We’ve heard it time and time again, “Video games make people violent”, “Video games aren’t a productive use of your time” and “Video games are a negative and angry place”. These words are usually spoken by people who don’t know a lot about the gaming world, who fear the unknown and adhere to all the misconceptions, typically brought to the world via the media or frustrated parents. All of these words you have undoubtedly heard, couldn’t be further from the truth. How do I know that? Well, because I am a gamer and If it wasn’t for video games I wouldn’t be here talking to you today. In essence, gaming has saved my life and I’m here, thankfully, to tell you why.
I would say that throughout my life Ive always been a very sensitive soul, prone to taking matters to heart hence leaving me quite psychologically fragile and not learning how to deal with my emotions very well or how to manage my thoughts; I let them start to control me. About 2 years ago I encountered the darkest period of my life. All those years letting thoughts, situations and a lack of control build up so much – pushing them as far as I could into the back of my mind to forget them – that I suffered a break down over an incident that wasn’t fundamentally horrific, but it was a situation where it was a case of “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. I always had a level of anxiety growing up, but it now was beyond control…a monster that was unleashed except now, the monster wasn’t under my bed, it was in my head.
I’d wake in the middle of the night with panic attacks so great that I genuinely believed I would die. Trying to catch my breath in the still of the night, chest tight and palms sweaty, seemed impossible. I’d eventually forget what dreaming felt like and feared the nights because I was too afraid to go to bed. I had no interest in anything during the day, sitting on the sofa crying, eating very little and unable to even watch a movie as my brain just couldn’t focus through the fog like state that was my mind. Even my ability to game had gone, making my situation even harder given that I’ve been a life-long gamer.
It’s such a strange and overwhelming sensation feeling so much and so little at the same time. My hours, days and weeks were an endless chaos of deep depression and extreme anxiety. I felt hopeless, helpless, lost and I really wanted this is all to end. My thoughts were constantly coming back to one thing, and that was taking my own life, one thing that maybe I could take control of in this uncontrollable dark world.
One morning, as I was laying in my usual fetal position on the sofa contemplating the suicidal thoughts that were getting much stronger as the days went by, I received an email on my phone from PlayStation saying something about a game called ‘Horizon Zero Dawn’. I remember hearing about it, but obviously taking no interest in the slightest. The email came with a trailer video that, to my annoyance, automatically played to which I scrambled to turn off, but it wouldn’t.
I let it run, not that I had much of a choice mind you, but what I saw instantly forced my limp focus to a young woman called Aloy, an outcast from society who needed to find out who she really was, even with the world against her tearing her down, she’d fight with all her power to do that and complete herself, become whole. I instantly felt a connection, something I haven’t had for anything in months, and quite honestly, this floored me.
I needed to know more, I wanted to know her. Did she fight the same demons I did? What made her want to fight and not give up? Could she actually help me in my struggles? To my surprise, Horizon Zero Dawn was out on that very day. Lifting my heavy body off the sofa, I shuffled to my dusty PS4 and turned it on. I had nothing to lose anymore, so I bought it with the little money I did have – that was the morning that I truly believe my life was saved by a video game.
Horizon Zero Dawn captured me from the very beginning. I saw myself as Aloy, her strength strengthened me, her courage gave me courage and when she fought the robotic dinosaurs, I imagined I was fighting my own thoughts and darkness, bringing each one down to its knees until it no longer could control or hurt me. It was the first time that I hadn’t spent the day drowning and gasping for air in my own despair, HZD took my heart and breathed life into it again.
It gave my mind a well earned break from the thoughts that were a constant jackhammer in my head. HZD is set almost entirely outdoors. I spent hours walking in the virtual forests, soaking up the nature around me, paying attention to every detail in order to solve the puzzles I was challenged with, so much so, that I found myself forgetting about everything else. Working through the problems the game threw at me, I realised that, for the first time in a long time, I was approaching something from a positive, solvable perspective.
That night was the very first night I actually slept without waking up in a cold, sweat riddled panic attack. I fell asleep with thoughts of Aloy and how we’d take on more challenges the next day together, where would we go? Who would we meet and what was waiting on us to fight next? My world, in the space of 24 hours , had changed from a dark and empty void to a more hopeful situation, even though I was still in a lugubrious place I could see the beam of a lighthouse in the distance as i kept myself afloat, all because of a video game.
