Escapism Through Gaming

Escapism Through Gaming

Gaming can help the depressed escape.

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Mark J Kline:
Ask Dr. Mark 23: Escapism Through Gaming

Gaming can help the depressed escape.

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Great to see you back, Doc! And man, what a great topic to come back with...

The thing that has surprised me the most lately about hobbies like gaming is how they can create a feedback loop in our behavior. They have an internal system of behavior shaping, but the meta-game has its own separate hotline to our "behaviorist control panel."

As you noted, it's more often that the game is just the subject or context of a behavioral change rather than the cause, but I think the world of gaming can be more prone to this specifically because it is 1) interactive and 2) a world of instant feedback.

As humans, we already have behaviors that are self-replicating. Habits, addictions, disorders, they take many forms. If we're a bit anti-social, we choose activities that suit that... which then reinforces the anti-social parts of our personality... which causes us to favor those activities even more. Like a virus, the behavior copies itself onto other aspects of our lives.

It's a useful evolutionary device. It has helped to shape many survival behaviors over the years, and it still has uses in our post-survival world (Winning at something makes me enjoy it more, so I work at it harder, and I win more, and ta-da, I'm at the Olympics). But such behavioral "machines" are neither good nor bad, and they're always running, which leaves them open to cause all manner of trouble.

Enter games.

In a game, we're partly "escaping reality." Consciously, that is. Subconsciously, we're still operating upon and making sense of our reality (via the surrogate reality the game provides). Aspects of our personality guide us to certain game experiences -- for instance, they might shape what type of character I play in Skyrim, whether a nice-guy trader, a mass-murdering thief, or whatever else. And in those experiences, while we're exerting control over that reality, we're also exercising the "muscles" of that particular personality.

And the environment that games provide for this to happen is perfect. It's immersive and imaginative, putting your conscious mind into complete rest. It's fast-paced, always asking questions and providing feedback. When you succeed there's music and lightning and cheering and hooplah. The feedback loop cycles much faster than in a lot of other media. It's the very model of a behavior-shaping machine. It's like an endless playground for mischievous children, complete with an open bar for the parents -- the conscious mind is "drunk" with distraction and unable to provide supervision, while the subconscious mind is given all kinds of props and tools for mayhem.

The only way to control this subconscious "behavior factory," and avoid the propagation of those "viral" behaviors, we have to be aware of what we're shaping. Often, that awareness first comes from someone outside -- for instance, concerned family members. We should use their input to help ourselves judge whether we're really using games to cope with depression... or just using it to distract our conscious mind (while the subconscious mulls it over unsupervised).

While I would never go as far as to say I was clinically depressed at any time, gaming has certainly eased my troubled mind during those moments in life when anxiety attacks and everything gets on top of you. It's a great way to forget life's harder parts for a while.

One of the many positives in our medium :)

Yup, gaming sure is a great distraction from your problems (: For example, Battlefield 3 is currently distracting me severely from my coursework and after christmas skyrim will do the same.

Finally a study that doesn't try to bash gaming for being too addictive or link it to mental illnesses etc.

I know what I'm doing if I ever become depressed.

Yup! This is 100% true. Having clinical depression sucks but after a while of playing a game my mind takes on different thoughts and objectives, the outside world melts away XD

MiracleOfSound:
While I would never go as far as to say I was clinically depressed at any time, gaming has certainly eased my troubled mind during those moments in life when anxiety attacks and everything gets on top of you. It's a great way to forget life's harder parts for a while.

One of the many positives in our medium :)

Indeed. It's also how I met some new friends when many of my real-life friends moved away.

Now I have lots of great friends, thanks to games :D

It occurred to me when reading the questioner's story that their family may display resentment toward his/her gaming because it isn't them providing the "cure", and they may feel threatened by that. The tendency to retreat in depressive episodes is common if the sufferer is experiencing strong feelings of burdensomeness.

I was a little WTF-ed when I read this article, because literally word for word, the question sounded like it could've been written by me two years ago. Freaky shit.

Assuming the author is reading my comment, and I guess anyone else who's legitimately curious about situations like these, I'd like to say that this was a huge 'hump' that I got through in my life. It was a combination of facing the illness/fear, finding an identity that was balanced, and being educated on the way things were.

I am -very- familiar with the manic hero-complex/immersion feeling. I had it myself when I was severely depressed; the feeling was -magnificent-; a headstrong rush that made everything right. Life had purpose and drive; I was important. Meaning was ubiquitous.

I'm not going to write out EVERYTHING, because it'd be extremely tedious. But the bottom line was, after a while, I discovered some things about myself that were crucial for my healing. Some of it was cool; some of it was not so great.

If you DO have bipolar disorder (as I was OFFICIALLY diagnosed), I would strongly recommend a combination of psychotherapy and medications. With BD, you need both, not one or the other. You will need to relearn how to deal with your emotions and how to achieve balance and meaning in ways that society would deem 'healthy'. Ah, and then there's the gaming.

