I play video games, and I have depression

Six months ago, freelance video game writer Matt Hughes killed himself. Following this tragedy, a surge of people in the industry came out with stories of their own depression. One in particular, Jeff Green, a man whose work I’ve followed for years, got me thinking about my own feelings. I’m taking anti-depressants and feel on the level, but every now and then I have down days. On one of those down days, I wrote this piece.

It isn’t every day that’s hard, but today was harder than others. I woke up feeling great, but that euphoria swiftly vanished. I was on the bus. A beautiful woman was at the back, talking to her friend. I looked at her, trying to muster the courage to say hello. I thought I could steal one last look at her ornate haircut before I got off. She saw me take notice of her and said a simple “Hi,” to which I replied, “Hey”.

I instantly felt like I was at the center of a middle school embarrassment, all eyes on me (as if her and her friend would even mention me again).

That’s what depression can be. It’s letting things get to you, letting the smallest utterance cripple you for hours. Of course, everybody goes through some kind of emotional storm from time to time, but I have this fragility, this rainforest of unbalanced chemicals in my brain that takes but two words to set it ablaze. The same rainforest that suffocated my daily life is what kept me from enjoying games. I’d play games out of obligation, not desire.

Weeks before I got on Prozac, my self-esteem’s baseline was no taller than a knee-high table. Now, as long as I take my meds, most days feel bearable, like there’s nothing really in my way; that is to say, I just am. I don’t start every morning with a heavy sigh and despair.

Even so, there’s days like today. Maybe it was the weather. Maybe I forgot to take my meds yesterday. Maybe it’s my body adjusting back to my diet after I cheated for nearly a week. Little things contribute to the “sad” end of the scale. Each piece of candy I eat from my boss’s candy jar puts another little pebble on the scale, each piece representative of the thought, ‘God, I have no self control,’ or, ‘I’m disgustingly overweight and shouldn’t be eating this.’

For years, I’ve had days like today, where I sit and listen to “Stairway to Heaven” on loop until I cry and feel better. But tonight, I listen and I’m not moved to tears. I’m not emotionally stricken. It’s more like I’m further away from that threshold—it will take more than a masterfully played guitar chord to move me to tears. In the past, when I would beat a game, it would take almost nothing to get my ducts gushing. Beating Metal Gear Solid 3 left me drained for nearly a day. Half Life 2: Episode 2 was emotionally exhausting. The bridge scene of ICO devastated me.

My emotions aren’t so fickle anymore, and neither is my depression. Today is rare—it usually takes an onslaught of negative news to make me feel the way I do right now. I’m reminded of my young teenage years, trying to smother myself because I was convinced that nobody liked me—those who did, I thought, were only pretending. I remember thinking I wouldn’t live to see 21—my own actions would claim me before natural causes.

Of course, I’ve read of people using games as escapism. I don’t know if I ever saw games in that way, but I played World of Warcraft—and not much else—for most of high school. There was a certain solace in the mind-numbing gameplay of the world’s biggest MMO. I was lonely, but playing World of Warcraft made me feel less alone.

When I came to college, I expected everything would change. For awhile, it didn’t. Then, during my second semester, I joined a club and met new people who liked and appreciated video games in the way I did. I felt better than I had in years; I knew people whom I could relate to about things I cared about. But this new social high slowly dissolved into familiar, creeping depression.

I lived in this quagmire for a while. I’m on medication now, but I still find myself playing fewer and fewer games, convinced I have something I should be doing instead. I’ve recently found refuge in mobile and portable games, but I still feel obligated to do something more… productive. It’s difficult to get invested in a game that’s guaranteed to take 40 hours of my life away, regardless of how enjoyable it could be. When depressed, the last thing you want to do is something that feels like wasting time. I’m getting better, but some days are hard.

Before my diagnosis, I would often (read: always) walk over a bridge and think to myself, ‘Boy, that sure would be easy.’ Every day started with a sigh, for every day was just another step closer to the end with no progress toward anything good. Every day moved me just a little bit more to that “sad” end of the scale. Of course, I couldn’t tell anyone how I felt; I think that’s what other people have trouble understanding. You have all this knotted up ache, but you know that someone somewhere is dealing with something even worse. Telling a depressed person that they’re cared for or that they have nothing to be sad about only twists the knife and tells them that, logically, they shouldn’t be feeling this way.

When you do tell someone, they empathize and sympathize, but they can’t help. And you feel guilty for burdening them. This trap kept me quiet for years. I couldn’t tell anybody how I really felt until, one night, I was really drunk and felt like getting it off my chest. But I was still sober enough to realize that I was ruining the night with my bummer attitude. Two weeks later, I got evaluated, received a prescription, and now I’m getting better. But on some days (like today), it can come flooding back for no reason.

All because I ate a handful of jellybeans and couldn’t talk to a cute girl.

Still, I’m glad I got this prescription. I’m losing weight, shaving, and starting my day feeling sleepy, not like never waking up again. The pills didn’t make me feel happy; they made me feel normal.

Today, I felt like crap. If you do too, you’re not alone. Tell your self-doubt to f**k off. Find solace in a community of people who share your interests. See a doctor. Don’t let every day be the worst day. Make it so that for six out of seven days, or for most of every month, you feel fine.

I know I’ll feel better soon, and I think you will too.

Kevin Pabst is a games writer, former beard addict, and tall guy. You can reach him at [email protected], or on Twitter – @Talleh