Posted in My Quiet Story (Chris Bowring), Quiet Stories, Thoughts About Video Games

Video Games Can Be Bad for Your Health

“It was only after getting 12 hours into the campaign, that I realised what Alien: Isolation was doing to me. I soon found I was struggling to cope with work, my anxiety was higher than it had been in months and my depression had come back hard.”

In an ongoing argument that has become almost monotonous, video game violence is being criticised once again. The attack comes from the same ignorant, uneducated and prideful groups it has always come from. One is politicians, looking for a scape goat, unwilling to make actual meaningful change out of fear that it will affect their personal pay check. The other is parents. Not the good kind of parents that accept responsibility for their children. No I’m talking about the parents that would scream at me when I refused to sell their 9 year old child Grand Theft Auto 5, when I was working at a video game retailer as a teenager. I’m talking about the parents who after causing such a tantrum, then return a week later ready to rip my head off once again because I sold their child Grand Theft Auto 5, a game “too violent” for their child. Duh.

This argument has been discussed to death, and I even put in my two cents last week. Video game violence is not a problem. As long as parents educate themselves in regards to the rating system and the general public realise video games are actually a great way to vent, rather than fuel adding to the fire of inner rage.

That doesn’t mean video games can’t be harmful though. There are seizure warnings at the beginning of nearly every video game on the market, and there is another health issue games can lead to, that very few people are discussing.

Depression is a growing crisis, and one I’ve struggled with for several years. Back in September of 2016 I had yet to be diagnosed, but I still felt its effects. In my most depressive states life felt pointless, it seemed like the fun had been siphoned from everything I once enjoyed. Everything except video games. In September I moved from my home in New Zealand to live in Falmouth, England for 6 months. I brought my PlayStation 4 with me, but not my expansive personal games library. I took one new title with me, to tide me over until I could find a local games store in Falmouth. That game was No Mans Sky. While every other aspect of my life seemed to fall apart, games were my one last sanctuary.

I arrived, set up my room, already afflicted by home sickness, anxiety and my ever growing depression. I played No Mans Sky. It wasn’t the awe inspiring galaxy exploring experience that had been marketed to me. At launch it was a shallow and tedious slog. Creature designs blended together, despite inhabiting planets light years from one another. Landscapes were totally barren, bar the clusters of minerals I could joylessly spend several minutes mining, just by holding down the shoot trigger. There was no narrative, no sense of wonder, no pay off. Just like my life at the time, there seemed to be no point to it.

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Yes the marketing and wording before launch was misleading, but I don’t blame developer Hello Games. They produced the best product they could and have tirelessly worked in the years that followed to create something closer to the ambitious experience they advertised.

That doesn’t change the effect the game had on me at the time. Video games are often the fun at the end of a hard day that keeps me going. So to have a game reflect the feeling of pointlessness I had in my own life at the time, was soul crushing.

Over time I moved on, got help, played better games and began to deal with my personal issues. Today I’m in a far better place. That doesn’t mean games can’t still affect people with depression and anxiety, even if they are recovering. A certain type of experience can set you back.

I recently played Alien: Isolation. I’d heard the criticisms about game length, but everything else surrounding the game seemed to be of a high quality. I really enjoyed my first few hours. It faithfully recreates the sounds, visuals and tension of the Alien franchise. The narrative was intriguing, and encountering the creature for the first time was a truly chilling experience.

I usually game for 2 hours a night after finishing work, but I found myself more often than not less than eager to jump into Alien: Isolation. Not because it was a bad experience, but because it was stressful. After the stress of a long day, like many, I need to unwind and relax. If I don’t, the stress of that day just piles onto the following day. I soon found I was struggling to cope with work, my anxiety was higher than it had been in months and my depression had come back hard.

It was only after getting 12 hours into the campaign, that I realised what Alien: Isolation was doing to me. It wasn’t the fault of the developers or a lack of quality in their product, but rather an experience I should personally avoid because of my own health issues. The feeling of being powerless and afraid, is not one I need to end my day with.

Some games just aren’t good for you, and you have to recognise that as a player. Avoid loot box heavy games if you have a gambling problem. Perhaps give up World of Warcraft if you have addictive tendencies. Definitely don’t play horror games if you struggle with depression and anxiety.

I gave up Alien: Isolation for Shadow of Mordor. Slaughtering orks is far more empowering, better for your health and will leave you far less stressed at the end of the day.

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