Dote Night: Why Dota 2 Is Navy Blue

Razor bringing the pathetic fallacy

Part of a miscellany of serious thoughts, animal gifs, and anecdotage from the realm of MOBAs/hero brawlers/lane-pushers/ARTS/tactical wizard-em-ups. One day Pip might even tell you the story of how she bumped into Na’Vi’s Dendi at a dessert buffet cart.

This column is something I wrote early this year and posted on my own blog. It was about the way in which depression affected how I played Dota 2. I don’t tend to write about my private life beyond daft anecdotes so it felt a little unsettling but a lot of people got in touch to share their own experiences. I get the impression that it has been a helpful thing to have posted as, generally, depression is not something that’s particularly easy to talk about. With that in mind I’m posting a slightly updated version here so that it can be part of Dote Night and so that, if it is at all helpful for anyone, they can find it easily.

A hallmark of depression is an ongoing attempt to fade out. That’s what it’s like for me anyway. The signal connecting me to the rest of the world sputters and struggles. Conversations turn to static, the future is a station I don’t have the right antenna for, everywhere there are blanks and so I start reciprocating and blanking myself out too.

There used to be a lot of navy blue in my wardrobe at these junctures. Not a rich, dark navy but that powdery one that comes from too many washes and wears. It’s a nothingy colour. Wear an oversized faded navy hoody with jeans and you can slip out of view.

Last year was rough in terms of depression. It’s been part of my life for seventeen years and there’s an ebb and flow to it. That’s not to suggest it has any kind of tidal regularity which would be useful in predicting or dealing with it, though. Sometimes it creeps towards you, giving you time to pack up your things and move elsewhere, mentally. Sometimes it rushes in with alarming speed and threatens to engulf you.

I actually try not to wear that powdery overwashed shade of navy because I know why I do it and I’m trying to reverse cause and effect. It’s bizarrely important to me that my hoodie is now a mossy green, for example. But there are other manifestations of navy blue I hadn’t expected. Last year one of them was Dota 2.

Playing as part of a team of five people is a social experience, simply by virtue of other people being there. There’s basic co-operation needed to fight the other team, in-game chat options and, if you play with friends, voices on the end of a Skype call. It’s very easy to sit and listen as you click around the map, to fade out but convince yourself you’ve somehow succeeded in being with other people for a while, that you’re maybe dealing with depression better this time because TEAMWORK!

It took far longer than it should have to realise what was really happening because, if I’m honest, I would still love there to be a way out of this disease. I wanted playing Dota to be the answer because I still want there to be an answer. Any answer. That feeling will probably never go away.

I realised that Dota had become my new navy blue when I realised I was no longer learning anything and hadn’t in months. I had a broad understanding of the game, where to stand, who to aim at, but it ended up stagnating. Each game was another wash and wear. Gradually my Dota playing faded to a powdery navy. Out of date, comfortable, anonymous.

I had to do the same thing as with my actual clothes, attempting to invert cause and effect. It’s harder to do with a mindset, though. Part of that process has been following the professional eSports scene. Paying attention to newness and innovation, keeping up with patches, finding ways to play actively rather than passively.

In the games where I’m playing rather than spectating, changing my mindset was easier with strangers. It’s like how going to a party where you know no-one and can reinvent yourself is sometimes easier than an evening where you know one or two people and realise you’ve been cycling through the same old topics of conversation while picking at nachos for two hours.

With close friends the effort has to be redoubled because everyone has formed habits, some in response to your own. Shifting all of that by a few degrees of action and aggression – becoming an active player rather than a passive cog in the five-person machine requires a lot of work, certainly at first.

There isn’t really an ending to this story because it actually represents a beginning of sorts. After a while keeping particular shades of blue from my wardrobe became something I did automatically. I hope that I can do the same for a videogame mindset. I talk to teammates far more while playing, letting them know what I’m doing or where I’m going and sometimes instigating or co-ordinating attacks. I question why things don’t always work and try to ask myself why I’m building particular items instead of just following habits regardless of how suited they are to a situation. It’s become far easier to try new things and I feel more switched on. I won’t say it’s a solution. It isn’t. What I will say is that it’s helped Dota become a useful part of my life when one of those bouts hits rather than a place in which to disappear.

If you’re struggling with depression (or if anything else is troubling you), the Samaritans can be reached 24 hours a day, every single day of the year in the UK on 08457 90 90 90. In the US there’s the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255 which also runs 24/7.

47 Comments

  1. mpk says:

    I think it’s really important to out yourself as a depression struggler/sufferer. Be it a blog post, or a word document hidden fourteen layers deep in a folder structure topped with “BADGER PORN DONT LOOK”. Even if it’s something no one else ever reads. Just getting some words down about it is a partial catharsis, or at the very least has been for me.