Again I emphasize that everyone's story is different. In my case, however, gaming was indeed an escape. But was it a healthy one? I'd say yes, and no. The key, in my opinion, is realizing what gaming is, and how to utilize it (without being controlled by it). The danger here is that gaming is like a drug; it -can- be addictive when abused. That is, if you're using gaming to escape a depressing reality where you are incredibly antisocial, of low self-esteem, etc., you need to be careful. Alcohol, for example, is only 'bad for you' if you're using it to mask an underlying illness. It becomes a form of 'self medication', and keeps the actual problem from being worked on. I myself still use gaming as an escape (to relieve stress, have some immersive fun, etc.). The difference now, however, is that I don't feel that manic-rush. I've abandoned that -OMFG-AWESOME- feeling that I've used to experience before mood stabilizers for the sake of sanity (automatically kicks in after you've been taking stabilizers for a while). It's tough, and a little scary, but what you'll begin to realize is that the more you withdrawal the smaller your comfort zone becomes. As you push outwards, it'll hurt like hell, but you'll grow increasingly comfortable with things. Years ago, I lived in my room 90% of the time playing games from morning to night. Now I play maybe 2 hours a day, have a part time job, am relatively social, etc. All because of some good therapy, good docs/meds, etc.

Good luck! Remember, don't give up. You can do it. It won't feel like it half the time, but trust me, you can. And it's totally worth it once you get there. Oh, and one last thing:

NEVER let anyone force you to do something until you're 100% ready. If you feel like people are ousting you out of gaming and/or are transitioning you too fast, you can screw them. Until the day you feel comfortable doing something, forcing you against your will will only be detrimental. Remember, even though your family loves you, sometimes because of ignorance, they will do things that might hurt you. But usually, they mean for the best. Sometimes p-Docs will have family sessions just for cases such as this.

Well, I'm a pretty avid gamer and a university student, and I'm on Effexor, so from my experience there is a positive correlation with regular gaming and depression.

Yep. Gaming is the next best thing to the anti-depressants I am currently on to stop me throwing myself under a train.

MLP comes third xD

Good to see you again, Mark! Wonderfully written article as usual!

Now here's a familiar sounding topic...

I was diagnosed with BP Depression almost four years ago now. It actually really helped after all the uncertainty of what might have been wrong with me in high school to find out that there might actually have been a cause all along.

As for gaming, I find that it helps. It may sound like a weird twist on the cliche, but when I get stressed about something I load up Batman: AA or something similar and pound on mooks for an hour and it makes me feel so much better. Final Fantasy IX remains one of my favourite games of all time precisely because of how much it helped me with my depression when I was younger. Being able to play Zidane, and see him go through a similar feeling that I had in one of the middle sections, but then come out of it the other side, was more weirdly helpful than I care to remember.

Of course, to temper this, I also maintain a pretty active social life, however tired it makes me feel. I find interacting on a social level with people really exhausting (the stress of having to act 'normal') but I still make sure I do it because I know if I don't I have the ability to sit in my room all day and do nothing but laze and eat junk food. To counter mroe private activites like my gaming or my writing I also make sure I go out at least once a week to an open mic night and play the guitar, and in the past I've acted, helped out the photography society at uni (they were sociable folk) and right now I'm helping organise the graduation for forty students who I've never met before, forcing me to interact with other people at the university who I've never met before.

It requires balance, but in the end I've been gaming since I was eight, it's what I know for sure keeps me stable.

EDIT: Feel I should add, having read some of the other comments a little closer.

You do not always need to take medication with Bipolar Depression. There are levels of severity. Some people are almost entirely incapable of functioning without medication and therapy, other people are capable of self-regulating (or having family and friends who know and can help them), and some need occasional therapy when they feel themselves getting worse. I'm in the third category. My therapist four years ago specifically told me that she thought I could do it without medication, and so far it looks like she was right. As long as I'm aware of what the warning signs are before I go off one end or the other, I'm usually okay. I also make sure that the people closest to me know about my depression, and they help a lot.

Does Gaming help with depression? Come on, the answer is so obvious it's ridiculous. Yes. Whatever they say it's caused by, the truth is depression is caused by having problems we either can't or won't do anything about. You don't have a great life and then wake up one day and suddenly feel like life sucks, something or someone lead you there. Life does suck, and gaming takes your mind off that mind off that fact for a while, so you feel better, and as a result you start playing games more, and more and more. As long as you still have a roof over your head, clothes, and enough food gaming is never a problem, and you can never get bad enough to not have those things, because then you would be deprived of your games, thus you'd work hard enough to keep them, and so that point is moot. As for family and friends complaining that you're becoming anti-social, it's either one of two things.

1. They would rather you spend more time with them and suffer than be happy, which is selfish of them.

2. They are one of if not the reason you're depressed to begin with.

In either case, they're not worth listening to.

SimpleJack:
Finally a study that doesn't try to bash gaming for being too addictive or link it to mental illnesses etc.

