Gaming through depression: How video games saved my life

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Before diving into this very personal post I would just like to say that anyone who suffers from depression or knows anyone with depression please take care of yourselves/each other. Depression is something that many people have and everyone has their own way of coping with it, this post is solely about my personal coping method and experience.

By: Johnny Marcondes

For as long as I can remember video games have always been a major staple in my life. From my childhood through my adult life there hasn’t been a time where I wasn’t playing a game or thinking about a game or two. When I was about four years old my family moved to the states from Brazil, I didn’t speak any English or have any friends to play with but I did have video games. My older brother and I would receive our very first home console on Christmas, a brand new NES with Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt included. While we were both young and overly happy to get a console something we knew cost a lot but our hard working parents saved up for, little did I know it would change my life entirely.

When we first moved to the states I was an incredibly shy little kid who was an introvert that couldn’t speak the language. My parents were often at work breaking their backs to support two children in a new country so needless to say a lot of my time growing up was spent at home being watched by my older brother. Growing up my brother was always more of the social butterfly finding it easier to connect with others, myself on the other hand struggled to grasp the reality of this new world we found ourselves in. While my brother and I would often play video games together, he was more of the athletic type who found no trouble making friends with neighbors and loved playing outside. Even at an early age I found myself reluctant to connect with others so while my brother blossomed into one of the popular kids, I spent my days in my bedroom being raised by my second family The Addams Family, Powers Rangers and of course video games.

When my brother and I first got our hands on the NES it was a feeling I could never hope to describe well enough to give it true justice. The NES was like this holy grail for two children who knew how hard their parents had to work to obtain and seeing it in person gave us an overdose of sheer happiness. To this I can look back at that Polaroid photo my parents took of us the second we unwrapped that gift with a sense of genuine happiness. I still remember the first time we booted up that NES and held our first cartridge in our hands, the second we heard the opening theme in Super Mario were in love.

Nintendo will always have a special place in my heart due to their involvement in what would be my first love as a kid, video games. Hearing the music, seeing Mario run around and jump on turtles it was life changing. There wasn’t anything like it back then but it was enough to capture my attention and lure me in to the deep end, and that was just the first game we ever played mind you. It wasn’t until I played a little game on the NES called 3D World Runner that really changed my life. 3D World Runner was a game that my mother and I played together, taking turns and laughing at the character designs and being genuinely impressed by some of it’s difficulty. While it may not be the most memorable title in the NES catalog it was one that stuck with me through out my life and the one that I often state as my favorite title of that era.

Within the life cycle of the NES I found myself playing more and more throughout the day with my brother and with myself. From Mario to Metroid to Dr.Mario and Excitbike there was something magical in each game. Eventually my brother began to play less, being popular and loving to play outside was becoming more of his thing and still friendless the only ones I could count on were the characters I grew to love. When I started going to school I struggled on a social level, being new to the country, language and culture it was hard to connect with many. At this point in my life it was becoming clear to my parent’s that I wasn’t quite like the other kids, I didn’t like to play outside and I hated summer camp. I was alone most of the time and really felt uncomfortable in groups. All I wanted to do was stay home, but this quiet little kid had to be thrown into the pits of social activity hoping I would emerge a social butterfly like my brother but that never really quite worked out.

It wasn’t until the Christmas where my brother and I received our second console and probably the most inflectional console in my life the SNES(Super Nintendo) that my life truly changed. The SNES was my obsession, it was my best friend and favorite console even to this day I can say that with confidence. Playing A Link to the Past and Super Metroid for example are games that effected me in ways I didn’t even realize until I got older. The SNES was more than a console to me it was my form of escape, something I would spend hours upon hours diving into games and completely check out of reality. When pressure at school or life got to me you could find me on my bed playing something on the SNES. My fondest memories as a child was playing Street Fighter II, Mega Man X, Super Metroid, Super Mario World, Zelda A Link to the past, Killer Instinct, Donkey Kong Country, Aladdin and more.

