Depression is a serious mental illness, and according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, it affects 15 million people in the United States alone. There’s no official statistic for the entire world, and there’s also no official statistic for various subcultures. Unfortunately, we may never know how many people who play videogames—or identify as gamers—have depression. That won’t stop me from writing about my experiences of videogames and depression, though! With the release of Depression Quest, there has been an outlet of “What Depression Feels Like”, but I think there’s something we’re not really seeing here: What is it like to play videogames while depressed?
Perhaps the most important depression-based piece of media.
Depression is an all-consuming numbness, to put it in lay terms, that makes you unable to feel joy (or even anything in extreme cases) from the things you once loved. When your major form of entertainment suddenly becomes something you’re numbed to, what happens next? For me, there’s quite a lot. I start playing difficult games and games I don’t really like. I play games with a very high risk, high reward method of providing fun, or games with lots of mind-numbing tedium. Sometimes I play games that I’m not good at or that just aren’t fun, but they’re there. On rare occasions, I’ll play something with good writing and decent gameplay but with long lulls between action. And, perhaps the worst part, I’ll never actually write about any of it—Until now!
They look fun and cool, but they’re just suffering in videogame form!
My mainstay of depression gaming is usually the sort of games that have high risk, high reward fun models. Usually these are very competitive games, specifically MOBAs. I rarely play alone, but when I do, that’s usually depression gaming.
DotA 2 is perhaps the most complex MOBA on the market, with an overwhelming number of characters to play and incredibly complex mechanics and micromechanics to keep in mind (which will often change with your team’s composition). It’s very much like the MOBA equivalent of chess, and it’s absolutely miserable to play. Perfect for when you can’t feel anything anyway!
League of Legends is a step up from the darkness of DotA 2, with fewer characters and items, and simpler mechanics and synergies. It’s more akin to Risk, with an easier learning curve and an easier time finding success. Some satisfaction can be found in playing it, though often it’s just a loss.
Heroes of the Storm is a mixture between the two, with overall simpler mechanics and even fewer characters than League of Legends, but without any consistency behind character design and gameplay concepts. Victories in Heroes of the Storm sometimes come easy, but sometimes they don’t come at all. Inconsistent mechanics within character subgroups make determining an adequate team composition impossible, and the random matchmaking can end up making your games very fun, or very, very not fun.
The common threads between these three games are the reliance upon a team, the feeling of overcoming difficulty to find success, and ultimately how crushing and dark the feeling of loss can be. Victories can temporarily lift the fog of depression; defeats just let you remember exactly what you’re trying to escape.
Warframe isn’t so bad! Come, join me, and
melt into the grind save the universe!
Mind-numbing tedium is also a thing I seek out in my depression-induced gaming! Endless grinding is awful, but boy does it ever let one just slip into a fog and let the hours pass by! Perhaps the best game for this is Warframe! In Warframe, you play a Tenno—one of the warrior-mystics of a forgotten race—who has to take back the solar system for humanity from several alien factions. This sounds really cool, especially with cool mission types like sabotage, extermination, rescue, kidnapping, assassination, and more!
However, the reality of Warframe is that you’re gonna be grinding a whole lot! Because there’s so much you need! Better weapons, a better Warframe (the titular armor your character wears that gives them their powers), a collar for your pet, a floating robot butler, a cool cosmetic item…the list just goes on and on. You end up playing the same level over and over again for twelve hours or more, forgetting that you needed to eat, or sleep, or that your life is just a fog that makes you barely recall the last twelve hours anyway! The fog finally lifts when, hey, you got enough red dye to mix with all that black dye to get the perfect darker shade of red to paint the walls of your pet dog’s house on board your space boat! Now let’s get the paint brush!
Sometimes, this is what depression feels like.
Sometimes I end up playing good games that are just really, really difficult for me. Recently this is Total War: Warhammer, which is honestly a good game. I got it off the Humble Monthly (because buying stuff also makes the depression go away for a bit) and then bought my favorite faction because I had the discount. What awaited me was a complex and rewarding war game with diverse mechanics and play styles between armies.
And I can’t grasp any of it. Perhaps I am just playing the wrong faction, as the beastmen require a degree of constant mobility, and if their first charge doesn’t succeed it usually signals the loss of a battle. However sometimes depression is just constantly punishing yourself, losing a battle, hitting ALT+F4, and then grumbling as you load up the game to try, try, try again. And honestly, it never lifts with this type of game. There’s a deeper understanding before you realize that sometimes you’re just completely outclassed.
Being out at zee is a lot like the cloud of depression anyway!
And then there’s the games that are actually fun to play, and enjoyable! With a lot of absolutely nothing in between. Sunless Sea occupies this for me: Long zee voyages dulling my senses, and letting me stew in the fog of depression. And then we hit port, and it’s Liberty all over again! We hit a night on the port, see some well-written-yet-horrifying thing, feel a little safer on our boat, and then it’s off to a whole lot of nothing. Sometimes a monster strikes, temporarily getting you out of the fog as you struggle to save your ship and life’s work! Or you go insane and start having a lurid affair with a flesh-eating woman that nobody but you knows exist!
The zee is full of surprises, my delicious friends, and honestly this is the best game for me to play when struggling with depression. Were it not that one of the most insidious aspects of depression is struggling to do good things for yourself, this would probably be my mainstay game. Perhaps with the sequel Sunless Skies coming out eventually, that may become another game occupying this sort of depression gaming category!
Boy is it ever!
There we have it! A brief look into Robyn’s depression gaming habits, presented by Robyn, for you, the GameCola Faithful! This is by no means a comprehensive list, as I forgot a few games I like to play when feeling the fog—however, maybe you readers would like to share what games you play when that brain fog encompasses you, and nothing feels like anything anymore?