Often times we are told to remember that a video game is “just a game”, that there is no reason to have an emotional response of any kind while playing it because it’s not reality. It’s just a game. This phrase often implies that there is no emotional or physical connection to a video game, that no bond can be made because it is not real. It is typically used in a negative way, to somehow lessen or cheapen the video game experience because it’s immature to play games, or at least that is what some will have you think. In spite of the use of this phrase, many of those who play video games can surely attest to the contrary; that some video games are more than “just a game”.
Some video games are good, some are bad and others fall in between into the zone of pure mediocrity. There is a higher level of game quality though, one which cannot be quantified or calculated through review scores. This kind of quality is one based on individual experiences; one that we can only feel on an individual level. Games that spark this quality are most definitely more than simply a game we play to pass the time, they are an experience. They typically make us feel emotions on a more profound level which give said game a meaning beyond what other games have to offer. They can be hard to find, but when they are found they become something special, something that holds a place in our hearts.
For some people video games can also be a coping mechanism for dealing with health issues, both physical and mental. I’ve struggled with anxiety all my life. I have social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and they both seem to work together to make simple interactions nearly impossible to handle. I get anxiety about everything from going to the store to grab some orange juice to having lunch with a friend I have known for 10 years. Being around people at all makes me short of breath, sweaty and at times sick to my stomach. It’s not just people though, it’s also situations and being with people in those situations. More recently I have been struggling with moderate depression and having both anxiety and depression has made my life a living hell at times.
Throughout my life video games have become an outlet for dealing with more complex emotions related to depression and/or anxiety. When I’m feeling particularly anxious or depressed I’ve always found a good game to be a sanctuary, a place where I can let go of all my concerns, fears and worries and melt away into a fictional universe. Playing video games is a coping mechanism for me; aside from simply being fun to play, they help me deal with my life and the troubles within it. Knowing that I’m not alone in this, I’d like to talk about a couple of games that are particularly helpful to me in times of need. Often times any game will do as a distraction but for the hard times I often think of these as they are special to me.
People often use Lara Croft as an example of sexism in video games yet I will always see the character in a different way than most because she has had a huge impact on my life. Growing up in the 90’s meant that there were few video game characters that girls could relate to, mostly due to most popular video game characters being male. When I first played Tomb Raider in 1996 I feel in love with Lara Croft. She is super intelligent, strong (both physically and mentally) and independent. These are all traits that I couldn’t help but relate to as they are traits I tend to cherish and admire in others and hope to exhibit myself. She was never just “big boobs and short shorts” to me, or another pretty face, she was a hero. She has guided me through tough times, particularly instances in which I have been a victim of misogyny. I’d like to think that if she were me, she’d keep going despite cruelty and adversity because the end-game is more important the momentary pain. She’s a comfort to me on my darker days, not because I have ever gone through the same things that she has, but because of her resilience. I often tell myself that if Lara Croft can be strong, intelligent and independent in the face of extreme situations then so can I. Subsequently, playing any game in the Tomb Raider series is a big comfort to me. I love everything about the series and it has been a big factor in overcoming anxiety for me.
Child of Light is a more recent title that quickly became more than a simple game to me. While struggling with depression, Child of Light has become a beacon of hope for me. It’s a story about young girl who finds her strength in her friends and learns to love, lose and battle evil in a fantasy world. She starts off being scared and feeling alone but as she finds true friends as well as her inner strength she conquers the evil forces that threaten her world. It showed me that no matter how dark and dismal things are, I still have loved ones who will help guide me when I can no longer guide myself. I like to think of the darkness that she battles as depression and the light that she channels as happiness, meaning that at some point the light defeats the darkness and happiness prevails; a sentiment which makes me feel better when things are looking bleak.
At times I find that it’s really no game in particular that helps, but gaming as a whole. For instance, when I am feeling stressed or wound up I like to take out my frustrations in a game like Battlefield or a beat-em-up type of game. When I’m feeling sad or alone I like to dive in to a game like Mass Effect or another deep, narrative-centric game. While there are a handful of games that I always go back to or think about specifically, gaming in general is just relaxing for me. Playing games helps me to cope with my anxiety and depression in ways that other mediums cannot. In the end, I assume that everyone has at least one game they like to play that is comfortable for them or makes them feel better. It’s easy to lose sight of life’s issues when playing a video game, it’s a distraction from reality as well as something you can completely envelop yourself in. After all, it’s hard to feel crushed by the weight of your world when you are trying to save the universe from a Reaper invasion.