Whenever my brain perceives something to be messy in a video game I suffer a strong compulsion to restart my save. This has been present for as long as I can remember, a by-product of a struggle with obsessive compulsive disorder, and in turn has had a negative impact on my ability to engage in one of my greatest passions in life. A strong bout of anxiety takes over whenever my brain recognises something that it considers to be messy and the only way to alleviate this anxiety is usually to restart the save and start afresh.
What my brain considers to be messy can differ and there is little consistency to it. It can be related to gameplay – perhaps I have repeatedly died in one section, or a body has landed on another body during a heated firefight, or a gamebreaking bug has ripped me out of my immersion – or it can even be something completed unrelated to gameplay. A little thing to most like pressing the home button on an Xbox controller and having the game pause itself as the menu is brought up can drive me to want to delete a save. The biggest challenge is perhaps the fact that I am acutely aware of how illogical all of this is. There is absolutely no comprehensive reason for my brain to find issue with any of these things, and yet, it does. This usually leads to a negative cycle of playing the opening hour or so of a game, being hit by this compulsion to address my anxiety, and restarting the save to continue this never-ending cycle. This, as you can probably imagine, is indescribably frustrating – almost akin to a form of self-inflicted torture – and it led to me eventually deciding that playing video games was a hobby that was just not for me.
A few years ago I made the decision to sell all of my consoles. I sold all of my games, anything else remotely related to video games, and stepped away from my hobby altogether. For those that are close to me, it is hard for them to imagine this, given their prominence in my life today. In 2017 a friend of mine crashed on my couch for a few nights and he decided to bring over his PS4. I ended up picking up a controller and discovered a game called Fortnite. Whilst I spent the first few games strategically deciding what was the right bush for me, on my third game I won, and three days later I purchased my own PS4. The battle royale genre, in particular the way in which it utilises permadeath, clicked with me instantly and I found it exhilarating. The fact that each game was a self-contained life, with my own decisions acting as the driving force for the story that each game told, led to an incredibly immersive experience and one which afforded me the opportunity to play video games with minimal anxiety. For the next year (yes, year) Fortnite is the only game that I played and I put in over 1,000 hours. I eventually moved on to other games within the battle royale genre and it was almost therapeutic in a sense as the more time I put into games like H1Z1 and Call of Duty’s Blackout the less and less I was being troubled by the infliction that drove me away from video games in the first place.
Eventually, I did pick up games that belonged to other genres. It has certainly been a challenge, however, as time goes by I struggle less and less with my OCD and I have managed to complete many games that only a few years ago I would have had no chance of completing. Celeste is one game in particular that resonated strongly with me – quickly becoming my favourite game of all time – and thematically it is perfect for my own struggle. Madeline’s personal conflict with her reflection, the physical embodiment of her own self-perceived shortcomings, and the manner in which she comes to terms with that part of her is is something that I never thought I would experience in a 2D platformer. The moment Madeline comes to the realisation that by embracing every aspect of who she is as a person she could become stronger and more capable than if she were to fight against herself, to me, is one of the most powerful moments within video game storytelling and brought me to tears.
Whilst describing all of this to someone, especially to those who do not play video games or have little appreciation for them, they might ask me why I continue down this somewhat ridiculous path. Surely, I could find a more constructive use of my spare time rather than constantly bash against a wall of anxiety in an attempt to play video games? Video games have been an immeasurably positive influence in my life: I met my best friend through Fortnite; it has acted as an enjoyable bonding activity between my partner and I; my Discord server The Jolly Gamers, I believe, is a place where people can find others to play with, make friends and talk about their passions; my first opportunity within freelance journalism was writing an article for a video game magazine about permadeath; to name but a few of many more wonderful moments that playing video games has brought me. I hope this gives you a small insight into a very personal part of who I am, and even more so, I hope that someone out there reads this and finds it helpful.
If you enjoyed the article and would like to join the conversation, meet like-minded gamers or find people to play with then consider joining us in the Jolly Gamers Discord server by following the link: https://discord.gg/Ss5mK3p