How Gaming Helps With Mental Health

If you’ve kept up with me over the years, you’ll be familiar with my love for video games. I mentioned it briefly towards the end of My Interests & How I Dive Headfirst Into Them, as well as an in-depth look at My Year As Brother Lucian, playing DCUO throughout 2020. I’m not shy on my love for video games. With a variety of consoles gracing my living rooms and bedrooms over the years, I’ve experienced a lot and truly found the game styles that I enjoy the most.

Here I wish to take a look at why I think video games are great, what they offer the world and why I personally love them so much, but first some analysis…

Media Perception

I find great comfort in playing video games, it provides me with a lot of happiness. Despite this, the media paints it as almost devilish; a tool to corrupt our children and create agents of chaos across the world. We hear the stories all the time.

Theft in a store? Video games did it. Someone attacked in the street? Video games did it. Someone sexually assaulted and murdered? Video games did it. The big one is always school shootings, because it always comes back to video games on that one especially.

They’re branded as violent and not for kids, with people talking about Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty as the main culprits. They even had talks at one point to start censoring games. The reality is that this is all responsibility dodging.

Bad Parenting and Lack of Responsibility

Video games have age ratings for a reason, because these kids should NOT play them. If your excuse is “but my kid has seen worse” or “they’re used to this stuff, they like it”, then you’ve shot yourself in the foot. No child should be accustomed to these things. It wasn’t a video game that did this, your bad parenting did it.

If the parenting was good and the adult who committed crimes just so happened to play games, it’s clearly not the fault of the video game. The fault lies with the adult who is old enough to know better and chose to make a bad decision. That’s all it is.

Video games do not create violent people. Bad parenting and bad choices do. I have played these games myself and never once became violent, because I am responsible and mature enough to do so.

My Experiences with Gaming

As a young, tiny Michael, I struggled with friendships. You can read all about that in My Experiences with Friendship (cheap plug). Most of my time was spent by myself, playing with toys or playing with video games. Not straight away mind, but as I got older I was allowed to have my own console.

It gave me an escape, a whole world to immerse myself in. I didn’t feel lonely, these characters were my friends and we would go on journeys together, at least in adventure games that was. For other games it was a different story. I used to play a lot of FIFA as a child, because back then my dream was to be a footballer. I would eventually have the options of creating myself, going through the trials and eventually playing for teams I loved.

There were the WWE games too. Being able to throw myself deep into a world I was enamoured by, a world I would even to this day jump into if the opportunity ever presented itself. There was even Guitar Hero. A game that offered people who weren’t very good at music, to still feel like a Rockstar anyway. I may not have looked it to the outside world, but holding that guitar and playing along to In Flames or Megadeth made me feel like the coolest person alive.

What video games did for me was create a chance for me to somewhat live dreams I could never otherwise achieve. I couldn’t play football anymore, anxiety crippled me. I couldn’t become a wrestler, we couldn’t afford lessons and I wasn’t allowed anyway. I couldn’t become a Rockstar because I struggle to read music and proper lessons cost too much. Video games though, allowed me to feel like I really could do those things. Even now, I find myself doing that with wrestling games, I still play them and make myself.

Later in life I got to experience another side of things. I had a few friends I could play with, who would come over to mine or I’d go to theirs. We’d go two player on games like Lego Star Wars especially, games like Mario Kart and a bit later on even stuff like Dynasty Warriors. It allowed for friendships to grow. Beyond that though, it helped with my mental health, more than I could’ve ever imagined.

How Video Games Saved My Mental Health

Becoming an adult was terrifying. The later years of my life into my late teens and early twenties were horrendous years to say the least. My anxieties got worse, my depression grew, I continued to repress traumas in favour of just pushing on (a terrible choice on my part). I was lost, I needed something to focus my attention on, to allow me a true immersive escape. That’s when games went from casual fun, to something that truly meant the world to me.

It started with Pokémon back in 2015. It had been so long since I’d gotten into something new, branched outside of the world I knew and became fully invested in it. Pokémon was that for me and my God did I, and still do I love it so. Those colourful games, the wholesome characters. This wasn’t a shooter or some gritty game. It was cute, it was story driven, it was very quickly my new favourite game.

That grew over the years as I played even more Pokémon games. A new one came out, I would either buy it or ask for it at Christmas, I could not resist the call of a new Pokémon game. It was that reason why I bought a Nintendo Switch. I’d heard there were new games coming out and I needed them in my life. It was the first new console I’d bought myself in a long time, as I’d previously traded in my PS3 and bought a GameCube that I played for years.

The problem was though, this Pokémon game was not yet out. So I needed something else to play. That’s when I discovered The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild. I’d never played a Zelda game before, but I fell in love with how it looked, and so I tried it. I went from mostly playing wrestling games, to exploring vast green lands, flying through the sky, riding horses and saving damsels in distress. I was in love.

Fast forward and I ended up jumping off rooftops in more Assassins Creed games, slaying demons in Victor Vran: Overkill Edition, glitching up mountains and slaying dragons in Skyrim, and so much more. I now had whole worlds to explore and somewhere else to go when the world was just too much.

I especially found joy during the initial Covid era, when I took my first steps into the world of MMO’s (massively multiplayer online). With DCUO and later the truly wonderful Final Fantasy XIV, I found myself not only immersed, but able to roleplay as characters, as better versions of myself, with real people who were doing the same thing, all looking for their own escape. It has become something more than a game for me, it has become a second life, it’s where I live after my long weeks.

In Closing

Playing games took me from questioning my existence to forging entirely new ones with friends, nearby and far away. This doesn’t mean I’ve completely shut out the outside world, far from it. I’m now able to enjoy the outside world more, because these things make me truly happy. If it weren’t for video games, I honestly don’t know where I’d be, or if I’d be.

They create dreams, they provide entertainment, family fun, interesting stories, in some cases history and knowledge, immersion, excitement, a break from the real world and a place for friendships to thrive. Video games are not criminal, they’re not dangerous. They are wonderful pieces of technology that bring light to so many peoples lives. Whether it’s Mahjong or Madworld, there’s a game out there for everyone to enjoy.

I can safely say that video games are probably one of the best things to ever come into my life, and I shall continue to play them forever more.

Post by Michael Sallabank