Gaming With Depression — It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

Grant Stoner5 minute read

Video games are beautiful pieces of art that allow us to fulfill our wildest fantasies. We can tame exotic creatures, single-handedly destroy entire demonic armies, or mold our characters to fit our perceptions of what we would look like as heroes. Aside from experiencing dreamlike realities, video games have the unique potential to tap into our biggest insecurities and fears. Colorful stories that often comprise many games are filled with characters that, when their veils are removed, reveal nothing more than empty shells of beings simply existing to get by.

These reflective elements are why I am so entranced by this medium. As a disabled individual, I can become the hero that I’ve always wanted to be. As someone with chronic depression, I can understand why that specific hero struggles to make it through each day.

Rubella from Ubisoft’s Child of Light, a quirky jester who is unable to successfully complete a rhyming scheme after supposedly losing her brother, literally cannot function as intended due to missing a piece of herself. Dom from Gears of War, who thrusts himself into his work after losing his wife to the Locust. His ultimate act of heroism culminates in his death, as he willfully sacrifices himself to end his pain and hopefully reunite with the love of his life. Or even Hugh from Pokémon Black and White Version 2, who continuously berates himself for letting his sister’s Pokémon get stolen by Team Galactic, completely changes his overall personality and demeanor because he failed someone he loved.

The fake smiles, extreme loss of interest, the egregious personality changes, and a struggle to find self-worth are all classic symptoms of living with and experiencing chronic depression.

Pokemon Black and White Version 2 Hugh
Image courtesy of Pokemon.fandom.

As a society, we often shun open discussions about mental health. We don’t want to be perceived as weak or helpless. Rather, we adopt fake personalities or simply escape into different worlds to numb ourselves. It’s a coping method that I’ve personally utilized since I was able to hold a controller.

Being disabled in a world not designed to welcome disabled bodies is NOT easy. The consistent stares and snide comments from strangers whenever I leave my home, frequent hospitalizations which last for several weeks, superfluous physical requirements on job applications that are designed to prevent physically disabled people from applying, or the societal norms that regularly teach able-bodied people that loving a disabled person is taboo are constant reminders of a life that isn’t normal.

Even the video game industry, my area of employment, regularly struggles to shed its ableist or selfish perceptions pertaining to disabled people. From inaccessible titles, to those who refuse to share their space with disabled individuals to other disabled people in the industry who push less popular voices away, creates a toxic culture that consistently wears me down.

To compound on top of everything above, I have such a fear of letting people down. Much like Hugh, I regularly strive to make things right with the people I love, even if I jeopardize my own mental health in the process. Since I cannot be there in a physical sense, I suppress my emotions to support others, often worsening depressive episodes.

Throughout my life, I have exposed myself to horrid toxicity and manipulation from people that repeatedly told me they needed me. As they continuously drained me, I genuinely felt that I was helping. Only recently did I discover that I was wrong. Dom went through a similar experience. After trying to distance himself from the horrors of war, Marcus roped him back in. Despite being best friends, Marcus forced Dom into a situation that ultimately cost him his life.

Yet, throughout each depressive battle, characters like Rubella exist as a reminder that I do not have to be alone. While party members playfully chide her for being unable to successfully create rhyming schemes, they still rush to her side when feelings of anguish and despair rear their ugly heads. She can feel weak amongst the people she loves.

I, too, have a party of my own. When I’m in a particularly bad space, I seek professional help from my therapist. Aside from his assistance, I have a relatively small, but incredibly close group that regularly pulls me out of the shadows. In fact, one of my most trusted party members has been with me through some of my darkest episodes. I may not remember what caused them, but I always remember her ability to get me to laugh. Even a simple “Love you miss you bye” at the end of every conversation is enough to make me forget why I was so upset, albeit temporarily.

Along with having a support system comes with the need to grow. Personally speaking, this aspect is the hardest to achieve, but when possible, creates an indescribable feeling of peace. I’ve had many throughout my life, including this weekend, where I finally removed a toxic thorn in my side that had poisoned my thoughts for several years.

Child of Light logo and text

While initially, I struggled with my decision, even going so far as to regret what I had done, I ultimately felt at ease after its conclusion. Hugh’s realization that his quest for vengeance did nothing but alienate himself from his friends and family resulted in him completely changing his personality and demeanor to not only better himself but the people he loves. Like Hugh, I don’t know what my future holds, but I do know that my party will be there to support me, and I will surely be there to support them.

Mental health is such a scary topic to fully understand and properly discuss. It affects so many, leaving people to feel ashamed, or even hide their symptoms to protect others and themselves. I did not write this piece as a cry for help, nor do I expect others to be as open as myself. I wrote this story because this is how I finish my current quest. With each character’s story and their subsequent reactions, I see myself. Not only do these titles serve as entertaining escapes during bad episodes, but they also provide a frame of context for the emotions that I experience, as well as educate me as to what I should or should not do.

These characters may control otherworldly powers or abilities, but the way they process their feelings are very real. And much like Rubella, Dom and Hugh I do not know where or when I will encounter my next challenge, and quite frankly, that terrifies me. However, I do know that I will always have a party that loves and supports me. During times when I feel particularly low or defeated, it’s important to constantly remind myself of a very crucial rule, one which repeats itself throughout these games: it’s okay to not be okay.

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Grant Stoner enjoys running in video game worlds because his legs won't let him do so in real life. You can follow his accessible thoughts and ramblings on Twitter @Super_Crip1994

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