For as far back as I can remember, I’ve struggled with depression. An overwhelmingly feeling of hopelessness defined my life. No matter how I approached dealing with my depression, it felt like a burden I could never overcome. It would consume me until there was nothing left. Empty and worthless. I tried to fill the void with anything I could: Family, friends, medication. But nothing relieved the pain quite like video games.
Cartoons, books, films; they were all mediums in which I was nothing but a bystander. Someone watching from a window, looking in. How could a barely literate kid compare to great heroes like Luke Skywalker, Ellen Ripley, and Indiana Jones? I felt like a loser whose only contribution to the world was to be a plump punching bag for bullies. But Video games put me in control. I was the hero saving the day. Unlike film and television, the interactivity of video games meant that victory or defeat rested solely in my hands.
Sure, it might have been escapism. Yet, in contrast to the harsh and distorted reality my mind had created, it was certainly better than the wretched alternative. I was given the chance to accomplish great things through hard work and determination. Traversing the vast lands of Hyrule, Escaping the crumbling Black Mesa facility, and blasting my way through Covenant forces on earth are memories I wouldn’t trade for the world. Becoming these characters, facing evil head-on, gave me a chance at redemption. What did the real world offer me? Alienation from my peers, difficulties maintaining relationships, and poor self-esteem.
Over the years, I’ve slowly learned to manage my depression. One of the first steps was becoming more open about it with my friends and family. I was confronted with a vastly different picture of myself than what was painted in my mind. Here were all these people telling me how important I was to them. That life wouldn’t be the same without me. I’d come to learn that I wasn’t as worthless as my mind tried to convince me I was. Mutually, my perspective on what games meant to me also begun to change. They no longer had to act as a clutch I relied on.
A few months of isolation gave me the space I needed to reflect. For so long I’d felt like a burden to those around me that It was difficult to accept what I’d been told. Yet part of me needed to believe in those words. I couldn’t go on otherwise. During this time, I kept myself preoccupied, writing, drawing, and of course, playing games. I began revisiting older games as I felt they held such a strong association with my deepest moments of depression.
I was able to rekindle my love for retro games and enjoy them for what they were, astonishing creative expressions of interactive entertainment. I caught up on series I had missed out on over the years, such as Dragon Quest, Tales of, and the Ys series. I also caught up on more modern franchises like Monster Hunter, Assassin’s Creed, and the Souls series. Reading Hardcore Gaming 101 and listening to various gaming podcast like Retronauts gave me a better sense of history and appreciation for the games industry and quickly became my daily routine.
While I continue to play, read, and write about games, It’s like a weight has been lifted. I can now freely enjoy a game without having to rely on them to escape from my troubles. That’s what alcohol was invented for. Even better, I continue to feel that sense of awe as when I was a kid; traveling through beautifully constructed landscapes, scoring a goal with a rocket-powered car, or rescuing Princess Peach for the hundredth time is still so satisfying.
Confronting my depression elevated my enjoyment of games and other mediums. If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of depression, please seek out help. I waited far too long and spent more years than I would like to think, wallowing in self-hatred. Just please don’t wait until it’s too late. I still struggle with depression, but I am thankful to be alive. It means there is still a chance to make things better. And think of all those amazing video games you will miss out on! As long as there is something to look forward to at the end of the day, it isn’t all that bad.