You are ridiculous. Do you mistake a short opinion piece for a study or is your language proficiency this low?.

antipunt:
.

The danger here is that gaming is like a drug; it -can- be addictive when abused. That is, if you're using gaming to escape a depressing reality where you are incredibly antisocial, of low self-esteem, etc., you need to be careful. Alcohol, for example, is only 'bad for you' if you're using it to mask an underlying illness. It becomes a form of 'self medication', and keeps the actual problem from being worked on.

Well gaming isn't addictive like liquor. Liquor is bad for you, always. It is a toxin to your body that if consumed "often and much" (depends on the person) will lead to physical dependency.
Video games themselves being addictive is a lie told and repeated often enough so people believe it. Elements utilized by video games are addictive like the random drop of items in games like World of Warcraft or Diablo. But this is no different from being addicted to gambling. The drive of the uncertain reward that makes you want to keep going. We know gambling is addictiv but most people cannot see that certain types of games work the same and only thus people get addicted. As far as my experience goes games like World of Warcraft or Diablo are, because of their random drop, the only type of video games that are addictiv. That are games that rely heavily on a system of random rewards.
You play Guitar Hero, Street Fighter or Call of Duty all day the drive is not an addiction but what we call sportsmanship. Now it sound nice right? Only the skill of the player determines the success of the player. It is the great failing of society to not recognize that only elements of video games are addictiv that we already know are addictiv.

Jachwe:

SimpleJack:
Finally a study that doesn't try to bash gaming for being too addictive or link it to mental illnesses etc.

You are ridiculous. Do you mistake a short opinion piece for a study or is your language proficiency this low?.

antipunt:
.

The danger here is that gaming is like a drug; it -can- be addictive when abused. That is, if you're using gaming to escape a depressing reality where you are incredibly antisocial, of low self-esteem, etc., you need to be careful. Alcohol, for example, is only 'bad for you' if you're using it to mask an underlying illness. It becomes a form of 'self medication', and keeps the actual problem from being worked on.

Well gaming isn't addictive like liquor. Liquor is bad for you, always. It is a toxin to your body that if consumed "often and much" (depends on the person) will lead to physical dependency.
Video games themselves being addictive is a lie told and repeated often enough so people believe it. Elements utilized by video games are addictive like the random drop of items in games like World of Warcraft or Diablo. But this is no different from being addicted to gambling. The drive of the uncertain reward that makes you want to keep going. We know gambling is addictiv but most people cannot see that certain types of games work the same and only thus people get addicted. As far as my experience goes games like World of Warcraft or Diablo are, because of their random drop, the only type of video games that are addictiv. That are games that rely heavily on a system of random rewards.
You play Guitar Hero, Street Fighter or Call of Duty all day the drive is not an addiction but what we call sportsmanship. Now it sound nice right? Only the skill of the player determines the success of the player. It is the great failing of society to not recognize that only elements of video games are addictiv that we already know are addictiv.

I feel like we're all on the same side, I didn't mean to anger anyone when I said that...

Of course this is the internet...

Jachwe:

SimpleJack:
Finally a study that doesn't try to bash gaming for being too addictive or link it to mental illnesses etc.

You are ridiculous. Do you mistake a short opinion piece for a study or is your language proficiency this low?.

antipunt:
.

The danger here is that gaming is like a drug; it -can- be addictive when abused. That is, if you're using gaming to escape a depressing reality where you are incredibly antisocial, of low self-esteem, etc., you need to be careful. Alcohol, for example, is only 'bad for you' if you're using it to mask an underlying illness. It becomes a form of 'self medication', and keeps the actual problem from being worked on.

Well gaming isn't addictive like liquor. Liquor is bad for you, always. It is a toxin to your body that if consumed "often and much" (depends on the person) will lead to physical dependency.
Video games themselves being addictive is a lie told and repeated often enough so people believe it. Elements utilized by video games are addictive like the random drop of items in games like World of Warcraft or Diablo. But this is no different from being addicted to gambling. The drive of the uncertain reward that makes you want to keep going. We know gambling is addictiv but most people cannot see that certain types of games work the same and only thus people get addicted. As far as my experience goes games like World of Warcraft or Diablo are, because of their random drop, the only type of video games that are addictiv. That are games that rely heavily on a system of random rewards.
You play Guitar Hero, Street Fighter or Call of Duty all day the drive is not an addiction but what we call sportsmanship. Now it sound nice right? Only the skill of the player determines the success of the player. It is the great failing of society to not recognize that only elements of video games are addictiv that we already know are addictiv.

Even though it is entirely logical to say that Videogames are not physically addictive like alcohol, for example. But it is also quite evident that, by using Videogames as a way of dissociation and -successful- withdrawal from the "real world" in periods of depression or other psychological pain, it can set in motion a continuous cycle of association of relief with Videogames. Making you rely on them more and more for the masking of psychological pains acquired from, well.. Living. The effects of this can be seen in people who increasingly become invested in Videogames, which could have some negative consequences.

 

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