How Streaming Improved My Mental Health
Author: J. L. Hilton
I started playing Fallout 4 four years ago, in February 2016. There’s a building component to the game and I spent a lot of time crafting post-apocalyptic neighborhoods from the debris of the wasteland.
Siding with the local law enforcement faction, the Minutemen, I took every weapon, stimpak, can of Cram and piece of wood I found back to the desperate survivors who scratched a living from the radioactive dirt. I surrounded them with walls, guards, armor and the best missile turrets my perks could buy.
I made their world safe and rebuilt their lives, while in the real world I suffered crippling panic disorder, PTSD, depression, and related health issues including IBS, high blood pressure, chronic pain and insomnia.
There were too many days I couldn’t get out of bed and too many times I wondered if I would ever feel healthy or happy again. I had doctors, therapy, and medications, but no one could prescribe hope.
My sole survivor, Fiona, had hope.
My husband encouraged me to stream settlement tours. He reminded me I already had a YouTube channel, from years ago when I’d uploaded a bit of Minecraft for friends and family. We owned a headset with a mic. PlayStation 4 made it easy to share video game content.
“You’re playing the game anyway, might as well stream, too,” he said.
So I tried half an hour at a time, every few days. Trolls found me right away, insulted me for being a “gamer girl” or assumed I knew nothing about video games, even though I’d been playing them since the 1970’s. Every stream, there were vicious insults and sexual suggestions in the chatroom.
Never revealing how much it hurt and how I struggled to cope after a streaming session, my anxiety would be so bad I’d lay awake at night with intense irrational fears that someone would find out where I lived and try to hurt me or my family. I’d read about streamers being “swatted” or stalked and I wouldn’t stream for days.
But I also felt incredibly lonely. My mental health issues kept me isolated. How could I leave the house when I felt too terrified to move? What if I fainted? Where would I even go? Who would I talk to? I had no extended family, no coworkers, and few friends.
So, I’d stream again.
Bethesda released The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition in October 2016, giving me the chance to stream my favorite game. I’d played Skyrim for 900 hours on PlayStation 3 and spent countless hours reading online forums, articles and lore. The fantasy genre had been my solace through years of childhood abuse and continued to be a place where I felt at home as an adult.
I streamed Skyrim for two hours every day, in spite of nasty viewers and health issues. I loved the game too much to let anything stop me. It might seem silly to some people, that a video game gave me something to look forward to every day, a reason to feel happiness instead of dread, but after so much darkness I welcomed any light at all.
Even on days when I could do nothing else, couldn’t eat, sleep or laugh, I played Skyrim. Weeks passed and I gradually added other actions to my daily streaming ritual: Showering, brushing teeth, getting dressed, taking vitamins, eating a healthy lunch, stretching, hydrating.
Unlike most content creators, I didn’t stream for views, subs or money. I streamed to be myself again.
Most of my life, I’d hidden my personality, interests and opinions from others. When streaming, I could practice opening up. I could laugh, swear, cry, make a joke, flirt with video game characters, discuss plot points and make up stories. I learned to be okay with not pleasing everyone, a very difficult lesson for me.
I felt empowered by the ability to block rude people and treated my streams like a party. Anyone who left a turd in the punchbowl would be thrown out. This fostered a community where I connected with other women who played video games, gamer parents, gamers over 40, and people struggling with their own mental and physical health issues.
After Skyrim, I went on to play BioShock, Dishonored 2, Horizon Zero Dawn and many more. At the request of viewers, I started a new playthrough of Fallout 4.
There are still times I feel anxious or depressed but I haven’t had a panic attack or taken anxiety medication in two years.
I can’t give video games all the credit. I also changed my diet, moved to another city, and went to marriage counseling. But knowing I can put on the headset, push a few buttons and have a good time with a community of supportive people has changed my life.