Fighting Depression As A Gamer In 2024

The worst part about getting laid off was having to look my team in the eyes and tell them myself. 

I’d known for months that it was coming. But there was a part of me that hoped some higher ups would change their minds, some other project would open up to take us, some other divine intervention would make itself known and save us all. But of course, as is steadily becoming more common in Big Tech, there was no one to save us from falling, or anyone that really cared at all that we’d even lost our footing. 

It’s been 6 months now since I’ve worked, and it’s been a mad rush of job applications, interviews, follow ups, networking, and scraping by on the occasional gig to pay rent and avoid going hungry. Most days I’m so exhausted I can barely focus, but if I don’t, the intense shame of “not doing enough” to find another job sucks what little energy I do have, and then I won’t be able to get out of bed at all. It’s a vicious cycle, and as each day goes by without a word from one of the many recruiters that has ghosted me, or yet another rejection due to being “overqualified” or “we decided to proceed with other candidates,” it becomes progressively harder to keep the faith. In short: I am deeply depressed, probably the most depressed I have ever been in my life. And that’s saying a lot when you also happened to have cancer just 3 years ago.

Depressed Bed
The struggle to do basic tasks, like getting out of bed and having a meal, is one of the more difficult symptoms of depression.

I’ve been suffering from depression since I was 14 years old, so the feelings and the symptoms aren’t new. They are just more prevalent, they last longer, and the reprieves are shorter. Sure, the tiredness sucks. So do the general feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and lack of motivation. But the worst part is the loss of interest in hobbies and passions. During the darkest stages of my cancer treatment, I wouldn’t even touch my PS5 controller, much less summon the energy to go and sit at my PC. It was the most overwhelming sensation of loneliness; if the joy of gaming, of escaping into another world, can’t provide me comfort, what the hell can save me now? When I did manage to get out of it, I was certain that nothing else could ever make me sink so low again. 

And then I lost my job. 

The thing about depression, at least for me, is that it comes and goes in waves. Some days and weeks I can summon the energy to play a little Helldivers 2 after a day of job hunting, other days I will just go right back to bed and doom scroll on TikTok until two in the morning. There’s no pattern, no triggers that I know of, just lingering anxiety about when the next wave will knock me back down on my knees. Because the most painful part of it is not having my comfort games, not being able to get lost in Baldur’s Gate, or the Wasteland, or Hyrule. 

Atul Hug
One of the best parts about Thunder Lotus’ cozy management game Spiritfarer is being able to hug the characters on your boat whenever you want.

It’s difficult to articulate these feelings to someone who has never experienced them, because most people’s inclination is to immediately offer advice or solutions. But depression is such a varied experience, from its intensity to its impact, and no one solution fits every case. The amount of times someone has suggested to “try to be positive,” or “go on a walk and get some fresh air,” or “just force yourself to play a game if that’s what you want,” has clearly never had to do it themselves. People mean well, but toxic positivity is real, and the only impact it has is to increase the depressed person’s sense of shame for not being able to do any of those things.

I can only speak about my personal experience navigating depression as a gamer who loves to play as a source of comfort. My experience is not universal, it’s not a framework to follow, it is just the way I’ve found to manage my own sadness and anxiety. The reality is, I’ll never be able to force myself to play a game if I don’t want to. If the joy to play isn’t there, then it simply isn’t there. I could open up Fallout 4 a hundred times, but if I’m forcing myself to do it each time, I’ll just sit there and stare at the title screen, and feel absolutely nothing. 

What has helped me though, is the support system that has continued to hold me up through it all: my friends, my family, my former colleagues, my internet friends who have all stayed at my side. And it has taught me how I can also be a friend and support a loved one going through a similar depressive episode. It’s not about forcing someone to play a game when they don’t want to; it’s about sending that text checking in. It’s about sending that hilarious TikTok of a dude getting rejected by Astarion in Baldur’s Gate 3. It’s about holding space when I find myself able to muster the energy to text, “Hey, do you wanna play Halo for a bit?”

Sora Donald Goofy Hug
Kingdom Hearts may have been a convoluted narrative mess, but Sora hands down had the best support system ever.

A few months ago, when I found myself really starting to feel the weight and stress of unemployment dragging on, a close friend of mine asked if I wanted to join him in starting a co-op campaign of Baldur’s Gate 3. I’ve spoken before about my general lack of enthusiasm for turn-based games, but I did already have a lot of curiosity about this particular game, and I had a lot of time to kill, so I agreed. And honestly, our weekly sessions, 11am every Saturday, maintains a level of obligation and certainty that has helped to keep me grounded. It gives me something to look forward to. Sometimes, I’m not super enthused about jumping back into the game, but I’m always happy to just spend time with my friend, no matter what mischief we’re getting up to. He has no expectations of me, no criticisms, no compulsion for structure around our weekly sessions. He is always happy to just spend time with his friend.

Gaming is not just an individual experience.  It is often communal, and that shared experience is its own source of joy, comfort, and camaraderie. My friend knows he can’t cure my depression. But he knows that those few hours we spend in the Forgotten Realms together every Saturday will bring us both some comfort. It will make us laugh. It will sometimes make us cry. For me, it will keep me going just a little while longer.  

In the end, fighting depression isn’t about looking ahead to a future beyond depression. It’s about the small steps we take every day, every hour, even every minute. It’s about looking as far ahead as you are able to, even if it’s only in the smallest increments. The measure at which I keep moving forward doesn’t matter. I just need to keep pushing. Sometimes that means picking up my controller, and sometimes it means doom scrolling on TikTok until I fall asleep. And if that’s something you need to hear, if knowing that all that matters is that you keep going, then I hope that gives you strength. Just keep going.

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