Depression, Gaming & Me

It was around a year ago that I finally realised that I had depression and that it was affecting me much more than I expected, it took me another month to actually do something about it, but I knew I had it and that I was no longer in control of my own life.

The point I realised? It was at a friend’s farewell BBQ, I just didn’t want to be there, didn’t want to be around anyone and had spent the week prior pretending to be unwell enough that I could skip it, but not too much that I would be forced by my partner to get checked out.

Anyway, it didn’t work and I ended up at this BBQ. The moment it clicked for me, was when the meat was ready to be served. Everyone made a beeline for the table and started helping themselves, as you do, however I stood back and let them all go for what they wanted, deciding to wait for scraps at the end, should there me any.

Why? Because in my mind, I didn’t deserve to eat the food that had been laid out. Despite my partner providing some of the meat (her home made burgers which are to die for incidentally), I was worthless compared to these people.

These people who had done well for themselves, pilots, teachers, lawyers, business owners, police and so on. All of these people are better than me, they are more deserving than me. They had money, they have status, I am a cretin who begs for money from a job that fails to pay me properly. Who am I to mix with these people. I look down on myself, so they certainly must do too.

I stood there and I remember this thought as clear as day.

I could kill myself right now and not one person would really give a damn. I could end it all and make everyone’s lives that much better. I am a cancer on society and I bring everyone down with me. My own son and my partner would be better off without me. I am bad luck and by ending my existence they will go on to live long and successful lives.

Those were my genuine thoughts. I even surveyed the area to see if there was anywhere I could remove myself to and finish it there and then.

Luckily for me, an opportunity arose for me to be able to leaver early and return home to be on my own. I could make it known I was feeling ill, get a life back home and wallow in my own self pity.

It was a very low point for me. I wore a mask for years, trying to be someone I wasn’t so that I could be accepted. Accepted by people who certainly didn’t share my interests and love. Sure we all had a single thing in common that meant we we in each other’s company a lot of the time, but despite having them all around me, I still felt alone.

It’s always the same y’know. At an event or gathering “Why don’t you dance?”, “Why don’t you join in with the singing?”, “You look miserable”, “Get up and have some fun!”

Yeah fun, get up and have some fun. Singing, dancing, pissing around with others. I don’t have the mental energy. I don’t find that fun, it is an effort and one I really cannot put on a show for. If I sing, dance, prat around, I leave myself open for mocking. It happened at school, it happened in my early years and in my mind it would happen again.

I also felt I needed to be the one to help, because if I helped I would have a reason to be liked. Need to move home? Bradley will do it. Need a coffee run? Bradley will offer soon. This minor task, I am on it. I was helping and maybe, just maybe I would be accepted.

Yet the harder I tried, the more miserable I became, the more I sunk into the darkness of my own thoughts. It is that darkness that gets you, that consumes you and whittles away at every positive thought you have until there is no light left, there is nothing but nothingness.

However there has always been one constant in my life, from as far back as I can remember… Videogames!

I wrote an article a while back about how videogames saved my life (which you can read here) and it is always a recurring theme in my life. I can honestly say that a good videogame has kept me from completely losing my being on multiple occasions. It is better than any medication I have had.

Now I am on medication for my depression, as said about a month after that lowest point I saw a doctor and got help and I am now on the long road to recovery. It is hard and I still have some very dark days, but I feel I can pull myself from that darkness easier than I could before. I still have issues with confidence and positive feelings, but there is always a slight glimmer of hope.

Now before I get on to why videogames play such an important role I want to clarify one thing. The main reason I fight, is for my son and my partner. I love them with all my heart and if not for them I dread to think what my life would be like. I would do anything for them as they would for me. Life for us isn’t easy, it is beyond difficult at times. But we have each other and that keeps us all going.

So what is the role of videogames? Why are they so important to me? Because as I mentioned, they have been the only constant in my life. I have always had them to turn to. From getting my first Atari, to a Spectrum 128k, playing a C64 at my Nan’s, then the various SEGA and Nintendo consoles to the modern Playstation and XBOX, mixed with PC and my favourite of all, the Vita.

