Gaming As Therapy
By: Brad Pietzyk
I have been a gamer since the days when my parents first introduced an Intellivision to our house in the early ‘80s. I was a child with too much energy and not enough focus, which made me a special case in the classroom. I immediately clicked with the virtual worlds of video games. As I became more and more adhered to the screen, my parents grew concerned I was developing a bad habit. Now, years later, games have become an integral part of my emotional well-being and even a therapeutic outlet.
On deployments, video games provided us with a common gathering ground and language when we were under stress. In 2006 this took the form of rolling Katamari balls with the company commander, his driver, myself, another lieutenant, and, on one occasion, the battalion commander. Although it was a very serious time, the fun and laughter we had together seemed to roll our problems away for a little while. The environment was unpredictable and threatening outside of the games and, although trained for it, and this is what we showed up for, it took its toll. A break and camaraderie were essential after months and months of trial.
While our First Sergeant was a fan of people settling their differences with a set of boxing gloves, some of the members of my platoon generally fell to HALO 2 grudge matches. A squad leader and myself settled a debate on how to best proceed on a construction project in Iraq based off of who won the most battles. He won that day, and we went his direction, which worked well.
Since developing a severe chronic mental illness that ultimately ended my military career, I find video games a safe haven where I can retreat when I need an escape. Often leaving the house feels too dangerous with my paranoias and anxieties, and even the house itself can feel like a threat. The immersive world of a video game can transport me away from my demons and make me feel comfortable in an uncomfortable situation.
I watched as console video games transitioned from being isolated islands to vast and inclusive online communities. At first, I was resistant to playing online because it felt like another threat. Eventually, my love of the Final Fantasy series drove me to Final Fantasy 14, one of the two MMORPG entries. I quickly made online friends through it and found a virtual community that I felt a part of. This allowed me to reach out and connect with others when I was, at times, unable to be in social situations cognitively.
Video games provided a few things for me. First, it provided the chance for me to go on adventures without even leaving the house. Games are a low threat place where I can feel like I am accomplishing something in a controlled environment. Second, creative problem-solving in video games provided an outlet that only enhanced this feeling of accomplishment. Finally, there is comfort in failure being an option. Sure, I could turn on the screen and win, but if I didn’t, there was always another chance to get it right.
Nearly 40 years since I started playing video games, it is a safe bet to say I am not about to quit. Gaming for me has never been a simple 8-bit 2-dimensional part of my life, but a means in which to augment it for the better. Even though, on the surface, it looks like I am disengaging from reality, the reality is that I am using it to connect with my children, former battle-buddies, and like-minded people. Or sometimes, I really am just taking a break from everything and disengaging! Gaming has been a place I have gone to when I feel good and a virtual home for me when I need comfort.