I think one of the better ways of describing living with depression is a particularly bad turn can feel akin to slowly sliding into a pit of molasses. You can't see the bottom and have exhausted the fight to reach for the top. Which is a fairly crappy way to feel on a daily basis, right?
Considering 1 in 5 adults in the US live with depression and anxiety today, this startling statistic makes aiding the quashing of this very real problem of people's struggles with anxiety and their negative perception of themselves and the world around them that much more of a vital requirement for today's medicine.
So what do you do as a gamer who suffers from anxieties and/or depression? You seek out the comforts of the world of your favorite video game don't you? It's a no-brainer. After living with depression for a little over a decade now, I've always sought the aid of video games, more so than any other mode of entertainment, to either distract myself from the gnawing fuzz of anxiety, or at least dull it slightly in order to be stilled for a few fleeting moments.
It's the feeling of being active within a world whose rules you can bend and mold to your choosing; the repetitive nature of grinding for XP or loot; the sensation of accomplishment and the cathartic lull of release.
That is until the controller is put down and my wild-eyed anxieties come bursting in through the doors screaming "LOL F**K YOU, BUDDYYY" and dashes my good vibes out of a metaphorical window. Anxiety is one salty bastard.
But with all the stigma and negativity that surrounds video games and their influence on mental health, it could be difficult to navigate your way towards positive examples of games helping with depression and anxiety. Take this study published recently in the Psychology of Addictive Behaviors journal as evidence.
This study, conducted by University of Bergen's Dr. Cecilie Schou Andreassen, posits that video game addiction can be attributed to depression as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and ADD/ADHD, and how the compulsive desire to game highlights them being used as coping mechanisms. An escape from the norm.
"Excessively engaging in gaming may function as an escape mechanism for, or coping with, underlying psychiatric disorders in attempt to alleviate unpleasant feelings, and to calm restless bodies”
– Dr. Cecilie Schou Andreassen
Where this is true in multiple cases, what about the good that video games can do for the sake of the mind? Surely not all games are supposed gateways into depression!
Game Genres That Help Fight Depression And Anxiety
There have been numerous cases of games helping the fight against depression and anxiety, 3 of the latest coming in the form of Project: EVO, a groundbreaking brain-game created by researchers at Michigan State University and a VR game set in an elevator.
"We want this to be a mainstream option in any doctor’s office, right next to Adderall."
– Eddie Martucci, CEO of Akili Interactive Labs
Project: EVO, the brainchild of Akili Interactive Labs, seeks to improve the attention span of children living with ADHD and reduce their impulsivity. The game requires kids to snatch bluebirds out of the air whilst avoiding red ones by tapping on their smartphone or tablet device's screen, and navigating icy river-ways by tilting said devices.
These actions in turn may make little ones focus better when inundated with stimuli from outside influences.
Down the line we could roll out an online or mobile game based on this research that specifically targets distraction and helps people stay focused and feel less anxious."
– Jason Moser, MSU
Researchers over at MSU created a simple game where gamers with and without anxieties identify a specific shape in an increasing series of alternative shapes, say a green circle lying amidst green squares and other green shapes. This puzzle attempts to increase their ability to focus. Next, the gamers were given the task to identify a particular shape in a modicum of multicolored shapes.
Apparently the final task was greatly successful in its attempt and more gamers found themselves increasingly concentrated with a reduction in anxieties, which is an amazing feat in itself.
"With virtual reality we can help the person to re-learn that they are safe, and when they do that, the paranoia melts away."
– Prof. Daniel Freeman, Oxford University
Researchers from Oxford University in the UK put 30 patients suffering from social anxieties to the test with VR games that simulated being underground in a London tube carriage or in an elevator. The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, split the group into two and encouraged a group of patients to use their normal behavior in a social setting (avoiding eye contact, etc) and the other to confront their fears head on.
The results were startling as the group who confronted their anxieties were said to have seen a dramatic reduction in paranoia.
So as science becomes wise to the fact that video games can have a healing effect on those suffering with depression and anxiety, we will have to wait years before official games and programs become okayed by the FDA, and various other health organizations across the globe.
But what about the now? Well I'd advise that you begin talking about your experiences with friends, family and a professionals, if that is at all possible. But for the times in between the talking, when you fancy a moment of silence, or to gain a better understanding of what it is you're going through, try a few of these:
As much as you’d love to throttle the reams of people sending you Candy Crush requests on Facebook, games of that ilk are actually perfect fodder for lowering anxiety and increasing concentration. So get on Pokémon Shuffle Mobile, Bejeweled or Monument Valley and see if games like these aid in any way.
Games That Explore Depression
"The topic is too big, there's too many people who live with it and too many moving pieces for anyone to do a definitive statement on what depression is like for everyone."
– Zoe Quinn, creator of Depression Quest
Though not playable per se, Depression Quest is a choose-your-own-adventure type fiction where you attempt to balance a sufferer's life, job, and relationships amidst being crushed by the disorder. Depression Quest is free to play online, but if you like it, buy it. All proceeds go to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
GAMBIT Game Lab's beautiful side-scroller Elude puts you in the shoes of someone suffering with depression, and has you moving through ethereal landscapes to locate their "passion objects" that aid their overcoming of negative emotions and stimuli. The game was created to walk the loved ones of sufferers through what it's like to have depression.
Will O'Neill's Actual Sunlight is about Evan Winters, a full-bodied young professional who despises himself and the world around him. The heavily text-based game will revolve around Evan carrying out the very few things that offer him a semblance of happiness, whilst attempting to keep Evan from ending his own life. It's a difficult play, so be careful if you decide to give it a go. These are only a few titles, and not all of them will fit your particular preference. So explore! Who knows what you may find?
It’s amazing, sitting here right now and doing the research for this piece. For years I believed myself to be alone with this beast that is depression. How it perches on both shoulders and pushes downward with a force you could never believe.
But with the knowledge that there are others out there also fighting depression and anxiety, creating wonderful, thought-provoking content and creating discussion around the subject. Knowing there are others out there lets light into the cold. And it’s warm, man. Really warm.