A Symptom, Not a Disease: Gaming Addiction and Isolation...

With the World Health Organization (WHO) officially classifying “gaming disorder” as an addiction, parents across the nation are breathing sighs of relief that their concerns are validated; they may have access to more specialized services now to get help for their gamer children; they may feel they have even more reason to ban video games from their children’s lives. In this eleventh revision of the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), gaming disorder is defined as: “1) impaired control over gaming (e.g. onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context); 2) increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and 3) continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.” What the WHO doesn’t clarify, unfortunately, is that many of these signs can very easily be misread as coming from gaming when the source is actually something else, such as bullying, parental neglect, depression, social isolation, or anxiety. Growing up, I was labeled a “video game addict” because I would come home from school, do my homework, then hide in the basement playing as many hours of Halo and Gears of War as I could squeeze in. My parents would often yell at me and take the games away, considering me lazy or entitled. What they didn’t know was that I was being bullied and abused at school, and depressed to the point of considering suicide. My parents targeted the only thing they could see, my gaming habit, and didn’t go deeper. I wasn’t articulate enough and didn’t feel safe enough to tell them about how awful life at school was. I had bad grades, didn’t want to be at school, and exhibited every sign the WHO names as symptoms of gaming disorder. What I needed, however, wasn’t fewer games, but a life free from the social anxiety I had been experiencing. The games were just a symptom. This is the best way to love a nerd—to show interest in the things they love. After graduating, I moved out and my gaming habits changed overnight. Getting out of high school and leaving abuse behind, dating a wonderful person, gaining a spiritual mentor, and being independent all changed my context. Without any intervention, all the signifiers of a gaming addiction went away. I have always enjoyed games and will always enjoy games; I still play them for hours on end, just like someone else might golf, knit, garden, or play guitar for hours. As opposed to these other hobbies, video games are often considered inherently worthless, which is why they’re stigmatized. But I was never addicted; I was alone, afraid and hurting. The WHO identifying gaming disorder as a mental health issue could, with the correct mindset, help those in need find help, and give those who are not addicted more breathing room. However, the reporting on this issue continues a trend of shaming, judgement, and harassment towards the gaming community, which is a strong basis for the addiction itself. While gaming addiction is a real thing that has serious consequences, misdiagnosing it when there is an underlying cause is dangerous. When one of the reasons we retreat into exploring digital worlds to the point of shunning other people is feeling isolated, the solution is be very simple: connection. Most parents look at their children’s passion for video games and think that limiting time on them, forbidding their children to play them, or throwing the games in the trash are good solutions for solving what they see as an addictive habit. However, more often than not, this drives gamers to extremes to seek out the hobby and escalates conflict in the home. When parents refuse to consider their children are investing so much time in their hobby because they have difficult lives, not because games are making their lives difficult, gamers can feel misunderstood and even more isolated than...

Experiencing Psychosis through the Eyes of Senua...

“But the darkness, it just builds onto itself, growing stronger, towering over her. You might try and ignore it, turn away, but it’s always there just out of sight, where you are most vulnerable. It’s like it knows that just enough light is all you need to see it’s suffocating power.” Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a video game about Senua, a Nordic warrior who lost her lover and journeys to the gates of Hel to retrieve his lost soul. Immediately the game makes it clear that all is not well with Senua. From the moment you hit play, there are voices in your head, and they haunt you throughout the game. They question your purpose and self-worth, fading in and out throughout your journey. Almost as soon as the voices appear, you try to tune them out. The voices’ consistent and persistent nagging form a backdrop of cacophony that saturates the very air you breathe. Throughout the game, enemies fade into reality or appear behind you. It’s unclear whether they are real or not. In fact, everything from the gods and spirits you fight to the feverish narratives explaining Senua’s story seem questionable. Yet, in the midst of this chaos, the game delivers heart-breaking moments of clarity, where the voices stop and Senua can remember clearly the beauty of her relationship, and the horror she went through watching her lover die. Senua set out on her quest after meeting Druth, a strange, shaman-like character who was a slave to the northmen; he told her the stories of the Nordic gods, the gates of Hel, and a chance to retrieve her lover’s soul. It’s unclear whether Druth’s narratives are actually helpful, or whether he is sending her on an impossible errand, giving false hope to...

Learning to Die

I love the Dark Souls series, but I didn’t always. Dark Souls was introduced to me in an interesting time of my life. I had just graduated high school and was starting my four-year Bachelor of Arts degree. I had moved out of my parents’ home on my own for the first time. I didn’t see it then, but this was the time I was deciding who and what would make me uniquely myself. A friend introduced me to Dark Souls, and within the first hour I was ready to give up. It was difficult, didn’t explain much, and I was constantly failing. I had my friend Colin sit next to me and watch me play through the game just to encourage me, to keep me going through the initial grind of learning the game. The first time I kicked the ladder down, making a shortcut to the undead burg bonfire, everything changed. I found the Claymore, I beat the Gargoyles. “I can do this”, I thought. I see this as a defining point in my life because I couldn’t handle the pain of failure. I was taught from an early age that I shouldn’t expect too much of myself. I wanted to succeed at school and work, but when they told me I couldn’t, I believed them. I entered into college having acted out these beliefs about myself for years. The fear of failure crushed me beneath the weight of self doubt and robbed me of my will to even try. Oscar of Astora, the first character you speak to in Dark Souls, sends you on your way with a prophecy about the undead and some Estus Flasks, an undead favourite. Yet, when you meet him again, he will attack you, having lost...