The healing power of video games against depression – Reader’s Feature

A reader gives a heartfelt description of his battle against depression and how video games Celeste and Thumper have helped him.

Having written to GC about the positive effects of playing Celeste before, they kindly suggested I write a Reader’s Feature about my experience of depression. I still believe I’m an optimist who finds joy in the smallest moments and who loves to make the world a better place simply by being kind whenever possible. To fall from that position to how I currently feel is agonising.

Depression, to me, is a fog imbued with a suffocating grip on positivity and action. It convinces me, even in the face of reason, and evidence to the contrary, that I’m a worthless, burdening blight on the life of everyone I interact with. It makes me hate myself and devalue my existence and has had me seriously contemplate suicide. It sounds melodramatic. It is, because there are times when it lifts, and I see with better eyes.

In those moments of clarity, I can see that everything I believe when in its grip is nonsense, but the power of depression is that it’s able to convince me, my memory or even words I wrote to myself, that only its truth is real. That it would be better if I had never existed. It sucks enjoyment from even my most beloved hobbies. Depression makes them all seem pointless and joyless. Even playing games, my unassailable happy place since the tender age of four, could not escape its grip.

Over the past 18 months I’ve played many games, and completed a few, but I found myself playing because it was something to do. Depression dulled even the most wonderful games to the point where I just couldn’t be bothered. I was feeling empty during and after playing them, despite trying various genres. Gaming used to stimulate my senses so completely that I lost hours to the marvels before me, but now they drag and bore me.

I saw Celeste was on sale on the Nintendo eShop last weekend. I remembered GC’s glowing review and reference to the themes of mental health so I thought I would give it a punt.

I ended up completing it rapidly. I found myself feeling better whilst playing and thinking about Celeste. Celeste caused the fog to dissipate. Somehow, Matt Makes Games created a vivid, arresting link between platforming and overcoming obstacles both physical and mental. I’m not sure how such a thing is possible without wizardry.

I felt like every leap, puzzle, and screen represented my own struggle in its own way. Somehow, by helping Madeline through each trial. Through each individual leap, I was also dealing with my own problems. At times I was making leaps of faith, not knowing how I would make it through a particularly difficult screen, but I leapt anyway.

The game encourages the player to try. To just try. That message is incredibly powerful. Most days I don’t try to fight even the smallest battle, but not when playing Celeste. The battle of depression is won in the trying.

Madeline’s struggle became mine and vice versa. I am not ashamed to say I was brought to tears several times, not by the punishing difficulty, but by the way Madeline describes her illness.

I had to finish climbing the mountain, and the ending was sweet yet avoided the trap of saying Madeline is all better now. I wish I could play it again for the first time.

I also bought Thumper last weekend, and started playing it after completing Celeste, hoping to continue enjoying another challenge. Though Thumper is an entirely different experience I found its immediacy had a similar effect upon me.

First and foremost, I needed absolute concentration to overcome each stage in Thumper, just as I did with Celeste. There was no room for the depression. Death and failure in both games, are a minor inconvenience. They put me back into position quickly and encouraged me to have one more try because there was no time or space for doubt. Each obstacle in Celeste and Thumper felt impassable until I made it.

The unsettling visuals of Thumper and the coursing, pulsing music, absorbed my senses in a completely different way to Celeste but it felt so good to be out of my head, with a laser focus on the goal of pressing on; of trying again.

Perhaps I’ve been playing the wrong games this last 18 months. Perhaps, for a little while I need games that ask me to do more, without time to think. I hope that these two games, and hopefully many more, will have such a deep impact that when the depression descends, a small part of me will retain the belief that fulfilment is in the trying. That I will remember the fog is not real.

Rather than view my challenges as a mountain, I think for now I will be happy with a special ability to pierce the fog of doubt, sorrow, and apathy and see it’s worth taking the next step forward. If Celeste and Thumper have taught me anything, it’s that even the tiniest victory is another step forward, and for a man who has stood still for 18 months, that single step feels gargantuan.

If you or someone you know is experiencing depression, please get help. Depression is deeply affecting for both the sufferer, their family, loved ones, and partners. Please seek help, whether from your GP, The Samaritans, or even a free app called Hub of Hope, that can help you connect with support in your area.

By reader Matt

The reader’s feature does not necessary represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.

You can submit your own 500 to 600-word reader feature at any time, which if used will be published in the next appropriate weekend slot. As always, email [email protected] and follow us on Twitter.

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