Depression and meaningful games

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#1 Posted by huntad (2407 posts) -

Sorry for this sort of serious post on a gaming forum. This second half of the year has been one of the toughest parts of my life. My depression got to be the worst it had ever been. Luckily, somehow I pulled through and am mostly better. I stopped doing everything because I felt that everything I did had no meaning, including games. That it’s all just noise that we surround ourselves with to ignore meaningful questions that are too hard to answer. Why am I here and what is my purpose? You know, the usual questions we all have to answer at some point. However, even though I still have these questions, it has led me to surround myself with things that are actually meaningful to me.

I have stopped playing a lot of games that I used to play, namely multiplayer games and time waster games, because I have started spending more time with people and media that asks and attempts to answer questions that seem important. There are shows and books that have a lot of impact on people. I wanted to ask:

What are games that have brought a lot of meaning to you? What are games that made you happier to have played them? What are games that have changed the way you think? Also, why? Thanks.

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#2 Edited by htr10 (1065 posts) -

I went through a stretch like this too. I remember playing Journey, Brothers, and Dear Esther during this time. Games that you could complete in a single sitting and told a story of sorts without really any deviation from the main path.

Honestly, I’m not sure that I’ve played too many games that have changed the way I think. Definitely books, movies, and TV shows, but not so much games.

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#3 Posted by huntad (2407 posts) -

@htr10: yeah I’m not sure games have ever done that for me either. I’ve never played dear Esther. I’ll check it out.

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#4 Posted by AlisterCat (8093 posts) -

To the Moon. It's about autism but mental health in general. Steins Gate means a lot to me. Deals with heavier issues. Like regret, growing up, friendship, helplessness.

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#5 Posted by jerseyscum (1285 posts) -

The Cat Lady is one of the better takes on depression and mental health issues.

Just fair warning: This game does not pull punches with issues like suicide and there's some really disturbing imagery. The bleach bottle scene......ugh.

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#6 Posted by soulcake (2818 posts) -

Life has no meaning and games are a capitalist construct to keep you busy man ! No to be honest that Dragon Cancer is about a couple losing there child through cancer. It's well told and as someone who had cancer in the past, it fitted well with how you and your surrounding deals with the disease.

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#7 Posted by rubberluffy (788 posts) -

NieR: Automata is about a lot of things like that.

I wrote a thing about how it handles suicide and suicidal ideation

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#8 Edited by smugsmirk (2 posts) -

The Cat Lady is one of the better takes on depression and mental health issues.

Just fair warning: This game does not pull punches with issues like suicide and there's some really disturbing imagery. The bleach bottle scene......ugh.

That game screwed me up. I finished it and then I had to read feel-good books for 2 hours afterward.

Loved it to death though.

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#9 Posted by The_Nubster (4288 posts) -

I just spent 4 years of my life in a very dark, very deep hole of depression and anxiety. Honestly everything felt like a waste of time. I had fallen behind over a year on Bombcasts, my games backlog was building up, I had about 30 tabs of GB videos open that I never watched, etc. etc. Alcoholism had a firm grip on me and i dreaded sleep because it was the first step to a new day. Not even 2 months ago, I was actively drafting a suicide note and planning out the best and least traumatic way to get off this crazy ride we call life.

Basically, life was too much. Even the things I had used to enjoy were too much. While there were some games I loved to Death (Gone Home, Journey, DOOM, DmC: Devil May Cry, Majora's Mask) none of them helped or hindered me. Some games were an escape; some were comfort food; some I turned to in an effort to better understand myself. But mostly, games existed as an obligation and something that I only stuck with because they had meant to much to me in the past.

I went to therapy. I started medication. My life is so, so, so much better. If you're depressed and it's an ongoing thing, please, seek help. Nobody deserves to suffer through the soul-sucking nightmare of depression, especially alone. I know this isn't exactly answering OP's question but I feel the night to throw it out there. If anyone is struggling and they need someone to talk to, feel free to PM me.

