Some of you might remember my one c-blog where I documented some of my trials and tribulations of being a gamer with mental illness in today's gaming environment. (Check my c-blog page if you want to read it, I'm too lazy to link it here.†:P†;) In short: I couldn't deal with the toxicity of today's gaming community because of my particular brain setup. I even said that the only winning move for me was not to play.
I've been doing a lot of soul searching since then. Sometimes I thought about quitting gaming altogether, sometimes I thought about writing more on the topic than I already do (although finding the energy to do so was tough), but most of the time I kept thinking about this particular question: is it them, or me? Or perhaps a mix of both?
One thing I still need to try to accept is that I can't control people around me. As much as I want to be Professor X, I realize he's only a fictional character (thank goodness). But what I can control is how I respond to said people. And that's one area I've struggled with, as you might know.
Sure, medication helps with how I feel, but how I act is a completely different story. My therapist kept mentioning cognitive behavior therapy (or CBT for short) as a way to change how I act in the situations that provoke negative feelings in me. But learning CBT has been a bit difficult for me, mainly because there was no easy way for me to remember what to do when difficult mental situations arise.
Enter SPARX. I happened to find this on a random Google search for CBT. And I admit, when I found out about SPARX and its overall concept - teaching CBT to people with mental illness in video game format - I literally cheered. Perhaps this would finally be the way I can learn how to apply CBT to my everyday gaming life? Putting something in video game format is a better way to get me to learn.
Will SPARX eventually work for me? It's too soon to tell. But I feel hopeful in knowing that there's help out there like this - and that video games can be used in such positive ways.
If you want to find out about SPARX for yourself, check it out here:†http://linkedwellness.com/play-sparx-the-video-game-for-depression/
About five years ago, I wrote an article for the Escapist, called ďA Gun to Your Head.Ē The article was about how back then, when the PlayStation 2 RPG called ďShin Megami Tensei: Persona 3Ē came out, I found its imagery of using, well, guns to peopleís heads as if they look like theyíll kill themselves (I know itís not that, but the imagery is certainly evocative of it) at first off-putting to me, but then attractive to me as I gave the game a second chance. Read the article if you want to know any further my thoughts on that game and its philosophy, but the point Iím making here is that back then, as a gamer with medically diagnosed mental illnesses, I found solace in video games - they had themes and values that I genuinely found soothing to my mind, as plagued with mental illnesses as it is. It was one of the few times I could talk about mental illnesses and how video games helped me cope with them.
Fast forward to the present day, and things have changed since that article was written. Iím starting to have regrets of writing that article now, but not because of Persona 3, which I still feel is a great game. Rather, itís because video games have morphed from a source of solace, to a trigger of pain. The video game industry and its associated community and culture were once a place of refuge from my mental disorders, from depression and anxiety to borderline personality disorder (all of which are official medical diagnoses, by the way). Now, though, they set them off, and my former solace has become my mental damnation. I once felt great when playing video games, but now as a result of the people surrounding them I canít even look at a video game without thinking about how much pain it would cause me. I still play video games, as I still derive pleasure from playing them (well, single-player games, anyway), but this pleasure used to come without the amount of pain it does. Now itís unbearable.
Let me give you a bit of background, and please note I am doing so with great risk to myself. Throughout much of my childhood and adulthood life so far, Iíve had to deal with mental health issues of some sort. To be more specific, as a child I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and later on I was subsequently diagnosed with major depression, and generalized anxiety disorder (with panic attacks). As an adult, my Asperger Syndrome was changed to a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. However, to give you an idea of what itís like to live with my brain, Iím going to quote another person who has written about her mental illness, Natasha Tracy, who keeps a blog of it at www.natashatracy.com. Although she has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder (which is different from my diagnosis of borderline personality disorder), there is one passage she wrote in the blog post ďHow a Person with Bipolar ThinksĒ that I think fits me:
ďEverything feels like the end of the world (catastrophizing). Weíre not upset, weíre depressed. Weíre not suspicious, weíre paranoid. Weíre not happy, weíre elated. And of course there are all the thoughts that go along with these things. If our boyfriend looks at another girl he must be cheating. If we have a disagreement with a friend they must hate us. If weíre criticized at work we must be getting fired. Itís not that we donít necessarily understand these things arenít reasonable; itís just that we canít help the way our brain thinks, the way it leaps.Ē
Think about that passage for a moment, then think about the things people say in an average gaming discussion forum. In todayís forums, discussion is anything but civil, and ad hominem attacks are rampant. Itís not just enough to criticize a specific game, or a genre of game, or a specific studio, or design philosophy, or publisher, or whatever. People in these forums always have to take it a step further.