I’ll be the first to admit that I always had this hard time connecting with people and truthfully I still do to this day. I’m not the best person at putting myself out there or forming a conversation with people I don’t know. As a kid and as an adult expressing myself to others have always been an upwards battle but it has gotten better through time mainly because of video games. A huge part of me being able to overcome some social anxiety and hurdles was due to the SNES. Super Metroid being the biggest influence, as a kid I would create my own map of the game on graph paper marking down all the rooms and items I found. I was completely obsessed and one day in school some classmates were talking about the game and saying that they don’t know where to go. Here I was, this shy introvert kid with a hand drawn map in my backpack about to engage in a conversation I wasn’t a part of.

The crippling grip of social anxiety was practically suffocating me, but I was able to take my map out and show it off to kids I didn’t even know the name of. I had no idea what I was doing but my hand drawn map was more than good enough to be an icebreaker. From that day on I was able to talk to those kids and their friends which lead to this shy little kid all of a sudden being welcomed to groups and soon enough I had actual friends. While it’s definitely a nice memory, unfortunately the reality is that even with friends the older I got the stronger my depression did as well.

Depression isn’t something anyone can take control of naturally, there are days where you feel alright and days where just the thought of leaving your bed feels impossible. As a man it’s hard to admit your own weakness because society has this default belief that men have to be strong, but the truth is I’m incredibly weak emotionally and those who suffer from depression know how hard it could be on a day to day basis.  The older I got the harder it became to cope with certain feelings and there were times that I found myself pushing people away because I personally wasn’t happy. Video games have given me this break from reality where for just a few hours I could shut down my brain and escape into multiple different worlds and be anyone I wanted.

I could be hero in Final Fantasy, a traveler in Pokemon, a fighter in Street Fighter. Video games have so many different genres and engaging story lines that you could be anyone in the world. I began to live my life vicariously through video games in a way, it may sound pathetic but using gaming as an outlet helped keep me afloat. I was never the partying type growing up and I was always too much of a coward to try drugs so I would spend my nights playing video games. Those days where depression took over completely and I shut everyone out the only time I would smile or not be lost in my thoughts were when I was playing a game or talking about them to a friend.

When I was growing up video games weren’t as mainstream as they are today, back then if you wanted to play a game with strangers you would need to find an arcade. I’ve spent many years and even more quarters in arcades playing fighting games and meeting new people. For a little introvert like myself that was a big step and a massive culture shock to see that there was this thing that I loved so much and people of different ages were all sharing that love. Arcades are where my eyes opened and I realized that many people were like myself, many people dove into video games as a form of escapism that this obsession that concerned my parents to a degree was somewhat normal.

Video games are one of the most beautiful art forms around today, it’s something that almost everyone at one point has experienced. From console games, to the PC gamers and casuals on mobile phones everyone has had some experience with video games. There’s this universal outreach games have that connect people in one way or another. It’s honestly quite beautiful when you really look at the grand spectrum of things. Video games are one the most easily accessible forms of entertainment out there today and now that most games are supported online more and more people are connecting with each other.

One thing I’ve learned from my own personal experience is that people with depression more often than not don’t want to be a burden to anyone. Growing up more often than not I would keep my feelings and thoughts to myself, never showing my emotions to anyone. Family and friends were left in the dark most of the time but video games were always there for me to use an outlet. Even though I wouldn’t classify gaming as a cure or anything for depression it definitely helped me personally cope with a lot through out the years. I have personally met many gamers who had similar experiences. Now during my adult years I’m married to a beautiful woman who’s as understanding as she is strong enough to bare with me through any storm. While she may not be as big of a “gamer” as I am, she certainly understands and accepts the role it plays in my life and for that I will forever be grateful.

Everyone has that one thing in their life that helps them cope with whatever problems they face in reality. Escapism is something everyone experiences be it with gaming, comic books, movies, sports, collecting etc we all need a break from reality and ourselves from time to time. Depression is a constant daily struggle but at least in my personal experience it has been one thing that’s helped me immensely throughout my life. Thanks to video games I’m more social, vocal and genuinely happier. Again, this isn’t a cure it’s just something that helped me connect with others and offered an escape when I needed it.



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