I have been privileged to have watched gaming grow from the tiny seed it was, to the worldwide cultural phenomenon it is today. It has been there with me every step of the way. It has helped me through many dark times.

I am not a big reader of novels, I think a lack of imagination these days means I cannot really turn the words on a page into images in my head, I used to be a good designer, a solid artist, but again I have nothing, it has totally deserted me over the past few years. So I cannot even hang on to that.

Yet, here are videogames. I can be anything I want to be, a videogame will allow me to do that, it doesn’t judge me if I want to go round on a mass murder spree, or manipulate art in a 3D space. It doesn’t care if I want to spend 5 minutes with it, or lose myself for an entire day. No matter my need, there is a game for me at that time.

Not long ago, I had a day where everything seemed to be going wrong, every action I took, every word I said, seemed to have a negative effect. I needed a release I needed to cause some destruction to relieve myself from the frustration I was feeling.

I boot up Steam and scroll through my list of games, settling on Just Cause 2. I jumped in, ignoring where I left off in the story and just blew shit up for a good period of time. It was so satisfying, it closed my day out and meant I felt I could face another day.

It isn’t just big games that allow you to cause mayhem and live out fantasies that would see you in prison in real life. I have had days where I have felt stupid, so I can rely on going to play Sudoku on the Android, Two Digits on Steam. Slitherlink on DS or break out Danganronpa to do some mystery solving.

Again they are all there for me and somehow knowing I can put on one of these games and prove to myself I am not an idiot, helps loads.

Then there are times I look at myself and wonder what could have been, what if I did this at school, what if I did that? What if I decided to be a sports person, get into racing. Well again I can live out those fantasies in videogames. I can be an NHL superstar, a racing legend, I can be the best golfer in the world, ride a superbike, hit a series winning home-run and so much more.

Sports games hold a special place in my heart, especially the NHL games as I am a huge hockey fan. So when you score an Overtime winner in a Stanley Cup playoff game with a character you have created and developed, it feels just so amazing, you have those moments of joy that you miss in your real life and somehow they carry on when you put the controller down.

It’s not all about fantasy though, I have never dreamed of being a little Italian plumber who wants to save the princess time and time again. Nor have I wanted to be a disembodied thing like Rayman, not a super-fast Hedgehog, or more recently an evolving pixel character. So there are games out there too that are just fun, pure unadulterated fun.

Mix that too with games that are fiendeshly difficult and are designed to do nothing but test your skills and patience. Super Meat Boy, Trials, Super Kaizo Mario, Guacamelee and so much more. There really is something for every taste and feeling.

Games have got me through so much of my life and have always been there for me. They don’t judge me, or care what sort of person I am. They are just there and can be anything I need to just get through another day.

They are the reason I am still being, they have opened a door for me, that I never though possible and have helped me grow a lot over the last few years and especially in the last 12 months.

There are two things I feel I am good at in my life. One of those is fatherhood and anyone who knows me, knows how much my son means to me. The other is talking about videogames. Whilst to some that may seem like a pointless thing to be good at, let me explain a few things.

I got into writing by accident really. On twitter I saw that a person I knew (Adam from this very site) had a game early and had got it for free. So I asked how this happened and was introduced to Gamestyle, told to submit a review and see what happens.

Somehow I wrote something that was deemed acceptable. My review for DiRT 2, which was then published on the site and gave me the opportunity to write more. I honestly couldn’t believe it, right there on the internet something I had written for the world to see and not just a personal blog, but a legit gaming site (15 years indie and counting).

Now I won’t lie to you. I got into doing this whilst work was still going ok and I was getting paid to do my job. I did this as a chance to blag myself a few free games. But it did something to me, it felt good, it was like a drug and I wanted more, thus more started coming.

Now for all I know I could be the worst writer in the world, I certainly don’t have an English degree and I did design at college, so nothing that really helps me as a writer. I assume my grammar does enough to get me through and my musings are coherent enough. But I don’t really care, I can do this on the side and it made me feel good.

Then something happened that nearly ruined it all. Gamestyle was the victim of a massive hack and we lost everything and I do mean everything. The site was so badly destroyed that it was pretty much going to be left for dead.

