Life can be brutal.  It is completely natural to occasionally feel so broken by life’s hardships that you wonder how you could possibly go any further.  While these tough times can be some of the most difficult in life, you can always find a silver lining.

Video games have always been our go-to hobby, but sometimes they are much more.  During stressful times, games can become much more than distractions and often affect us at an emotional level.  With much of the Gaming Trend staff having battled our own demons, we have come together to discuss how games have impacted us through some of our most trying of times.  Here are some of the ways that games have helped us through our darkest hour:

Matt Welsh, Editor

Video games have long served as a much needed crutch for me during hard times.  The temporary escape from reality has a soothing effect, taking your mind off of what is troubling you and allowing you to focus your energy on more enjoyable experiences.

This has never been more apparent to me than during the fall of 2008.  Shortly after a nasty breakup, I was also let go from my job at Gamestop.  Normally, that would not have been a big deal, but as someone who has always loved the video game industry, the loss of the one major connection I had hit me hard.  My entryway into the industry was gone, and I feared that my pursuit of an eventual video game career may have reached an abrupt end.  Still a college student at the time, I found myself feeling alone, unemployed and worried about where my future might lead me.  For the first time in my life, I felt lost.

Then Fallout 3 was released.

Finding a significant amount of free time on my hands for the first time in years, I dove headfirst into Washington D.C.’s Capital Wasteland.  I dumped dozens and dozens of hours exploring the ruins of our nation’s capital, fighting off super mutants and raiders, and continuing my quest to provide clean water to the land.  I was hooked; it took 100+ hours, but less than a month after the game’s release, I had already earned all 1000 achievement points from the game.  I continued playing anyway, even after earning all of those meaningless digital points — something I’ve said about very few games.

It’s hard to pinpoint why Fallout acted as such as necessary component of my slow recovery.  Perhaps I needed to experience a world that seemed far worse than my own in order to gain perspective.  Or maybe the freedom to carve your own path and make your own decisions in the game’s open world provided a way to once again feel in charge of my destiny.  Despite falling into depression during that time in my life, I look back at Fallout as a bright spot and can find cherished moments in an otherwise dark period.  In a way, it was Fallout that helped me recover, partially molding me into who I am today.

Video games have taught me that no matter how many curve balls life throws at you, they can always provide a temporary escape from your troubles.  Games have become a rock for me during turbulent times, a constant method of peace and reflection when life becomes stressful.  My passion for games continues to show me that no matter how scary life seems, there is always respite in pursuing your interests.  Fallout 3 taught me not to let your circumstances change who you are, and that is a powerful philosophy that I still try to live by.

Fallout 3

Niko DelValle, Editor

My childhood was not the easiest time of my life. Dealing with the psychological issues of myself and my siblings was not easy for my mother, and neither was living in poverty. We moved between many cheap apartments, relying on government support programs, and struggled to have enough food and money. When I was a kid, my Uncle introduced me to computers and while I was always fascinated, it took a long time before I was able to express my love for technology… and the path to getting there wasn’t easy.

My father was abusive to my family and was a drug addict. My mother had to try to push through her disabilities to support us without the necessary funds to do so. My sister was abusive to my brother and I, and my mother had too much else on her mind to deal with it, forcing me to stand up for him and myself in the process. Luckily, as life moved on these negative people left my life one by one. We moved away from poverty stricken streets and the government programs we were entitled to helped us get to a better life. Now my life is much better than it was back then, and I’m a very different person.

The one thing that helped me get through the difficulties of my tough life was the games I was able to play. I relished being able to visit my cousins house to try out new video games.  The cheap secondary systems and games I had access to in my own home (I was very lucky to have them) absorbed the long hours and helped me escape for a while, and this fostered my lifelong love for games that will never fade. What once started as a way for me to escape my difficult life evolved into my passion for the art form, and as I grew up and became more intelligent, it gave purpose to my life when it almost felt like I had none.

Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future helped me escape from the depths of the horrible people that were the family members that mistreated me and the people important to me. It’s important to me for more than that reason though, as it also has a masterful atmosphere that always drew me in and made me feel so many emotions, talking directly to my fears and desires.  It’s a game that I find beautiful in so many different ways and as a child it changed the way I viewed the things around me. It made me curious, told me that there was a solution to every puzzle and that there was a reason for everything.

Rayman 2 drew me away from the poverty stricken life I lived with psychological problems that the terrible educational system didn’t acknowledge until I was older, but it also spoke to my imagination. Its wackiness and zaniness made me laugh, but it also got me thinking about the worlds I myself could create. It probably got me started as a writer, inspiring me to write terrible stories on the backs of pieces of paper, and showing me that I could be as ridiculous as I wanted in my own little pockets of existence.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic helped me move away from being the social outcast I always was, being unable to interact normally with others by showing me that other people weren’t always so scary.  Others were all unique and individual just like I was (it sounds like a foolish realization to have, but I’m not quite normal)… but it also spoke more to how emotional the stories could make you feel, and how epic a well-written conflict and twist could be. It helped me develop as a writer, moving me away from the ridiculousness of my earlier works and making me want to cause others to really feel something for the characters and worlds I created.

There are so many little examples on the way games influenced my life, my beliefs, my values… it would take forever to list them here. But yes, while they helped me get through the hardest times of my life, they became more than escapism to me while I absorbed myself in them. They helped me grow into the person I am today, beyond just helping me cope. They made me see boundless wonder in so many ways, and no matter how much gaming changes, it will always remain this way to me. No matter what.

kotor

Eric Van Allen, Editor

Coming up pretty soon is the one year anniversary of my grandmother’s passing. It happened quite suddenly and with little warning. I remember sitting in a planning meeting for a group I was in at university and getting the call that she wasn’t doing well. They had rushed her to the hospital, and it looked pretty dire. She passed away a day later. Because of the timing with school finals, I was faced with the choice of either missing finals to go to the funeral, or stay and not be there.

I remember a lot. Talking with family, those closest to me, hearing them so upset. As I’ve grown older it’s been harder for me to wear my heart on my sleeve, and so it was difficult trying to understand how I should feel. A strange mixture of anger, sadness and numbness to it all, as I spent several days drinking and playing Dota to find some sort of escapism. I had dealt with death in the past; I’d had great-grandmothers, distant relatives and even pets pass in my time. But this was different, this was someone who had affected my growth as a person since I could remember. I could still hear her voice in my ears, still smell the old smell of cigarettes burned into my grandparents’ house, still see the smile my grandma gave me when I brought her a can of Old Milwaukee Light.

This person had been with me all my life, and I couldn’t yet comprehend the world moving forward without them in it. I was too stubborn and set in my ways to tell this to anyone, so I just wallowed in quiet solitude, waiting for the moments driving home in my car or alone in my room where I could finally just try to understand it all.

What brought me back was one night, when those same friends from before took me out to dinner. We went back to my house at the time, busted out as much alcohol as we could find, and grabbed a deck of cards labelled “Cards Against Humanity.”

Now, I had played Cards Against Humanity many times before. I had seen most of the cards, laughed at all my friend’s dirty jokes, and had a good time. This round was different, though. CAH is a game about dark humor, offending as many people as possible and many times ending a round with unsure giggles at a too-soon joke.

I could laugh at the terrible, awful things in life. And through that, I grew to accept what had happened. It was terrible that my grandmother had passed, and I knew it was just another stage in life, learning to deal with the deaths of those close to you. It would never get easier, likely get more painful with each passing, and it would happen all the way through life.

But at that moment in time, I could laugh. I could make light of every atrocity and terrible thing in existence. It was like the Boggart had come out of the closet, and I had finally learned to laugh at it. It doesn’t make it any less of a beast, but at that moment, sitting in my living room, tears-down-my-eyes laughing at the idea of smallpox blankets and flightless birds being dropped to help the starving children of the world, I could best the beast and learn to deal with it.

Dota

Kenneth Shepard, Lead News Editor

Your late teens to early twenties are a pretty stressful time in almost anyone’s life.

You get your first taste of what it’s like in this fabled “real world” everyone’s been telling you about, but you’re also expected to have the next ten years or so of your life planned out to the letter.

