For those of you that don’t know me, it’s been a pretty rough past 6 months. I won’t get into all of it, but mentally, it’s been exhausting just to get up in the morning. I had to take a break from my gaming group for a while because of this, and unfortunately, I’m nowhere near out of the fog yet. Luckily, I might have found the fog lights switch on my truck (metaphorically speaking, of course). For those of you into Magic, you’ll recognize this pretty quickly:
This is my brain right now.
It’s been hard to get motivated to make a deck in Magic, keep focused on D&D, let alone write a story for my group to go along with that’s remotely interesting. This article is not going to be about anything particular in gaming, but I think it touches on a pretty widespread subject that most of us face at some point in time: depression and anxiety.
I’ve met a lot of people into games over the years. We all use them as our escape. Everyone needs an escape from reality of some sort. For some it’s drinking at a bar with friends, others, it’s games. For others, it’s a bit more complicated and dangerous.
With most of the people that I’ve met through my various hobbies, I’d say a good 75% of them deal with some form of depression or anxiety disorder. I’m not saying that they aren’t happy when I meet them, but most, if not all of us have probably suffered from one of these in our lives. I certainly do.
I’ve battled depression and anxiety for probably 15-20 years. Until about 8 years ago, I had other ways of dealing with it, like skateboarding, until I found out I wouldn’t walk by the time I was 30 if I kept it up (by the way, I’m 30 now, yay!).
I can see social anxiety when I walk into a room full of new Magic players or someone trying D&D for the first time. No one likes to look stupid. I try and ease the tension by alerting everyone by saying something along the lines of “I truly suck at this, don’t worry.” I can see when someone gets frustrated to the point of wanting to quit. I’ve been there, a few times.
I quit playing Magic once because I was getting beaten so bad and being made fun of that I instantly lost my love of the game. I still haven’t gotten my old love back. That’s where I turned to a new hobby: D&D. It was a safe place for me. I honestly wish no one to lose the love of something they enjoy because of anxiety over being made fun of for losing or not fully knowing what they are doing.
With all these people who are already predisposed to having some form of social anxiety in the first place, why would we cultivate an environment that would further this? Luckily, when I see the judges here, they are quick to put a stop to any bullying they see or hear about, and for that, I’m truly grateful. While I haven’t had a problem with it (because I’m old), there are a lot of young people out there that do.
We see it all the time with women trying to get into gaming. They try to pick up a game, but the people teaching them are too focused on the fact they are a girl to give them a chance to learn. Pretty soon, their candle flame of desire is quickly extinguished as opposed to being fed into a furnace busting flame.
Everyone is dealing with something outside of what is happening in that moment. We all need some form of escape, and I applaud anyone who steers these people seeking their escape towards something beneficial like gaming as opposed to falling down the rabbit hole of substance abuse. Will games get you out of your funk? Probably not. Wil Wheaton has been open about his battles with anxiety for years now, and while we all think it’d be so great to be him, we don’t know what challenges he’s faced and still faces. When you go to some form of gaming event, keep that in mind.
Gaming and boxing have both helped immensely to get me through the hard times I’ve faced in the last decade. They’ve been the only constants I could lean on through job losses, divorce, and quite a few deaths in the family. They may not make the problems go away, but they’ve provided the escape that I’ve needed. Sometimes the best medicine really is laughter with a group of friends (and in the case of boxing, punching each other in the face repetitively until one of you falls down).
If you know someone going through a hard time, invite them to a game. Get them to forget their problems, if only for a few hours. It can make the difference of months in recovery from some sort of traumatic event in their life. Don’t let them hole up like I have been. Sure, people need time to figure themselves out after something terrible happens, but the only way to get them back up on their feet is usually a kind hand reaching out to them getting them back in the game.
© 2017, Randy Schmidt. All rights reserved.