Opinion: Gaming with Mental Illness
Something cool happens when you post about mental illness in multiple places on social media. Beyond the ever present trolls, you are bound to get an honest confession from many gamers. They will tell you of their struggles with mental illness and how video games help them through it.
This isn’t to say that mental illness and gamers coincide with one another, but it does echo the sentiment that many people around the world suffer from different forms of mental illness. This ranges from social anxiety all the way to the spectrum of autism and even bipolar disorder.
While the reasons for this are varied among those who suffer from them, one thing is quite true: those who suffer from mental illness and are gamers, tend to feel like games help them in their struggle with mental illness.
Let’s paint a picture for you. Perhaps you have a social anxiety. Whenever you are out in the real world, you find yourself short of breath, sweaty, and constantly living in a state of hyper awareness. Perhaps you criticize yourself with every single bad thing you do. Maybe you didn’t say hi the correct way to a passerby. Maybe you tripped in front of a few people who laughed. Maybe you were worried about your bad breath and spent the rest of the day telling yourself that you’re disgusting, worthless, and that becomes the state of mind that you feel like you’re stuck in.
However, you’ve started playing an online MMO recently and even though you feel like you’re having a hard time with getting used to the mechanics, you find yourself more at ease. Perhaps you even find yourself getting more confident because you are no longer forced to feel like you are being judged.
Instead you are a mythical creature that, to you, personifies that bold nature inside of you to take on the world, and to follow your dreams.
You eventually find yourself in your first dungeon, with other players, and you’re starting to sweat and get nervous, like you do in real life. But you take a breath and realize that no one is standing near you. You put on a relaxing song, take a deep breath and venture inside.
Afterwards, you not only did a good job, but your teammates gave you kudos for saving them. You feel better about yourself and this transcends beyond the keyboard, mouse or controller.
Family and friends say that you seem happier and you notice that you’re doing better in all other aspects of your life.
Now this scenario is highly dumbed down and generic, but you get the general gist. There are many gamers out there who have confessed that video games have helped them cope, and have even saved them.
It’s not just fantasy oriented games which have made gamers feel better. There are other games like Life is Strange which tackles mental illness head on, and these games have been cited as having helped many gamers deal with their issues.
In an article titled “Be Kind, Don’t Rewind: Trauma and Mental Illness in ‘Life is Strange,’” Pluto writes:
“Life Is Strange is one of those few games that pushes back more strongly than most against mass media’s shallow, trope-riddled ideas of mental illness. It’s precisely because every character feels especially human, and so many decisions end up being so important that Arcadia Bay strikes such a strong chord with its fans.
Believe it or not, this applies to fans who are teenagers or adults with PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia—this applies to fans who can see all the callous and pessimistic things other fans say about mental illness and realistic responses to traumatic events, just like Kate could see all of the things Blackwell students wrote about her on walls, posters, and bathroom mirrors.”
But there is also something happening on a deeper level between the gamer and the possibility of coping with mental illness. It’s not always reflection, it is also problem solving. Many games from Tetris all the way to Witcher 3 have gamers solving problems, and dictating the way in which the gameplay will follow because of previous decisions made.
As frustrating as games can become when we don’t know what the hell to do next, how many times have we gone back to them and then solved it and then felt good? It’s a form of achievement that many gamers strive for and ultimately what you have is a form of positive feedback.
We’d like to challenge those of you who are in different fandoms online, those of you who suffer from mental illness or know other gamers who do, to open up a dialogue with them and see what happens.
For one of our staff members, the confessions from other gamers came pouring in and left a positive space in which gamers were able to bond. And we too would like to bond with you in this regard. Let us know if there are things in your life that games helped you with?