Using Games to Escape Depression, Isolation, and PTSD

EDIT: In an unfortunate turn of events involving bad internet connections and stupid people, this blog was accidentally deleted. This is the exact same blog recovered from Word.

NOTE: This blog caught the attention of Kotaku. Patricia Hernandez interviewed me in response to this.

NOTE: Gamespot's Laura Parker brought some of my points to the attention of her audience. She that here.

NOTE: My school newspaper got inspired by Patricia's Kotaku article. They wrote about gaming in college life and how it correlated with stress relief. I was interviewed there as well. Read it here.

Depression is probably something everyone goes through eventually. My time in Afghanistan has shown me the extremes of humanity. There were no designated hours to work. It was a 24/7 job. Even once daily duties such as cleaning weapons were complete, there was always some random task monopolizing your time. Free time wasn’t scheduled but for better or worse was plentiful. It wasn’t guns blazing every day. We worked out daily but that can only realistically take up an hour of time. The free time and realities of the situation weighed heavily on most of us. We had a specific time stretch in the combat-free winter with nearly 4 weeks of virtually no tasks or missions. Needless to say, bored men away from home cause problems. It's in the times of no combat moral is at its lowest.

I made my own mission in the beginning of the deployment; introduce videogames to this largely non-gaming group of people. Most of my platoon have been exposed enough to games to know what a videogames is. They mostly stuck to their comfort zone with Call of Duty and easier to understand titles like Army of Two. Despite me never going out of my way to talk about games to folks I was still known as “the videogame guy”. Everyone was semi-aware of how I was screwed out of my Giantbomb internship, having to leave after only a week to go on a surprise Afghanistan deployment. I was a trusted source for basic questions like, “Hey, I like Call of Duty and want another game what should I get?”.

In the beginning of deployment everyone was sort of deer-in-the-headlights. We were attacked on our very first patrol and also had our first casualties during that firefight. No one was actively thinking about ways to push those events aside and breathe. None of the marriages were falling apart and despite the stressful conditions we were all still excited to be in Afghanistan. We were all in the honeymoon phase. Lack of Internet and living rooms be damned, the gamers of the platoon managed to construct makeshift tables and bring in crappy TVs to game on. At first it was just a way to kill 2-3 hours of time. Not to really escape but for something fun to do. It wasn’t like we had bars to go to. Living inside a tent in a half-mile square doesn’t provide a lot of entertainment.

As time went by, more firefights, more mortar strikes, more injuries, more deaths, and a growing pile of at-home relationships falling apart strained the men naturally. This forced them to explore outlets. No one was cowering under their bed from the scary Taliban. That wasn’t the atmosphere. The actual fighting was part of the job and felt as natural as you clocking into work. The stress came from the girlfriends not following through with previously made commitments, the isolation from the outside world, and the reality of having zero control over the life left at home.

Those harsh realities and overall boredom slowly brought people to me, to show them videogames. It was super weird. People at first thought Skyrim looked “stupid and nerdy”, but after I was accepted into the platoon (I was a transfer soldier), most of the guys attempted to adopt my hobby. They probably noticed how calm I was daily. I was the only non-smoker as well. So folks eventually became curious as to what my outlet was. A few more Xboxs were ordered and before I knew it everyone was playing something.

This was a very magical moment in my life. I was adopted into a group of men that never considered games as an active purchasing choice now having conversations with them about their Skyrim character. It was then the Giantbomb Donation Thread was started. A lot of the community donated games to me. Overtime, I built a rather impressive videogame library for the men to check out. The library had a good representation of every genre. You all played a big part in introducing people to Bioshock, Gears of War, and Hitman just to name a few.

Months went by and the gaming only increased. Yes, we were running missions often but the soldiers moved Hell and Earth to lock down some game time. One time when attacked and everyone had to come outside the tents to fight, they were more upset about the Taliban interrupting their playtime.

I successfully integrated more people into our videogame culture. GiantBomb did a great job supplying me with games. Ryan Davis even sent us a USB Drive FULL of videos from the site. To have a non-gamer ask me about a goddamn quicklook I’ve never even seen was shocking at first. There was even a fantastic moment with multiple Afghan soldiers being introduced to magic when Tested was doing tricks on the Happy Hour.