    • sophof says:

      I have learned to be a little careful. Depression can get a strong hold on my life, both personal and professional, but I’ve noticed that you are treated differently because of it. There’s definitely such a thing as over-sharing.
      The way out of a depression is usually through interaction, so don’t use this as a reason not to reach out if you need help, just be aware that it will change some relationships.

      • Eery Petrol says:

        I think that despite your intention your post can be taken as a general discouragement for reaching out. Could you tell us a bit about when you found it a good or bad idea to do so?

        • grom.5 says:

          I guess it’s the fact that you can share, but you have to listen on the other hand. When you try to help someone who talk about his depression but whatever you say, or whatever you do, this person does not listen to you. And I mean listen, not just hearing some words.

          People who talk about it but don’t listen face the risk that nobody wants to hear them anymore. I guess that’s the over-sharing thing he’s talking about

  2. Heliocentric says:

    Curious, with the way it induces rage quits I would have thought DotA would be a perfect breeding ground for a spiral of depression, but I say this as someone who is someone who depression didn’t sit with for very long before it gets replaced by a hobby or project and a bout of motivating hyperactivity. Indeed, most of my time spent dealing with depression it has been people close to me and my slightly* autistic lack of ability to emphasise.

    But, I think with depression, its the anecdotes that make up the data, its a hard topic to really expose even anonymously. Thank you for this insight Philippa.

    *Should read possibly, I’m not diagnosed, but raising autistic kids, it’s hard to not see myself reflected.

  3. Runty McTall says:

    I think it was Graham who mentioned on one of his Sunday Papers roundups a while back about the experience of being a writer and how almost all one hears back from one’s audience is basically abuse and conflict and how tough that can be. This sentiment really affected me very significantly.

    Since then I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to express to each of you guys on this site my appreciation for what you do because I think that you are all very fine writers and, although I may not agree with everything you might write on any given topic, I do very much respect the philosophies behind the way you approach things and the style with which you do it.

    So I wanted to say thank you Pip for this piece and the others that you have contributed here – I have very much enjoyed* what you’ve brought to the site since you’ve joined and I look forward to reading many more works from you in the future.

    * enjoyed might not be the best word for this particular piece, the topic not being one of whimsical levity like so many others on the site, but hopefully you get my drift.

    *shuffles awkwardly back to lurking*

    • tormos says:

      wow that was. I’m not even Pip and it made me feel a lot of feelings

      • Runty McTall says:

        When I read Graham’s comment I just thought, wow that must really suck and it struck me as very, very unfair given that I, and I’m sure the vast majority of readers of the site, really like the job that these guys do. I resolved to take the time in the future to give some positive messages back so that at least there is some signal amongst the noise. Mainly I’ve been waiting for moments where it won’t be comment #135 and therefore lost and unlikely to be read.

        It’s not very British though, is it? Feels damn awkward, which is probably a bit damning of our national psyche.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Hear, hear!

      This is a big part of why RPS is the most relevant game news site of the 21st century. Not just the PC game news coverage, but the expression of why individual PC games are culturally and personally important. I hope eventually some console / cross platform news sites will catch up with or at least catch on to what RPS is doing. Not just “New Games Journalism” but “Our Games Journalism”.

      Computers are personal and games are personal. Game Journalism should be personal as well.

      • tormos says:

        this reads like a manifesto I wish i’d written
        EDIT
        Or had the chance to read the rest of

  4. MobileAssaultDuck says:

    I don’t go for the blue, I have a wardrobe of “charcoal that used to be black” over-washed clothing.

    And, you know, the worst part about depression is that Nurgle-damned ebb and flow. When the tide lowers so far that you think “you know what, maybe I have beaten this.” You’re being social, you’re bathing more often, cleaning your apartment with some semblance of regularity, you’re even considering signing up for a gym… then one day, that depression tide comes flooding back in. Next thing you know you’re smoking 2 or 3 joints just to deal with your job, smoking another 2 or 3 when you get home to deal with your girlfriend and you enter this holding pattern of just waiting to die.

    The sad thing is, the best argument I’ve come up with for not killing myself is that my debt would pass on to my girlfriend. If I wasn’t in debt, I can’t think of any really fantastic reasons to be alive. Though, to be fair, it’s not like I can come up with a lot of fantastic reasons for suicide either.

    Meh, 40 minutes until I can go home and hit the bong. The nice thing about a holding pattern is you know what to expect.

