When people talk about mental health, anxiety and depression are two things that are often put in the spotlight. These are two very serious issues that often need to be discussed more often. I’m not someone who typically deals with depression, but anxiety is a different story altogether. My anxiety goes hand in hand with my genuine fears. Before we dissect this, take a look at how Merriam-Webster defines anxiety.
a (1) : apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness usually over an impending or anticipated ill : a state of being anxious
(2) medical : an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it
b : mentally distressing concern or interest
c : a strong desire sometimes mixed with doubt, fear, or uneasiness
I love video games. They are a fun way to not only waste time but also a way to hang out and catch up with friends. I play video games every night and love how they help me unwind. I’ve put countless hours in Halo 5: Guardians, Overwatch, and Rainbow Six Siege. Not only are these games fun, but they also teach me how to communicate with others, build my quick-thinking skills, and help improve my hand-eye coordination. As someone who has a slight disability in my left hand, video games have helped me strengthen my body. There are so many positives to playing video games, but despite all of the fun the medium provides, there’s a dark cloud that sometimes hovers over me.
If you’ve read some of my articles on Xbox Enthusiast over the years, you’ll know that I’m a hardcore horror fan. Outlast, Resident Evil VII, and The Evil Within are some of my favorite modern games in the genre. My love for scares started when Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem launched on the Gamecube in 2004. It was unlike anything I had played before, and I loved everything about it. You know what’s weird? Horror plays into my anxiety. Some of my real life fears are rats (long story), heights, and I’m also claustrophobic. These fears have plagued me for years, so when a video game utilizes these elements, my experience feels more intense. The fantastic PlayStation 4 exclusive, Until Dawn, played into my fears wonderfully. In between each chapter, players talk to a psychiatrist who asks you a series of questions. Depending on what you choose, the game caters a unique experience for that player. Despite the fact that I could actually avoid my fears, I chose to confront them head-on, and I loved it better for that.
Resident Evil VII and Outlast played into my claustrophobia. Early on in Capcom’s latest installment of the Resident Evil franchise, players are walking through a basement with Mia, the main character’s wife. While moving, you have to squeeze through a hole In the wall. Despite this portion being brief, since Resident Evil VII is a horror game, I had no idea what to expect on the other side. My heart raced, and while nothing happened after leaving that tight space, the tension and unpredictability increased my anxiety. In Outlast from the developer Red Barrels, players must investigate a case at a seemingly abandoned asylum. Unfortunately, the building is littered with creatures, patients, and one seriously messed up doctor. You’re defenseless for the entire game, and must often run and hide to survive. The asylum is full of long hallways and feels like a maze most of the time. I’ve lost count of how many times I couldn’t find my way and eventually died. The feeling of hopelessness and feeling trapped is something that while fun, stressed me out more than any game I’ve played in years.
For years, I’ve wondered how games that stress me out end up being fun. The most significant culprit when it comes to adding to my anxiety is Far Cry 3. I must confess; I never finished the game. It took too much out of me, and I would often hyperventilate while playing. Far Cry 3 was revolutionary when it came out. Despite being the third game in the franchise, Ubisoft’s shooter implemented some gameplay elements that many titles in the genre had not tried yet. It’s a lush, beautiful game, full of intrigue, mystery, drug trips, and surprisingly, pure terror. My fear of animals in video games stemmed from playing Far Cry 3. When I say that animals scare me in games, I’m not talking about friendly pets or companions; I’m referring to ferocious wildlife that could snap my neck in an instant. Far Cry 3 started a trend in video games where animals suddenly had realistic tendencies. They could stalk, hunt, and then kill. Nothing makes the hairs on my body rise than when I’m sneaking in the grass only to realize that something was there with me. The sudden camera movement when a predator finally catches up to you makes my heart skip a beat.
Anxiety isn’t something that someone should be seeking out. The term anxiety brings with it a negative connotation. This is a condition that I tend to avoid. The question I ask myself is why do I subject myself to games that give me anxiety attacks.
- I don’t want to be excluded from the conversation. As someone in the video game industry, I try and play every notable game each year. Last year, I failed. There wasn’t enough time for me to spend hundreds of hours on Persona 5 and unlock all the endings in Nier: Automata. When people talked about Game of the Year nominees, it was discouraging to see that there were a few titles in contention that I couldn’t talk about with my peers. This year has seen the release of the fantastic indie game, Celeste. I never heard about it until people starting praising the game. I immediately bought it, and now I can’t stop playing. The conversation is half the fun. I love sharing my passion with others, and playing all the games I can helps that desire.
- I want to try and beat my anxiety. This is a more ambitious goal of mine, but I wonder if I can overcome my anxiety. I’ve heard about people who are afraid of heights going bungee jumping. What if the answer to my anxiety problems is to confront my fears head on? There are virtual reality experiences that put players in the sky, underwater with sharks, and in tight spaces (Resident Evil VII is on PlayStation VR). Immersing oneself in a situation that terrifies them can help remedy the situation.
- I like getting stressed. This is a stretch, but I’ve been thinking about this for a while. What if I like the feeling of being put into situations that I would actively avoid in real life? I would never go into tight spaces, jump out of planes or go on a safari because of vicious animals. Video games let me experience my fears, with some way to escape if I become too overwhelmed. There’s an “out” in the form of a power button if I get too anxious.
Anxiety is a very complicated issue. It’s a condition that often cripples people who suffer from it. I suffer from anxiety and often wonder if it’s something that can be cured. While I don’t think it’s the case, the thought of why I enjoy a medium that brings me anxiety hasn’t escaped me. Anxiety is something that I will be stuck with for the rest of my life. Is it better to avoid the games that amplify this feeling or should I tackle them head on? There’s no way to fully know for sure, but I can’t help but think how fascinating video games are. On the one hand, they provide hours of fun, and on the other, they stress me out more than anything. Video games and anxiety are two things that I never thought could be connected, but now, I’ve come to accept that we’re bound together. The journey continues, but I can try my hardest to overcome the devil that has been sitting on my shoulder for years. The question is… can I conquer this beast?