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Ground Control To Major Anxiety: Escapism Through Gaming

 

4D2BAED0-6A96-4C63-947E-2CA68F1A6862Like many people in the world, I have anxiety. Some days it is better than others, but it is always there. If I dare to forget about it, it reminds me that it’s there. It’s a dreadful tap on the shoulder by a ghost. When you turn and look for the source, nothing is there, but just out of sight, and just out of reach, you can feel it’s presence. It may be worrying about something, like did I turn off the stove before I left the house (you did by the way, you checked it four times), or letting my mind do cardio while my body is trying to rest in the middle of the night.

Thankfully, there are things that can help with my closest invisible friend and enemy. Meditation and mindfulness in general are very important, as are walking, getting enough sleep, therapy, and being positive, but there’s something else that helps me fill in between those moments, and it’s playing video games. Now to be clear, please understand I am not saying that video games will fix your troubles, because they won’t. You should get help for your issues, talk to people, and take care of your physical and mental being first and foremost, but there is a connection to playing games for me, and finding a sense of peace.

 

The games I find most helpful when I feel anxious, are ironically survival games on other worlds like No Man’s Sky, Subnautica, Astroneer, and Minecraft to name a few. In these games you are constantly trying to survive (unless you’re playing a creative mode where there isn’t much or any punishment to the player), while also being able to control so much about the world. At times, it feels like I am a God, and at others, I feel like I am the weakest and smallest form of life. I can reshape the terrain on a planet in Astroneer like I’m a character out of X-men, but if I dig in the wrong spot, I can fall to my death. If I wander too far from my oxygen tethers, I suffocate. In Minecraft, I can build a castle, use magic, and build entire railway systems, but I need to cook a pork chop or eat an apple once in awhile, or I’ll die.

It’s these kind of systems that seem close to our own lives, and represent the control that someone with anxiety wishes they had. I can control so much of my fate in these worlds with a click of a mouse, or the press of a button, but I have to rest sometimes. I can be a brilliant aquatic engineer and build complex breathing apparatuses and technology in Subnautica, but one second too long in a cave, and I can drown. This can an be a reminder for our own mortality. You can achieve so many great things if you put your mind to it, but if you don’t take care of yourself, or are careless, it could mean getting sicker, or even worse, dying.

Video games can get a bad rap. The World Health Organization classified gaming disorder as a disease. I’m certainly not discrediting their research, or saying that a gaming disorder or an addiction is a not real thing. People can become addicted to many things, but I think the negativity for the medium can confuse the mainstream people who don’t play games regularly. I have people that I know personally who think that gaming is bad for children and people in general. They may see their child get on Fortnite, and not want to do anything else. When they were younger, they were outside more, so they look at life through only their own perspective, when in reality children can do both quite easily. We see memes shared about topics like having kids do farm work instead of playing Pokémon Go and other forced comparisons. We’ve all heard and seen the constant claims of violence in gaming being connected to mass shootings and other crimes. Gaming, much like comics, and other geek culture, I feel fall into that misunderstood area. Gaming is just another form of art and escapism. Some people read books, watch tv, listen to music, or do all of these, and some people also play video games, read comics, or play dungeons and dragons, and more. Many of us will binge watch hours on end of a Netflix show, so I believe the criticism to gaming can be hypocritical at times when it is just a different form of entertainment.

The other thing that sometimes I feel can get missed is the beauty inside of games. There are artists, composers, actors, programmers, and so many more talented people that are working to create new experiences everyday. There are both narrative and open world experiences to be had. You can travel to different worlds and explore things and for a moment, escape from reality and explore a new fantastic experience. It’s a more realized version of using your imagination as a child. I used to pretend I was an astronaut on an alien world, and I only had a toy gun, a stick, and a net from my mothers pool. Now, there are people creating worlds for me, and some of them seemingly infinite. I can take off in my ship and fly practically anywhere in No Man’s Sky. I can see new species, discover new minerals, and disconnect from everything for a few minutes or hours. That isn’t a bad thing, that’s a beautiful thing. Perhaps if gaming seems alien to you, have your child or a young family member show you the wonderful things they can hold in them, and maybe even challenge yourself to try something new and fun with them.

Thank you for reading. If you are feeling anxious, remember to breathe, and most importantly, be nice to yourself, and take care of yourself. Maybe I’ll see you among the stars. Live long, and prosper 🖖.

No Man’s Sky is available on Steam, PS4, and is coming to Xbox with it’s new massive NEXT update July 24th. Astroneer is available in Early Access and Game Preview on Steam and Xbox. Subnautica is available on Steam, Game Preview on Xbox, and is coming to PS4 this year. Minecraft is available on practically everything! 

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