They attack everyone associated with the thing they hate. You donít like Call of Duty? You must be a pretentious hipster. (Conversely if you like Call of Duty youíre accused of supporting blind nationalism.) You donít like first person shooters? You must be a game-hating pacifist. (And again, conversely, if you like first-person shooters you must be a simpleton who wants to kill gaming innovation and creativity.) You like what Ninja Theory did to Dante? Then youíre not a true gamer and enjoy dumbing things down. (And again, conversely, if you donít like it you must hate change.)
Itís a minefield for someone with the mental illnesses I have. Sure, I know one obvious response Iíll get is ďdonít take it personally,Ē or ďget a thicker skin,Ē or whatever. Believe me, Iíve tried to get that thicker skin. Iíve tried my whole life. But because of the way my brain is wired - completely outside of my control - Iíll always have that panic reflex when someone indirectly attacks me in this way. Iíve treated my conditions - with medication, therapy, and other things, and Iíve had some success, in the sense that Iíve reduced these fight-or-flight responses. But again, for whatever reason, because of my brain chemistry, these incidents will never truly go away.
Itís little wonder, given the petty bickering that goes on in most gaming discussion fora, that Iíve decided to side myself with the gaming progressives, those who actively fight against the worst aspects of gaming such as racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. Iíve joined their cause because their cause seems deeper than the ones that the everyday gamer fights over. However, even after aligning myself to their cause, my borderline personality disorder gets in the way of being able to fight for them. If they say a specific game is bad for whatever reason, my brain automatically jumps to the conclusion that I must be bad/evil too for wanting to play that game. Even criticism of specific genres which I like that occasionally get under fire from the gaming progressives I follow, this criticism somehow sets off this leap of logic. Itís not their fault that I get upset like this. If anything I blame the narrow-minded people who made the gaming progressive presence necessary in the first place.
Still, though, it seems with the way my brain is wired, with the disorders I have, the only winning move in interacting with the gaming world is, frankly, not to play.
EDIT: Earlier photos replaced with clearer, better-lit pics. Ask and ye shall receive.
Recently I came into possession of a certain action figure that a co-worker gave to me from a successful session of dumpster-diving. I don't know which office in the building it came from, but it must've been a damn cool place to work if it had this beauty:
Yes, that is the giant robot Raiden from Virtual On. Yes, that is a Sega Saturn on it's back. Yes, it's awesome.
But I was seriously wondering...could this figure be worth something? I figured I'd ask the community here if it is. Any Tomopoppers wanna take a crack at how much something like this could be worth?
First off I just want to say that I picked up Tom Clancy's HAWX recently and it is awesome. Yes, I know it's not a flight sim, but for me, that's a good thing. Like Yahtzee said in his Zero Punctuation review of Saints Row 2, realism isn't always a good thing. If a game can be made more fun by sacrificing realism, then that's fine by me. Now, I know that lots of people like more realistic flight simulators, and if you like that sort of thing, more power to you, but what HAWX does is truly bring the fighter pilot movie experience into your living room (or studio apartment in my case). The myth is infinitely more fun than the real thing.
Which brings me to my next subject - that of Tom Clancy games in general. I know, after I posted about how much I hate American foreign policy and the culture that supports it in such posts in my blog like "This will possibly be my angriest post ever," I know what you're going to say: how can I stand to play Tom Clancy games?
Well, here's the thing: I have this weird sort of dichotomy with them. I've never read any of Tom Clancy's books, but the games I've come to enjoy a lot. And in real life, I am anti-war and pretty much a pacifist, plus, my political views lean pretty left of the dial (as if you haven't figured that out already). But yet, in spite of that, I like playing the Tom Clancy games. I know that sounds weird, but here's how I see it - just because I play Tom Clancy games doesn't mean I endorse their political content. I also recognize that making war a game is a very, very ancient concept - war as a game has been around since the days of chess and go. So I don't think I'm being a hypocrite by being a Tom Clancy war game player who's against the real thing.