The sad truth is these men came to my hobby out of desperation to escape sad reality. They watched me play through all of Mass Effect 3 and Asura’s Wrath not because they were way into games but wanted an outlet. Thankfully, videogames were there for them. I lived on a side of a mountain for a year, came back with head trauma, and witnessed all sorts of grossly terrible things. Despite all that I still hold on to my videogame hobby. Games are special to me. Some of my best moments with games came out of my deployment. Not because of playing high-quality titles, but I appreciated gaming more. I valued every minute with my games. I had to work for my free time. With that free time both myself and my comrades were rewarded with peace of mind and building a fantastic mini-gaming-community at that remote location.

I was upset in the beginning of deployment. Missing PAX and not having access to Giantbomb made me feel away from the gaming community I love. But at that outpost I felt like I played a big role in creating my own community. A very personal and tightly woven one. Now I kind of miss it.

-Steven Beynon

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Edited by GaspoweR

:D

That's a very touching story, good sir. I'm glad that you were able to share this story with us, your fellow duders, on Giant Bomb. It sucked seeing you for only one Happy Hour and then getting shipped out to deployment last year. Anyway, I don't know if this is possible but can you still apply for a GB internship even if they're at CBSi?

Posted by LornHg

This is indead very touching ! I too believe that video games can bring a lot of good to life and help people through hard times. Modern psychology should consider games for some specific cases. If it can help for depression, it can surely help kids with attention disorders and rape victims with traumas to name just that.

Thanks for the testimony.

Posted by Nate

Wow, that's real cool. Thanks for sharing that. So, you back in the U.S. now? For good?

Posted by KevinK

Thanks for the interesting read, and for what it's worth, thanks for serving our country. 

Posted by Will_M

Thanks for sharing. Being stationed overseas on my second year now i can say that GB is pretty much my top outlet for free time. Always some dumb shenanigans to keep me entertained. Glad you were able to share video games with your buddies while deployed. Hopefully you're back stateside for good and are getting help "reintegrating" as they call it.

Also, i hope you make it to the next PAX. I've never been but the moment i get orders back to the states, I'm there.

Posted by Homes

I'm going to BOLC this year so I was wondering how my favorite hobby would be looked at by my future platoon. Thanks for this Epic Steve and great writing.

Posted by Fredchuckdave

A ton of current or ex military play MMOs; suppose this is why.

Posted by EpicSteve

@Homes said:

I'm going to BOLC this year so I was wondering how my favorite hobby would be looked at by my future platoon. Thanks for this Epic Steve and great writing.

Good luck at BOLC. Remember as an LT, your NCOs are always right. Do what they tell you to do.

Posted by weegieanawrench

Ah, I'm glad to read this. I was bummed when I got a 404 last week. Glad you made it back alive, Steve.

Posted by Feanor

We didn't have an xbox during my last tour, but we had cards. I must have played a thousand games of spades.

Posted by mrfluke
Edited by abara

Great post and story.

Incidentally, EpicStephen is my XBL profile. I think we have the market cornered!

Edited by mpgeist

Nice post Steve! I always find the slice of life stuff interesting, especially a soldier's.

Edited by the_OFFICIAL_jAPanese_teaBAG

Thanks for updating us on your deployment. This was a really cool read.

Edited by EpicSteve

@mrfluke

said:

you need to see this photo that some kotaku users photoshopped :P

http://img.gawkerassets.com/img/18egu4ib1zlkwpng/cmt-medium.png

and heres the comment that went along with it

So he wants to be a gaming journalist? ....well hes off to a good start

I thought that was pretty solid considering the amazing picture Patricia decided to use for the article. Actually, that picture along with a handful of others were taken specifically because we were aware of the fact EVERYONE drank Monster. There was an inside joke for awhile our unit was sponsored.

Posted by Pezen

Great read, really interesting to hear how people handle such living conditions and realities.

Posted by SpicyRichter

Steve, it would be awesome if you turned this into a series where you tell specific stories about your deployment and how video games worked into it. I know I'd be very interested to read it, and it'd be a great way to keep writing.

Posted by mrfluke

Steve, it would be awesome if you turned this into a series where you tell specific stories about your deployment and how video games worked into it. I know I'd be very interested to read it, and it'd be a great way to keep writing.

add my vote with what this guy is saying. i definitely would be interested as well. steve's a interesting writer.

