I’ve tried to write about using bad games as a coping mechanism for two or three months – and I think I’ve found the right way to approach it. Maybe. The logic behind it is solid, but when I’ve tried to explain it before, the justifications never set quite right with me, or the person I was talking to didn’t get it. This is not meant to be some contrarian suggestion – I think you should play games you know to be bad only if you’re interested. I’m not trying to be the edgy hipster telling you to ignore everything that people consider good and dedicate your life to trash – I simply want to share a coping method that’s helped me in my life.
The basic idea is this: playing games that I perceive to be bad can help me with my anxiety and depression. I find that putting my problems on the back burner while I’m focused on the problems of the game in front of me can be soothing. They help bring my issues into perspective, allowing me to approach them with a better mindset than before. I’m not disassociating from my problems when I do this; they’re there whether I’m playing a game or not. I just find the temporary distraction of a bad game, to be a welcome force that shakes things up just enough to make me feel better once I’ve beaten it.
Of course, it can’t just be any bad game. Guilty pleasures and so-bad-it’s-good titles cross the line into titles I’d normally play. Meanwhile, obtuse bad games pretty much guarantee I’ll get nowhere unless I’m willing to put the time and dedication in that I’d usually save for a real craft. Like learning the guitar.
No – the games I look for when I use this coping mechanism are bad, but easy enough to beat if I put in enough time. I’m looking for constant forward progression, not puzzles that keep me stuck for hours. If it’s miserable enough to make my depression worse, it’s not going help.
To give an example, a couple of months ago I dealt with a lot of issues that fell together all at once. Breaking technology, an impending death in the family, unstable living and job situations, and so on. I’m usually pretty good at managing my anxiety and depression, but eventually I grew tired. I didn’t want to play anything for a while. I just wanted to listen to podcasts and not deal with anything unless I had to.
Then, I told myself: okay, if I’m going to listen to a podcast, I might as well find a game to play while I listen. I, at the very least, had to play something for this blog, or get some inspiration to keep my writing consistent. Having that at the back of my mind, I decided to try out a game I’d always wanted to play, but never otherwise had the chance to.
X-Men: Destiny has a colorful history behind it, and became a game I held on to for posterity’s sake. From what I knew, it was short; the story mode was only a few hours long, and featured three different characters and powers to choose from for replay value. I didn’t really expect to replay it, but I wound up beating it three times, both because I was curious if anything other than the back story would change if I selected different a different character (nothing changed), and because I didn’t want the experience to end. Charging through the game with podcasts being pumped through my earbuds relaxed me.
The game, of course, stumbles at every turn – the storyline is generic, the cutscenes look like they’re from 2005 and tend to lag, characters come and go out of nowhere, and gameplay feels like it’s a step away from breaking apart – making it feel like developer Silicon Knights got just enough done before the game released to make it playable from beginning to end. From the inaccurate subtitles to the poor attempts to give popular characters like Wolverine and Gambit something important to do, it’s a perplexing mess.
I didn’t plan on writing about my time with X-Men: Destiny at first. Initially, I just wanted to play it and move on. Any inspiration I had would be channeled into other articles. Who wants to go around talking about how they beat this largely forgotten 2011 game (three times!) unless they had a good reason to? As I reflected on the game more though, and thought more deeply about why I even wanted to play it in the first place, the seeds for an article emerged. They just took a while to grow into something I could harvest.
I started thinking about other times where I’d perhaps used this coping skill unconsciously. I remembered playing Rogue Warrior and Duke Nukem Forever back to back earlier this year and how different it felt to pour everything that was wrong in my life into a gameplay session, and come away astounded at how broken this aspect was, or how long that level felt, while also feeling like I could tackle whatever was bothering me.
Looking further back, I started to remember as a kid, when I played Sonic Adventure on Gamecube. This is before I could properly identify what a bad game was. So, even though I felt weird playing Adventure next to 3D Sonic games I liked a lot more, like Sonic Adventure 2 and Sonic Heroes, it wasn’t until later I realized that I just intensely disliked it. On every level, from its dumb script, to its over-exaggerated animations, to its poorly conceived Big the Cat fishing segments, I came to loathe it.
Yet, I always felt compelled to come back to it. I would remind myself how playing it felt like reading a teenager’s fan-fiction come to life, but another part of me didn’t care. I’ve kept a copy on Dreamcast and on Gamecube in my library to this day, like some weird kind of hatred comfort food.
The connection between my experiences with Sonic Adventure and how I like playing bad games to help me cope became clearer this past week when I decided to take a few days off from writing. Due to some things going on in my life right now, I again found myself worried and anxious. The urge to play Sonic Adventure hit, and so I did it in two days. Once I got that out of my system, I suddenly saw the connection was there; that this was surely a pattern. Using this connection, I found the missing part of the article I’d been trying to write before. Instead of dressing it up as a love letter to B games (the equivalent to B movies) however, I decided to be more direct and honest. I pushed myself to write about using this medium to find new ways to cope, to use what works, and understand it so I can use it more effectively.
If this coping mechanism can help others, then it’s worth the road I took to writing this article. Talking about coping strategies is good and valid, but I’m hardly the first person to do it. Kimberley Wallace of Game Informer has written in the past about playing Overwatch to help her cope with a chronic illness. While our situations are a bit different, our points are somewhat similar. At a certain point, whether a video game is good or bad doesn’t matter. Video games in general have healing powers that can help people cope, invest their bad energy, and find the meaning to continue forward.
I’ve used video games to cope in my own way – I’m not afraid to admit that. It might not come as a surprise to some people that this was not an easy subject to write about. I just hope, in being as honest as I can, someone else can take meaning from this.
If what I’m saying has some meaning to you, or I’m just babbling, I’d appreciate if you let me know – either on Twitter, or by emailing me (dcichocki(at)tiltingwindmillstudios.com). Thanks!