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How Video Games Saved My Mental Health Through The Pandemic

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How Video Games Saved My Mental Health Through The Pandemic

How do you survive a pandemic? Firstly, don't catch the deadly virus that's going around. Seems obvious, right? Well, I wasn't able to do that. Like countless others, I caught COVID-19, and what followed was the worst illness of my life. I remember it clearly: on March 16, I was on a brief, 15-minute walk when I couldn't seem to catch my breath. I'd never experienced anything like it, and I began to think I'd caught the thing. Several days later, I found myself unable to even sit up, so I spoke to a doctor (over the phone), and I was confined to my bed for the foreseeable.

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In those early days, I was unable to do anything. I'd listen to movies and TV shows, barely able to focus on the screen from my lay-down position. I'd re-read messages from friends, wishing me a speedy recovery, because I couldn't take in most of what was written in one go. I'd lie there trying to work out how I became ill when everyone around me was fine. I mean it, nobody I know was sick at the time, and that unbelievable fact - coupled with being isolated in my bedroom - made me feel completely alone. Depression turned to bitterness, which turned to anger, which would then turn to coughing fits, light-headedness and a sincere desire to not be here anymore. Don't worry, this little story isn't entirely a self-pity post, because something good happened.

Persona 5 Royal / Credit: Atlus
Persona 5 Royal / Credit: Atlus

Eventually, I was able to game again, and this made a tremendous difference. I had a copy of Persona 5 Royal for review, so I set myself the task of completing the game. Playing in short sessions, allowing for naps (which felt more like blackouts), I invested everything in this game, ignoring most of what was happening in the real world. I would normally believe this to be unhealthy, but the level of escapism took me away from a situation I knew I couldn't handle anymore. A stylish, 100+ hour JRPG with socialising and life simulator elements was just the thing to keep me going.

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Once I'd finished Persona 5 Royal, I moved onto the Resident Evil 3 remake. This may sound like an odd choice, given the game's story being about a deadly virus which causes a pandemic, but it was extreme enough that my sense of escapism wasn't affected. If anything, playing as Jill Valentine, who gets infected and requires medical aid to recover, gave me a connection I rarely feel with a protagonist, and enriched the experience. In a weird way, finishing the game was cathartic because I was sick, and because I wanted nothing more than to escape my own nightmare, albeit a less bitey one.

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After finishing RE3 several times, I reinstalled Resident Evil 2 (2019), and set about unlocking the remaining trophies. I even managed to beat the 4th Survivor mode for the first time, an experience so taxing that I had to sleep for about 14 hours afterwards. Physically, maybe video games weren't exactly what I needed, but the mental benefits were huge. Sure, there was the sense of accomplishment (suck it, Mr. X!), but the overriding factor was the aforementioned escapism. I didn't feel so alone when I had Jill, Carlos, Leon, Claire, Marvin and Sherry from the Resi games there with me.

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When I felt a little better, I played Apex Legends and Fortnite with friends, and this is where things started to feel "normal" again. This was a shared escapism, where we all felt like we were actually together, even if only for brief moments among the cartoony gunfire of the battle royale. I remember thinking how I was over the worst of it, and soon the world would open up again. I was wrong

Fortnite / Credit: Epic Games
Fortnite / Credit: Epic Games

I relapsed, or became infected again. I don't really know what happened, and neither do the various doctors I sought help from. As low as I felt before, this was somehow worse. Anger was my starting emotion, and I pushed everyone away. I went dark for days and thought this was where I'd cash it in. Luckily for me, my friends are stubborn, and I was inundated with messages, calls, and even gifts. I was reduced to tears when a friend bought me Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and was equally moved when another friend gave me his copy of Persona 3 FES, a valuable gem of a video game.

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As nice as all of this was, I knew there was only one game series that would help: Resident Evil. So, I installed 2002's Resident Evil remake, Code: Veronica (which needs a remake), Resident Evil 4 (which doesn't), and Resident Evil 5. I also bought Resident Evil 6, because I apparently hadn't suffered enough. These games, along with the remakes of RE2 and RE3, gave me exactly what I needed. They gave me escapism with just a hint of relatability. They gave me scenarios that I cared about triumphing over, and they made me feel like I could get through anything.

Resident Evil 2 / Credit: Capcom
Resident Evil 2 / Credit: Capcom

Video games got me through the darkest chapter in my life, and the worst period of history I've lived through (so far). I'm one of the lucky ones because I recovered. I have people who care, and a life I like living, and I think about how lucky I am every day. Writing this all down hasn't been easy, but I want you to see that dark times do end. Things aren't perfect now, but they're better, and we can get through this terrible moment in history. We have vaccines for the virus, and we have people we can talk to about our mental health (links below), and we have video games. Silly, rage-inducing, time-consuming video games, that do more good for us than we often realise. I know I wouldn't be here without them.

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Thanks for reading, and if any of this relates to you, remember: you're not alone.

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There are various resources that can help provide mental health support, including MIND, Samaritans, Safe In Our World and CALM:

www.mind.org.uk
0300 123 3393

Featured Image Credit: Capcom / Author

Topics: Fortnite, Resident Evil, Mental Health, Apex Legends

James Daly
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