PTSD and how Battlefield potentially saved my life

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is truly hard to quickly define.

To put it simply, it’s a negative impact on one’s frame of mind due to a traumatic event. Some event in which the 'victim' witnesses something truly awful or is put into a situation so extreme it makes their mind not work like it should.

Each case is different. Some folks develop violent tendencies or become alcoholics. Some end up on the extreme and end up committing suicide such as a close friend of mine chose to.

For me, I’m probably on the lesser end. I was diagnosed back in February. I have random issues with claustrophobia, I’m slightly paranoid, I’m probably over-protective of those I care about, and of course the occasional obligatory nightmares.

While these issues might sound bad on paper, I’m in a privileged state to not have this condition affect my everyday life. My close friends and family will never be let in on the true nature of the condition, and I don’t see myself truly opening up to my experiences overseas anytime soon. I feel as if I'll never truly open up to civilians as I’d like to, they either wouldn’t believe me or they would be turned off by violence I’ve partaken in or think I’m crazy. And on the few occasions I’ve tried to share things, they just don’t care.

It has become increasingly obvious there are some dumb things I simply can’t do anymore. Or at least enjoy as much as I used to. For instance, my PTSD seems to flare up when I drink Jäger. I know...weird, right? I’ve yet to find a vet that shares that problem. Not that it’s a good drink, but fuck...I’m in college and pounding $4 Jägerbombs at the shitty bar is part of the young adult experience.

I have a true love for videogames. Playing, critiquing, and simply coming on this site to chat about them in some manner of intelligent form is my creed.

While I don’t have a difficulty with most games, one of my favorites is too well designed for me to play in long stretches or intoxicated. My doctor says alcohol inflates PTSD like a balloon, so all triggers should be avoided like a goddamn plague. My doctor is kind of right unfortunately.

Battlefield’s (3 & 4 specifically) attention to detail is astonishingly well done and my mental health problem should be a complement to the developers. So to all the folks at EA, don’t take this as a negative criticism but as an official seal of approval that your design is so well polished that a man that has lived the real experience is disturbed.

Listen to this fight in Afghanistan and how its sounds might compare to games like Battlefield:

The game’s single-player isn’t representative of the real world and the combat itself is too cartoonish to take seriously in comparison of real-world Afghanistan. Instead, it’s the sound design.

More Afghanistan footage:

This may sound like a trivial element, but the incredible sound design encapsulates the real world thing well enough to put me on edge a bit, especially with high quality headphones.

The dynamics of the entire game are truly impressive. The ambient noise on multiplayer maps with explosions, and distant machine guns are more than enough to resonate with any veteran. In my case, well enough to make me uncomfortable.

In Battlefield 3 I was walking with my squad. My squad was actually made up mostly of my real world army buddies. I’ll preface this with real world military tactics don’t necessarily apply to videogame success.

We took enemy sniper fire from a rooftop, the enemy likely being some 12 year old from Colorado or something. I returned fire with my SAW, the weapon I used through most of Afghanistan.

The Army trains the machine gunner to immediately return fire in the direction in which it was received for the riflemen to pick out the enemy. The supersonic sound of that 'sniper’s' 7.62mm round whizzing over my shoulder brought back memories and sounded close enough to a real world scenario. I jumped behind cover and immediately expelled dozens of bullets.

I went into “Army mode”.

Now a word from a Battlefield sound designer:

As I laid down a barrage of my 5.56mm SAW rounds on to the window this Sniper was firing from, I asked riflemen to find him with their ACOG optics. They returned accurate fire. One group in my squad had a 320 Grenade Launcher. I yelled at him to fire all the 40mm grenades he had until the threat was destroyed.

The sporadic gunfire sang in a specific rhythm I was used to. The sounds of gunfire tells a narrative. From the rate of cyclic fire the machine gunner chooses, the volume of rifle shooting, distant explosions, RPG fire bracketing your position, and guys yelling obscenities in the background tell a tale every veteran is used to. From the arrangement of these elements, you can sometimes paint the specifics of how deep troopers are “in the shit”.

A full belt of my own ammo, dozens of rifle bullets, and 2 grenades later the 12 year old from Colorado was “dead”.