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#10 Posted by bassman2112 (1201 posts) -

I have clinical depression, and I find that sometimes games which are about the subject end up being a great way to recontextualize my own feelings, in a lot of ways. From the past year, there were three games in particular that I felt were effective for me to achieve this.

Night in the Woods

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice

Doki Doki Literature Club

All three handled mental health in a fairly realistic way, and also made it out to be "a part of life," and not trying to demonize whichever character was suffering from mental health issues.

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#11 Posted by shivermetimbers (1721 posts) -

Silent Hill 2 is one that hasn't been mentioned in here yet. Just don't play the HD remake.

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#12 Posted by CrazyBagMan (1670 posts) -

I'm really sorry to hear about your struggles. I've gone through the worst period of my life in the last 12-18 months so to an extent I can sympathize. I'm going to give this some thought before I make any suggestions, but in the mean time please know you're not alone :)

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#13 Edited by SeriuzBiznus (164 posts) -

ABZÛ is a beautiful, relaxing, adventure game. I just completed it yesterday after needing something to escape from my stress and depression.

There's no pressure to advance or solve puzzles. You can just go at your own pace, swimming around, soaking up the beautiful environments and soundtrack. The game even has a built-in "meditate" mechanic that allows you to enter a mode where you can just observe the various species in the current environment.

It still has objectives and collectible to engage with if you wish but the game can be used as a meditation tool just as much as a source of entertainment. I'd definitely recommend it for escapism.

Hope you're doing a bit better today mate. <3

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#14 Posted by Warren2007 (85 posts) -

@huntad: Good to hear you're getting back on your feet. It's also good to hear you're talking something from it. That's really hard to do so well done.

In answer to your question, I don't think I've ever played a game that has made me ask big questions (except "why am I still playing this game?!"). In terms of games I am happy that I spent my time with, El-Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is a PS3/360 game that takes an old religious tale and turns it into a beautiful adventure. Persona 4 was also a great experience for me in enjoying character developments and relationship building.

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#15 Posted by OurSin_360 (6197 posts) -

I stay away from depressing games and other media, i find playing mindless games with minimal story my go to therapy these days. Grim Dawn has been a good one the last few years, it has a decent story actually but it's still an arpg at heart with just enough mindless clicking and inventory/item/skill management to keep me playing over and over. For movies i typically only watch scifi,comedy, and action and if a movie is known to be sad i stay away lol.

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#16 Posted by Ramone (3089 posts) -

I had a similar period to this that almost prevented me from playing games in a way because everything sort of felt like a waste of time. Coming back to games (and Giant Bomb) was a great experience for me because things felt fresh.

In terms of recommendations, Journey is one of the purest, most beautiful experiences I've had playing video games. It is utterly joyous, especially the first time you play it, so if you haven't already played it I'd recommend it. ABZU is a similar experience but it didn't really hit me the same way Journey did.

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#17 Posted by Pilgrimm1981 (164 posts) -

I'd also recommend The Cat Lady. Played that game in one sitting during one of my many depressed periods, and it was one of the more meaningful times I ever spent with a game. Like others have said though, not for the squeamish.

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#18 Posted by dudeglove (13779 posts) -

A couple of years ago I went through a terrible period for what felt like too long. At the time I realized I hadn't touched the copy of Saints Row IV I had somehow acquired on Steam.

The opening level where Keith David screams at you to "do a barrel roll, dammit!" while Haddaway's What Is Love? (Baby Don't Hurt Me) plays made me laugh hard for the first time in a long time. I will remember SRIV fondly for this reason.

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#19 Posted by Kushteh (16 posts) -

I had a very bad episode a couple years ago that was similar to what it sounds like you went through. I didn't care about anything and doing things I used to enjoy just seemed like a pointless mockery of them, spent days literally only able to think about how I was going to end it. But I didn't, and I'm glad I didn't.

