Many of us will remember the horror we felt in 1999 when two students openly fired upon their classmates in Columbine, USA. Following this horrific event, blame was thrown around, from Marilyn Manson - who came under fire simply because the shooters listened to his music - to violent video games and movies. These media were slated as being the cause of violence in young people.
To me, that seems like a very bland set of excuses. These young men may have been impressionable; they may have been mentally ill, but they should not be excused for their actions based on mental illness, nor the media. to which they were exposed.
I have a formal mental health diagnosis, I enjoy video games and, to the sheer dislike of some of my colleagues at Aijou, enjoy some of Marilyn Manson’s music.
Have I ever killed anyone? No.
Instead, it seems that media - especially video games - have turned into a scapegoat for the actions of sick-minded individuals.
Let’s look candidly at the relationship between mental health and video games. While I appreciate the research and scientific studies, I also think I am qualified enough to weigh-in to this debate sheerly due to meeting the criteria.
Video games are a form of escapism. When you’re stuck in your head, day in and out, it can be good to get away from your thoughts. Becoming engrossed in the performance and play of another character can give you a break. It also allows you to portray as someone else for a while. When I play games, I don’t feel like myself. Instead, I’m the character.
Escapism can help avoid any potential relapses. Becoming engrossed in a video game can, as I mentioned before, take your mind off your problems. It can also help divert any truly negative thoughts. As a former self-harmer, I can vouch for the usefulness of video games in stemming the need to use a less-than-healthy coping mechanism.
To a degree, I can understand where the theories around video games promoting violence come from. Many games involve death and destruction. However, that does not mean that people will bring those concepts into the real world.
I used it in the opposite sense. When dealing with unsavoury individuals, it is common for any individual to have the thought of “Gosh, I just want to punch you!” Be honest; we all get like that. There are times when even the calmest of people have the urge to wipe the look off someone’s face.
In case you aren’t aware, laying out people who irritate, anger, upset, or wrong you, is a bad thing and you must not do that.
What you can do, however, is get on a video game of your choice and kill some pixelated bad guys. There are many occasions where I have been frustrated or hurt by someone and used video games as an outlet.
I sit, I cry, I fume, I boot up my laptop and stare down the enemies.
One of the most important aspects of video games is their communities. People used to believe that those you met on the internet were not the same as real-life friends. Today, it’s more accepted, but some do still question the validity of those friendships. To me, they were everything.
These are people who were with me during some pretty dark times. They saw me through many breakdowns, through thick-and-thin, and I have been in touch with some of them for over half of my life; we may not frequently talk, but we keep up with each other’s lives.
The support you find in video games does not end with friendship. You can find many examples of individuals who have met their life partner through the gaming world. To quote Ariel, “How could a world that makes such wonderful things, be bad?”
All of us at Aijou connect through our love of video games. I have opened up about some feelings and issues with them. Without these games, this website would not exist, and I would not have met such dear people.
The general companionship of games helps you feel less alone. Whether it is a random player helping you kill an enemy, or resurrecting someone you don’t know - you work together alongside friends and strangers to take down a big boss. You may never play alongside them again, but for that time, you are a team.
Especially for individuals who don’t have that support network in their daily lives, this companionship can be crucial for their mental wellbeing.
In my opinion, citing video games or other media as a reason for a person’s actions is unjust. Likewise is true for excusing them due to a potential mental illness. It makes me - a person with mental illness - feel like people are not being held accountable for their own actions, those of us with a similar diagnosis may also be targeted as potentially dangerous people.
Instead, I see video games for what they are in terms of mental health: an escape, an outlet, and a way of gaining a support network. I am so grateful for those I have met because of my gaming experiences and the situations they have seen me through.
As an ending point, I would like to remind all to be more mindful of others. To some, games may seem like an insignificant waste of time. Just remember that, to others, their games could be the only thing standing between them and a potential relapse.
Video games, as wonderful as they are, do not replace the need for proper medical care. If you are worried about yourself, or someone else, it is imperative that you seek urgent aid from a professional.
Here are some links that could be of use to you, or someone near and dear to you who are struggling with mental health.