How Video Games Help With My Depression

With the rising popularity of superhero movies and apps like “Pokémon Go,” it’s easy to see that “nerd” culture is having its moment. Gone seems to be the cliché of “geeks” being the only ones to read comics or watch shows like “Game of Thrones.”

Despite this, there still seems to be a stigma against people who play video games. Even with some of the top channels on YouTube consisting of nothing but videos of people playing video games, mention the word “gamer” to someone and their minds will likely think of a cliché from years ago when “nerd” culture wasn’t as prevalent as it is today.

I’ve been playing video games since I was about seven years old or so, starting from the Sega Genesis “Santa” got me for Christmas. I never talked to anyone but my family and one best friend about finally beating that level in Sonic or getting the secret passwords for all those Disney games. I was already seen as the “weird one” among my classmates, and I guess I just didn’t want to stand out anymore.

I got a Gameboy Color and Pokémon Yellow the year I was 13, right at the onset of what I would later be told was depression. This was also around the time that message boards started becoming popular online (no Twitter or Facebook for years to come).

As I played the game, I started searching online for any secrets hidden in the game, and somehow came across a message board dedicated to Pokémon. Of course, this isn’t at all unusual these days, but back then I’d never even imagined there could be a place completely about something I loved.

I signed up right away and started spending all of my allotted computer time on that forum. We’d talk about the games, the show, write stories – pretty much everything you would do with someone in person. It was such a welcome relief away from my depressive thoughts, from my bad home life, from a school and classmates I hated; when kids at school would make fun of me, I’d just think of the people online eagerly waiting for me to talk to them.

The forum was eventually shut down, but my love for video games just kept growing. My dad gifted the family with a PlayStation 2 one year, and I was immediately the one who spent the most time on it. It seemed like with every new game, I could find more people online to talk to about it that I couldn’t in real life. It seemed nobody around me understood, but there was always someone online who did.

Even now, more than 20 years after that Sega Genesis, there’s nothing more comforting to me than curling up with a game controller and getting myself lost in another world, knowing there will be someone out there who understands. I have people to be excited with me when there’s new releases or developments. Friends I’ve known for years online will “put up with me” rambling about it for ages, knowing it’s my safe haven from a mind that tries to keep me from feeling anything.

When my depression symptoms spiral and I end up in a particularly bad cycle, video games give me a reason to get out of bed. Sure, maybe I don’t have the energy to deal with my own life, but at least I can save this virtual world or distract myself with hours of fighting random battles. Focusing on someone’s life – even if it’s a fictional one – other than my own actually eases the burden depression has on me, not to mention that it gives me something to look forward to. If the only reason I get out of bed that day is to go kill a giant five-eyed monster, surely that’s better than not getting out of bed at all.

I still have many, many bad days that often trail into bad weeks or bad months. I know depression is something I will likely have to deal with for the rest of my life, and video games are no substitute for the real world. But knowing there will always be something out there to try and ease the burden, along with people who understand why I’m so excited about a spiky-haired guy saving the world, makes the thought of dealing just a little bit easier.

I guess, in a way, I’m lucky to have an escape from the worst of my mind, never mind one that works so well.

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Unsplash photo via David Grandmougin

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