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.