The dust cleared. I realized during those six seconds we weren’t playing a videogame, but instead were transported back in time. I was in fact playing with guys that were in my fire team overseas. It was natural to shout orders and to verbally analyze the distance and direction of the threat.

This event was before I was diagnosed with any problem. Something serious settled in with me that night of playing. I then realized I had a problem.

Not long after that play session my long time friend Doran killed himself. He was in my virtual and real world squad. I had plans to move in with him and we would go to Ohio State University together. We wanted to throw awesome parties and such.

No, Fox News, videogames didn't kill him!

A man that saved my life and wanted nothing more than to kick-back with whiskey and play videogames with me in Columbus ended his own life because of a misunderstood and easily underestimated disorder.

That session with Battlefield was my first true insight that I have a disorder. It was too late for my friend though.

Battlefield's effect on my state of mind is a true testament to its quality. It's one of my favorite franchises. I can't necessarily enjoy it in large doses, but I credit it with pointing out a problem I had in its early stages that could've led to bad choices and self destruction.

@stevenbeynon

76 Comments
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Posted by MrSpaceMan

This is one of the most incredibly interesting and inspiring things I've read in awhile. Good job, Steve!

Posted by shivermetimbers

My condolences to your friend. Very interesting read. I have a friend who suffers from PTSD and a friend who suffers fro Schizophrenia, so I know how severe mental illness can be. All I can do is wish you well and I'm glad that video games (more specifically, the sound of Battlefield) are at least making your life easier. Best of luck!

Posted by Rick_Fingers

...just Jesus man.

I really can't articulate well what reading that made me feel, but thank you for writing it and thank you for sharing your experiences.

I've really been pulled in (i hesitate to say enjoyed in this case) by everything you have written, keep it up.

On a personal note, good on you for getting help. I truly hope you get to the stage where such things as this no longer have such an effect. My true condolences for the loss of your friend as well.

Posted by audioBusting

Thank you for writing this. PTSD is something I don't really understand, and I had no idea a game like Battlefield can trigger something like that. I'm truly sorry for your loss.

Posted by slyspider

I realize it might not be the same, but talking about it can help from what little I understand, and the boards here are always open to ya mate. Thank you very much for your service. My best friend of 7 years is in Army bootcamp right now, and after I get more medical training down, I'm planning on following him into service. If you ever need to talk the boards and PM are always an option though.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

I'm not even going to pretend to understand what you've been through, but I really enjoyed reading this.

Posted by crithon

excellent writing, thanks for sharing this point of view we rarely read about.

Posted by MetalGearSunny

Steve, you're one of my favorite things about Giant Bomb. I don't even know what to comment...

Edited by Fobwashed

Crazy. Just watching those videos is scary enough, can't imagine what it'd feel like to actually be there =\ Thanks for writing this up and for the links.

Posted by Ben_H

That was fascinating. Thank you for writing that.

I'm sorry to hear about your friend.

Posted by Slag

Oh man, thanks for writing this. I think it may help other people suffering through the same thing. I know you may have a hard time relating to civilians but I hope you find other people to talk with, I'm sure there are vets around Columbus who might get what you're dealing with.

I'm truly sorry about your friend and wish you the best in your treatment.

Edited by csl316

Your blogs are always insightful and captivating to read. Best of luck dealing with something most of us won't ever understand.

Posted by Itwongo

Shit, dude, that's.... I don't know what to say, except thank you for writing this. It's good stuff

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Posted by spencer_twin

Thank you, Sir, for all you and your brothers in arms have done and continue to do.

Posted by Hockeymask27

Thank you for taking the time to write all that out.

Posted by Demoskinos

Hey, thanks for both writing this up and for your service to the country. Appreciated on both accounts.

Posted by Ghost_Cat

Thank you Steve for the great write up (as always), and your contributions to this site, community and country. I'm sorry to hear about your friend too. Though I don't suffer from PTSD, I agree with you that Battlefield always had frighteningly good sound design. Never been in war before, but I always believed that the BF franchised captured the sensory intensity of battle better than anyone out there, as I am constantly tensed up from everything in the game to the point that I get tunnel vision the longer I am still alive.

