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  • Writer's pictureBrad Pietzyk

Using Video Games to Help Cope with PTSD

By: Brad Pietzyk

I have PTSD, and I use video games to cope.

For me, my disability is not visible. Having an invisible disability, at times, make me feel like there is a lack of validity of my pain. While my wounds and scars are very real, they cannot be seen. Like many, my anxieties make me want to self-isolate because the world often feels like a threat. At times I function just fine. At others, I struggle to even walk to my truck to get the dog food out of the back seat.

As a child of the ‘80s (let’s keep this between us: I was born in the ‘70s), I believed my video games were a part of my self-isolation because back then, they were an independent activity and extremely simple compared to today. After meeting Stack Up at a gaming convention and another organization dedicated to using gaming as a therapy and outreach, I realized that gaming was a healthy coping mechanism I use to deal with my various anxieties.

Gaming to Self-Soothe

Sometimes my anxieties and other symptoms creep up to where I can barely function. One of the places I go to are video games. The reward of video games is that winning feels great. But so can losing. There is a comfort in knowing you can always pick up at your last save and try again or by using replay mechanics of the game.

For me, the more mathematical constructs which can be visually understood make a game even better. Full disclosure: I’m a huge math nerd. This naturally draws me toward strategy and role-playing games. Learning the systems and understanding how they work to make the game more logical and understood gives me great comfort.

Gaming to Distract or Escape

When life becomes too heavy, as it often can for anyone, especially those with an anxiety disorder, it is important to find a way to live comfortably in your own head. Sometimes that means finding a way to push your problems away for a bit so you can find one of those, at times, ultra-rare opportunities to relax.

I have been raising one of my alter-egos, “Anxious Goat,” for several years now in Final Fantasy 14, an online role-playing game. Anxious and I have been through a lot together. Sure, he’s had his quests and goals, but I am talking about the things he’s helped me through. He’s been there for me when everywhere and everyone else feels like a threat, and I cannot even leave the house. Once my problems feel a little bit smaller and manageable, I can address them from a position of power.

Gaming to Connect

Gaming used to be an isolating hobby, but depending on how you play, things have changed. Gaming is different because the world is different. Where it used to be, players would isolate themselves in their parent’s basement, as I did as a child; they can now find robust online communities, interact with streamers, and form friendships spanning several games. Add on social media, and friendships and even relationships can form. I have a friend who met his wife almost 15 years ago on World of Warcraft!

Even though I am young to the online gaming world, I have already formed some of these friendships. In addition to in-game, I also chat on the Stack Up Discord server. The Discord server is loaded with other supportive Veterans, current service members, and civilians who “get it.” Often the conversation is light, but it commonly drifts into the big topics like PTSD and mental health in general.

Gaming in Conjunction with Therapy

With an in-the-know therapist, you can find a common language in which you can both communicate in a relatable way. From Geek Therapeutics: “Understand your geek passions in new inner perspectives that can help you improve your mental health and unlock the best version of you.”

It is no secret that I have worked with many therapists both as a Veteran and while serving. I can attest a common language is essential to a good professional relationship. Like me, my current therapist is also a gamer and a dungeon master. We often discuss my struggles like they were a character in a game. It may sound silly, but it helps me to pull myself out of the equation a bit and see my problems from an outside perspective and shed some light on ways to move forward.

Keeping Gaming a Part of My Healthy Coping Strategies

In my research for this article, I came across professional articles supporting this technique and others warning this was a practice that could lead to “Gaming Disorder.” For me, with appropriate usage, I only feel the benefit. I could see any healthy coping habit in excess can lead to problems. It is important to strive to find a balance in all things.

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