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When Gaming Is Like A Hot Bath

Rubber duckies optional

[This article was originally published to our Supporter Program on 22nd February.]

I've had a really shitty couple of weeks. I've written before about anxiety disorder, and after a really quite astonishingly awful start to 2016 I had quite the collapse. I share this information for one reason: I know there are many other people out there suffering with anxiety, panic and low mood, and I know how often it's not talked about, and from brutal personal experience, what it's like to think it's just you, to think you're going mad, to think there's no way out of the hole. If that's you, I strongly recommend that you leap over to the post from last year, and look into some of the resources listed. You deserve it. You deserve to feel better. There are ways you can feel better.

Today I want to briefly talk instead about that hot bath feeling a perfect game can give you when things are low.

I need to be honest, too. This recent bout left me so crippled that for a short while I struggled to do anything, let alone sit in front of a game. With support, medication, and counselling, I've improved enormously, and am thankfully sat back at work, and even more thankfully, tasked with reviewing a game I'd already loved playing for an earlier preview. I'm not pretending that when things are bad, you can just dump yourself in front of the PC and wish away all your woes. Curled into a ball in a bed you can't get out of somewhat prevents that. But that time comes again, when you can uncurl, and gosh, video games offer a magical place by then.

I really cannot think of a better metaphor than sliding into a bath. Baths are indulgent, but good indulgent. They represent space, time, and comfort. Things that are absolutely essential if you're going to allow yourself to start to feel better. You close your eyes, covered by the water, a slight weightlessness from the buoyancy, and just for a moment there's an embrace. (This is, I should add, pure fantasy on my part at the moment - at nearly 6ft, overweight, and in a house that only has a three-quarter-length bath, the idea of actually being able to get wet is pure delusion just now - stop adblocking the site so I can afford a new bath!) And when I'm low, a favourite type of game offers something oddly similar.

It's genre, I think, rather than a specific game for me. I have games I love to go back to when given rare moments of spare time to do so - Burnout Paradise is perhaps the most frequent, but also Hexcells, and the Just Cause series. But for times like these, for me it's point-and-click adventures. Yeah, I'm old.

The format, the conversations (that allow me to play a puzzle game on my phone while I'm listening), the puzzles to solve, the gentle, careful pacing, exploring new locations for items, making new discoveries and advancing an interesting plot - mmmm, just add bubbles. When it's a good one, it absorbs me, takes my mind away from its irrational fears and panics, and replaces it with story and challenge.

For someone else, that game is going to be XCOM. Or Skyrim. Or Civilisation. The game that soaks around you, uses the right parts of your brain, and rewards you in a way that's fulfilling - not just distracting. And for me, it's something about games that achieves this. When my brain is askew, it's a real challenge to maintain the focus to read a book. TV shows and movies feel too removed, too distant. But games enfold, reach around the sides of me, offer that moment of embrace. And right now, that's just what I need.

If you're struggling, you are not alone. Again, please, if you need support then plunder the links in this post. And get yourself to a GP, whatever it takes, and ask them for help. I literally did that - I went in, sat down, and mumbled, "I need help." If you know someone who's struggling, text them, email them, call them, offering support, love, lifts, shopping or company. Don't be offended by a lack of a reply, just keep on checking on them.

And when you can, find that game that's a hot bath for you to sink into. Allow yourself that.

Top image by D Sharon Pruitt.

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About the Author
John Walker avatar

John Walker


Once one of the original co-founders of Rock Paper Shotgun, we killed John out of jealousy. He now runs buried-treasure.org