I couldn’t let that happen, I needed this site in my life, it gave me purpose, something else I could focus on, an escape from the darkness of my being. I managed to convince some of the guys who were part of the site to allow it to carry on. I would help it rise from the flames, even if it meant starting from scratch.

Well three years later and the site is still going strong and if anything is riding the crest of a wave as we go from strength to strength. I would love to name names here. But it would take too long, so to all those who have been part of this since we rebuilt…Thank You! You have also been a part of keeping me sane.

This next bit might be a little odd for many of you, but I have never really had a dream before. I have never wanted anything so badly I would do anything to achieve it. But over the past two years I have finally found ‘my calling’ no matter how cliche that may be. I want to be in full time games media.

Why? Well let me tell you two of my main influences.

1. Kyle Bosman from Gamestrailers.com.

Kyle is a normal guy, he has his weekly show ‘The Final Bosman’ and his style is that of just an ordinary person who loves videogames. He is hugely popular and is living my dream. He doesn’t have a dumb gimmick like a PewDiePie. Who, despite not liking to watch, I still respect immensely. Kyle comes across as the everyman, one person in the gaming media who I feel talks to me as a gamer.

2.The Giant Bomb team.

Why these guys? Well they are doing now what I had planned for Gamestyle. They have taken gaming in its current state and used it to provide entertainment on a level never seen before. They don’t rely on reviews, they aren’t handcuffed by corporate sponsorship and just know what they are comfortable doing.

I watch them and they just seem to have a great time doing what they are doing. I would love for Gamestyle to almost be the UK version of that. Hell I want to work for Giant Bomb, it is my dream job, I am not going to hide that. However they are based in the US and the likelihood of that happening it slim. But hey it is a dream and I have learned that you need your dreams and nothing is impossible.

Over the past year I have managed (with help) to turn Gamestyle from a site that could produce 1-2 reviews a week if lucky, to one that now has content on a daily basis. Ranging from reviews, to podcasts, written features to video content. I did this…ME!

For me to do the podcasting, the Quick Looks, Let’s Plays and more took a lot out of me mentally. I have never been able to really talk to a crowd before, never felt comfortable talking and being recorded, despite doing a short run on a hockey podcast. I just didn’t have that confidence. Yet I feel confident about games, so it was all or nothing.

I recorded the first Gamestyle Live with a couple of the other guys and I felt sick, I very nearly backed out at the last second. I didn’t and we have grown and evolved ever since. I did throw up immediately finishing that first recording, but it was out there. A video podcast. No turning back now.

I still feel nervous about each recording I do now, but I have to deal with that in my own way. But it turns out I am decent at it and that people do want to listen. I get sick to the stomach waiting for the numbers to come in, but I have found ways to deal with that.

Videogames and Gamestyle are a huge part of me, second only to my family and if there is a way I can make this work full time then I will take it. It’s not just about making this a living, it is a huge part of what stops my going down the rabbit-hole again, what keeps my head above water.

I am even writing this because of a bad day mentally, I needed a release and this allowed me the perfect opportunity. I don’t expect people to understand why I need this, I just know that I do.

Depression is still a massive taboo, one that is very difficult to talk about with anyone. It is very hard to express how one feels inside, despite their outer personality. You only need to look at someone like Robin Williams to understand how complex depression is. That was a shock to almost everyone, because like most of us, he wore his mask very well.

Depression in my mind is something I will never be free of, I can pinpoint the areas that may have had a say in causing it to consume me, but I know it will always be part of me. I will have days and moments where there seems like there is an easy way out. Yet I have learned I have things I can grab on to to stop me falling into that dark empty void.

The game’s industry gets a lot of bad press, it is blamed for so many bad things that happen. Shootings, society, the likes of Gamergate, but those make the good news stories and sure Gamergate and the online harassment does need attention bringing to it. I feel horrible for Anita Saarkesian and what she goes through, I look at her as what inner strength can be and admire how she won’t let herself be taken down.

Yet stories of how games do things that affect the world positively, or even an individual like me, those never make the news, they aren’t interesting to the wider world. You need to look deeper to see how they improve the lives of kids with special needs for example. Or how they help this depressive get though each waking moment and somehow want to face the day ahead.

Videogames once saved my life, now they allow me to live one!