The Gamer Blues
By Soha E. on February 3rd, 2013 (19 comments)
Games are constantly denounced in the news for the rise of obesity or psychotic behaviour in youth. Across all media we’ve been trained to see gamers as lazy, unloved gross creatures usually hiding in their parents’ basements until their next LARP. But have you ever stopped to consider how your life has benefited from your growing game library? That perhaps those 200+ hours logged into Fallout 3 have made you a happier person? Although it’s unlikely to see this kind of article as a Fox News headline, there is research which supports the idea that video games can help with physical and mental illnesses including cancer, diabetes, depression, and autism. From personal experience I can vouch for video games as being crucial in helping my own anxiety and depression, and I wanted to share some reasons why.
This is no time to sulk, Dovahkiin. The dragonblood running through your veins urges you to defeat Alduin and has no time for another pint of peanut butter ice cream to cope with daily pressures. The allure of modern day RPGs is that regardless of whether the decisions you make on your quests are morally sound, you’ll always be the hero of the world you create around you and this is ideal for the emotionally drained gamer. While your real life world feels like it’s falling apart, the pixelated world depends on you to keep moving forward and ceases to exist when you put the controllers down. Even the casual gamers who enjoy Wii Fit games have their own cheerleading squad and sidekicks to boost confidence during workouts that is hard to find in a gym filled with judging eyes or intimidating advanced athletes. My depression go-to is The Ocarina of Time. Not only did I grow up with it, but I really feel for Link as he struggles to be the Hero of Time while still remaining an innocent, almost naïve spirit. The sound design is soothing and the combat at this point is second nature, combining both relaxing tunes and familiar environments to calm me down.
After heartbreak, panic attacks and pity parties sometimes the best medicine is more misery. Invite it over for a cup of tea and bourbon while you drag your soul further down the depressing path of Limbo, A Cart Life, and The Walking Dead. The overwhelming senses in response could be a deep catharsis while you pour over every character you meet and step you take in the games. You really begin to care for each aspect of these games, and you may even need to pause your progress just to think in silence for a few minutes. For a big case of “the feels,” I prefer Silent Hill 2. It’s more scary than depressing, but depending on the decisions you make throughout the story you can transform James Sunderland from becoming a psychological Pyramid Head to free him from his personal (and physical) demons. Hell, you may even have an adopted daughter by the end of the game if you play your cards right. It’s a kind of renewal of the self, if you will, and in a way you are your own personal saviour in the game.
Philosopher Albert Camus defines the human condition as absurd. On the one hand we want to be significant and know the meaning of life, and yet we are confronted with the cold facts of the universe that often don’t synch up with these desires. Camus suggests there are ways for humans to deal with the absurd: to commit suicide, to seek divine intervention, or to simply embrace it. When I embrace the absurdity of my own dwindling mental condition(s), I look to the Noby Noby Boy’s and the Don't Shit Your Pants's of the gaming world. I play hours of Borderlands 2 to indulge in the mind-numbing fun of dubstep and flutter my butterfly to the theme song of LocoRoco Cocoreccho until I can't get the tune out of my head (or nightmares). This is where the XBLA comes in handy and hundreds of indie games can help you escape your reality without thinking too much about the game you’re playing at the same time.
What do you think about video games as a means to help improve physical and mental conditions? Do you have your own personal games to help you through the rough times?
A Canadian graduate student who spends more time playing video games than working on her thesis. Soha often relates gender studies, race and other important topics in visual culture to the gaming world while making you pull your hair out in Internet rage. When we broadcast live you can find her in chat under her PSN handle, “InTheWolf.” For more thoughts about games and the industry, follow her on Twitter.
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