It's great to hear that you're doing better, keep fighting. You obviously place a deep value on existential meaning, it might be a curse sometimes but I really think that by searching for that in life we end up creating purpose for ourselves. Games, I think, are a great conduit for other peoples' experiences and perspectives and in that sense they can be super meaningful and cathartic, it all depends on personal circumstance but I'll share some shit that got me through tough times or meant something to me recently;

The Souls series - It might sound counter-intuitive because of their dark aesthetic and difficulty but there's just something about those games that is therapeutic as fuck. Dark Souls 1 and Bloodborne in particular hold a special appeal for me and I still go back to them every now and again. I think it has something to do with kind of just accepting the inevitability of death in this harsh, alien, unforgiving environment and how nothing but your own perserverance and skill will see you through. The realisation that you are hilariously powerless and will fail again and again, but keep getting back up after every failure and moving forward, eventually overcoming challenges that seemed impossible at first, improving your knowledge and abilities along the way. There are so many parallels in the gameplay and themes to dealing with depression and life in general, the games tell you nothing and almost want you to lose. It makes each boss kill and eventual victory so much sweeter because there is a real sense that you did it all yourself. A lot of the themes also deal with life, death, loneliness and purpose in a way that you can read into and draw your own personal meaning from. It's also really satisfying to go on a new game+, put on your favourite hype music and just wreck shop the second time round. If you haven't tried the souls games yet, get on it.

Journey - Been playing it through for a night here and there over the years because the experience always stays with me, it's an extended meditation. Gorgeous to look at and super relaxing to play, it's like gliding through a piece of concept art. And it really is an emotional journey, hard to pull that off without any dialogue or real characters. It depends on the player whether the story comes across as either deep and introspective or the developers beating you over the head with a message, but I really like the places it takes you to.

The Long Dark - Just recently came out of early access with a story aspect alongside the existing endless mode but really at it's core it's just a sandbox survival game. I usually can't stand that sort of stuff and to be honest a lot of the mechanics are pretty standard for the genre, but it has this really nice hand drawn aesthetic and a satisfying exploration aspect. It gives you plenty of time for inward thinking so probably not the best game for escapism but weirdly I've found a lot of time for this game when I'm feeling down - it's quiet, serene, stark, moody and beautiful in a way I just wouldn't have expected.

Horizon: Zero Dawn - Played this to completion over the course of a few really tough weeks earlier this year and holy shit did it make me feel better. Everything just kind of landed for me - concept is awesome, the world and visuals in general just look incredible, traversal and combat are satisfying, good amount of quality side-shit to do while staying out of Ubisoft oversaturation territory. And while the overarching themes can be a bit ham-fisted, the story is delivered well and I personally got a huge kick out of the mystery and drip feed of information about the world. It's feel-good, hero's journey gamey escapism at it's best imo.

All the best brother <3

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#20 Edited by IVDAMKE (1824 posts) -

Definitely Hellblade, it deals with mental illness not specifically depression, but it comes to a very nice conclusion that can be thought about in a lot of ways. It doesn't have the most compelling gameplay but the narrative and presentation are something that got an emotional response out of me that basically no game has.

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#21 Posted by The_Grindilow (531 posts) -

I just spent 4 years of my life in a very dark, very deep hole of depression and anxiety. Honestly everything felt like a waste of time. I had fallen behind over a year on Bombcasts, my games backlog was building up, I had about 30 tabs of GB videos open that I never watched, etc. etc. Alcoholism had a firm grip on me and i dreaded sleep because it was the first step to a new day. Not even 2 months ago, I was actively drafting a suicide note and planning out the best and least traumatic way to get off this crazy ride we call life.

Basically, life was too much. Even the things I had used to enjoy were too much. While there were some games I loved to Death (Gone Home, Journey, DOOM, DmC: Devil May Cry, Majora's Mask) none of them helped or hindered me. Some games were an escape; some were comfort food; some I turned to in an effort to better understand myself. But mostly, games existed as an obligation and something that I only stuck with because they had meant to much to me in the past.

I went to therapy. I started medication. My life is so, so, so much better. If you're depressed and it's an ongoing thing, please, seek help. Nobody deserves to suffer through the soul-sucking nightmare of depression, especially alone. I know this isn't exactly answering OP's question but I feel the night to throw it out there. If anyone is struggling and they need someone to talk to, feel free to PM me.

