Mind Games: Men, Gaming and Mental Health

I’ve been sitting on this post since around the time I started writing regularly, but its something I’ve been struggling to put together, there’s been alot of self doubt in regards to me actually writing this as I’m really, really concerned that my writing ability isn’t at a level that I feel I can do this justice. It’s a topic that I find particularly challenging.

So, a little background, I’m 35 now, I have three children, all girls, one of whom is 15. I was exactly four weeks to the day off turning 20 when she was born. Two years prior to that I was diagnosed with depression and put onto anti-depressants. Around a year after moving away from home and before my eldest daughter was born I decided I felt much better within myself, I was working and despite being young I was looking forward to becoming a Dad. I decided I was “better” and stopped taking my medication. I’ve never been particularly out going, I’ve always preferred being in my own company or with an individual than big parties and the like, so spending the next few years with just my partner, myself and our daughter, but playing on XBox Live reguarly was absolutely fine. I wasn’t well though, and the pressure of adding two more children to the mix, being made redundant twice and taking on a job where I was very much out of my comfort zone and meant alot of changes at home left me in a really dark place and things became really bad for my whole family, for which I still hold myself responsible. I had to seek help and am now back on medication, its a low dose, but its helping. I’ve started to socialise a little in recent months, its only once a month at a book club, but its just enough and once the kids are back at school I’m looking at other things I can do that will keep me healthy.

However, its very easy to close myself off, seal everything away and bottle it all up, its what my Dad’s always done so its a learnt behaviour. Thing is, this has all come back to mind in recent weeks, especially after being reminded that the world lost Chester Bennington two years ago. Now I used to love Linkin Park, I adored their first album, they weren’t my favourite band (during that era it was Feeder, but it came as a shock when the news broke about his death and the circumstances around it. Like Kurt Cobain, its easy to look back and point to their lyrics and say “oh this was them asking for help” or whatever, and its easy for people close to them to wonder if there was anything they could have done to help them, you only have to listen to Feeder’s “Comfort in Sound” and “Pushing the Senses” albums to hear the grief and torture our loved ones put themselves through after such events (for those that aren’t aware, on the back of Feeder really hitting it off with their Echo Park album plus singles Buck Rogers, Seven Days in the Sun and Just A Day, drummer Jon Lee took his own life, he tried to call Grant Nicholas, lead singer and guitarist of the band, shortly before he did so but Grant didn’t take the call and was full of guilt afterwards, something he has spoken openly about in interviews and his lyrics ever since). Its not just Chester though, look at the list of high profile suicides.  Chester Bennington, Anthony Bourdain, Chris Cornell, Robert Enke, Keith Flint, Dave Mirra, Gary Speed, Robin Williams. Both that list and the names mentioned are only a small proportion of reported suicides, both Male and Female.

However, suicide is the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45. An despite campaigns from the NHS, Mind and movements like Movember, we men seem to not be doing anything about it. We still bottle things up, despite knowing better, I still do it from time to time. We still won’t talk openly about it and we still don’t do much, if at all, to look after ourselves. There’s been great movement in recent years in most people looking after their physical health in a much better manner, gyms are everywhere you look, Instagram is full of people showing off their bodies, both the Google Play and Apple App stores are chock full of free apps that are designed to get you active, and thats great, personally speaking its something that I need to do for myself. However, how many of us take the time out to really work on our mental health? When people who we think have it all, like Bennington, decide to take their own life, then building a social media profile counts for nothing when you aren’t even comfortable in your own mind. When you’re full of self doubt, its exhausting.

I mentioned up post about the book club I’m a part of, I’d be lying if I said I found it easy. The whole group are lovely, but I purposely walk the 40 minutes to each meeting with my earphones in listening to my favourite music in order to deal with my own anxiety before walking through the door of my comic shop, saying “hi” to every body and then finding the courage to voice my opinions on the book we’re discussing at that particular meeting. I have other systems in place too, although they’ve slipped in recent weeks and I’m finding getting into the habit again particularly difficult. Each night I had a handful of apps I’d work through:

Brain Yoga
Lumosity
Woebot
Daylio
Drops

I’d spend 15-20 minutes an evening working through these apps, then take the dog for a walk before taking my medication and vitamins, then getting into bed (with my phone out of reach and all the apps locked down) and reading my book. I used to be a poor sleeper but this routine has really helped over the past twelve months.

It’s not the only positive thing I want to mention here. Last summer the BBC broadcast a new TV show, it was on BBC2 and was called “Mortimer & Whitehouse Gone Fishing“. The premise of the show was that both Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse (who for those who don’t know are both comedians who were really rather famous in Britain in the 90’s) have, in recent years, had heart operations. Paul Whitehouse has always gone fishing and he decided that he’d take Bob Mortimer along with him to get him out of the house and try and stop him feeling sorry for himself. It’s literally two blokes, in some beautiful locations, fishing. But that does it a disservice (not that theres anything wrong with that as a TV show, even as a non-angler its a nice relaxing watch), because its more than the sum of its parts. The two guys talk, they talk about their operations, they joke and compete about the changes its had on their lifestyles, Bob cooks “heart-healthy” meals for the pair of them and its a show that does away with all the bravado that you would expect of these two men. To bring it to some coherent conclusion, its two men doing what two men should be doing, taking an interest in each other beyond “bants”.