    • zentropy says:

      Damn, this hits close to home. I feel you bro. :(

    • Chirez says:

      The best way I’ve ever heard it put was when Hyperbole and a half wrote ‘I don’t necessarily want to KILL myself… I just want to become dead somehow.’

      link to hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.co.uk

      Personally I’ve been trying to make myself disappear all my life, it’s one of the reasons I loved Thief so much and perhaps also why I cannot and never have played anything like DOTA.

  5. Phendron says:

    Thanks for sharing Pip. I also know how comfortable it can be to fade into the background.

  6. Rwlyra says:

    Is there anyone playing Dota 2 solo and NOT being depressed?
    Sometimes I feel like I only managed to learn playing Dota 2 out of all skills in life and I’m still bad at it despite almost a decade of playing. Aaaand I also only have overwashed clothes! ^^ inb4 doto player stereotype forming

  7. Orontes says:

    Philippa, can I just say that you were brave to talk about your condition to all of us here at RPS, and I am thankful for that. Speaking as a fellow sufferer myself (although not officially diagnosed) I can say that while depression may not have a cure so to speak, it can definitely be subdued. I myself take anti-depressants daily and they have really calmed me down and took most of the stress from work. I have been hearing good things about cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), so I might go for that, even though the NHS has a waiting list stretching into infinity, and private sessions cost £40-£100. CBT, according to a colleague who herself has depression, deals with negative thinking and your relationships with the world and people. It helped her a lot, so it’s something I’m looking into.
    The thing about depression though is that it stops you from wanting to do anything, ergo it hinders you in treating it. You don’t want to go to therapy sessions. You don’t want stronger medication, because in your mind it doesn’t work. It whispers lies in your ears and says you can’t do anything. For me, I’m naturally an introvert (I love to play games and read on my own), but depression made me feel guilty for being that way, and then made me feel that no-one liked me anyway. It has ruined the best part of my 20s. I won’t end this very long spiel on a downer, so I will say that I’m getting better. Not at Dota 2, though, I’m probably worse than you Philippa (and most of the guys in RPS).

    Tl;dr Depression is a blight and everyone at RPS wants you to get better.

    • Windows98 says:

      There’s a book – Feeling Good – which is like a course of CBT in a book. It has exercises to help you catch automatic negative self-beliefs and rationalise your way out of them. Costs less than a single private session – worth a go :)

  8. Timbrelaine says:

    Interesting. I was an avid League of Legends player for a while, but the long matches made it hard to be available to other friends (and irritated SO’s) during prime social hours. That, and they really discouraged experimentation. It is hard to do something risky when you know you might spend the next half-hour losing because of it. Or longer.

    It wasn’t good for my mental well-being. I hope DOTA 2 is better.

  9. Scrote says:

    It suddenly struck me to express curiosity as to why these pieces are called “Dote Night”. I can’t think of a song/pun that the name would stem from. Anyone know?

    • pmcp says:

      It’s like Date Night.

  10. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    Brave words, Pip. I, too, struggle with depression, and learning how others cope helps me to find new ways of my own. *runs and hides*

  11. SpacemanSpliff says:

    Grays and navy blues ever since high school for me.
    It’s more than just an article about video games that can teach you something about yourself.

  12. Gog Magog says:

    So like a week ago I put on my blackest jeans, a red hoodie (of several) and my leather jacket to look like the edgest of them all and took a long walk out of town in the middle of the night, and stopped under a bridge to light up and when I took the first drag a goddamn mastodon of a train passed overhead and the whole fucking world trembled. Then and there it felt a bit like Judgement passed upon my dumbass waste of a life so I grinned like the idiot I am. Damnation really is delightful.

    … depression and clothing choices make me think about myself. Fucking disgraceful.

  13. mr.black says:

    Thanks for those honest words, Pip! (Whop… I almost wrote Pipi!)

    I don’t exactly know and frankly I don’t want to speculate if I have some sort of mild clinical depression, but often when I read about it I’m feeling so much familiarity with the descriptions.
    For me it’s certainly influenced by outside factors (been unemployed for a long time, now finally got a steady, though half-time income within my field), and it reminds me of great storm on the vast sea and you’re trying to cling to a piece of debris, but are slipping constantly.
    The storm changes a lot, sometimes it’s more calm, sometimes you’re clinging for your dear life and every second it seems like you’ll fall, and sometimes you’re exhausted and then when there’s a short respite (weekend) you just want to numbly relax and forget the struggle for a moment (go to internet and read RPS e.g.). And then the next work week it takes so much heavy, viscous energy to get yourself together, to rave the CPU up to normal speed, to do your job and not make many mistakes, to remain concentrated. But one thing is constant and I think… I hope I got used to it over the years – I’ll start slipping again. Sooner or later, more or less extreme, but the storm will rage anew and I’ll start the fight again…