Hey man, i'm glad your doing better now. Your post meant a lot as I pretty much could have wrote the exact same thing myself (including the booze).

I'd definitely urge anyone to seek help and not suffer on their own. I'm still on the waiting list for therapy (UK healthcare woo!) but have come on leaps and bounds in the past couple of years just from medication and making lifestyle changes.

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#22 Posted by Vasta_Narada (751 posts) -

I guess this is where I plug one of my favorite games: Final Fantasy XV. As much as that game is about swords and sorcery, grand orchestrations, and being anime, it's also very much about dealing with grief, being vulnerable, and nurturing. It's about learning to enjoy life and being alive because death and Bad Things come to us all eventually. It's not always written well, but the main characters are in my opinion, and the bond you forge with them feels so real. I know when I get into a bad head space, or when depression hits me like a ton of bricks, I need company, and the XV bros are some of the best company I could ask for. There's so much dialogue between the party, and so much of it is just them talking among themselves, that it's hard not to feel attached to them as if you're there. I don't know about other people, but I get this warm (?) sensation when looking back on the auto-generated pictures of my adventures for that session and remembering "Oh, that's when I was doing that quest" or hearing the party commenting on something.

And then there's the ending to that game, when the party's day-to-day is over, and you know your time with them is almost up, and they let you know that they know as well...I was feeling really alone the night I finished XV, and I was up until 6 AM on the verge of tears because even when things were bad in that game, in terms of what was happening in the plot, being there with the cast made me happy. The last, post-credits cutscene fucked me up something fierce, and I'm constantly thankful that XV made me realize how lucky I am to have some amazing friendships. To this day, I sometimes boot up the game just to run around and hang out with the characters in the post-game--it helps that they've been updating it every month, and I swear they add new dialogue because I still hear new stuff now and then. They feel as much my friends as my real friends do. Ever since I finished that game last year, I've been better about depressive episodes and reaching out to people when I need it. I've been better about enjoying things like the peace of an early morning, a walk in the evening sun, sharing dumb moments with friends and family--you know, the simple stuff that makes life good.

Even though XV might not be my favorite game-playing experience ever (I say as I continue to put tens of hours into it, getting near the 200 mark), it might be the game that's had the most impact on me. Persona 4 meant a lot to me when I was getting close to graduating high school and helped me through a poor home life, but not like XV does. Nier Automata deals with a lot of questions I grapple with late at night instead of sleeping, some especially painful to think about as I've had the unfortunate experience of being close to people who have taken their own lives, but after a good long meditation on that game, I can move on from it. Something about XV sticks with me--that might just be because there are really specific emotional triggers (ex: there's one city in XV that's just basically Tokyo, with some emotionally moving music as the permanent BGM, where the party does a lot of reminiscing. Going to Japan as my first foray outside of my home country, with just my closest friends is one of my most valuable memories), but that's fine. It works for me, it seems to work for a lot of other people, hopefully it continues to resonate with even more.

Oh, and FFIX is really good too. It does a lot of the same things for me that XV does, but the VA and sheer amount of ambient, plot-irrelevant conversations puts XV on another level. Great ending there too, though.

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#24 Posted by Pezen (2388 posts) -

Since I actually haven't been to a therapist of any kind, I'm not going to talk about what I think is wrong with me because those are just guesswork based on symptoms. However, I have been struggling with issues since my teens to varying degrees. I find that when I am the most down I mostly go for playing mindless games that deals more with muscle memory and reflexes rather than thought. Hours of call of duty multiplayer as an example. It gives me a good distraction while at the same time continuously reward me with progress feedback. I am not entirely sure it's constructive use of time, but it gives me a break. Those mellow reflective games like Journey are just too laid back and doesn't distract my mind enough.

That being said, there have been games that have spoken to me on some level. Hellblade made me cry because while I don't have the same troubles she does, there are aspects of Senua's struggle that resonated and hit a little too close to home for me. It helped me identify certain things about me that I hadn't really put in that perspective. Also, a certain room in What Remains of Edith Finch was also very apt at pointing out aspects of me and my life that I need to do something about.

