We’re all aware of how video games are negatively perceived sometimes: as a bunch of pixels which do nothing but encourage violence and addiction. But for every politician, media outlet and parent declaring them evil, there are just as many academic studies indicating that gaming has many psychological, social and even physical benefits.
This was discussed by the talented Athena from AmbiGaming last year in a post on the subject of how games can be used for coping with difficult situations. After receiving personal stories sent to her anonymously, she wrote: “Everyone used games as a way to step out of their world and into a world that they knew would be orderly, follow its own rules, and ‘make sense’ in all the ways they needed their lives to make sense at the time.”
Unfortunately, life is never as simple as a video game. In the digital world, there’s a solution for every problem in your path and all the tools you need to get across that chasm, solve the next puzzle or defeat the final boss are within reach. In real life however there’s no mini-map or quest guide, so it’s impossible to tell what’s going to be thrown at you next and how you’re going to cope with it.
In the middle of February, my grandmother-in-law fell in and was taken into hospital. We took the decision to postpone our GameBlast18 event when her condition rapidly deteriorated and she sadly lost her fight at the beginning of March. My other-half, his mother and I were with her when she passed; and although there were plenty of tears at the time, I held myself together remarkably well.
It was only in the weeks afterwards that realisation fully hit and I understood I wasn’t doing as well as I’d thought. The fact we’d been at the hospital when her death had come, a situation I’d never experienced before, was a big part of the reason for that and it’s something which changed me. But it was also because of the person she was: this wonderful, independent, stubborn and humorous lady who had accepted me into her family.
Alongside this, a restructure of my department at work was announced and I was informed my role would be changing soon. Its nature would be completely different and managerial responsibilities would be a thing of the past. While I’d been unhappy in the job for a while and had been making progress towards changing career, this news brought with it an added layer of uncertainty and stress which wasn’t welcome.
This had the result of causing me to retreat into myself. The routine of writing regularly gave me a sense of structure so I continued blogging; but I stopped making comments on posts and getting involved in conversations on social media, with both bloggers and friends. I wanted space from all the noise and some time just to be quiet, to work through what was happening around me and figure out a way forward without any pressure.
I started picking up the controller more frequently and jumping into The Elder Scrolls Online at every opportunity. It was more than just my ongoing addiction to the title however, as I started to find a sort of calm in going through the motions of completing a quest. I didn’t have to think about the combat (I’ve played so much that the actions came naturally) and I didn’t have to worry about getting overrun by Draugr due to a plentiful supply of soul gems.
Teri Mae from Sheikah Plate wrote something relatable in a post about the positive effects of gaming: “[Playing a game] allows me to be in control of my entire situation. If I want to explore in that direction, I can. I get to control where I go, when I accomplish tasks, how long it’ll take, and how to approach an enemy. This, for someone who feels like their life is spiralling, is a positive experience and helps me feel a little more inner peace and calm.”
A video game can be a way of spending time with yourself. They provide a way to escape distractions and anxiety for a short period of time, giving you space to think things over subconsciously. Having a virtual space to work through your feelings – even if it is artifical – can give you a sense of purpose and a feeling of release which helps you feel strong enough to keep going.
Being something I don’t have to think too hard about playing explains why I opted to play TESO at 06:00 in the morning when my teammates were falling asleep after 22-hours for our GameBlast18 stream this month. After the stress of previous weeks, being holed up in our living room with the boys for an entire day was just what I needed; completing the event was tougher than any of us expected but I came out of it so much lighter emotionally.
As said by Athena in her post: “Games are undoubtedly immersive. They maintain our attention, and give our brain exactly what it wants. These elements can be used to help modify how we approach our real, physical worlds, and change them for the better. There is a certain satisfaction in having an effect on the environment, and feelings of efficacy are extremely important for coping.”
So after hiding in the lands of Glenumbra and Stormhaven for several weeks, I’m ready to start dipping my toe back into the world of ‘being social’. My other-half’s mother very kindly gave me a ring that belonged to his grandmother, which I now wear. Pete and I are now planning a makeover of our garden with an area dedicated to her and her love of daffodils (being Welsh). And I’ll go into this new role at work with an open mind, give it all I’ve got and see what I can make of it.
I’ll end this post with a quote by Chris from OverThinker Y, taken from something he wrote about what video games can teach us: “…many people’s answers have had this common theme about how gaming’s taught them that nothing is impossible. I think the idea of escaping into a game world as a sort of fantasy or wish fulfilment lends itself to this, and it’s probably a big part of why many people pick up a controller in the first place.”
You can lose yourself in a game. But you can also find yourself.