Using Video Games to Cope with Mental Illness

Video games are the best. I used to dislike them, but now I spend entire weekends playing them from dusk to dawn and back again. Video games have a number of benefits, such as increased hand-eye coordination, problem solving, and enhanced memory. But I’ve used video games to cope with my depression and anxiety in a lot of ways. Not only is it a fantastical escape from the real world when that gets too overwhelming, but taking some lessons you learn when you’re learning how to play video games can be applied to real life. So here are a few mentalities that I’ve adopted when I’m having a depressive episode.

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Failing is a lesson

In video games, oftentimes your character will die. Whether you touch the goomba too many times or the boss one-hits you. You might even game over and have to start from the beginning. But you do better the next time, you learn how to defeat the bosses first form so you get past it. Then the second phase begins and you don’t know to dodge it’s swipe and die again. But then you do know to dodge it, and when you respawn you can pass the first and second phase. Every time you have to replay a level you learn more out it’s layout, about it’s enemy spawnpoints. It’s kind of like that in real life, but we don’t think of it that way. I mean, if you die in real life, you just die and that’s it. But I’m talking about failure in general.

When we fail at things, we often blame ourselves. We upset and discouraged. We might even give up on whatever we were doing. I know that for me, I can get upset about getting the simplest thing wrong. In fact, the more simple the task, the more upset I get since what idiot cooks an entire meal without noticed they turned on the wrong burner? Realistically, it was a simple mistake and now I know that I should triple check to make sure I turned on the right burner before starting cooking. That’s all. Looking at mistakes and redoing things as a chance to gain more experience really helps when you’re messing something up.

Take more risks

Video games is all about doing really dangerous and stupid things 90% of the time. You have never played a horror game if you have never screamed at the character “DON’T GO THAT WAY! JUST SCREW SAVING YOUR CHILD! IT’S NOT WORTH FIGHTING A DEMON!” In role playing games, you will jump into wars and infested caves and irradiated wastelands. Don’t even get me started on the ridiculous actions of  first person shooter characters. Bottom line, player characters are almost always the most brave, heroic, talented person in the game. You rarely play any sort of action or adventure game as the recruit in the army that never advances or sees combat. You play as the veteran whose returning to war because he’s the only one with the know how to defeat the enemy. And the scarier the quest, the better the reward, the more experience, and the more fun you have.

But in life it’s completely different. Anxiety stops me from doing so many things. Sure, going to a party where I don’t know anyone isn’t as dangerous as fighting through dragons, but it’s still scary. So I won’t do it. It feels like too much of a risk; what if I embarrass myself or someone else? But it’s only through taking those risks am I ever going to get anything out of life. You don’t play Fallout: New Vegas to hang out in Goodsprings living a quiet life. So you shouldn’t life your life as boringly as possible because there are risks. There are always going to be risks, but that doesn’t make the rewards any less worth it.

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Try, try, and try Again

Sometimes in games, you just have to grind. Either you need to just work for some experience to hit that next level, earn some money to get that powerful weapon, or beat tons of little enemies to get their loot. It takes hours and hours, but we do it because we just love it! First thing I think of is actually Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Some of the things are really expensive, like upgrading your house or buy the Royal Crown. There is also achievements to buy all the different furniture and clothing. I spent hours just grinding between two palm trees on the island, catching the valuable beetles. Another example is Pokemon, where you often need to just battle random wild Pokemon to  get strong enough to beat the next trainer.

Sometimes, things seem so overwhelming. You look at a goal you want to achieve and realize that hundreds of hours need to be dedicated to it. You may be super excited when you start, but it’s so easy to get discouraged. You miss one practice or don’t progress how you think you should, and it snowballs into just giving up. This happens to me every time I try to start going to the gym regularly. I miss one day, and then I miss another, and suddenly I already feel like a failure so I just give up. I also tend to give up on things that I’m not immediately amazing at, just because if I fail once, I feel like I’ve failed completely. But sometimes in life, you have to just grind for what you want.

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This castle wasn’t built in a day.

