Gaming with Anxiety
Anxiety sucks. Let’s go ahead and end this blog…
No, I’m just kidding (about ending the blog post). For those of you who don’t know, anxiety is considered a disorder. In general there are diseases, syndromes, and then there are disorders. The primary differences between them are that diseases disrupt the physiological processes in our bodies, syndromes are collections of signs/symptoms related to health concerns, and finally, disorders are disruptions to the regular body functions, and its’ structure. But what exactly is anxiety, and how does it make you feel?
Anxiety is simple to sum up, but hard to describe without experiencing it. To sum it up in my own personal word, is to probably say, well, dread. Literally. Not Judge Dredd, but the feeling of dread. If you’ve ever in your life, felt like something bad was going to happen to you, or was worried about your parents, and what they were going to do to you when they saw your bad report card (or something similar throw me a bone here) – that’s the same feeling you’ll get in everyday life if you have anxiety.
The official definition of anxiety is: a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Fairly simple right? Drilling into that very basic definition, what do you feel as the person experiencing anxiety?: Increased heart rate, nervousness to the point of restlessness, you could be breathing rapidly (hyperventilating), sweating, or trembling – but the one thing I feel the most is the inability to focus on anything but the present worry that’s causing the anxiety.
There’s a lot of personal reasons one can be predisposed to anxiety, some are hereditary, some hormonal, others, like mine, are stemmed from past experiences.
You see, my father was an alcoholic, and if you have followed my blog at all, you know that I will eventually get to that. His alcoholism has lead to some very stalwart values I’ve had in my life: I do not drink, I do not associate with drinking, and I do not involve myself where there is alcohol. These are values I’ve grown up with, infused into my life wholeheartedly, but as I’ve aged, and become more of a man, I’ve let go of some of these virtues a little bit, relaxed if you will, on my beliefs, and have come to understand that not everyone is a drunk, who will abuse you.
Anxiety is different. I can’t control it – surely I know in my mind, right now as I sit here writing this, I don’t care if someone I know close to me has a causal drink – but when it happens I lose my self-control. Your brain sometimes has a mind of its’ own (wow does that even make sense), and when it experiences anxiety, it begins to make irrational emotional responses to the forefront of thought, causing you to lash out, or act on things you don’t truly mean, or feel.
But that’s not the point of the blog post – I’ll blog about my personal adventure at some point, I don’t think I’m quite ready to share that yet. I know I’m getting personal on my blog a lot lately, but I think it’s part of me wanting to connect to my readers, and let you attach a name to the writer. Let’s talk about artificial, or simulated anxiety.
This Blog post is about how Gaming helped me cope with, and majorly overcome a lot of my anxiety hurdles. As I’ve blogged before, gaming is an amazing content medium, allowing someone to assume the role of anyone, or anything – and what perfect way to simulate anxiety than to put you in the shoes of a character dealing with stressful situations, and causing you to simulate anxiousness through emotional response to what’s going on in the game.
Previously I blogged about “Difficulty in Gaming” (you can read that [here]), and within that post I touched on Dark/Demon’s Souls, and just how hard that game is. Very brief overview: the game is super hard, when you die every enemy/monster respawns, and you lose all your accumulated experience with a chance to get it back on the return to your body where you died. If you die on return it’s gone forever. That run back has you on the edge of your seat. Everything is on the line at that very moment, and any small mistake punishes you to the absolute extreme. As an anxious individual this is taxing. Physically, and emotionally you become exhausted, but it’s simulated anxiety, and through that simulated anxiety you find it will become easier to cope with real anxiety.
Let me dig down to a great example, because I happen to have my YouTube video of it, and that is Bloodborne – The Orphan of Kos.
Bloodborne is a game in the “Souls” family of games, known for its’ fast paced visceral combat, little forgiveness, and punishing boss battles. Orphan of Kos is the final battle in this masterpiece of a game, and FromSoft holds nothing back with this encounter. Assuming you watched the video you’ll see that Orphan leaves little downtime, constantly onslaughting you unforgivably. With such little windows to react, you are constantly on the edge of the seat, feeling the sheer amount of pressure in your heart, as you whittle away his health, knowing that if you die, you start all over. This kind of experience is one of a kind to a medium like a video game, and creates such a simulated experience of anxiety, that you, the gamer must control to defeat said boss, it honestly helps you tackle the real life anxiety attacks when they happen, because you’ve learned techniques in which to suppress the attack, you just have to make the connection between the two, to discover what those techniques really are.
Not only does a game through combat and mechanics help you with anxiety, there is literally games dedicated towards situations that could otherwise give you an anxiety attack. In my “The Balance” blog post, at the end, I linked the YouTube video for a scene in Detroit: Become Human. You see, I’ve been in a situation like that little girl, and experiencing something like this in a game offers me the opportunity to tackle a root cause of one of my biggest fears – abuse through substance abuse. While we can encounter the same things in movies/books, it is through gaming that you are able to interact, fail, or even change the outcome of said situation – ultimately allowing an anxiety sufferer the ability to tackle a root cause to their issues, in a controllable environment.
Video courtesy of Video Game Sophistry (Check them out and support them)
A lot of people hate horror games, and while I do understand that notion, there are reasons people enjoy them. I for one love them – because no one wants to experience horror in real life, simulated horror is a way to get the thrill of being scared in a safe, controlled environment. The thrill of being scared safely, helps prepare you for real life when tragedy does strike, and while you wouldn’t think zombies, gore, and ghosts would prepare you, I think you would be shocked at the ability to control yourself just a bit more than you would have without the aide. When my son fell and busted his head open 8ish years ago, it split, and he bled everywhere. Panic was widespread, but I remained calm and collected, pulled the situation together, making sure my son was taken care of by the ambulance. This didn’t bother me nearly as much as it would have, had I not somewhat desensitized myself to such a sight.
While I know to some this may seem far fetched, or ludicrous, I am living it. I still struggle on a day to day basis with anxiety, but I believe through gaming, I have managed to somewhat bypass, and control the urges of panic. Gaming is no substitution for help, or a cure-all. It’s an alleviator. It assists with coping with the disorder – you should always seek help if you feel you cannot function on a day to day basis with anxiety.
Until next time,