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Posted by mrfluke

steve, you continue to be one of the very best gaming journalist writers out there.

( yea your not officially affiliated with a site, but hell, your stuff is much better than a lot of the pieces thats out there!)

Posted by CornBREDX

I don't play war games because of my PTSD. It's not necessarily reality or cartoonyness or whatever. It's just the memories it brings back. A lot of days I'm an emotional wreck because of it.

If you're PTSD is not to severe it does get better, though. The dreams fade a bit over time. I have found the best thing for it is usually to talk to someone.

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Posted by Hailinel

That was an incredible read.

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Posted by Jeust

Great article man!

Edited by TheSouthernDandy

Thanks for that Steve. Don't often think too much about that aspect of war games, I just file it under 'pretend' but I'd never really considered the possibility of it triggering a response in the people that have been in the middle of that for real. Glad you're here duder.

Posted by mbdoeden

That collection of words was insightful and inspiring.

Great write up my friend. I'm sorry to hear about your friend Doran.

Thank you.

Posted by Alex

Fascinating stuff dude. Glad you were willing to open up and share that.

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Posted by SandwichApoc

Amazing writeup Steve. Thanks for your service. Crazy to think that BF3 and BF4 can hit so close to home for those in the armed forces. Glad that you got some early detection through it.

Posted by Random45

This makes me feel ashamed that I'm so unfazed by the violence and destruction that goes on in these games, I can't even begin to imagine how I'd react if I were really in a situation as depicted in Battlefield, and you actually experienced some of that stuff first hand. As others have mentioned thanks for your service, and I'm sorry for your loss.

Posted by BaconGames

First off, this was an amazing read and I'm happy that you feel up to sharing anything at all. Needless to say this community is ready and willing to listen and be supportive.

The part that struck me was this section

@epicsteve said:

While these issues might sound bad on paper, I’m in a privileged state to not have this condition affect my everyday life. My close friends and family will never be let in on the true nature of the condition, and I don’t see myself truly opening up to my experiences overseas anytime soon. I feel as if I'll never truly open up to civilians as I’d like to, they either wouldn’t believe me or they would be turned off by violence I’ve partaken in or think I’m crazy. And on the few occasions I’ve tried to share things, they just don’t care.

The last bit in particular sounds crazy to me. I'm certainly projecting what I would want and what I would do if a friend had experienced combat overseas but that's seems incredibly frustrating to be in that situation. I have no doubt that you have people to reach out to in case of an emergency and a chilling example of a friend's death on top of that to tell all true a tale of the worst alternative but to essentially experience apathy in light of PTSD sounds awful.

Well, for what it's worth the community is always ready and willing to listen but I'm sure this is old news :D

Posted by Milkman

My condolences for your friend and I'm glad you were able to get help.

Posted by Rox360

Thank you for sharing this. I really appreciate it, and I hope things get easier on you soon.

Posted by Sin4profit

A thought provoking read and your perspectives are always appreciated.

Posted by The_Nubster

Wow. Thanks for sharing. I'm sorry to hear about your friend.

Edited by soulcake

First off all i wanna applaud you for sharing this personal story with us and wishing you the best of luck with you're further therapy . And second yeah the battlefield sound of the guns are spot on it freaks me out and i have never fired a gun or heard somebody shooting it. for some reason my brain knows its spot on and the call of duty gun sounds or more of a bb gun sounding type so it knows its fake.

Edited by Driadon

I have never been in any form of armed combat, nor can I saw I fully comprehend what that would be like, but hearing that ambush and that gunfire made me super antsy in a way a game never has. I can only imagine actually being there in an event like that and how much the disassociation can shift when playing a game like Battlefield.

Posted by Dalai

It takes a lot of courage to just open up and share something personal like that, even on just some dumb gaming website. Remember we're always here for you if you need help or just to talk.

Also, I'll have to remind myself not to bring any Jager to Boston.

Posted by myketuna

This was an incredible read, Steve. Good to know you're aware of your disorder now thanks to this.

