I recently watched a short documentary from GameSpot called Video Games vs. Depression, made by the ever-so awesome Irish stud Danny O’Dwyer and his buddy Andy Bauman. The video shows interviews conducted with people who’ve had depression and games cross paths in their lives, and everyone spoke about how positive the experience turned out to be, but it made me wonder: When do you cross the boundaries between gaming and addiction, and how would that affect you.
As people we often fall on hard times, and as gamers those moments may come more frequently than they may do for non-gamers. I’ve found this to be a reality for me, and while it’s not something I feel especially proud of, I’ve found ways to deal with the empty feeling of depression and it’s ugly cousin – social anxiety.
Games just like any other hobby have the power to consume us, however being consumed by drawing is not so detrimental to your mental health in the long run as gaming could be. We live in a technology driven world and whether we like it or not, it’s here to stay. We purposefully surround ourselves with monitors, tablets and blinking lights all the time, effectively ruining our social lives. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that we’re zombies controlled by our smartphones, but it’s a topic that is too sensitive for some people, because it will show the flaws in their everyday life and behavior. What does that have to do with gaming? Well, pretty much everything. One of the unwritten rules of games is that if you want to become a better gamer, you need to play more, and when you spend the majority of your day holding a controller or tapping on a keyboard, you create the cracks that depression needs in order to silently slip into your psyche.
Social anxiety is a big problem for gamers, myself included, and while I’ve found ways to cope with it, many gamers haven’t. But how does one acquire said anxiety? The answer most of the time is online games. They often provide a false feeling of safety and are used as a safe haven for people who have problems dealing with the real world. That’s not attacking MMOs in general, I love MMOs, but the thing is that MMOs tend to become very addictive and all-consuming, resulting in weird behavior when the person is put outside of their comfort zone (socially wise), which in most cases turns out to be going outside and meeting new people.
So, what happens next? Usually the person who experiences social anxiety as a result from gaming, does the complete opposite of what they were supposed to do. Instead of trying to climb out of that hole, the person in question descends even further by increasing play sessions as a means of comfort, when they should be focusing more on rebuilding their social skills. You may as yourself why, and the answer is simple: whenever we fall on hard times we immediately go to the places that provide comfort for us, so it’s no surprise that someone who has social anxiety and plays games, actively tries to play games more, in order to feel safer. The problem is that the person in question is unable to find the real enemy, and sadly the real enemy are the games the person is playing…
Don’t get me wrong, I love video games and I strongly believe in their healing power, whether against depression or enhancing cognitive skills. What I’m trying to warn other about is, that some hobbies become problematic when over-consumed, and gaming is one of them. My personal belief is that everyone should enjoy themselves and their games, but should remain vigilant of the dangers games may have hidden in plain sight. Don’t serve your hobbies. Let your hobbies serve you!