Aloy made me a better and stronger person as I processed through the game. As I took up challenges in HZD, it gave me a little confidence to nervously take on some challenges in real life to the extent that I sought help and received counseling. I took up mindfulness Learn more – which took place a lot in my gaming world too – meditation and even joined a group where we talked about depression and anxiety. Gaming gave me back some hope, something no amount of medication had ever done for me – gaming was my medicine, it healed my mind, soul and started to give me back the life I missed so much. It lifted the heavy veil I dragged myself around with on a daily basis, and my god was it good to arch my head back and see the sky again.
In a short space of time I had completed HZD, which I had actually been dreading, but fortunately I carried on with my passion for gaming, always with Aloy sitting on my shoulder as an almost “Gaming guardian angel” willing me to say yes, take the challenge, don’t be afraid – look what you’ve accomplished so far!, so off i went seeking the next adventure. Who would need my help this time? What world could I help change? I even went back to some games I loved including The last of us and replayed it, with a different perspective this time, using much more empathy in Ellie’s struggle and connecting with it more deeply. It was almost like playing video games again, but being more enlightened this time.
What was it about gaming that lifted me from a very obvious state of depression/anxiety and thoughts of suicide?
- Gaming gave me a safe place. I wasn’t judged while I played video games. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t showered that day, that I hadn’t brushed my hair or that I was still wearing yesterdays clothes. Gaming took me for who I was and challenged me, regardless, to get on with the task in hand.
- I was motivated to do something that mattered. To cooperate and collaborate. When I’m enthralled in my gaming world, I am the best version of myself. To get up after failure and try again, because I could! I had many lives!
- I feel empowered. When gaming I feel like I am solely responsible for the changing of that world, something that’s not very possible to do in the real world. I feel like I’ve made a difference and the achievement from that is extremely rewarding.
- Gaming took my horrific thoughts and feelings, and replaced them with positive ones. While I’m on a mission or fighting a monster, I don’t think about how depressed or anxious I feel…you can’t. It’s replaced with feelings of meaning, hope, winning, accomplishment and chasing that “epic gaming reward”
- When I felt like I could again, I dove back into online gaming. I’m so very glad I did because it instilled my trust into another person again; it takes a lot of trust to play a game with someone. I trusted that they would spend their time with me, play by the same rules, value the same goal and stay with the game until its over. So, not only did it repair my trust issues, but also the feeling of bonding with another human. As a result, I built up stronger social relations.
That being said, It was very important for me to receive help on the outside world, as i previously stated. I wanted to feel as much as I did in game, in the real world too. With the combination of the healing environment of my gaming atmosphere and the help I was getting in my real world, I felt like I was finally getting a hold of my life, but I know this would not have been possible if it wasn’t for Horizon Zero Dawn coming into my life at that very moment and giving me something to fight for.
I don’t tend to think about what would have happened if it hadn’t, more that I am so grateful to be here now. I still suffer with bad days and I still suffer with anxiety, but not to the extent I did. I was taught how to take back control, endure and survive, to take on challenges, persevere with my mission, tomorrow is a new day for another adventure and to keep the monsters at bay – all thanks to the medium of gaming.
If you need help or you’re affected with anything that was discussed here, please reach out –
Phone: 03444 775 774 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5.30pm)
Charity for sufferers of depression. Has a network of self-help groups.
Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems.
Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm)
Young suicide prevention society.
Phone: HOPElineUK 0800 068 4141 (Mon-Fri,10am-5pm & 7-10pm. Weekends 2-5pm)
Rethink Mental Illness
Support and advice for people living with mental illness.
Phone: 0300 5000 927 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-4pm)
Confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.
Phone: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)
Emotional support, information and guidance for people affected by mental illness, their families and carers.
SANEline: 0300 304 7000 (daily, 4.30-10.30pm)
Textcare: comfort and care via text message, sent when the person needs it most: http://www.sane.org.uk/textcare
Peer support forum: www.sane.org.uk/supportforum
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) If you are having suicidal thoughts, you can reach out any time for free and confidential support.
Mental Health America: This website offers anxiety screening tests that you can take, as well as a way for you to contact the program and speak to someone
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
The staff at NAMI are well-trained to answer questions on a wide range of mental health issues, including anxiety. Available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST, this organization provides free information and referrals to treatment programs, support groups, and educational programs. NAMI also offers help for family members, information about jobs programs, and connections to legal representation in your area.