Plus, the storylines of the Tom Clancy games tend to be pretty apolitical. They're more akin to the storylines of games like Call of Duty 4, which is both a good and a bad thing, I realize. By being apolitical they acquire the good and bad points of neutrality and, to some extent, apathy - by being neutral in storyline they can appeal to a broader audience. But neutrality isn't always the right thing to do - if there is clearly moral wrongs being done, it's a necessity, in my opinion, to speak out against them. Especially when you're covering such topics as war and military operations; the Tom Clancy games can be considered guilty of such things as endorsing the militarization of American culture and drumming up support for recruitment by making warfare look cool.
It's important in cases like this to educate gamers that games like those with the Tom Clancy stamp are not accurate portrayals of the real thing. The real thing is long, messy, and constantly shuffles between boring and hellish. There's nothing cool about it. It's also important to note here that while games like this can be seen as endorsing American wars (and perhaps may be construed as propaganda), that our enemy here is not the game but the bomb. Again, war as a game is a very ancient concept, and yes, it's fun, but it's better to educate everyone about how video games and war really compare, and thus have them make their own decisions about such topics (such as if they want to play or not play them), than to blanketly focus on yoinking games like the Tom Clancy series off shelves.
Apparently I was a bit late coming to Dtoid's GOTY party because I only found out just now, reading a c-blog, that Left 4 Dead won Dtoid's GOTY Award.
To which I say: hell fucking yeah! A friend lent the game to me a few days before Xmas (I do not own my own copy...yet) and I have to say it does deserve Dtoid's top honors, in spades. I probably can't really say anything about it that hasn't been said already, but...damn. The game actually makes multiplayer FUN. Which says a lot, considering how I'm not a diehard multiplayer person. (I do play multiplayer occasionally, but I played more L4D multiplayer in these last few days than I have played some titles all year.)
Well, I guess I could say one thing about L4D that hasn't been said yet. And that statement is: what makes L4D fun is the people. It's not just the gameplay - the people who regularly populate L4D really make the game fun for me. With the exception of a few assholes I've encountered (which are inevitable in any multiplayer game, really - it's the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory) almost all the players I've encountered in L4D have been nice, lively, reasonably intelligent, accomodating to newbies like myself, and generally great people to play a game with.
Maybe it's just the Christmas Spirit(TM) infecting these players like the zombie virus, but it's something that's been on my mind. Why are the players of L4D so much nicer and more decent human beings than players of other multiplayer games? What is it about L4D that makes players nicer to each other, or at least attract the sort of player who doesn't feel compelled to fill the airwaves with racist, homophobic banter? (And I'm playing the Xbox 360 version, folks.) I'm not sure what's going on here. Is it the game itself? Is it the market it's attracting?
What do you folks think is going on here? Am I just lucky? Post what you think is happening in the comments. In the meantime, have a happy holiday and stay uninfected!
As you folks who have seen a few posts of my blog (all three of you) may have figured out by now, I'm a pretty musically inclined person, especially when my two interests of music and video games intersect in some way. There are some games whose soundtracks I absolutely adore, and one recent example is Persona 4. The opening theme song of that game is catchy enough to qualify as a pandemic-level infectious disease. Likewise, the battle music, while good, is hampered by one flaw - there's only one track's worth of battle music, only varied slightly when fighting big bad guys or bosses.
Now, I understand the value of having music identified with a particular game event - note the victory music of the Final Fantasy games and how well that's been ingrained into our gamer minds. But one way to enhance the replayability of a game is to vary the music from time to time. And that got me to thinking about the following question: if you just succeeded in accomplishing a Herculean task in a video game, what would your music sound like?
Now, this may sound weird, but I think the track "Forever and Always" by Bullet for My Valentine would be good victory music for me. The stadium-filling, epic-sounding riffs coupled with the slow and thick drumming and the melodic vocals just conjure up in me images of having rescued the girl by slaying about three armies' worth of video game bad guys, having blown the head off of the last boss with the only bullet left in your arsenal. Weird association, I know, but that's just me. So, if you had to pick victory music for yourself, what would you pick?