Depression and Gaming: How the virtual world lets me escape the real one

October 6th through 12th was Mental Health Awareness Week. It’s a time to help bring awareness to the various types of mental issues that many deal with, whether its depression, anxiety, or even something as severe as bipolar disorder or borderline. Some people have done fantastic things to bring awareness to these issues, including Chicago Bears WR Brandon Marshall, who wore green shoes during the Bears’ Thursday night win over the New York Giants.

On October 10th, I woke up to find several prominent gaming journalists helping to bring awareness in the world of mental health. As someone who deals with depression, anxiety, and paranoia, it warmed my heart.

The gaming community is very welcoming. One of my fondest convention memories is being invited to a table even though I had no idea how to play the board game that laid before me. I wasn’t shunned or ignored. Instead, I became one of them, a member of the group until 2 AM, when the convention hall closed. They even offered a ride back to the hotel, something I am eternally grateful for.

Not everyone, however, is able to use the social interactions provided by board games to escape the demons that haunt their everyday lives. It’s the social interacting itself that’s the obstacle some are unable to overcome. Enter video games, something one can play from the comfort of their own home.

I was in an awkward social situation growing up. In my neighborhood, I was the odd man out. Everyone else had older siblings; I didn’t. Everyone else was native to the area; I wasn’t. My early memories weren’t always the greatest; I recall stepping outside and looking on to everyone else playing, only to see the other kids run back inside. They would rather not play at all then play with me. This is a five year-old kid’s worst nightmare.

A fantastic place to vacation and escape your troubles.

It was also around this time that my parents dug the Atari out of the attic. From there, a love affair with video games was born. While my daily play time was limited to an hour a day, I can recall my mood improving. I was enjoying my escape from reality. Before long, household tournaments for Centipede and Missile Command began, followed by a sudden increase in my social interaction with the neighborhood. Friendships were formed over, yes, video games and Magic: the Gathering. Before long, my five year-old nightmare situations were a thing of the past.

Using video games as an escape from the horrors of reality, however, would remain a very important part of my life.

I’d like to think that everyone has those moments where they just can’t take life anymore. They’ve had enough and would be perfectly okay with completely disappearing. The debt is simply too much, the job is too stressful, the lack of a social life is unbearable. Everyone has their own way of dealing with these episodes, such as drugs, sex, or alcohol. For me, it’s video games. They're the light at the end of a long and dark tunnel, a beacon of hope in a sometimes hopeless world.

For all the flak SimCity got, its music is so charming and relaxing that it’s able to brighten my spirits as I create my dream regions. For all the violence found in a Grand Theft Auto game, there’s something enjoyable about being able to do whatever you feel like. The ocean in Wind Waker HD is absolutely gorgeous, and is an excellent location for a virtual vacation. Rayman Legends leaves a smile on my face the entire time I'm playing. As I type these examples out, I'm no longer concerned about what might go wrong at my day job or worried about potential problems with friends. My thoughts are focused on the joy that video games bring me. It’s nice to have that handy escape available by just picking up the controller. It’s a healthy outlet that lets me escape reality.