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Fighting Demons: Mental Health And Video Games

10/10/2016 00:41
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For the longest time I've struggled with my mental health.

The closest 'solution' I have come to entails savouring the little things - from the smallest coffee with a friend to a favourite book - as it is this motivation that makes perseverance in anyway possible.

But how we fight proverbial demons is less clear-cut. Whether it be back-burning anxiety, prevailing low moods or simply an inability to switch off: a relapse is an unfathomable problem. A physical issue that you cannot prepare for. How we clear our heads and bounce back is far from an easy fix.

There is also a lot of false philosophy here. From dietary choices to meditation - there's an overwhelming number of so-called remedies. And whilst I like to joke about physically running away from my problems, a few certainly work. But without professing an all encompassing 'answer', I like to endorse a less conventional method, one that deserves greater attention all together. Video games. As the audience gasps at the medium supposedly causing millennial violence and promoting poor health - hear me out. I genuinely believe the entertainment supposedly damaging our minds is a vessel for clearing them.

Video games are, in short, the most demanding form of escapism. An active experience that strives hardest to unplug the real world. A film can be paused, a page can be folded and whilst I'm aware similar features exist for games, it demands attention with greater ferocity. It also forces the user away from other parties. When I'm fighting aliens, I'm not inundated with job rejections, unread Tinder messages, #HealthKick hashtags and the anxiety-inducing bullshit wagon that is the iPhone Notification Centre. My pent-up-head-noise is being directed elsewhere. Largely to the exotic and frivolous adventures in front of me. I'm no longer itching for my phone (something I begrudgingly do) when I have a world to save or tombs to raid. Making gaming a disconnect from reality that is, if anything, well overdue.

It's also rather therapeutic. The sense of challenge and progression that it naturally entails. You may be knocked back but in perseverance and time you invariably win the match, complete the mission or defeat the villain. The very level-based structure of video games is designed to be a progressive exercise. Although I am not equating any digital achievement to real-world success, the process of traversing it is cathartic in itself. It allows one to vent stress and reward that energy systematically. It's not just an escape - a damn exciting one  - but a release all the same. Rinse and repeat.

The extent that any of this is scientific, of course, is tenuous at best. But there is a peculiar socialised element. We're told that video games are a waste of time, shunned by high-culture as being somehow introverted or of low taste. Yet in lieu of recent phenomena, namely Pokémon Go, a wider shift has started to commend the healthier qualities of gaming. In fact, in a clumsy attempt at product placement during House of Cards, Frank Underwood remarks that playing video games helps him cope with the stresses of political life. It offers little more than fleeting character development, but his defence for video games has heavier weight. Not that gaming turns political figures into Machiavellian maniacs, but rather, the video game is a switch-off - a fire-exit from the stress of everyday life. One that can help even the highest of society. Therefore, I see this process - the low-brow attention sponge it may be - as something radically useful and for a number of people.

* * *

I guess the point I should be making is far looser - find the things that let you escape. It's the other half to the equation I opened with: find what gives you reason. I'm certain there are plenty of substitutes for everything I have described here. Nor do I consider this a one-size-fits all answer either. But there is something unique about the gaming experience that is immeasurably helpful to the issues at hand. Its immersion is most pertinent. And for better or worse, it keeps me sane.

Above else, it requires clearing your head through whatever means that takes. I would suggest eating well, exercising regularly and switching off your phone every once in a while. But it's not my place to say how one should combat these things. To this day, I still struggle with my anxiety and underlying depression when it strikes. All we can really do is open a discussion and appease the moments we falter. However, note that fighting demons, be it internal, external or of the intergalactic variety, is a hell of a lot easier with a pulse rifle at hand. And it can be bloody good fun doing so.

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