  14. DrSlotch says:

    Good read, especially since it wasn’t over-dramatic or excessively heavy handed. I am especially pleased by the thoughtful comments so far. I think that people sharing how they deal with issues such as these are somewhat cathartic, and I’m glad to see people aren’t being hyper-sensitive, or overly critical as to how others deal… With that being said, I find embracing those lowest of lows to be useful in moving through those tough times, and can sometimes lead to some positive results. Music is key to this for me, so I will share a couple of my “go-to” bands when that depression beast sits on my chest…. Codeine, and Low. Hope this helps someone.

  15. post-modern says:

    I don’t know what draws assholes to play games like Dota, but they do. I try my best in every match, but sometimes the teamwork isn’t there. And what do I get rewarded with?
    Idiot: ss?
    me:what is it.
    Idiot: kill yourself pls.
    All it takes is one person to me me feel like crap.

    You’re not supposed to be phased by words, but it still frustrates me. And this is just a pub game, mind you. If you really cared about winning, go play MMR or something.

    • Universal Quitter says:

      I’ve had similar experiences with Wargame:ALB multiplayer. The best part was that usually the person going on a tirade was the one that fucked up, by advancing too far with no reserves or AA to fall back on or something.

      DOTA is probably like other strategy genres, being on the less well-socialized side of the gamer spectrum, just with a larger pool of assholes to choose from.

  16. Jim9137 says:

    The cruelest part of depression and the related mental diseases is that you know fully well what you should be doing most of the time, but being unable to do so.

    Therapy, exercise, healthy life habits are all crucial parts of treatment; however, it is completely unreasonable to except someone suffering from depression to magically do it all themselves. And even if they do, they are able to go to the gym every day, externally there is nothing wrong with them – they could pull the trigger just the next instant.

    Each depression is different, as is each individual. We share common characteristics, but we don’t share the common cure.

  17. Tssha says:

    This experience of depression seems very different from the depression I had to deal with.

    There was disengagement…but very little static. If anything, I seemed a little too aware of what was happening. It was almost unbearable, living your life in a slow, steady crawl.

    Mostly what struck me was how nothing I liked…was enjoyable anymore. It was like a subtle kind of everyday torture…like Alcatraz, in that there is nothing to do all day except sit in your cell and wait. Except replace “in your cell” with “inside yourself”. I even looked forward to the start of the school year! Of course, even that didn’t help…

    It was like a subtle, everyday torture.

    I don’t know if depression is like that for anyone else. All I know (and this is with hindsight) is the depression was induced by the medication I was on at the time and was worsened by anti-depressants (SSRIs were later found to induce depression and suicidal thoughts in teenagers. They were prescribed when I reported depressive symptoms).

    I compulsively touched sharp knives and hot stove elements. At one point, I considered opening the car door on a busy highway and jumping head-first into the car guard barrier. At that point I resolved, very firmly, never to take my own life. It would only take away everything I had, and leave me with nothing. Even though my life was shit at the time (and, admittedly, isn’t much better now), I was passing up any chance for future happiness. Even if there’s an afterlife, I’m in no hurry to get there. No matter how depressed I got, it was, surely, going to get better some day. Holding on to happiness someday got me through it.

    I eventually abandoned the medication (prescribed off-label, blanket, to anyone with my diagnosis), to my immediate benefit. I’m still picking up the pieces though, pieces laid on top of earlier psychological damage done to me in school. To this day, I’m not successful. Not at anything.

    I have more friends than I did back then, at least. But no prospects, not even a work-a-day job. But I’m happier. And I know enough of depression to relate to it in others. I have Understanding.

    • Premium User Badge

      John Walker says:

      I think it’s important to say that your experience of SSRIs is not universal, and for many they’re the thing that helps people’s lives improve. I’m on SSRIs for anxiety disorder, and whether by placebo or actual medicative effect, they make things easier for me.

      I’m extremely pleased to hear that things have improved for you, and I strongly hope they continue to. Have you ever done any therapy? That could be really helpful, if you find a therapist you click with, for moving even further forward.

      • Chirez says:

        I realise that you’re trying to prevent the transmission of the idea that Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors are useless in treating depression, because they have ostensibly helped you and others. I appreciate the intent, but feel the need to state that actual medical evidence suggests that SSRIs are at best beneficial to a minority, and the effect could easily just be noise. The idea that those drugs cure, treat or mitigate depression universally seems at least as dangerous.

