I’ve been spending too much time sitting on my couch lately as I boot up my PS5. From here I’ll slouch into bad posture, and find myself staring at three to five games that will, or at least should, make my 2023 Game of the Year List. I have the afternoon off so I have plenty of time to jump in make some headway in any of these award winning games. I could explore the city of Baldur’s Gate, or sail across a cosmic ocean to a unique brilliantly drawn futuristic wasteland. If I’m in the mood for something more action based, I think to myself how I could queue online as Dhalsim, and send stretchy punches and fireballs careening across a colorful fighting stage at online opponents. Or I could finish my second run with Leon and Ashley, and work my way towards that infinite RPG launcher.
I start by mindlessly opening Baldur’s Gate 3 first, scrolling through the load menu, and booting up my last save. It’s only about five minutes before I run into a tough combat encounter.
“I’m not up for this right now,” I think to myself as I hit the home screen button, not even thinking far enough ahead to at least save a new file.
Sea of Stars gets the same treatment. Despite turning it on ten minutes earlier, my eyes start to glaze over while reading what should be an engaging emotional mid game cutscene. I exit it and I open Street Fighter 6, but close it before the game can even find me an online match. When I select Resident Evil 4, I don’t even make it past the selection-screen before backing out.
I start to slump further into my seat with growing discontent, but I manage to boot up Rocket League, a game I’ve logged hundreds (if not thousands) of hours into. I mindlessly enter a ranked match, but even mid-game I find myself disassociating, or picking up my phone when I should be contesting the ball. It’s been the game I can engage with most lately simply due to the direct need for constant focus on moment to moment gameplay, but even so I’ve been hard stuck in lower Platinum tiers this season because maintaining that focus has not come easy.
It’s been through this inability to connect with gaming, a medium I’ve always adored, that I’ve discovered and started working on my slowly evolving depression.
Without trying to delve too much into sob story territory, I’ve been laid off alongside teams full of talented folks twice this year, been watching the unending news of national and global injustice and struggles in a post-covid era, and I’ve been really struggling to overcome bad habits. It’s been a tough year. Though let’s be honest, it’s been a pretty traumatizing past decade for the world in general.
Considering I have it so much better than so many other folks living through the same and worse things I just mentioned, it seems silly (along with flamboyantly privileged) that it was video games that finally revealed to me just how depressed I’ve become. But when you discover that doing the thing you love most has become a soulless chore, you start to realize you may need to start seeking help and make some changes.
Anyone familiar with my video game preferences knows above any other series, that Zelda is my favorite. But when Tears of the Kingdom came out earlier this year, I found myself going through the same motions I detailed earlier. I’d boot up the game up, do a short quest and then just turn it off after completing a brief task. Keep in mind, this was a game I’d been excitedly waiting for 6 years to dive into. It was a game whose trailer had made me cry literal tears of joy, and a game that once I’d started exploring was just as beautiful and engaging as I had ever dreamed it could be. But I personally was struggling to connect to it in the same joyful way I’d connected to its wildly famous prequel, Breath of the Wild.
It was through this disconnect that I started to finally question why I had been so much more ready to receive something like Breath of the Wild when it initially came out. Back in 2017 I had fully engaged with the game for hours and hours on end, and thought about it in the hours I wasn’t playing it. But in those away from console hours, I was also working in my dream career, thriving interpersonally, and working out regularly. I was so thrilled to explore such a brilliant and exciting world because my world itself was just as rewarding. And to fully appreciate Tears of the Kingdom I realized I needed to address where I was in life that was different this time.
Outside of Hyrule in 2023, I was facing burnout and dissatisfaction in the work place. I was physically weary from my lack of exercise or maintaining good posture. I was interpersonally disconnected from pretty much everyone.
So I reached out to more friends. I started composing some music at home. I played more disc golf and walked more miles. I started using my ample free time at my thankless day job to work on personal passion projects. This didn’t fix everything, and I’m still working to find the right fit therapist and more life changes to get to where I need to be. But it still allowed me to start forming a deeper connection with Tears of the Kingdom. I found my heart soaring a bit more when listening to songs like Tulin’s Theme, and felt that renewed sense of excitement through discovery when flying around the sky islands. I found myself experiencing joy again through gaming.
I’ve talked with many of my colleagues about how our favorite games often were just games we played during the perfect time in our lives, and with recent self study and growth, I’ve wondered how many games I’ve really missed out on connecting with due to depression- current or undetected in the past. And the real and the video game solutions are surprisingly similar.
I’ve started to give myself more grace in working through my emotions and needs at any given moment. Outside of gaming I’m realizing I need to act on feelings, develop habits before I develop skills, and not feel the need to constantly ignore myself during tough times and situations by simply putting on a happy face and vibing until things get better. And I’ve discovered all this after I started to reanalyze how I should be approaching my passions like video games.
Somedays are still tough, and I’ll find myself wasting two hours futzing around in Rocket League, without the energy to be productive or do something worthwhile, even if it’s playing a more meaningful game. Frankly, if this article seems a little disjointed, even just now I’m feeling the tings of disassociation and depression as I write. But I’m still going to keep trying. I’ll still try to play a fair amount of games on an annual basis. And I would never want to give up doing a top ten games of the year. But I feel more comfortable putting games on hold or even walking away from a game until that time to come back is right again.
Whether you’re dealing with something as simple as a quitting game you’ve grown bored with or leaving hobby that no longer brings joy, to bigger things like quitting jobs that are unfulfilling or ending relationships that have grown stagnant or unhelpful, stepping away is a valid path to your growth. It took falling out of love with something I thought was my favorite thing in the world to realize that there’s a lot of work I have to do in dealing with depression. But it’s work that is probably more important than getting my Rocket League level to Diamond 1 or playing a game I didn’t love just to prove it didn’t deserve a spot on my top ten games of the year.