Video Games are my Mental CrutchPosted: 13 Jun 2023
Video games have been an important part of my life for over 35 years.
They bring me a lot of joy and now I make my living as a game journalist, grateful that something that has always been there to provide entertainment now helps pay my bills. But it’s not just the enjoyment of playing them, or giving me a job, that makes video games an important aspect of my life. I use them as a tool to soften the blow of severe bouts of depression that I suffer from regularly. The ability to melt into a fictional world, one I’ve full control of, gives me an escape from the turmoil and anguish that is a deep, dark depression. The games are empowering, they help me remember that safe space and offer the warmth that the harsh real world denies me.
My depression comes mainly from being transgender. My body and my mind don’t join up and like other trans people, it causes poor mental health. I went a long way to stopping the worse of my depression by transitioning from male to female about nine years ago and the process has meant I’m now a fully functioning human that lives a life instead of mourning an existence as I did before. It wasn’t the silver bullet I’d hoped for though, I’m certainly in a much better space but the depression is always there in some form. I soon realised that it wasn’t just being trans that was causing my brain to ache, but my job in a large office in London that I just had no love for.
I feel that a mixture of transitioning on the job and not gaining any sort of promotion for years, despite my many applications and good work, was holding me back from true happiness. In desperation, following another failed application for a promotion, and generally feeling angry at the world, I just quit this job out of the blue. Handed in my notice, stuck two fingers up and never looked back. While the euphoria of ‘sticking it to the man’ felt great for a day or two, there was now an immediate issue in my life. I had no job to go onto, no prospects and no savings to rely on.
Before I left the job on the last day, some colleagues asked me what I was going to do. I casually told them I was going to become a game journalist and walk in the footsteps of the great writers of the UK magazine scene of the 90s. I’d always looked up to the likes of Jaz Rignall and Dave Perry who seemed like gaming gods to the teenage me. I don’t think my colleagues took me seriously, one even asked if I was okay and was worried I was losing the plot. In truth I was losing the plot, I was in a substantial depressive phase and the annoyance of my ten-year stay at a job I wasn’t progressing in just pushed me over the edge.
Skip forward six months and an array of anti-depressant medicines later, I found myself waking up from a mental health crisis with no job and no energy to throw myself back into the rat race. My housemate at the time encouraged me to go into the world and find happiness, and try something completely new to work in. I remembered that I had joked with my ex-colleagues about becoming a game journalist and thought about how much pleasure playing games gives me. Could I turn this hobby, this passion into a real job? After building up my strength and talking through my problems I was in a much better place. I was set to fulfil a childhood dream and find a truly happy place in my working life.
My friends and family thought it might be better for me to get back into the office work I was doing before as it was ‘safer’ and had more ‘prospects’. I knew that wasn’t the case, I knew that after my transition I had finally broken the spell of living in the constant spiral of depression and the final hurdle was to do a job that also made me happy. So, not knowing where to start I just began throwing everything on the wall seeing what would stick. I made YouTube videos, streamed on Twitch, built my own website, grew a social media following, offered to guest write on established gaming blogs, put myself forward for podcasts and started talking to game writers I found on social media.
The scattergun approach worked when two years ago an editor of a niche gaming magazine offered to pay me to write a few articles. Even though the pay was humble the fact that someone was willing to give me money for my insight, experience and writing skills was like an explosion. The opportunities started to snowball from that moment and now here I am. I’m writing for a world-renowned magazine, regularly appearing on TV and radio chatting about gaming news, presenting on stages at gaming events and generally living a life that seems like a dream. My poor mental health had pushed me to hell and back, it took immense strength to pull myself out of the gloom and at times I wanted to end my life. But I found the strength, I believed in myself and fought to have a happy life.
The depression will always be with me, there is no cure, but knowing that I will have video games in my life going forward I know I can deal with it and use my virtual crutch when I need it.
Written by Faith Johnson