How Gaming Has Helped My Mental Health, Especially During Melbourne’s Lockdowns

Gaming has always been there for me. 

Whenever life has been too stressful, too overwhelming or too devastating, games have always been a safe haven. A beautiful, sweet escape. A place where you can do anything — be anything. A place where you can feel a rather therapeutic sense of progression, something we don’t always get to feel in our everyday lives, especially in our world of lockdowns and restrictions. 

You might not think a video game could have such a profound impact on wellbeing, but it does — for me, at least. 

I’ve been a fan of video games since I could hold a controller. As a child, my PlayStation 1 opened up a magical portal of possibility and promise. It was so much more than just entertainment: it was a whole new world to explore. I spent countless hours with my pals Spyro and Crash Bandicoot, and Sonic the Hedgehog on the SEGA before that. When we’d saved up enough money to buy a second-hand PlayStation 2, my circle only grew. 

Even when Mum and I packed our bags and moved hours away from everything we’d known to the NSW south coast, I wasn’t ever alone: I had my games. 

Growing up wasn’t always the easiest thing for me. I wasn’t popular. I was picked on — a lot. Even threatened with (and dealt) physical violence from some bullies a few years older than I was. In the real world, I felt defenceless. Helpless. But in games, I could beat the bad guys, make a difference and save the world.  

As an adult, games are certainly still one of my favourite forms of entertainment. Because unlike watching a TV show or a movie, you’re immersed within the storyline, because you are the main character. And honestly, I feel like a lot of games are empowering as heck. There’s often a deep and meaningful lesson the character learns, and we can apply that in our own lives, too. 

Like Lara Croft’s bravery and compassion in the Tomb Raider games, even when the odds are against her. Like Peter Parker’s dedication to a safer, better world in the Spider-Man games. Like Aloy’s heart, strength and determination in Horizon Zero Dawn. And if they can get through their trials, it gives me hope that I can, too. 

Whenever I feel down, helpless, restless, or like my whole world is on the verge of collapse, I game. Life can be tough, especially when you live with a complex mental illness like bipolar. In my lows, I’m often very depressed. In my highs, I’m often manic, with a lot of nervous energy and an overwhelming sense of go, go, go I can’t dispel. But no matter what I’m feeling, I can game, and feel even a little better. 

It helps me feel in control — and that’s not something we get a lot in adulthood, particularly during a pandemic. In the real world, I’m confined to my home. In the real world, I also experience crippling chronic pain, which makes even simple tasks so much more challenging and exhausting. Honestly, there’s a lot I can’t do. 

But in games? I can be a total badass, without the limitations of reality. I can save the Earth from an invasion of deadly machines. I can run, leap and kick bad-guy butt. I can protect the innocent. I can battle dragons, mutants and zombies. And in games, progression is straightforward and easy: you put the effort in, and you get the reward. Real-life just isn’t like that. 

I guess games are a place where I feel safe. A place where I can forget the worries of the outside world, even if just for a little while. And that is a gift that has such a profound impact on my mind. 

Even now, in Melbourne lockdown, gaming online has provided me not only with a source of endless entertainment, but also a way to connect with my friends and family I can’t see. It helps ease the ache of loneliness and makes it much easier to cope. Like a lifeboat in a sea of turmoil. 

Gaming helps my mind so much that it’s actually a key component of my self-care plan — a plan I enact when I feel the warning signs of mental ill health. I find games from my childhood particularly comforting. They’re often light-hearted and nostalgic, and transport me back to a simpler time. 

Sometimes, the simple act of having something else to focus on can make a world of difference. It can also give you the space to work through some of the less-than-desirable experiences we have in the real world. Like pain, grief and loss. Skyrim in particular was a game I got rather obsessed with when the loss of my beloved Dad just felt too crushing.  

And in games, you can work through life’s stresses in a way that’s much healthier than many other coping mechanisms. It’s therapeutic, distracting, challenging and fun, all at once. 

Even as the world changes, it’s nice to know that no matter what, games will always be there for me. 

Zoe Simmons is a journalist who writes to make a difference. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter or Instagram for more. 

If you or someone you know needs support around mental health, please visit Beyond Blue to discover resources and services that can help.

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