How we must attack depression and addiction in the gaming world
We often think of video games as an escape from the world around us. They are there to help us to run from the problems of real life. We try to forget who we are by becoming another character in a whole other world. We want to feel powerful by being strong heroes and overcoming the villains. Sometimes, some of us want to feel the thrill of romance and connections with something that doesn't even exist. Whatever the reason, there are millions upon millions of people in the world who use video games to overcome aspects of themselves or events of their lives that contribute to their depression. But does it actually help?
Escaping Into A Void
To give a little bit of a personal perspective, I have battled with depression throughout my life for many reasons. As a super-introverted individual who doesn't like to open himself up to people, it was hard for me to make a lot of friends and I was bullied rather badly for a good part of my school years. Also, moving from Southern California to North Carolina when I was almost ten years old was a huge culture shock for me. There was no creative outlet for me. So, I descended into video games to escape into a world I truly wanted to be in. I felt more at home living in a world of fantasy and illusion rather than the real one, which was harsh and cruel to me.
What I didn't realize, however, was that my escape eventually became an addiction. Not because of any sort of competitiveness or desire to win, it was because I wanted to be someone other than myself. I wanted to feel strong. I wanted to feel like I had control. And video games did that for me. My favorite video game series of all time is the Metal Gear series. When I was young, I always wanted to be this guy:
Solid Snake was the person I always wanted to be. He was strong and always in control. He was handsome and had confidence. He was the badass I always wanted to be and felt like I couldn't be in real life. Playing the Metal Gear games made me feel good because I felt like I was Solid Snake. I projected myself into his character. To be honest though, as a theater major hoping to have a career in acting, I still definitely want to be Solid Snake in a movie.
However, I got to a point in my life that I came to the realization all the video games that I played and all the worlds and stories I escaped into did not make me feel better. I was still unhappy and depressed. And the strange thing was, I was totally confused as to why I felt the way that I did.
My personal epiphany made me understand that I was becoming addicted to games because they helped me run from my problems, rather than confront them. Solid Snake, the person who I ultimately wanted to be, was not a real person. In many ways, he can't be a real person. He is a character, not a real human being. So, it was at that point that I decided that I needed to begin to handle my issues rather than run from them into a world that is non-existent and didn't help with the reality I lived in.
While I'm a much happier individual today, it took a lot of personal growth for me to come to this point. There are so many people out there today who still face issues that are far worse than the ones I have faced. And they don't have the support that they need.
This is where everything changes. And it all starts with you.
Be Your Own Hero
Before I go on, I want everyone to keep in mind that not everything I say or have said applies to everybody. Each person has their own circumstances and issues that even you couldn't comprehend. However, there are some very important things that we can all do to improve thing. While they may seem obvious, they are still important nonetheless.
First and foremost: If you are the one fighting depression, please, seek out your friends, your family, anyone that you care about who is willing to listen and understand you and talk to them about it. Trust me, the catharsis feels so good because it allows you to release the weight of what's holding you down and feel free -- like you are able to breathe again. I still love video games and play tons of them -- even with my workload as a senior in college, but I use them purely for entertainment/critical purposes rather than as an escape method. For friends of those who are depressed, please talk to them. Most of all, please try to understand what they are going through. Sometimes it might be annoying to hear a depressed friend talk about the same things about what is causing their over and over again. But no matter what, your support will always be appreciated. Get them out and enjoy life. Take them to the local bar with friends. Take a day trip to an amusement park, zoo, museum or whatever. Spend time with them. I promise you, it helps. Most of all... listen.
Second: This might be the theater side of me saying this, but I say that you should attempt to understand that eternal escape into video games will not help overcome your depression. Only you can do that. Find the great things about yourself, know what your strengths are, and continue to look at yourself and the world around you in a positive light. There is so much to love in this world and so much to see. The world isn't that bad of a place and you should go and see as much as you can of it during the one life you have. Friends, one thing I suggest is to not give them advice or tell your depressed friend on what to do. I know that you want to help them move on as fast as possible, but that is something that they need to do under their own volition. Be there, listen, and support, not gauge and direct.
Third: Go out to support groups if you aren't finding the help you need. Take This is a support group for those suffering with depression, mental illness, or video game addiction. These folks are great. And it's not just for gamers but also for developers. The work demanded of developers can often lead to a lot of stress and depression. Reach out to groups like this if you need something outside of your current environment.
There are many other things that I could add to this but these are ones that immediately come to mind and I think will help the most. So please, get out there and become a part of the world. Don't let video games completely control your life and prevent you from confronting your issues and keeping you in a depressed place. You can do this guys!
If you are a gamer or any individual who suffers from depression, I also would not hesitate to assist you in anyway I can. I would like to thank Jessica Conditt at Engadget for providing the inspiration for me writing this article. For more information on video game addiction or depression being exacerbated by games, check out PsychGuides.com. They provide a lot of information on the signs of addiction and depression and give good references on how to help and get treatment.