From the Depths to the Summit
Author: Belinda Quantock
“Don’t ever stop. Always keep going, no matter what happens and is taken from you. Even when life is so unfair, don’t give up.”
– Ezio, Assassin’s Creed II (2007)
About four years ago, something happened that changed my life very much for the worse. Never before had I encountered such utter loss and despair. I needed a way to take a break from the breaking. Books required too much effort. TV wasn’t enough of a distraction. The answer, I had a feeling, was to be found inside a black box from Sony.
I wasn’t a stranger to the art of pixels and choosing my own fate. I’d pointed and clicked for decades, maneuvered a rather pointy Lara Croft through an unrelentingly brown landscape. There’d been much monkeying about on Islands and questing of kings. I decided to enter the world of contemporary games, PS4 level, the sort I knew I’d be rubbish at. I set myself the task of not being rubbish.
Gaming isn’t new to me. I remember early mornings sneaking upstairs to the family computer and booting up King’s Quest, Lemmings, classic platform games that excited my tiny soul. Sometimes there’d be carefully secreted biscuits to go with these games.
The whole experience was soothing and magical. Other times, pizza nights, my Dad would take me to the arcade across the road while we awaited our order and I’d work on my Pac-Man skills.
Dad loved pinball. The ‘pinnies’ became a sort of shrine to me in those younger years.
Return to a few years ago and I was struggling. Well I remember hanging upside down in The Last of Us and thinking I’d never kill that first bloater. Much like in real life, I didn’t give in. I finished that game, and something shifted.
The Last of Us was just the ticket to desolation and redemption. Emotions mixed with adrenaline. Honing my terrible aim and being forced to play on easy mode I made it out the other side. I struggled but prevailed.
These weren’t just games, they were artworks of the highest order with as much plot and pathos as a Harry Potter novel. Life kept going on it’s sad path, but Ellie and Joel stood by me.
In my real life, I craved holidays – beautiful lands and beaches, Heat washing over the skin and catching waves with no goal, just the feeling of sublime freedom.
The Witcher 3 came along when I needed it most. It taught me how to fight, how to have a holiday from my bedroom and how a truly full gaming world could affect the emotions.
I poured hundreds of hours into Geralt’s adventures. I collected every piece of armour and explored all the houses and haunts. I swam, I sailed, I felt alive for the first time in a long time. In the brutal Melbourne winters, I huddled inside and took my adventures to sun filled Toussaint, imagining myself as fit, strong and able to travel at the drop of a sword. I’d return for the expansion games, works of art, masterful pieces of creativity and so stunning I had to pause often just to take it all in.
So here I was, having heard nothing but how bad gaming was for one’s mental health yet finding these same games my salvation. I was learning new skills and succeeding at something whereas in real life, things were still dicey. I couldn’t understand how something so lifesaving could possibly be labelled as detrimental. I found Checkpoint at my first PAX event. Here were professionals saying what I’d been struggling to put into words. I felt vindicated and a bit like Aloy atop a Tallneck.
About a year later, I took a few risks in order to get out of the rut I was in. I began my own personal hero’s journey.
Sure, I didn’t begin with the legendary armour but that was acquired along the way and I keep it highly polished. I began my counselling degree and made sure to inform anyone who would listen that video games are a great source of release and restoration. God of War is excellent after a bad day when you need to let out some anger. Uncharted is a series made for cinematographers and those craving adventure. Assassin’s Creed continues to astonish and impress with deeper stories and stunning dives into historical splendour.
Now I’m in an idyllic place and life is pretty damn fine. I don’t need games anymore, but I still love them. I’ll be a gamer for life. I’d encourage anyone struggling with their place in the world, with grief, with their mental health to invite games into their life. I’ve met wonderful people by volunteering for Checkpoint and through the gaming community. I’ve never encountered anyone who would say gaming has had a negative impact on their life.
Australia’s mental health system is in a sorry state. Until services improve and expand, many people are left alone to battle their personal monsters. If hunting animated monsters in another world seems preferable, go for it! Gaming is a wonderful coping strategy when life deals out a damning hand. Whether you need to crush candy on your daily commute or flow through Journey at the end of a stressful day, it’s your choice.
We do what we have to to survive, and we build our own networks and imaginations. The difference now is that these stories and characters have become companions instead of crutches. I go for rides that would make Arthur Morgan jealous and then lie in bed and play me some Red Dead. I love having dual lives and I will always be grateful to the creators of these cinematic miracles; they gave me so many lives when I desperately needed just the one.
Look to Joel’s raw eloquence; “I struggled for a long time with survivin’… No matter what, you keep finding something to fight for”. I’ll pay that, I’ll play that.