Please welcome new guest writer Tara W. for a beautiful piece on how good stories impact her life.
I love stories and the thrill of experiencing something new. That’s why video games have always been a passion of mine. I love the first moment of putting in a game and seeing the opening and then letting the story and its characters take me through an adventure. It’s been said, but it’s true: Video games allow me an escape—an escape from my anxiety, my depression, my overwhelming insecurities, my unhappiness at my 9 to 5. Their influence has spilled into my real life, as well. I bonded initially with my husband on a terrible first blind date by talking about video games. I’ve met some incredible people that I can’t live without.
I have a serious problem, though. I have trouble finishing games. I’m notorious for getting two thirds of the way through a game and then switching it off and setting it aside. My friends have teased me about it. My husband teases me about it every time I buy a new one. “Why bother? You’re not going to finish it anyways.” It always bugged me, but I could never find the right answer to why I just gave up. Then, about three years ago, I finally started on a journey of seeking help for my depression and anxiety. I started therapy and medication. And now I feel like I finally have an answer.
I didn’t want them to end. It would cause me physical stress at the thought of finishing a game I loved because it was new. It was something my brain craved. I fell in love with these characters and their stories, and it hurt me to see the credits. It was a stark reminder that I couldn’t experience the thrill of the newness of it, and I had to go back to my own—at times terrible—reality.
I want to tell you a story about my experience with the “Uncharted” and “Mass Effect” series. I never played the first “Uncharted” didn’t finish the second or third. “Uncharted” always seemed to catch me at my darkest moments. “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune” came out in 2007. I was three years out of high school and in probably the lowest point of my life. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life; my depression and anxiety skyrocketed. I stayed silent about my suffering, thinking it would be for the better. I didn’t play a lot of games during that period. I could barely focus on keeping a job and this new relationship I had.
“Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” came along in 2009. I was in a moderately better place in my life. My then boyfriend (now husband) and I had moved in together. I had a broader circle of friends thanks to the addition of his friends. So, I picked it up. I enjoyed the first few levels, but then my mental health kicked into high gear. I started having serious panic attacks. We were under a lot of stress: We lived in three places in just about three years until we got our own apartment. My husband’s mother was in a serious car accident, and his aunt passed away right in front of us. So, I set it aside and never came back to it.
In February 2010, my husband’s closest friend passed away. It broke both of our hearts. He was the one who helped me get a better job. He was a brother to both of us and our confidant. That whole year was a blur. We always thought that he would call us at any moment or that we would hear our buzzer ring and it would be him at the door with takeaway. We hardly played games that year. It took us a long time to recover.
In late 2010 or early 2011, my husband came home with something for me. We had a long weekend and he had stopped by the game store and picked two games up for me to try because I liked “sci-fi stuff.” They were “Mass Effect” and “Mass Effect 2.” Those were the first two video games in several years that I finished. I just couldn’t put them down. They also marked a turning point in my life. My love for those two games drove me online and onto Twitter where I started to meet the most incredible people.
It was also the first time I didn’t feel alone in dealing with my problems with mental health.
Summer of 2011 was a good time. We moved out of our apartment and rented a house of our own. I started attending more conventions, concerts, and just being out with friends. I found a new world, and I wanted to be a part of it. I picked up “Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception,” but, again, my mental health kicked up. My panic attacks became more frequent and more debilitating. I always had suffered from migraines, but now I was getting one a week. I set that game aside, too.
March 2012 marked one of the very few times I finished a game until 2016. That game was “Mass Effect 3.” By 2012, I knew I needed help. Maybe planning a wedding had something to do with it. Maybe it was also the fact that I had a terrible job in a very stressful situation. I had hidden my problems, only letting a few people see. But they were harder and harder to conceal. One of my old coworkers walked in on me struggling to keep a panic attack at bay in the break room. He put me in the server room with a pillow and a stress ball. Later, he gave me a key so I could go in there whenever I needed to. I started and set aside games like crazy. I couldn’t focus, and I drifted apart from a lot of my friends.
Finally, after a panic attack landed me in the hospital, my husband took me to my general practitioner to get help. She walked in, asked me how I was doing, and I promptly burst into tears. At the beginning of 2013, I had medication, a therapist, and a psychiatrist. I started to tell more people about my illness. I made even more friends because we all bonded over our shared struggles.
None of this meant I was better. I went through several therapists, multiple medications, and have ended up back in hospitals. It also didn’t mean I started finishing games. In fact, my collection of unfinished games grew and grew. “The Last of Us,” “Saints Row IV,” “Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag,” “Bravely Default,” “Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth,” “Batman: Arkham Knight,” and “Fire Emblem Fates” are just a few titles in my pile of games to finish from 2013 to 2016.
Do I feel wary admitting this? Of course I do. Too often, many of us are put on the spot to prove that we are “real gamers.” But I’m fine with admitting it, just like I’m fine admitting I enjoy playing games on easier difficulties. Because, as I am trying to point out,gaming is about the stories:The stories I become so invested in, stories I relate to so much that I don’t want them to be over. The stories that have helped me deal with some incredibly difficult periods of my life.
On May 10, 2016, “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End” was released. I’ve already had so much difficulty with this series, and it had absolutely nothing to do with the game’s characters, the plots, or the nuanced relationships and conversations. Each game coincided with periods of my life that were difficult and exceptionally dark, and I worried this would be no different. But I loved the trailers and videos, so I picked it up after work on May 10 and took it home.
I beat it in a week—which is pretty amazing with my full-time job, school, and therapy.
When the credits rolled, I sat staring at my screen. I was sad it was over, but it was such an amazingly sweet end to the series. I couldn’t help but feel that this was the perfect end and all I could ever hope to ask for. I could write a lot of words about this game and maybe I will, but this story left me feeling something very different. It left me feeling elated. I felt a sense of peace.
Maybe it’s because I am in a much better place in my life with three years of therapy and medication. Or maybe it’s because I’m older and wiser, but I couldn’t help but feel a cathartic moment at the end of “Uncharted 4.” These characters went through a lot of crap, but they got a happy ending. A beautiful ending. An ending that didn’t leave you wanting. You knew these characters had full, happy lives. Lives with troubles, no doubt, but they had each other and they had their friends. Just because the game was over didn’t mean it was the end for them. It was a turning point; a turning point to another life with new adventures.
I sit here today and look back at my life. I’ll be 30 in August, a big turning point. I look at my troubles, and I struggle to remember them clearly. I look at the games I haven’t finished because I was scared. Scared to let these worlds go. I clung to these games because they were a singular bright spot in my life. But I’m starting to realize that my life is getting better. My depression and anxiety will never go away, but I have a lot more to look forward to. I have better coping mechanisms, amazing friends, family, and support. I am starting to realize that just because something is over, it doesn’t have to be sad. It means that there will be something bigger and better just beyond.
So, I think what I am trying to say is thanks. Thanks Nate Drake, you destroyer of precious ancient sites. Thanks Elena, you badass for saving your dingus of a husband. Thanks Sully and Sam for being snarky and just the type of family that we needed. Thanks for helping me realize that not only can I have a life filled with adventures of my choosing, but that I can work towards my own happy end. And most importantly: I deserve it. And I promise I’ll finish the other games.
I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. In the meantime, you can find me reading books about serial killers and trashy romance novels. I also play video games, write fanfiction in the drafts folder of my email, occasionally cosplay, work “Hamilton” lyrics in everyday conversation, and spoil my two cats and my dog. My other favorite hobby is coming up with new ways to exasperate my incredibly patient and loving husband (the key is “Hamilton” lyrics). You can find me on Twitter at @na_biki.