Getting a perspective from a solider on "escapism" games and of all things, military games would be an interesting read.

Posted by thunderball65

Thanks for sharing. Thanks for serving.

Posted by EpicSteve

@mrfluke said:
@spicyrichter said:

Steve, it would be awesome if you turned this into a series where you tell specific stories about your deployment and how video games worked into it. I know I'd be very interested to read it, and it'd be a great way to keep writing.

add my vote with what this guy is saying. i definitely would be interested as well. steve's a interesting writer.

Getting a perspective from a solider on "escapism" games and of all things, military games would be an interesting read.

I've thought about that. Most stories just end up being, "hey we did this mission and crawled into our sleeping bags to play Binary Domain". Any story that would actually be interesting would just end up being a massive bummer. Also, I can't morally continue to focus the topic of my deployment on videogames. They were an imperative moral tool. With that said, men were killed, marriages failed, and dudes came back with serious physical and mental injuries. I don't want to trivialize that element.

Thanks to all of you reading this and the Kotaku article, I feel like my ultimate message was communicated. It's no secret I aspire to be a videogame journalist. But what does that really mean to me? It's sharing videogame experiences and introducing folks to interesting games or just the hobby in general. I was able to do that in Afghanistan while also helping people in their time of needed comfort. Writing about Modern Warfare LAN parties isn't what I'm trying to get across and sounds more interesting in concept. But thank you for caring enough to express interest in future blogs related to this. Maybe I'll think of an interesting idea in the future. It has been 4 months since Afghanistan, and I'm just now able to process the experience.

Posted by mrfluke

@mrfluke said:
@spicyrichter said:

Steve, it would be awesome if you turned this into a series where you tell specific stories about your deployment and how video games worked into it. I know I'd be very interested to read it, and it'd be a great way to keep writing.

add my vote with what this guy is saying. i definitely would be interested as well. steve's a interesting writer.

Getting a perspective from a solider on "escapism" games and of all things, military games would be an interesting read.

I've thought about that. Most stories just end up being, "hey we did this mission and crawled into our sleeping bags to play Binary Domain". Any story that would actually be interesting would just end up being a massive bummer. Also, I can't morally continue to focus the topic of my deployment on videogames. They were an imperative moral tool. With that said, men were killed, marriages failed, and dudes came back with serious physical and mental injuries. I don't want to trivialize that element.

Thanks to all of you reading this and the Kotaku article, I feel like my ultimate message was communicated. It's no secret I aspire to be a videogame journalist. But what does that really mean to me? It's sharing videogame experiences and introducing folks to interesting games or just the hobby in general. I was able to do that in Afghanistan while also helping people in their time of needed comfort. Writing about Modern Warfare LAN parties isn't what I'm trying to get across and sounds more interesting in concept. But thank you for caring enough to express interest in future blogs related to this. Maybe I'll think of an interesting idea in the future. It has been 4 months since Afghanistan, and I'm just now able to process the experience.

absolutely true , i did not look at it that way and you're absolutely right as its definitely stuff that shouldn't be trivialized.

its just imo we never hear stories of what goes on in a soldiers life in the mindset of war, or hear things from a soldiers perspective, but again your absolutely right, it shouldn't be trivialized. like yea, do these when you got something big to say.

if you aspire to be a journalist, then you should stay prolific as im sure you heard the staff said that writing a blog is the first step in building up your credentials.

probably wait a bit though, with the way things are set up on the new site right now, ur blog posts wont get as much exposure as they would on the new site. the unstability of the site aside as that will get patched in due time,

its stuff like wall posts and status updates are kinda pointless now as they get buried in the friends activity feed, and the complaint of how the forums activity page is not on the front page anymore as apparently thats how a good set of people used the forums.

i made a thread about this and dave came out and acknowledge that this stuff will get looked into

http://www.giantbomb.com/forums/general-discussion-30/so-status-updates-and-wall-posts-are-kinda-pointle-1424049/

Posted by 42manZ

Hey, this was really powerful. Thank you for sharing and thank you for your service to our country.

Posted by kist

Thanks for writing this piece, great insight into something i've never really thought about, and has made me think about the topic.