You may be wondering what this all has to do with gaming, and you’d be right for wondering that. As I write, this post has become essentially what I thought it might become, a bit of a ramble about mental health, coping measures and the like. But I think I touched on gaming and mental health a little a while back in my The Toxicity of Gaming Culture and my review of Drowning.

I think gamers are awful at looking after one another and I’m not finger pointing here, we’re talking about a past time here thats so heavily focused on competing with one another that there’s that element of not showing any weakness. The absolute biggest games of most era’s are competetive, you can see it when you read stuff that alludes to gaming and gamers such as Ready Player One, we even turn single player games into a competetive environment, what with speed runs and score attacks. This isn’t everyone, I’d never say that, but its hard to ignore. When you have communities surrounding certain games that rather than passing on tips and advice you’re simply told to “Git Gud”, how is that constructive or making a community accessible to all? As a community we spent decades being told we were a certain way, then our past time becomes hugely popular and the most vocal types begin to lash out or we turn on each other, abuse each other and generally act like shit.

I regularly play Gran Turismo Sport with the same group of people, within our group there’s people of all levels, we have people who cant commit to playing as regularly and we even get people from outside our little community who get invited to join in. Everybody is friendly and even when things on track there’s something happening on track, it never develops into animosity. In fact its probably the opposite. There’s something about racing that, in my opinion, differs it to other competetive games. For the most part its all about driving your own race, focusing on your own performance, and then when you are in a battle with somebody else, having the ability and confidence to watch somebody else, learn where you’re stronger than they are and take advantage of that as cleanly as possible and as a gaming experience I find it both tiring but therapeutic. Thats not to say a Call of Duty, Street Fighter, Fortnite or FIFA player doesn’t find their experience of those games to offer them the same, if thats what works for them then thats great, and thats what this is all about.

There’s some much more I want to say on this subject, and its something I may have to return to in future posts. I still don’t feel I’ve done the subject matter the justice it deserves and I’m not entirely sure if I’ve got my message across in a manner thats actually coherent. It’s such a big subject that I’ve given it it’s own catergory which you’ll now found amongst my top menu. I think as I through my own journey with my own personal mental health I’ll be able to provide more insight into my thoughts on the matter, but for now I’ve literally scrambled my brown throwing this all down into a post thats as much for me as it is for you, and I think this is one of the few times I’ve put a large chunk of me down for others to read it.

Lastly, I’d like to say, if you are struggling with your own mental health in any way, please, please get in touch with Mind by calling them on 0300 123 3393 or texting them at 86493. For any readers in the US, if you’d like to leave a suggestion of whom to contact for help then please do so, I’ll be adding details in my side bar so they’re always visible.

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6 thoughts to “Mind Games: Men, Gaming and Mental Health”

  1. Thank you for sharing this with us Duane, and I hope it helped to get it out. Keeping a private online journal got me through some really rough times in the past so I know how important it is to have somewhere you can write and get a response.

    Have you tried mindfulness? I was referred to it for chronic fatigue and ended up finding that it really helps with my mental health too. It uses a lot of breathing techniques and some meditation exercises, but it’s much more than that. It’s cognitive therapy based so it’s about staying focused in the current moment. I can recommend a book that really helped me put things in perspective if you’d like.

    If you ever need someone to talk to please know that my messages are always open 🙂

    1. Thank Heather. I did a program that used CBT as a base a couple of years ago and am in a much much better place now than I was then. I’m doing things slowly, making changes gradually that I can make permanently.

      This was originally intended to be a piece about how men (and male gamers) deal with mental health but I think it’s far more personal than that, which is probably the best place to start, no point me trying to raise awareness and encourage others if I’m unable to share my own experiences, right?

      I used to be very insecure, wouldn’t do anything for myself in case it impacted others but that made me unhealthy and I realise now I have to do things for me and look after me before I can give my best for others like my partner and the kids.

      1. I don’t think we ever can not talk about mental health in a genuine way without talking about our own experiences. So while you’re right, this did end up being more about yourself than the more general topic of men’s mental health, you didn’t fail to get that message across. If you hadn’t given the readers your story as context, then they’d have no emotional connection to the problem at all. There will be some readers like myself who already have that connection because of personal experience, whether their own or with family/friends, but for those who have none,

        I personally feel that it’s really important that we create that bridge so that they realise this is happening to actual human beings. It could be themselves, their mate, their brother, cousin or the guy at work that they see in your story. If it even makes a difference in one person’s life then it’s worth it; that’s the way I always look at it 🙂 So never feel bad about talking about your own experiences even when your aim is a bigger cause.

  2. This is such an important post to write. My fiance is the same way with his emotions. He’s never struggled with a mental illness, but I find it’s very difficult to get him to give his emotions to a particular situation. I hope these suicide statistics among men change because it’s really sad to see this happening in our society.

  3. Thanks for sharing the article and I agree that it’s an important thing to post. I’ve become very interested in the balance of things in our life in respect to our own mental health so I find it great to see people sharing openly. As I’m a similar age I found several things that I could relate to there. 🙂

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