It also reminded me of when I showed my father (he's in the Army) some gameplay of Battlefield 3 last year. He said the same thing about the sound design and how it sounds pretty fucking real.

Of course, then you see dudes doing crazy shit on jets and choppers and it's totally a video game again.

Posted by JasonR86

@epicsteve:

I'm sorry to hear about your friend. A friend of mine who was in the Marines developed PTSD after fighting over seas recently committed suicide as well. He was suffering from addiction and wasn't able to overcome the addiction or the effects of the anxiety on his life and work. As a therapist I've worked with client who have had PTSD but mostly due to suffering violence, sexual or physical, at the hands of another citizen. I've yet to work with a soldier. But I can't imagine discussing those experiences, even with a therapist, would be easy. It's neat though that Battlefield can act as a type of exposure therapy.

...I'm rambling. Sorry. I just wanted to share some of that stuff. I hope you continue to get more used to your civilian life and continue to improve psychologically.

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Posted by EpicSteve

@dalai said:

It takes a lot of courage to just open up and share something personal like that, even on just some dumb gaming website. Remember we're always here for you if you need help or just to talk.

Also, I'll have to remind myself not to bring any Jager to Boston.

Thanks, duder! Whiskey is good!

@myketuna said:

This was an incredible read, Steve. Good to know you're aware of your disorder now thanks to this.

It also reminded me of when I showed my father (he's in the Army) some gameplay of Battlefield 3 last year. He said the same thing about the sound design and how it sounds pretty fucking real.

Of course, then you see dudes doing crazy shit on jets and choppers and it's totally a video game again.

Battlefield is soooo much a videogame. It's just those small firefights can sometimes resemble the real thing in terms of audio.

@alex said:

Fascinating stuff dude. Glad you were willing to open up and share that.

Thanks, Alex! It's weird sharing things. To think it all started during my 15 minute Whiskey Media internship.

Posted by StarvingGamer

Amazing read. Wow.

Posted by Red12b

Dude,

Thank you for sharing,

I have a couple friends who came back with PTSD, they travelled the world to find some peace, two Brothers, amazing people,

I hope you find peace my friend.

Posted by Colourful_Hippie

Didn't you post this before? I think I remember reading something like this a while back and you saying that one of your blogs somehow deleted.

It was great reading it anyways

Posted by DEFE

Really good read, Steve. Thank you for sharing that with us. I wish you the best as you work through this.

Edited by FinalDasa

An amazing read from a perspective you don't get very often, or at all.

I've had several friends now serve overseas in Afghanistan and none really felt opening up and sharing. I imagine that's very common feeling among veterans who served for periods of time overseas.

Thanks for sharing, a really great read.

Edited by Lanechanger

Vinny have always commented on how great the sound designs are in battlefield, but damn, I guess the sounds are really that accurate.

Thanks for sharing!

Posted by punkxblaze

As everyone else has already said, thanks for sharing this with us, duder. I've never seen armed combat, myself, but I've always been struck by how well BF3's sound design is engineered. I find myself feeling genuinely disoriented when the shit hits the fan in a big Battlefield match.

Posted by ILikePopCans

Fucking fantastic and interesting piece. I will admit I don't know much about PTSD so this was great being the first stone in my walk out of ignorance.

Posted by PresidentOfJellybeans

That was a hell of a read. Thanks for sharing, and seriously great writing.

Posted by ThunderSlash

Great read duder. I don't even want to click on that footage of a real firefight.

Posted by MormonWarrior

Makes me wonder about the impact of things that happened to me a few years ago and how hard it can be to heal from such things...I mean, I've never been in combat or war or seen such horrors, but I went through some seriously traumatic stuff and I feel like it's been a weird thing to come to grips with. The way you described PTSD reminded me somewhat of myself...and possibly that I've underestimated the impact of those things on myself due to the reactions of others that didn't go through it.

Maybe I should look into this more. I've met with therapists and such but man, maybe it'll take me longer to heal than I thought. Thanks for opening up and talking about such a difficult subject. I hope all goes well for you and that you know there are many out there, like me, that deeply appreciate what you went through even if we don't understand the gravity of it.

Posted by Thevamp25

Damn, good read, those videos sent chills through me.

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