I hope things progress for you in the best way

Posted by MistaSparkle

Thanks so much for sharing this part of your life with us and for serving our country. I think it's wonderful that games could be there to help your days go by a bit easier, and it's equally great that you were able to share your way of getting through it with your fellow soldiers. It's also really cool that Ryan sent you the USB with the videos, and that some of your squad got a kick out of it. I hope he sent the Wipeout for Wii quicklook, that video alone could brighten anyone's day :)

Posted by Carlos1408

Thanks for sharing that, it must have been hard having to relive it all in order to write this. It was very moving and incredible to hear how videogames helped you and your fellow soldiers and friends out during such a difficult time. In some ways I can empathize, I have PTSD and depression myself and it is harrowing, time is the only true healer. However, I can't even begin to imagine what you all must have gone through. I hope everything goes well for you and that videogames continue to be such a positive part of your life.

Posted by Miketakon

This blog really hit home.. I too have used video games as an escape from depression. Thanks for sharing duder and thanks for your service.

Posted by melanieLovesGames

Well, just to let you know, the Giant Bomb community is not homogeneous in opinion. I'm not going to patronize Giant Bomb if this is what the community of Giant Bomb is doing. While I have nothing against you, you do work for the most profligate, destructive, and murderous military regime in world history. I wish gamers here would make a more mindful consideration of what the US has been doing overseas in the last century than what the nationalistic dumbed-down narrative the media presents them with. But I'm glad that your apparently working (or not?) for Giant Bomb though, you seem like a pretty good writer. I just really wish you were more outspoken about America's growing military problem instead of pretending the only interesting thing here is how wonderful games are for personal consolation (which they definitely are, or rather, can be). I know all this is besides the point, but If I was to say anything, this was sorta of the place to say it.

Posted by TwoOneFive

Maybe I missed it, but what was your MOS?

Posted by Tren_Frost

Well, just to let you know, the Giant Bomb community is not homogeneous in opinion. I'm not going to patronize Giant Bomb if this is what the community of Giant Bomb is doing. While I have nothing against you, you do work for the most profligate, destructive, and murderous military regime in world history. I wish gamers here would make a more mindful consideration of what the US has been doing overseas in the last century than what the nationalistic dumbed-down narrative the media presents them with. But I'm glad that your apparently working (or not?) for Giant Bomb though, you seem like a pretty good writer. I just really wish you were more outspoken about America's growing military problem instead of pretending the only interesting thing here is how wonderful games are for personal consolation (which they definitely are, or rather, can be). I know all this is besides the point, but If I was to say anything, this was sorta of the place to say it.

Don't get me started.

@epicsteve

I'm right there with you. I'm an Infantry Marine veteran with multiple deployments to Iraq under my belt. Games have been a major help to me dealing with stress and PTSD-induced depression as well as my readjustment to rejoining the civilian ranks. Most of those I deployed with adopted video games as a therapeutic means, but unfortunately many have taken to alcohol in a bad way.

I'm also an original member and one of the community managers of Been There Done That, an online community of active duty, reserve, and veteran military members who play video games. This group, more than any other thing, has been the greatest help to me trying to have a normal life. It's great to have such a large resource of gamers who have many of the same experiences as myself, but it's even better to just have a dedicated place to talk about my issues. Our community is exclusively meant for military members and we have an application process to ensure it stays that way. This ensures that anything you want to talk or vent about will only be seen by other military members. We just recently passed 400 members and were actually in an article by VFW about games helping veterans (I'm Slattum, BTW). You should really check us out, even if you don't plan on joining. We have a public forum to all to partake in. Anyways man, keep trucking.

Posted by EpicSteve

@twoonefive: 19D: Cavalry Scout. But I deployed with an Infantry Company instead of the Cav unfortunately.

Posted by Uberjannie

I too served in Afghanistan for ISAF. Norwegian Telemark Batallion Scout Unit (mountain mostly) in Mazar-e Sharif and Meymaneh. It is sad that a beautiful country (nature and landscape wise) is in such peril. But yesterday in fact, I watched a TED movie that actually gave my 18 months meaning.
I recommend that you watch it too, if you already haven't:

http://www.ted.com/talks/shabana_basij_rasikh_dare_to_educate_afghan_girls.html

Posted by TheKing

Good read. Thank you for your service.

Posted by chocolaterhinovampire

Great work.

