Are You Game to Explore a Gamer’s Physical & Mental Health? - OC87 Recovery Diaries

Are You Game to Explore a Gamer’s Physical & Mental Health?

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Listen to Executive Director Gabriel Nathan read this post aloud:

When most people picture a gamer, a particular image comes to mind. The perception that has been pushed time and time again by traditional media outlets (seemingly because it either makes for a good story or good click bait) is that a gamer is usually someone who is “lazy”, lonely, and isolated. However, that could not be further from the truth of what I know of gaming. The people and community I have found in gaming are wonderful, loving and so very ludicrously funny.

At seventeen, I became disabled. I have a connective tissue disorder called Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome which, in short, means my body does not produce collagen correctly. This causes my muscles, organs, and basically every other tissue in my body to be extra stretchy, and therefore not hold its place properly. To not go too deep into it; it’s a progressive disorder which shows up in muscular, joint, and nerve pain. Additionally, I experience dizziness, nausea and, to add to the fun, also a little joint falling out of its socket here and there. Although this is something I was born with and it did show up in childhood, it did not become disabling until I was a teen (because, apparently, the pressures of puberty and high school exams were not enough!).

At seventeen, I was writing university applications, preparing for exams, adjusting to my new symptoms, and simultaneously falling deeply, head-over-heels in love with games. It happened incredibly accidentally; I already had a love for Batman through films and comics, but once I found out that I could actually be Batman through games… well, there was no turning back. The Batman Arkham games allowed me to play as my favourite superhero. I could fight villains, glide through the skies, and solve puzzles for hours. From there, I became enraptured with the stories that could be told through games: crime dramas, breathless tales of Nordic gods, and apocalyptic fairy tales.

At university, I could feel myself becoming progressively more disabled and finding it harder to keep up with my seemingly healthy peers, but one thing I could keep up with was the love we all had for video games. Although I was studying Illustration, the majority of my friends were game design students. This meant games were always the topic of conversation. It was the first time I was completely surrounded by people who were just as passionate about games as I was, and it just spurred on my love for them even more. However, it was the summer I graduated from university that solidified gaming as a permanent and hugely important aspect of my life. The summer I graduated coincided with the release of an online team-based first-person shooter called Overwatch. I had never played anything other than single player games up until this point, so the whole thing was entirely new to me, but it became an introduction to so many things I still love to this day. It opened my horizons to the wider communities of gaming—working together, communicating, and making friends all around the world (also, you know, the incessant abuse women and femme people experience in online games, but that’s a whole other essay). There are these wonderful little pockets of community within gaming—communities for sports games, fighting games, and, most importantly to me, communities for marginalised people.

After university I had landed my dream job in the visual effects industry and I was absolutely over the moon! However, within just three years it became clear that I was too sick to continue. I had to give up and resign myself to the fact that my body could not handle a three-hour commute and nine hours in a London office. I was heartbroken and very lost—I had already had my dream job, what else was there for me to do? Luckily, by this time I had already been dipping my toe into content creation. I had started live streaming games and art on a website I came across called Twitch. So, when I inevitably, and so very painfully, had to leave my job for the betterment of my health, I headed in the direction of the thing I adored most in the world and the thing had found a home in: games.

 

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Gaming and creating content gave me a way of connecting with people when so often socialising is restricted to what my body is able to do on any given day. My disability often means I have days at a time where I’m unable to leave the house, and where I can just about take care of myself, leaving not much room for anything else. So gaming, and particularly online gaming, opened a whole gateway to making and spending time with friends that was accessible to me and worked with my body. Being physically disabled can be lonely, it can mean cancelling social plans, not being able to attend birthdays or weddings, and spending a lot of time solo. This lack of contact with other people definitely affected my mental health over the years. Disability, without a doubt, can affect your mental health; the possible loss of independence, the lack of accessibility in day-to-day life, limited social contact. It all compounds into feeling somewhat isolated from your peers, and these are definitely all feelings I have had throughout my years of being disabled. It can be extremely depressing and frustrating to live in a world that was not built for you, and it’s definitely something I have had to work around as my body became progressively less active. Thankfully, and wonderfully, gaming has greatly helped with that. The stories and friends I found through it have lifted and built me up in ways I cannot even express in writing. I am a better, happier version of myself now than I ever would have been without gaming.

Due to its nature of putting so much strain on your muscles and joints, Ehlers-Danlos is progressive. Your body eventually just becomes more and more painful as your connective tissues desperately try to hold your joints and body together. I think being faced with your own slowly deteriorating health ahead of you, especially at such a young age, definitely affected how I felt about my own future. It is extremely hard to keep holding on to the hope of improving and moving forward with your life and building a career when you have so little control over the very thing that would help you achieve it. This is especially hard hitting when you meet with doctors that are so very nonchalant about your health, casually telling you there is no way you can do anything to improve it, you just have to keep going. Being told by medical professionals that there was nothing I could do for my worsening pain and joint dislocations sent me into a desperate spiral of hopelessness and depression—“If I feel this bad now, how can I be positive about a time when I will possibly feel even worse?”. Gaming has been the one thing that was able to get me back to the train of thought that life is just life, and we all roll different dice within it. I can work with my disability and still spend time with people I love and that love me. I would not say every day is perfect, and not every day is positive, but gaming and my friends are helping prop up my mental health.

Thankfully (and I say thankfully with everything in me), through gaming I have met an entire community of wonderful, kind, and caring people who have become my closest friends. I wholeheartedly believe gaming is one of the most social and beneficial hobbies you can pick up. Do I think it’s perfect? Do I think everyone who plays games is going to be lovely and have a positive effect on your mental health? Absolutely not—I have played way too many online games to ever believe that. But, making friends online through a hobby you all share this great love for is absolutely wonderful for disabled people. When you’re disabled community becomes so important, and gaming has given us that. This hobby has even opened up an accessible job to me that I can work around my disability and mental health.

For people who struggle with their mental or physical health, gaming can open up this entirely new possibility of friendship and community that can be so important during long-term illness. Gaming can also help improve skills—there are games that help you learn to play instruments, how to cook, how to build, even how to power wash. Additionally, with games having a big push for accessibility at the moment, games are able to be enjoyed by more and more people with disabilities, which means more and more people will get to enjoy the incredible communities gaming has fostered.

I am so thankful for the friends and community I have made playing games, I honestly don’t think my experience as a disabled person would be the same without them. Disability can be such an isolating experience, especially with the still huge lack of understanding of how varied disability can be, so for us, gaming can absolutely be a lifeline. I will admit, not all gamers are kind and wonderful (though I am optimistic that this is something the gaming sphere/industry can and is working on), but I have met some wonderful people through these silly little stories, and if I can convince just one person to take up gaming then I will be elated as it has truly changed my life for nothing but good.

​EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR / EDITOR: Gabriel Nathan | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | SITE ORIGINATOR: Bud Clayman

 

 

Mollie is a disabled content creator and DEI advocate. Her work focuses on pushing for inclusivity within the gaming space and industry, being vocal of how games themselves can be a better representation of the gaming community as a whole. She can be reached on X (formerly Twitter), Instagram, and YouTube.