Video Games Help Me Cope With My Disorders

The jury has once again been let out on whether or not video games are beneficial.

07/27/2016 11:59 am ET | Updated Jul 28, 2016

With Pokemon Go being treated as both a joke and as a cultural revelation, the jury has once again been let out on whether or not video games are beneficial. While the world is busy debating whether or not “grown-ass adults” should be going out and playing a game that’s been dubbed for children, I’m over here understanding that video games have had a positive impact on my life.

You see, when I was 16, I went through a really bad period of depression. We’re talking the type of depression that slinks you into an abyss. There were little to no good feelings in my brain chemistry. The pills they gave me made me sicker. All treatments made my life harder.

So, I started playing World of Warcraft. That release… that community… and that virtual escape gave me somewhere to go. Somewhere that had achievements – somewhere that death, pain, and loss were temporary. I’ll be honest with you, I’ve had a lot of people I’m close to die.

While the world is busy debating whether or not 'grown-ass adults' should be going out and playing a game that’s been dubbed for children, I’m over here understanding that video games have had a positive impact on my life.

I used to think World of Warcraft, Fallout, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and even Grand Theft Auto were things that I should “quit.” I believed that they were traps that I fell into when I was sickly. I thought for a brief few years that if I played games I would once again sink back into that unfortunate murky water that had held me for so long.

When I started to evaluate and look back, I had been gaming long before I was depressed. As a kid I played Mortal Kombat (don’t judge), Sims, Rollercoaster Tycoon and really anything I could get my paws on. Why? It felt good. The sense of adventure, the sense of accomplishment, and I felt “organized.”

I started playing World of Warcraft. That release… that community… and that virtual escape gave me somewhere to go.

Different games help in different ways. Sometimes I want to feel as though I have control over the world. When the anxiety, triggers, and pain get to be too much to bare I hop on to either WoW or Sims. These games allow me to feel entirely (or mostly) in control of my virtual surroundings. Meanwhile, the real world remains relatively stagnant.

The stroke warning on video games should be enough to let you know that games can have a huge impact on the sensory system. Some can hinder you, others can help. There’s no algorithm. Does it make you feel better? Then play. Spike your anxiety? Might be time to switch games.

I now know that gaming has its place in my life. If I spend too much time working or exposing myself to stress and triggers I end up feeling lagged, un-motivated, and sometimes sick. Adding gaming into the mix seems to keep migraines and over-stimulation down.

Since there’s no cure yet for misophonia, coping is our main goal. For me, video games have been an invaluable resource for coping. Whatever you’re interested in and gravitate to is usually something your brain enjoys and gets a release from. If you like to spend an hour every night playing Candy Crush, chances are your brain is getting something from it. Our brains, despite being constantly taxed from the modern world, are able to seek out what they need.

In the sensory diet (activities designed to help regulate the sensory system), calming activities, energizing activities, and organizing activities are listed as beneficial for self-regulation. For me, gaming is very beneficial for both calming and organizing. This sensory diet was developed for persons with sensory processing disorder, but it can also be beneficial for some autistics, misophonics, and other disorders. It’s all about understanding your brain.

Gaming – like all other activities ― are beneficial if you feel it’s beneficial. However, you may want to seek games based on the input that you currently need. Once you get the hang of your sensory system, you should be able to tell when you’re feeling aroused or when you’re feeling under-stimulated. Using the above sensory diet may help you with this. 

I’m not saying games can’t lead to gaming addiction. They most certainly can. However, when used as a tool for sensory responsivity, they can be helpful in ensuring that we are getting the release and relaxation that we need. The world is a sensory-overloaded place, and it’s important that we’re checking in with our bodies and minds. For me, games like World of Warcraft, Fallout, and the occasional Grand Theft Auto or Mortal Kombat help me to feel in control.

So whatever it is that helps you calm down and regulate – do it. So long as it’s safe and you’re not harming yourself and others (seriously, don’t walk into traffic or off a cliff if you’re playing Pokemon Go).

Shaylynn Hayes is an advocate for her disorder, Misophonia. She writes and runs Misophonia International (a news site and magazine) for the disorder. For those that don’t know, Misophonia is (most-likely) a neurologically based disorder that causes an aversive reaction to audial and visual stimuli. In laymen’s terms this means that noises like tapping, whistling, crunching and chewing can cause a fight/flight/freeze reaction. There is no cure or treatment. For more info go here

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