experience and fame made you resurrect on the spot you died, whereas taking a wealth penalty resurrected your character on another dungeon level nearby
— Dragon Age: Origins
— A few months after she had broken up with me I discovered retro games I could play in browser and soon learned how to emulate. The game that stood out to me the most was Metroid on the NES.
— Yes; Tetris
–Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
- Was there a particular part of the game that you really connected with at the time? What was it (the characters, the story, the ability to feel strong, the way a character acted, etc.)?
— I was drawn to Oblivion because it offered a temporary virtual life. It was easier to get lost in a RPG because there were so many things I could focus on, so many paths I could follow. Instead of constantly thinking about loss and the future, I found something to distract me late into the night and in-between classes (in my car with a laptop that could barely run the game at medium settings).
— Creating an alter-ego, a hero. A strong, selfless someone, who always did the right thing, while caring for others. A kind of naive idealist, looking back. But it helped.
— A few things. I realize now that it wasn’t a particularly strong game plot-wise, but it was really grindy and it helped me calm down and get lost in the dungeon-crawling. I died a lot, but the way the game worked made me feel some sort of accomplishment when I learned how to beat a level or boss.
The setting was also a big draw. I mean, this was my first fantasy RPG, but I was already into the standard fantasy trope where a regular person can grow into a hero. Another thing is that a E-rated fantasy setting helped me avoid my OCD triggers
Another point that made me connect was that the player character had a pet, one that you could take care of and took care of your character as well. I’ve always been an animal lover and I think I identified with that
There is also the soundtrack. It doesn’t have that many pieces, but they are great (the ones I always remember are O’Carolan’s The Clergy Lamentation and Captain O’Kane. I wasn’t in a good place, I had sort of stopped caring about the things that made me happy, like music, and the game made me curious about music again.
— From the moment I first saw the [main character], my frantic mind settled… I wished I was as strong and beautiful as she was. I became absorbed in the story and grim world, completely forgetting my selfish misery. I was shocked to discover the character seemed to behave like I did, and she made the same painful mistakes as me… As I guided her along her first linear journey, it felt like I grew with her character and learned more about myself.
…I started working out and eating healthier with the goal of becoming stronger like my hero. The healthier lifestyle had the unexpected benefit of stopping my panic attacks and controlling my depressed feelings. I no longer felt weak or helpless, and for the first time in my life I was proud of the strong woman looking back at me in the mirror.
[I gained a lot of insight into myself and the world, and I’ve learned to better handle some of the scarier aspects of the future]. I’m truly not sure where I would be today without that game’s influence. It’s almost like the main character punched the defeated mess I was in the face, and then dragged my self-loathing ass over to life’s Continue screen.
— The game was serious enough and challenging enough that I needed to pay attention and could be completely absorbed by it, but it wasn’t so difficult that my emotionally-exhausted brain couldn’t handle it. I think the other thing that I loved was Snake, because even though he wasn’t like my dad at all, the fact that he was so tough and strong despite terrible odds, and survived even though he shouldn’t have… well it was a rather attractive theme at the time.
— For those who don’t know, Metroid gives the player freedom. A whole planet to explore on your own terms, and if you can’t go somewhere, you find a powerful that lets you. Nothing can stop you from going where you want to go, doing what you want to do, and being your own person. That was something I had lost while with my girlfriend. She was like Ridley, this monster who took everything from me but in the end just couldn’t steal my independence and strength. And Samus’ arc taught me so much about myself. The series starts out with Samus realizing her potential and finding who she really is. As the series goes on, she starts to lose herself and doubt her ability to do good. The baby in Super Metroid serves as a parallel to this arc, and its sacrifice is really a showcase of Samus’ ability to do good. And as I got to these games in the series, I realized how much of myself I saw in Samus. My guilt had been used against me and Metroid helped me realize that. The next game, Other M, is Samus’ low point. She is dependent on an abusive figure almost the entire time. The game’s linear design shows her lack of freedom under this figure. He uses her emotional weaknesses to gain control over her. right after his death, the game opens up and finally starts to feel like the old free-roam exploration games we got from the NES to the Wii. The next and last game in the timeline, Fusion, ends feeling like a true free-roam Metroid experience. This goes hand in hand with the ending, where Samus regains her self confidence and independence. To me, this is exactly the goal I work towards every day. Learning to love myself and moving on from the abuse I suffered is so important. Metroid, with both its gameplay and story being about freedom of being, helped me realize this. It changed my life forever. Without it, I probably wouldn’t even be here.
— The characters. I role-played as myself, and despite always feeling like I need to prove myself in real life, the characters in the game all accepted me. One even fell in love with me, and never asked me to change, which was a somewhat new experience for me. And feeling competent even though there was so much going wrong…. I wanted to feel that way in my own life, and tried to take heart from the main character on the screen, who was dealing with so much more dire things than I was and handling them infinitely better than I was handling my own life. It’s strange to think that a character I role-played wound up being a sort of role-model, isn’t it?
— Yes –the lack of emotional investment required during a year of intense teen mourning, just keep stacking the blocks
- Is there anything else you’d like to tell me about your video game playing habits during this time?
— I’m fairly certain Oblivion was the only game I played during this time. While I used a video game as a form of escape, it didn’t keep me from my other tasks or responsibilities; rather, it was a safe outlet I had control over during a difficult period of my life as a young adult.
— Before this (and part during, at the first half), I enjoyed multiplayer games a lot. Like battlefield, Guild Wars, Dead Island et cetera. Competitive games. I rarely play them these days. It became less and less rewarding or recreational for me to play them.
Now I almost exclusively enjoy single player games in a dimly lit room, while my SO watches Real Housewives in the living room (it must be lack of stimuli that makes them create a problem out of nothing).
— I hadn’t played many video gamed in the previous 3 years due to school and other activities, so while I wasn’t new to video games, it felt like rediscovering them a bit.
— Video games will always be my escape from life’s depressing issues. They give me worlds I can save, fictional characters to meet, and interesting stories to be inspired by. We all have our own issues to deal with, and my small problems don’t mean a damn thing compared to what hells other innocent people have to go through. I’m going to do whatever I can to help those people in my life I can, and stop wasting my life worrying about what fate is lurking ahead.
— I began studying the level design of Metroid. I realized why I and other people found it fun and intriguing, and now I am studying to become a game designer. Nothing would make me happier than being able to make others who suffer from depression or abuse feel better and maybe even learn about themselves.
— I have always been thankful that an uncle I barely know who came to visit from California gave me that game. It is the only way I survived that time of loss, sexual trauma, emotional trauma, bullying, and depression: I escaped to survive. Thanks Uncle. Thanks Tetris.
— I was pretty depressed, and so not a lot of my habits were healthy. School was out for the summer, and I literally played one video game for about three days straight (I wish I was joking). I realize now how depressed I was, because I barely stopped to eat or sleep. But I played through the game about three and a half times in a week, and at the end of it, I did actually feel a little bet
Thank you everybody for your honesty! It means the world to us as not only writers but gamers. As always, thanks for reading.