How Games Help Me Manage My Chronic Fatigue
Welcome to Press Play, POPSUGAR Australia’s first-ever gaming initiative focused on accessibility. Our aim is to shed light on the experiences of people with disability who play games, while helping to identify the features needed within games to make them truly accessible to all players.
The initiative includes interviews with key figures in the gaming space as well as first person pieces produced by writers with disability who can speak from experience about these features. Press Play is supported by our newly launched text-to-voice feature. You can find all the pieces here.
Living with chronic fatigue feels a bit like you’re trying to swim in a sea of hardening concrete. Everything feels so much harder. Everything feels like such an exhausting, mammoth task. And it’s so much more than being “just a little bit tired” — it’s a soul-crushing fatigue that makes it challenging to even think. Adding brain fog and chronic pain to the mix — which I also experience daily, thanks to fibromyalgia and various other conditions — only makes it more challenging. Which is why I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with gaming.
Don’t get me wrong — I love gaming. I’ve played games since I was old enough to hold a controller and it’s been one of my favourite things to do throughout my teens and 20s. Games have always been there for me, and they’ve absolutely saved my life countless times over.
But as much as I love gaming, chronic fatigue makes it hard. And I mean really hard.
Suddenly, the enjoyable, challenging puzzles become a blur of words and meanings I can’t decipher. Even the effort of moving from one place to another in a game feels too much. I can’t focus on conversations or storylines. I struggle to make decisions. And I definitely do not have the capacity to find cleverly hidden objects or navigate confusing waypoints.
In the days before I was disabled, I loved the thrill of solving a tricky in-game puzzle. I’d play games like Tomb Raider for hours, savouring the mental challenges. I’d feel a sense of pride for completing games, finding secret loot and scoring trophies for my meticulous efforts.
And I could happily game for hours like this, even after a full day of work and errands — which is something I simply can’t do any more. Because now even small tasks zap almost all my energy, so I have very little left by the time I can kick back and pick up a controller.
It makes me sad I can’t enjoy games the way I used to — these days, I’m often too tired to play with any complexity. I need simple tasks and goals, straightforward gameplay and navigation. While I do my best to solve challenges on my own, I will often just Google the answer if I can’t work it out on my own — because I’m just too tired to think strategically. I’m too tired to search for tricky clues and hidden objects. I don’t have the energy to solve riddles or remember things.
Don’t get me wrong, I do still enjoy challenging gameplay, especially when it comes to combat — but only when I have capacity, and probably not for long periods of time.
I feel rather terrified to admit that, for fear someone will say “you’re not a real gamer” — but everyone has different accessibility needs, and no one is any more or less of a gamer than anyone else. Especially due to their disability.
Thankfully, accessibility settings exist! And they really do help. Things like autorun, having the ability to skip puzzles or tasks, fast travel, navigational hints and being able to highlight objects of interest can make a huge difference to my gaming experience.
I’m playing Dying Light 2 at the moment, and while unfortunately it doesn’t have a heap of accessibility settings, it does have some that have proven incredibly handy for when my fatigue cripples me. Like the option for subtitles,v and being able to adjust the text size and background colour, which is great for when I’m too tired to listen or differentiate between game sounds and dialogue; like being able to adjust the screen brightness and contrast colours so I can see things easier; like being able to adjust controller sensitivity so I don’t have to put as much effort into moving my character; and like a very handy QTE “Hold” mode, where I can hold down a button in mini-games, rather than needing to tap the button over and over again. Aim assist, hints and reminders can also make gameplay a lot easier — there’s nothing more frustrating than forgetting what your mission is and having no way to find out, or not being able to find a location at all due to confusing directions.
All of these settings mean I get to enjoy gaming while using a little less energy, even when I’m exhausted and brain fogged to the max — which can make such a huge difference.
Games can also help me manage my chronic fatigue. Even while writing this article, I’ve hit a few mental walls due to my fatigue and brain fog. So, when I feel like this, I use games as a quick mental break. Sometimes, it might just be playing Clash of Clans on my phone or jumping on my PlayStation to finish a task in whatever game I’m playing. Finishing a task in a game gives me a little rush of endorphins, and the mental break makes it easier to come back to whatever real-life task I was previously grappling with.
Sometimes, I’m literally too tired to do anything — so simple games give me a way to pass the time and feel a sense of progression, even when I don’t in my everyday life. Pac-Man is one of my favourites, because it requires very little thought — only repetitive actions. I’m also rather fond of playing my old PlayStation 1 games, like Spyro and Crash Bandicoot, or even the old-school Grand Theft Auto games. I find a lot of comfort in replaying games: they take a lot less energy, which instantly makes them a lot more accessible for me.
Chronic fatigue and brain fog aren’t things I’ve ever heard mentioned in the gaming community, so I think it’s time we start talking about it — especially when chronic fatigue and chronic illness impacts so many millions of people worldwide.
Game developers, please, if you read this: consider disabled people of all kinds when you make your games. We want to play your games, so make them accessible for us. A good place to start is by having disabled gamers involved in the production process — I volunteer as tribute!
Zoe Simmons is a disabled journalist, copywriter, author and speaker who writes to make a difference in the world. She lives with mental illness, chronic pain and chronic fatigue, and hopes sharing her experiences can smash stigma and help others not to feel so alone. When not writing articles, you can find Zoe writing her first book on her community’s survival in the deadly 2019/2020 Black Summer Bushfires. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn for more!