For a while now I’ve known that I have depression and anxiety: I’ve known that I get tired easier and more often than most, and I’ve known that I get more nervous than most over more things. But I’ve also been gaming for as long as I remember; gaming since I was 5 if my memory serves me correctly. So with that, I know that my mental health has affected how I interact with and play video games.
To be quite honest, I don’t intend this piece to be more than a personal essay: I don’t want it to be a catch-all “this is how people with mental health issues play video games”. I want to share how I interact with video games with the mental illnesses I have. So what do I have? Well as I’ve mentioned earlier, I have depression and anxiety. Though self-diagnosed, I show more than enough of the symptoms and enough professionals and friends agree for me to say I have these conditions. This means I have general lethargy, low energy and a heightened nervousness, which all intersects with my relationship with video games in various ways.
Firstly, the lethargy and low energy; this is the symptom that most affects my gaming. Because of that symptom, I rarely have the urge to sit down and put time and effort into a game. But in addition to general apathy, the physical action of gaming mixes in with my sluggishness to lead me to gaming less and less. This is due to the physical location of my consoles and the physical activity needed to play them. Usually, I have my console on my desk, which for me to play at, I usually need to move multiple things and sit in an uncomfortable chair. I could sit on the edge of my bed, but the screen is too far away and my back too bad to really comfortably do that. I could set up in the living room downstairs, however, because of my anxiety I have this deep fear of hogging the TV from my housemates so I would much rather stay in my room and play there.
This all really means that I value mobile and portable gaming a lot more when I am feeling particularly tired. Because I can physically just sit in the comfort of my bed and easily access games, it becomes the easiest way I can play video games. The physical aspect isn’t the largest reason I prefer portable games, however, as their design works around my symptoms quite nicely. As a lot of portable games are designed around short bursts, I still feel accomplished if time wise I haven’t put much in as I would have in a larger, home console game. Multiplayer games could indeed fit into my preference for short bursts of accomplishments, but due to the highly competitive nature inherent to them, I sometimes find it all the more stressful.
Genre also interacts with my mental illnesses in an interesting way. I tend to find FPS, action and platforming games easier to play since a lot of the fun of them derives from quick reactions and simple gameplay that doesn’t require as much thought to play; not to say that these kinds of games don’t have complexity or are too simplistic, they just function in a way that tires me less than other genres. RPGs, though less frenetic than some other genres, I tend to avoid when my mood is low. This is because there is a lot of effort in deciding on tactics, equipment and the usually very involved story. That’s not to say I avoid them entirely. I, in fact, love RPGs; they just require that little bit extra effort that leads me away from them. Indie games usually are quite easy for me to play, but as I tend to prefer more narratively and thematically intense ones, so again in a low mood they are avoided.
This all, in turn, makes the Nintendo Switch one of my favourite consoles to play on. Since it is able to physically offer me portability, it allows for me to be more physically comfortable by freeing me of the constraints of a desk and uncomfortable chair as I play video games, and so overall affording me an easier experience while playing games on the console. I have also found that a lot of the games for the Switch have the aforementioned portable design sensibility of valuing short bursts, but applying it to beefier games. Equally, however, with that physical comfort afforded to me through the portability of the Switch and the fact that it can handle some bigger games due to its computing power, I have actually increased the amount of time spent on heavier, more intensive games. By playing them on the Switch over my other home consoles, I can be psychically comfortable thus allowing for me to play heavier games since there isn’t the added discomfort I find in playing home consoles on top of the general difficulties I have with more ambitious games. This, in turn, makes the Switch my preferred console to play on. Since it affords me a home-console experience, but in a way that physically is easier for me to play, my mental-health isn’t as much of a block when playing on Nintendo’s console.
As mentioned before, I don’t want this to be a catch-all guide for mental illnesses and video games, every individual’s relationship with their mental health is so vastly different to another’s. There are some commonalities and patterns, but everyone is different. I just hope that with this piece I can express to others how one with such mental health issues relates to this wonderful medium that we call video games. I’m starting medication soon, so I wonder now how my mental health will differ and how my relationship with video games will change with that.