For as long as I can remember I have battled with anxiety and depression. It wasn’t until 2011 that I would begin to seek help, kick starting my road to self management and some sort of recovery. The many sessions of counselling, talking therapies, cognitive behavioral therapy and GP appointments undoubtedly helped. Along with a generous daily dose of Sertraline and the unwavering support of my husband. However, I always relapsed, finding myself needing to take more time off from my job, losing all interest in life, my hobbies, love of creativity and the outside world. I closed myself off, relishing in the circle of despair I had created for myself, most days barely evening functioning, choosing instead to lay in bed festering on my negative thoughts.
It was rediscovering my love of gaming that helped me on my road to recovery. Since the age of seven I have been an avid gamer, after getting killed by that first zombie in Resident Evil I haven’t been able to put the controller down. However, in my last few years of university, where my mental health deteriorated rapidly, my love of gaming all but disappeared, along with any sort of interest in a meaningful life. I was barely existing, a mere ghost of my former self. My mental state only worsened over time. Until my Husband decided to take action.
Knowing I needed something to help me occupy my time, he convinced me to buy a PS3, along with a copy of Red Dead Redemption and GTA4. A childhood fan of GTA, I started there, the grim background of Liberty City not exactly the best upper for my current state of mind. Yet I found myself engrossed in the lives of Niko Bellic, his quirky cousin Roman, gangster clown Packie and cooler than cucumber Little Jacob.
As depressing as the world of Liberty City was, I was able to move past this, becoming immersed in the story, enjoying playing pool with Little Jacob after every mission. I felt a pang of sadness at the end, when Katie was gunned down, Niko’s chance of redemption lost. But hey, I’ll always have those memories of pool with Little Jacob.
If I was heartbroken at the death of Katie in GTA4, little did I know what was in store for me when I started up Red Dead Redemption. This game has stood with me since the day I first played it, a beautiful, haunting landscape, a swan song for the last days of the Wild West. I had hours of fun playing as our beloved anti hero John Marston, as he traversed across the Western Border States, chasing down old friends in attempt to save his family and himself.
And let me tell you, the taste in my mouth was beyond bitter at that ending. Damn you Rockstar!
What I had not yet realized as this point, is that my obsession with these games had pushed me into a routine. I was getting out of bed, showering, making sure I ate, and had began communicating with my friends again, asking them how they found playing on these games, how much did they love John Marston? Did they feel as guilty as I when skinning wolves? I even started leaving the house, visiting my local game store to find more epic tales to play. They were a welcome distraction, occupying my mind, over shadowing my circle of self doubt, misery and paranoia. Video games, without me knowing, were saving me from myself.
I even dipped into the games of my childhood, taking full advantage of Playstation Network and purchasing Tomb Raider, Crash Bandicoot and Spyro in the same day, making short work of them, howling at the terrible voice work and blocky graphics. And as dated as they are, they still brought hours of joy, reminding me of a simpler time where Friday afternoons were spent with school friends, spending hours at each other’s homes playing the latest games on PlayStation.
By the time Naughty Dog’s seminal work, The Last Of Us rolled around I was a fully functioning human being again. I was back at work, socializing, I was even off my medication. I was excited about life again, my love of gaming igniting a passion in me that I had long since forgotten. I was ecstatic over the release of The Last Of Us, the story, characters and graphics breathtaking. The relationship between Joel and Ellie striking a chord, and being truly, utterly terrified of those damned Bloaters. I remember shouting a certain four letter expletive at the TV after turning on that bloody generator in the hotel basement. Christ.
The years have passed, I’ve moved onto PS4, and I’ve been in control of my mental health for over a year now. I still have my days where I can think of nothing better than locking myself in my room, stewing in my self pity, letting my anxiety take over. I’ll have a bad day at work, the pressure of working in a high sales environment often takes it toll. But it’s on those days I turn to gaming. Stick in a disc and I’m transported to another world, I can play as Nathan Drake and loot treasure, taking out bad guys on the way. Free run over the roof tops of Florence with Ezio. Battle zombies and mutated dogs on Resident Evil, or simply cruise around Los Santos, shipping out the sniper rifle, and see how many poor pedestrians I can take out before the one time hits me up. Grab a rocket launcher and shoot down a helicopter. Or even just enjoying watching my husband play MGS.
As I write this it is the day of release of No Man’s Sky, and I can feel my excitement building over the prospect of a new world, or in this case worlds, to immerse myself in. The excitement of a new game release is something I can barely contain, and I often find myself talking with strangers about games, old and new, something that would have been terrifying to me a few years ago. Some of my friends, not gamers them selves, often mock me for my love of gaming, calling me “cute” or “a big freak”. But it is all in jest. They have seen the change in me for the better, my love of gaming has brought around a new found confidence, and I am finally starting to feel comfortable being me.
Video games have saved me from myself. And I will never be ashamed to admit that.
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