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#25 Posted by JoeyRavn (5287 posts) -

I have clinical depression, and I find that sometimes games which are about the subject end up being a great way to recontextualize my own feelings, in a lot of ways. From the past year, there were three games in particular that I felt were effective for me to achieve this.

Night in the Woods

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice

Doki Doki Literature Club

All three handled mental health in a fairly realistic way, and also made it out to be "a part of life," and not trying to demonize whichever character was suffering from mental health issues.

Oh, no. I could not disagree more about Doki Doki Literature Club handling depression in a "realistic" way and not demonizing the character in question. The game is very clear in telling you that it is not meant for people who are suffering from mental health issues, such as depression, or are easily impressed by such themes. Recommending it for someone who is going through that is huge mistake.

Spoilers for the whole game:

Monika explicitly tells you that she made Sayori more and more depressed so the player would get away from her, to the point that she pushed her to commit suicide. The same goes for Yuri, of whom Monika implies that she cuts herself to achieve sexual relief. You can even see Yuri cutting herself, but the game instantly rewinds to a few seconds earlier in the playthrough. Then Monika amplifies her obsessive behavior and also makes her kill herself by repeatedly stabbing herself in the chest with a knife. "Demonizing" these characters is exactly what Monika wants to make them seem unlikable, even if she realizes the error of her ways later on. I'll admit that I could relate to what Sayori was feeling, since both I and my ex-girlfriend suffer from clinical depression, but the way it is presented in the game is not "safe" for someone who isn't prepared to deal with that in such a blunt, visceral way.

Seriously, don't play this game if you are going through a rough patch. Please.

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#26 Posted by bassman2112 (1201 posts) -

@joey_ravn:

I think you're missing the perspective of how much those events affect everyone around them. I have clinical depression, and I think the depiction was handled in a way which was very realistic (the way Sayori reveals it to you, as well as the impact it had on your character) - and which is far from harmful.

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#27 Edited by htr10 (1065 posts) -

@bassman2112:

I think it could go either way with Doki Doki Literature Club. The OP was looking for games that can change the way you think, but at the same time, some of the imagery in that game can get in your head and people’s reactions to that will probably vary.

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#28 Posted by JoeyRavn (5287 posts) -

@bassman2112: I know, that's why I said that I could relate to her and how she tried to deal with her issues. Because I've been there, both as a the one suffering from it and as the friend trying to do whatever they can to help. But, overall, the game itself is not the best game for someone who is in a difficult position.

The outcome of those situations is not favorable for any of the characters and their issues are resolved by a deus ex machina that is just not possible in real life. Moreover, Sayori's death doesn't affect anyone around her. She is literally removed from existence and your character forgets about her immediately. If anything, she serves as a reminder that you (the player) could have done something differently to save her, when you start seeing her pop up in your "second" playthrough. At least that's what the game wants you to believe until the final stretch of the story, when you realize that everything has been scripted from the beginning. There is an illusion of choice, but not really a way out.

In the end, the very game itself tells you to avoid it if you're suffering from mental health issues, and I think it's in your best interest to heed that advice if you feel you can have a very personal reaction to it.

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#29 Posted by MachoFantastico (6688 posts) -

Depression and video games are intertwined for me to. Had difficult spells on and off since early teens though I didn't get help till I was older and things started to get really bad. Long story short I was put on anti-depressants and have been on them for a good while now. Usually I lose any motivation/interest in video games when I have a real bad spell, you just can't find any joy in anything. You got to learn to handle things as best you can and wait it out, things do improve.

That said, I recall going through a real bad patch some years back and being an absolute mess. After staying in bed all night and all day, I loaded up my PS3 and tried this new game from the folks who made Flower (a game that left a wonderful impression on me) and spent the next two hours being captivated with Journey. It's hard to put into words, but the whole experience was heartwarming in a weird sense visually and with the breathtaking music. However it was meeting up with some stranger in-game and both of us trying to complete the journey that actually had the biggest impact, there was just something about it that still makes me smile. Sounds stupid I know, but games can have amazing affects on us.