Edited by melanieLovesGames

@tren_frost: Started on what? Was I just supposed to get on my knees and thank EpicSteve for his service? Well, sorry, no adulation from me. And for @EpicSteve I suggest you join an organization like IVAW or VFP.

Posted by EpicSteve

@melanielovesgames: I have zero interest in being affiliated with any group that decides to keep their U.S. citizenship but also burn the flag in anti-government protests.

Posted by Kirklebum

Thank you for your service @EpicSteve.

My brother got back from Afghanistan 2 months ago. His tour wasn't as intense — he's in a National Guard and rode around as a gunner in an MRAP shutting down FOBs, dodging IEDs, rocks and long-range small arms fire — but I know video games were a big part of their down time between convoys.

Now that they're back, a lot of the guys in the unit play Battlefield 3 together. I knew a lot of them before the deployment but playing with them and hearing some of their stories has helped me understand what my brother and his friends went through. Video games are an outlet for simple stresses in my civilian life and I know it has helped him ease back into normal life in the States.

Posted by Conzed92

Thank you so much for writing this. The best of health to you, and I wish you good luck on your path towards coming back and hopefully realising your ambition of becoming a video game journalist.

The most meaningful read of the day, definitively.

Edited by No0b0rAmA

This was a really great read, one of the best pieces of content on this site. Would definitely like to see more.

Posted by Sweetie_Bot_V2

Thank you for the well written article, and for your service. Your a pretty kickass writer. :)

Posted by EpicSteve

@kirklebum: Don't discount the National Guard. I'm in the Guard as well now. Currently I instruct ROTC. We were originally tasked with a mission in Paktika Province Afghanistan, the Oregon National Guard took that. They lost almost two dozen soldiers in 6 months. That's between about 200 guys. In today's war, that's dramatic. And that isn't due to any lack of training. The Taliban only engage us when they're confident in an advantage. We NEVER fire first. I was outraged when Oregon delayed our deployment and took our mission, but after hearing about one company lost 1/4 of their men, I can consider myself lucky.

Posted by Kirklebum

@epicsteve: I definitely don't discount the Guard. My brother, specifically, wasn't infantry. The company he was in didn't lose anyone and they weren't on the front lines. He usually moved in large supply convoys with a drone overhead. They ran over a few IEDs and had some scary moments but they were lucky, a few guys got concussions but those were the worst physical injuries anyone suffered. I'm grateful they all made it back in one piece.

Posted by KrisVr

Wow, what a great read!

Edited by Bourbon_Warrior

@epicsteve said:

@melanielovesgames: I have zero interest in being affiliated with any group that decides to keep their U.S. citizenship but also burn the flag in anti-government protests.

People that have been told to murder innocent people in the name of that flag, have every right to burn it.

Posted by melanieLovesGames

@epicsteve said:

@melanielovesgames: I have zero interest in being affiliated with any group that decides to keep their U.S. citizenship but also burn the flag in anti-government protests.

Well then you do not appreciate the role of dissent in the history of American democracy. The believe that anti-government protests are nothing more than anti-patriotism, as you seem to believe, is a belief in government, not a belief in people. America is surely one of the greatest nations in the modern world, but if you seriously think that burning an American flag is a preclusion of citizenship (as you clearly suggest) then you have some very sinister priorities. For someone who is as articulate and experienced as you, I can hardly believe that you are so uninterested and indifferent to anyone, such as IVAW, who has an opposite opinion.

Edited by EpicSteve

That dudes whole story reeks of shitty command and incompetence. That ex-marine murdered an Iraqi for no reason. Based on his first story at least. He belongs in prison for the rest of his life. And the whole "you'll get a pass for stabbing someone" is just guys being stupid and just speaking out their ass. Kinda like if I asked my boss for a pass and he'll say, "suck my dick and you'll get a month off". Basically telling me to go fuck myself. I wasn't in Iraq "back in the day", but if you even spoke of any of these crimes in current-war Afghanistan you would be stripped of rank and imprisoned for life. I have a sneaking suspicion that this man is giving half-truths.

@bourbon_warrior said:

@epicsteve said:

@melanielovesgames: I have zero interest in being affiliated with any group that decides to keep their U.S. citizenship but also burn the flag in anti-government protests.

People that have been told to murder innocent people in the name of that flag, have every right to burn it.

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