We talk a lot about the power that games have to help us through difficult times. When someone says a video game saved their life, they may not be exaggerating. Sometimes all we need is something to hold on to — or something to look forward to — while we ride out the rough patches.
But when you put those stories to one side, things get more complicated. It isn’t always easy to tell the difference between using games as a temporary comfort and using them as a bulwark to hold back the world. Deorbital’s Dante Douglas explores that conflict in this piece about depression, escapism, and Desert Golfing.
I’ve lived with depression for most of my life — I can’t really remember when I first realized that lack of motivation coupled with general malaise was a clinical thing instead of just a deficiency in my character. Depression manifests differently from person to person. In my case, it’s generally coupled with anxiety, which means that finding moments of comfort are intensely valuable. Unintentionally or intentionally, video games became a refuge.
Simple reward loops like this bring with them a sense of stability. Whatever’s going on in my life outside of the screen can fade away and the only goals I can see are achievable ones, basic ones.
I don’t consider myself a proponent of the universalized notion of ‘games as escapism’, but I do think I have approached games in this way. I don’t regret it. It’s a very useful thing, to redefine the ‘urgent’ into the ‘doable’. Desert Golfing doesn’t care about how long I take to get to the next hole or how many strokes I have accumulated — it’ll just take me there when I get there, with a soft pan of the camera and a new, strange vignette of an impossible space.
Desert Golfing is obviously not a treatment for depression. Neither is Stardew Valley, another game Douglas finds helpful. But as he goes on to explain, it’s not the specific action or the specific setting — it’s about finding the rhythm that comforts you. Treatment is an important step, but sometimes you also need a way to simply get through the afternoon.