The theme this month here at Therefore I Geek is addressing depression and how we deal with it, and I am happy to give my input on the matter. There are few things that make the world right as quickly and easily as sliding into my favorite spot and enjoying a few hours playing a game; it brings me great comfort. Anyone who follows my articles knows that I tend toward the role-playing type of immersive experience: Dark Souls, Skyrim, Dragon’s Dogma, Final Fantasy, etc.
I rarely notice when depression comes on. It takes me days, sometimes weeks, for me to realize that I’m in a fit of depression. Perhaps this is because I’m very laid back. Perhaps it’s because I’m usually pretty jolly. Whatever the reason, it takes while for me to realize how far I’ve slipped. However, one thing that generally happens when I get depressed is that I play games.
This of course begs the question, “How can you tell the difference between trying to marathon through a game, and just trying to game through a debilitating loss of self-worth?” I’m glad you asked, intrepid reader! The major difference between my marathon sessions and ones caused by depression is that when I’m depressed, I ignore life outside the game. Anything I don’t HAVE to do is completely and utterly ignored. I wake up and go to work normally. I even function normally while I’m at work. However, upon entering my house, I immediately fire up the console or the PC and lose myself in the game world.
There have been multiple times when I’ve caught myself in this situation: day after day hunkered on the couch in a blanket, hoping for rain. (I happen to love when it rains, but I also know that it has a depressing effect on most other people because it’s dark and gray outside.) Unfortunately, one of the more detrimental consequence of being a gamer with my dedication is that sometimes, instead of being really into the game, I’m actually really into avoiding reality.
A good immersive game, such as Skyrim, does a fantastic job of giving the player a ton of quests with lots of in-game rewards. My avatar gains power and renown, kills enemies, gets the girl, and otherwise does all the things that I am not doing in real life—which is probably what lead to my depression in the first place. Interestingly enough, this obsessive reaction to crappy life circumstances actually works to get me out of the depression, even though it also causes me to ignore important aspects of life.
There was a period in my life where I was very depressed and, looking back, it lasted years. Life took a very bad turn and literally every aspect of it was a downer. I lived in a house I couldn’t stand. I drove a truck that was a real turd. My job had really gone sour, but I couldn’t quit and couldn’t find another one because the economy had tanked. Literally every move I made was to a depressing situation. On a daily basis, I would wake up in a nasty house and have to get ready for work. The crawlspace was infested with palmetto bugs—giant roaches—and they would occasionally come crawling out of the range in the kitchen. GROSS. The kitchen was also carpeted…and stained with the funk of years of beer and food spills. So cooking was never that much fun, which is sad because I really enjoy cooking.
After showering, I got to walk to a truck that had no roof liner and no A/C. The paint job was crap. It was a real cock block of a vehicle. Even the gear shifter head would come off in my hand as I shifted gears. So I drove this beater of a vehicle to a job that, at the time, I hated, only to have to leave work and walk to the same depressing truck and drive back to a house I can’t stand living in.
Months of this really ate away at my mental health. I started withdrawing from family. My demeanor turned darker and angrier. The only solace I could find was in food and I gained a lot of weight finding a lot of solace. Crown Royal was a good friend of mine. I formed some very bad habits during this time and I really had to work at un-doing them. Some I am still struggling with. Once I figured out just how bad off things had gotten, I had to find a way to reclaim my life.
A couple weeks of finishing quests, making progress, and completing really difficult tasks in-game makes me feel better about myself and my outlook, and eventually turns me around and puts me back on track to pull out of depression. Eventually, I start participating in life again by doing the things that I can and slowly realizing that I’m not in such a bad way after all.
I usually start simply. I do the laundry, pay the bills, clean the house, and open the windows and let in the sun. I watch the squirrels run across the yard. Essentially, I make life simple again and rebuild from there. Life doesn’t have to be so complex as to be unmanageable. Depression is a real bummer, but my mental avatar can kick ass just the like the ones in the games I play. It just takes a little time. In this extreme case, I had to make bigger changes. I sold the truck, moved out of the house, and beat Demon’s Souls. Yes, Demon’s Souls was the game I was playing during this difficult time. A perfectly difficult game for that perfectly difficult time.