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Diary of a Mentally Ill Gamer


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.
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