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#30 Posted by an_ancient (306 posts) -

Games and depression do not correlate with me. I also do not know that one ever did more than to distract me. One of the things that keeps me going though is this sense of agency that games instill. Sure it's fragile, but I can't seem to get rid of it.

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#33 Posted by Kujoo (3 posts) -

@joey_ravn: Sorry to interrupt, but I just think it's worth saying that this is really one of those case by case games. I was in the middle of probably the most depressed period of my life and playing this game really fucked me up mentally for a while, but also lead to me seeking professional help rather than deciding to do something awful, so I'd say don't take the warnings lightly at the very least.

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#34 Posted by WetRacoon (80 posts) -

Journey hit me right in the feels during a tough time last year. Something about coming across another person in this world, especially when they couldn't talk and we just had to silently accompany one another, was just...I don't know, beautiful? Hard to put a finger on it. I know that that game made me care more about the other player than basically any other game I've ever played.

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#36 Posted by Shindig (4963 posts) -

Dark Souls teaches you an important lesson to keep going. Living is a default state. Might as well make it last.

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#37 Posted by PlatyPon (5 posts) -

I know i have a very unpopular opinion, but I remember playing through Mass Effect 3 (my first Mass Effect) and although many hated the ending with a burning passion, i saw it as something deep.

The music is outstanding and is emotional on it's own, but when you're on the brink of death and knowing Shepard will die, he does it anyway in the hopes of humanity's safety. While this is going on it shows glimpses of the people you grew a relationship and friendship with throughout the game, pulling at the emotions of losing the ones you care for.

It may not have been the ending people wanted, but I feel like it hit deep on an emotional level

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#38 Edited by FakeKisser (460 posts) -

I'll echo several things mentioned here like:

I have actually been thinking myself about why I play games, similar to you, and I also have been trying to focus on games that have some meaning or at least feel like they give me some real enjoyment, rather than just playing games that ultimately just take time and then are forgotten.

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#39 Posted by Shindig (4963 posts) -
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#40 Edited by MostlySquares (329 posts) -

Actual Sunlight broke me pretty hard. It's basically a game that accurately reflects me from age 20-30 or so. That game made me feel intense shame about who I was. It did help me change my ways to a certain extent - I'm less inclined to throw things, smash things and generally turn into a self destructive monster after having seen it in a game.

One fairly emo thing that got me right in the tummy was a recent WoW cutscene.. The one where Illidan destroys the Naaru who tries to forcefully cleanse him of all his darkness and heal his scars with the power of the light. Illidan refuses and yells "I AM MY SCAAAARS!" and blows the Naaru to smithereens. That resonates pretty hard with someone who is a broken fucking mess. Most of my personality is a product of my bipolar disorder... If someone cleansed and healed all of that, I would be blank. There would be next to nothing left. Not much more than curiosity and a neverending hunger for candy bars. Wiping away the bad would be equal to a full frontal lobotomy.

I don't usually delve into the darker games anymore. Actual Sunlight was essential for smashing my ego, and I'm probably better off for it. As were the people I surrounded myself with back then.

Facing my own lunacy turned me into a total recluse. Intense shame made me cut ties with everyone I knew. These days, people's facial expressions mostly remind me of how not-normal I am.. Their blank puzzled stares carve through me like a flaming dagger..

Actual Sunlight and the movie Silver Linings Playbook were devastating. Don't binge on this stuff if you don't want to crack yourself right open and leave yourself exposed to endless shame and self loathing.

I still overshare like a motherfucker though. I'll feel bad about the honesty of this post in a few hours. I can already feel the shame gnawing on my mind grapes.

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#42 Posted by SeriuzBiznus (164 posts) -

@kujoo: very much agree with this. Whether a potentially triggering piece of media inspires you to change or spiral down is totally down to the individual and their current mindset, regardless of what the content actually is.

Btw, well done for seeking out help - that's an incredibly difficult thing to do. Hope you're doing better these days duder <3