        The problem is that individual experience can’t be extrapolated. The fact that SSRIs seem to have helped one person means nothing at all when it comes to advising someone else. Of course, neither does the reverse. The bottom line has to be – see a doctor, trust the professionals and try not to refuse qualified help.

        • joshg says:

          Also worth remembering that not all SSRIs are the same, in terms of what studies have shown re: effectiveness.

          And I second that last sentence like crazy.

      • Tssha says:

        It has been conclusively demonstrated in studies that SSRIs lead to an intensification of depression symptoms in teenagers and that is ALL I meant. I certainly do not mean to say that SSRIs are universally bad and you should not take them.

        Honestly, I don’t know how anyone could make that mistake.

        • Damn Rookie says:

          It has been conclusively proved that they can lead to an intensification of depressive and suicidal feelings in teenagers; this is certainly not an effect that is universal. What this means in practice is that SSRIs should really only be prescribed for teenagers with moderate to severe cases of clinical depression, and when they can be closely monitored for any adverse side effects (for example, while they are admitted for assessment in a psychiatric unit).

          SSRIs can do a lot of good for teenage sufferers of many conditions, but proper considerations need to be taken before they’re prescribed.

  18. Premium User Badge

    John Walker says:

    Your comment is spiteful, which is not an appropriate response to such a post. However, I assume your intent is to be concerned.

    However, your suggestions are unhelpful. Someone who recognises patterns of depression or anxiety in their behaviour probably would do better for getting more exercise, etc, but unfortunately that’s a bit like telling someone without a bike that cycling is the solution to their problems. There are other things that need to be done first.

    The best things someone can do is seek counselling, and see their GP. In the UK, both of those things can be free.

    • foop says:

      In particular, in many areas of the UK there are local IAPT (‘Increasing Access to Psychological Therapy’) teams to which it is possible to self-refer. After an initial assessment they will offer appropriate therapy or advice, either in person or in telephone sessions.

      Here is a list of local IAPT services.

      (Hmm, that was supposed to be a reply, but has ended up alone. Never mind.)

    • Jim9137 says:

      This comment thread became weird.

  19. magogjack says:

    I needed to say thank you Pip !

    Thank You!

  20. Melody says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience.

    Obviously, you can’t just disagree with an experience, if that somehow works for you or helps you, I’m happy you found it. In my own experience with depression (which may indeed not be representative, as I am a very strange individual), MOBAs, with all their complexity, the huge sense of competition and pervasive toxicity, were only a help temporarily (aka as long as I kept playing, and sometimes not even then) and had a huge negative impact on me as soon as I stopped playing, and for the days to come. I don’t want to retell the same story over and over, I imagine people here are bored of hearing it already =P

    But stopping playing LoL, as much as I enjoyed the game itself, has been one of the best things I have done for my mental health in some time.

  21. Autopanda says:

    Just wanted to say that this really touched on several points in my own experience with both DOTA and LoL as well. That feeling of playing passively so as to not have to actively do something especially. Thanks for talking about how you’ve approached it and I sincerely hope it proves effective.

  22. mashkeyboardgetusername says:

    Thanks for writing this Pip, I know it must have been tough. For me it’s Spelunky that I fall back to, it’s just familiar and I know exactly what I’m doing, and it’s a good way to use up some time when I’m “clockwatching”, as it were (not wanting to do anything, but trying to think how to pass the time to lunch/dinner/bedtime – this doesn’t happen often but it’s a right nuisance when it does. I call it clockwatching because it’s like being in a dreary office job where you’re trying to think of what to do until 5:30). It’s something that, similar to Pip’s experience, it took me a good while to realise what I was doing.

    It’s interesting the responses the word “depression” gets, some people get confused, to others it’s like red flashing lights and a klaxon have gone off. Hopefully as more and more people feel able to talk about it some of the stigma will go away, it’s nice to see Pip and so many RPS commentators able to talk about things.

  23. psepho says:

    Thank you, Pip, for sharing this and thanks to all the thoughtful commenters. I too have had mental health difficulties and it is great that RPS is a forum where people feel safe to share these things.

  24. Neutrino says:

    Throwing this out there purely for the sake of a contrasting take on the subject amongst all this mutual self pity.

    Occasionally I’m too lazy to go out and do stuff, I sit at home playing computer games and can’t be bothered with the hassle of meeting people. If this goes on for too long I might start to get a bit fearful that I’m missing out on life, which would cause me to become depressed.

    Rather than considering this as an affliction, something that the cruel world is doing to me which is outside my control, I choose to see it for what it is, laziness. So I give myself a slap, go to the gym, get dressed up and go out with some friends for a beer, and then I feel much better.

    You should try it.