We need to talk: gaming and depression

By Spencer Furniss

This year has seen the release of two new consoles and dozens of absolutely incredible games. With releases like Animal Crossing, Doom Eternal, Hades, Fall Guys, and Among Us, we have had no end to truly incredible experiences.

But it has also been an incredibly difficult year as well all know. And even the gaming industry isn’t immune to that. How many times has Cyberpunk been delayed? 2077 times? (I get it, it’s not a funny joke, but let me add levity where I can).

We’ve all faced struggles with our jobs, claustrophobia at home, and maybe even some turmoil with our families over politics. Things have been rough. We have so many reasons to want to sit down and lose ourselves in our screens. But sometimes, it just isn’t enough.

This is where the fun stops

I have a confession – I’ve been depressed more than half of my life. There have been a few years between when it started and now where I thought that I had it figured out. Maybe I did.

But the fact is that right now I don’t. And I’ve been letting it affect and harm every aspect of my life.

I’ve gone through therapy and have been on some different medications, but as of right now I’m on my own when it comes to my mental health. Some of you reading this will also be on your own, dealing with something similar. I write this because I want to get to you, and in a selfish way I write this because I want to use it as therapy. My goal is to guide us through some thoughts and habits we can identify and hopefully diagnose before they go too far.

Hopefully we can find some common ground. Imagine yourself sitting across from me, and we are sharing all of this as a conversation. I want to know where we are similar or where we are different. I want to know if there’s something I missed or if you think I just have something wrong. I want you to feel as if I reached out through the screen and let you know that you’re not the only one who feels or thinks these ways. Sometimes, all you need is to not feel so alone in your thoughts.

Responsible consumption

Let me start with what I feel is the most relatable subject on this list and is something you might do, whether you have depression or not- non-stop binge gaming.

You wake up exhausted, drag yourself through work, and only feel your energy level and mood rise when it’s finally time to sit down and play games. You’ve spent all day imagining the progression you’ll make on your favorite MMO or getting a few games in on your 2K season. After gaming for more hours than what you planned on, you make your way to bed and get ready to do the same thing tomorrow (which at this point has probably already started).

This is one of the most common things I’ll do when I’ve had a string of awful days or have something I’m trying not to think about, and let me be the first to say that it is destructive. It might seem fairly harmless at first, but if nothing improves then things might quickly fall apart.

First and foremost, a healthy and consistent sleep schedule is incredibly important to your mental health. Without it, you become more prone to self doubt and hate, as well as not having the energy to do anything about it. From personal experience, I know that being exhausted in multiple ways at the same time leads to increased thoughts of inevitable failure or loss of interest in certain activities. Without the mental or physical strength you might not even attempt something that would be beneficial.

I’ve spent far too many days/weeks/months doing this over the course of my lifetime. It doesn’t feel good, especially when your mind is telling you, “You’re better than this.” When I fall into moments like these it is important that I find something to start looking forward to. It doesn’t need to be exciting or important; it could be something as simple as picking a day to make yourself a good lunch or dinner. The most important thing during these moments for me is finding something to break the cycle before it becomes a spiral.

After one of the many moves I’ve had over the last five years, I found myself in a situation where I didn’t have any close friends in a 150 mile radius. I spent day after day going to class and working only to come home to Halo 5. I stayed up until nearly sunrise most nights and racked up at most 4 hours of sleep every day. I couldn’t think of anything around me to do other than sit and game by myself, until my buddies Joe and Tom texted me to check in and see if I wanted to come out to Cleveland sometime soon.

This moment was so important to me that I feel like I remember it vividly.

I picked a Tuesday night because I didn’t have class on Wednesdays, and since they still had work the next morning I would just get up when they did and have a nice clear road home. Driving out to Cleveland, I remember just smiling from ear to ear knowing that FINALLY I had some change to the status quo. Finally, a night to enjoy doing something (or nothing) with friends, and we agreed that we would see each other more often.

After that night, things started to feel better at home. I started setting up more days to just come out and hang with Tom and Joe, nevermind the distance. I started becoming more productive and going to bed before 3 a.m. again. Positivity was creeping back into my brain-space and all it took was having something to look forward to.

I own over 600 games and they all suck

Another strong sign that something might be off is actually what prompted me to write all of this in the first place. As I went to sit at my computer on a Friday night, I had every intention of finally getting in some game grinding. My computer boots up, all of my programs come online and I go to boot up World of Warcraft. Within minutes, I hit alt+F4 and decide that maybe Runescape or DotA are more my speed for the night. After opening and closing a dozen different games and turning my Xbox on and off (as if I’m looking in the fridge for the fourth time in hopes of magical new food), I realize there must just not be anything I wanted to play.

True, it could be that I (or even you) actually didn’t have anything seem fun in the moment. But I knew for a fact that I had been excited to play everything I owned that night and instead felt like playing Sonic ‘06. I knew that something was wrong.

At times like these it is beyond important to analyze yourself. Finding disinterest in the things you love to do is a major sign of depression and realizing this early can only lead to working on it sooner. When I felt it, I hopped on to Google Docs and started this. I took a bit of a break in the writing because, as I said at the start, this has been an incredibly difficult year.

For me, losing interest in the things I love to do has become common enough that I notice almost instantly. Yet somehow it can still be incredibly difficult to come to terms with. Coming to terms with it means that you need to accept that you have a problem a bit larger than one bad night. Knowing what to do to feel inspired or excited again really depends on who you are and how you deal with situations best. What works best for you or I might even change from time to time, making the process of analyzing yourself that much more important. 

As always, therapy and speaking to a doctor are the best courses of action if those are available to you.

Setting the controller down

For the foreseeable future, I’m planning to cut back on video games until I finally feel great about myself again. Maybe I’ll spend chunks of time gaming on Friday and Saturday nights, but recently they have been nothing but a tool to avoid responsibility or working to help myself.

Helping yourself is so much harder when you dislike yourself. Why get help when you feel worthless? Thoughts like that cause me to struggle in every aspect of my life, and it always leads to me thinking that I’m not worth the effort. I’ll spend all of my time focusing on gaming even when I’m not having fun.

I can’t do that anymore, and I don’t want you to either. We’re better than we give ourselves credit for.

I usually end my articles with an anecdote. This is too important to me so I’ll leave you with the only advice I can give. Set goals for yourself and know that they don’t necessarily need to be extravagant, you just need to work on moving forward in your mental state and life. If you can’t bring yourself to get help on your own, you owe it to yourself to reach out to anyone you can. Therapy might seem useless or terrifying to some, but it can be one of the best decisions you could ever make. Medications also help millions of Americans and it’s possible to find something that works for you. 

Cheesy as it is, we’re all in this together. Between the lack of daylight, the holidays and the pandemic, many people are seeking help for the first time. Our mental state might not be our own fault, but it is always our responsibility. Baby step by baby step, we can get back to being who we want to be. I know that sometime soon, I’ll be able to sit down when I want to and boot up a game with a smile.

But for right now, I’m going to be doing everything I can to feel and be better.

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