It took me many years after I graduated High School to figure out what I wanted to do for a living, and my drive to accomplish much of my goals has clashed with a lot of what had been drilled into my brain as requirements for a prosperous life.

To this day, I’m constantly filled with paranoia and anxiety that I’ve made a lot of bad calls in life in the name of my endgame, and a lot of that had to do with the fact that everyone around me was telling me the “right” way to get anywhere I wanted.

On one of my worst days, I picked up my Vita and started playing through the final chapter of Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair. In the game’s last hours, Hajime Hinata, the game’s protagonist, is basically told that he has to choose between sacrificing himself or sacrificing the rest of the world. He’s given these options by other people, and feels himself being pulled in two different directions.

However, as the game nears its conclusion, Hajime has a side conversation with an old friend that helped him decide that in order to move forward, he must decide for himself what he wants and not for the sake of anyone else.

The Danganronpa series talks a lot about the concepts of hope and despair, but in the second game’s conclusion, I realized that it gave a name to what I was feeling in such a crucial time in my life where I was looking for direction.

I feel hope when I think about the possibility of my future, but I feel despair when I think about all the ways it could go wrong. I feel both of these emotions on a daily basis, one is uplifting and pushes me to work harder, while the other cripples me and makes me want to give up.

Even so, just as Hajime did, I will keep on fighting for the life that I want for my own sake, regardless of the disapproval of others, and regardless of the despair I feel.

Dangonranpa

Lucious Barnes, Staff Writer

When I moved from my home in New York to where I live now in Arizona, it was equal parts an escape from a suffocating present and a launch toward a hopeful future. The good and the bad that have followed me since then have always clouded my confidence in that choice. My belief in whether or not leaving the east coast was right or the best decision, despite the 3000 miles I have put between me and there.

Video games have always offered me an escape hatch from that burden, someplace else to test my philosophies or explore my passions. They are in many ways a culmination of all my favorite pastimes; such as comics and movies, music, and art. They are a Rosetta stone to my joy.

I was never more pointedly made aware of this then when I first played Ace Combat 5 at my friend’s house, soon after my father passed away.

My father was who first got me into video games, which was ironic, since he almost never played one with me. As an avid enthusiast of aviation and combat jets, my father always regaled me with books and stories about flight and fighters and our world’s incredible airborne heroes. Most of all, the Tuskegee airmen, the first all African-American airborne combat group.

As I got older, I came to understand that video games were a way for my Dad to get closer to those things, since his eyesight and the civil obstructions of his youth prevented it from being a reality. But since I was still young, like most stupid kids, I drifted away from flight simulators and flying games to explore the larger virtual worlds my hobby had to offer.

I hadn’t touched a video game that involved fighter jets in nearly ten years when a college pal started going on and on about how great this game was, and how I just needed to give it a try one of these days when I was over. I refused and refused, telling him how I passed that time in my life and my tastes had matured. But after about 15 minutes of watching him fumble through barrel rolls and letting enemy fighters stray in and out of his sights, I snatched the control from his hand and took charge of the skies.

It was easier than getting back on a bike.

In moments I was clearing stages, toying with my enemies, and mastering my missions. The following day I bought the game, and as I continued to learn and perfect my new obsession the closer I felt to my father, and noticed what this game was doing for me.

I noticed how the story of the game was about the cycle of conflict. How, like the tale of the phoenix, destruction must vanguard creation in order for it to have meaning. I experienced how the sense of flight, however virtual, so vividly combines the elements of power and grace and why my father loved it. But finally, and most incidentally, I noticed how my new favorite squadron, the Demons of Razgriz, bore red-painted tails on their F-14’s (my favorite jet), just like the Tuskegee airmen’s P-51’s. (My father’s favorite fighters.)

This might seem silly to some people whom never pulled something meaningful from something so abstract, but for me, it was validating. It allowed me to mourn my father without forgetting him, it reminded me that fun can be meaningful and not just distracting, and most of all, it grants me a way to always straighten up and fly right when I need to. And in a life that can be so hard, that’s quite a blessing to have.

Ace Combat 5