Sometimes, you’re not ready to fight certain enemies

This especially happens in open world games with different areas having different level caps. For example, in Fallout 4, you don’t just sprint to the Glowing Sea and fighting all the deathclaws in the world. Unless you are the luckiest person in the universe, pick up some crazy legendary drop on your way, or you are using cheats, you’re just going to drop dead almost immediately. Your character isn’t ready. Your health is too low and you don’t have the gear to defend yourself properly. So you go do a couple quests, level up and get some perks, and come back later. Then you have at least half a chance to survive. And you don’t blame yourself for not being ready, you just make yourself ready.

It’s almost true in real life. You don’t get out of kindergarten and go straight to college. A lot of the time I feel like I should be farther along in my recovery. I’ve been on medication on and off for a couple years, been to therapy for months, and have made some strong strides in my cognitive therapy. But I still have weeks that I can’t tackle what seems to be the simplest tasks. I still relapse into the worst mindsets. The reality is, I’m just not ready to defeat some of these enemies. I’m still not equipped to completely win over my depression or anxiety. And that’s okay. I just need to go and get the right technique.

Everything you do will affect your stats

Usually your character will have some form of stats. Strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility, and luck for example. They influence how your character behaves and solves problems in the game. You can usually choose or later change the stats through making choices. Going into the library increases intelligence. Every time you fight an enemy your strength goes up. Wearing lighter armor will raise your agility while heavier armor will lower it. You also have your health, stamina, and sometimes magika. Drinking certain potions will raise some stats or some attacks may affect them negatively. Either way, how your stats are set up will influence your ability to play the game and how you go through challenges.

The same is true in real life, although not usually in such clear-cut terms as a character sheet in a game. You don’t know exactly where your HP sits at, the exact amount of time your stamina lasts for, or a number value assigned to your charisma. But once you start looking at your choices as things that will affect your stats, it’s easier to make them and to make them more wisely. For example, let’s say I’m having a depressive episode. I know that I have a very limited amount of energy and attention span in this condition, so I need to choose what I do with it carefully. I have chores (empty dishwasher, put away laundry, and cook dinner), personal things (shower, get dressed), and recreational things to do (read a book, play a video game, watch YouTube). So how do I choose where to commit my energy?

Well I could shower first to add to my Cleanliness buff, but the one I took yesterday hasn’t worn off, so I’ll skip that. If I have a coffee I can up my maximum stamina for 6 hours, so I’ll do that instead. Then I’ll get dressed. A full outfit and makeup would probably add a Confidence Bonus to my charisma and agility, but I don’t need those today since I’m not going to class or work. I’ll save my stamina and throw on a simple outfit. Next is chores and/or recreation. I can double up on some of them for a multiplier, so I put on YouTube loudly to watch while I empty the dishwasher and put away laundry. That way the YouTube distraction will up my stamina while the chores are draining it. I can last a bit longer that way without having to take a break. For my break I will read a book to up my intelligence and memory. Reading also passively fills my achievement of “GoodReads Challenge” to read 52 books this year. Adding another book to that list gives me a boost of Completion bonus, which ups my focus and endurance for 3 hours. The Caffeine buff wore off, so this bonus is all I have to ride out the day. I’ll promise myself the evening off, if I just finish cooking dinner. I cook and eat, and earn some experience points for cooking a new recipe and learning that I need to cut the amount of water I add in half. Level complete! I win an episode of Riverdale and a hot chocolate for completing the quest.

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Apps that will help you

1200x630bbPlant Nanny is an app that makes drinking enough water a fun game! You’re in charge of an adorable little plant. Every time you drink water, you also water the plant. You have to drink enough a day to keep it alive, while simultaneously keeping yourself alive and hydrated.

 

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Booster Buddy is an app that will make your recovery into a full game experience. You have your animal buddy, who will give you quests to complete throughout the day. You complete the quests for coins, and then you can spend the coins on outfits for your buddy to wear. It’s pretty childish, but good for younger people and those in the deepest of depressions.

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SuperBetter is basically the same thing as Booster Buddy, but a bit more adult oriented. You create for yourself a super version of yourself, and then complete real life quests to earn experience and defeat bad guys, like insomnia or insecurity. Then you earn rewards that you create for yourself, like treats and fun activities. It’s a fun app that scales to your level of ability and responsiveness.

 

 

 

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Using Video Games to Cope With MentalIlness

 

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