The Elder Scrolls Online, box art, bear, warriors, knights, man, woman

Games and grieving

We’re all aware of how video games are negatively perceived sometimes: as a bunch of meaningless pixels which do nothing but encourage violence and addiction. But for every politician, media outlet and parent declaring them the root of all evil, there are just as many academic studies indicating that gaming has many psychological, social and even physical benefits.

This was discussed by the talented Athena from AmbiGaming last year in a post on the subject of how games can be used for coping with difficult situations. After receiving personal stories sent to her anonymously, she wrote: “Everyone used games as a way to step out of their world and into a world that they knew would be orderly, follow its own rules, and ‘make sense’ in all the ways they needed their lives to make sense at the time.”

Unfortunately, life is never as simple as a video game. In the digital world, there’s a solution for every problem in your path and all the tools you need to get across that chasm, solve the next puzzle or defeat the final boss are within reach. In real life however there’s no mini-map or quest guide, so it’s impossible to tell what’s going to be thrown at you next and how you’re going to cope with it.

Gran

In the middle of February, my grandmother-in-law fell in and was taken into hospital. We took the decision to postpone our GameBlast18 event when her condition rapidly deteriorated and she sadly lost her fight at the beginning of March. My other-half, his mother and I were with her when she passed; and although there were plenty of tears at the time, I held myself together remarkably well.

It was only in the weeks afterwards that realisation fully hit and I understood I wasn’t doing as well as I’d thought. The fact we’d been at the hospital when her death had come, a situation I’d never experienced before, was a big part of the reason for that and it’s something which changed me. But it was also because of the person she was: this wonderful, independent, stubborn and humorous lady who had accepted me into her family.

Alongside this, a restructure of my department at work was announced and I was informed my role would be changing soon. Its nature would be completely different and managerial responsibilities would be a thing of the past. While I’d been unhappy in the job for a while and had been making progress towards changing career, this news brought with it an added layer of uncertainty and stress which wasn’t welcome.

ESO, The Elder Scrolls Online, Draugr, skeleton, warrior, tomb, shield, sword, fight

This had the result of causing me to retreat into myself. The routine of writing regularly gave me a sense of structure so I continued blogging; but I stopped making comments on posts and getting involved in conversations on social media, with both bloggers and friends. I wanted space from all the noise and some time just to be quiet, to work through what was happening around me and figure out a way forward without any pressure.

I started picking up the controller more frequently and jumping into The Elder Scrolls Online at every opportunity. It was more than just my ongoing addiction to the title however, as I started to find a sort of calm in going through the motions of completing a quest. I didn’t have to think about the combat (I’ve played so much that the actions came naturally) and I didn’t have to worry about getting overrun by Draugr due to a plentiful supply of soul gems.

Teri Mae from Sheikah Plate wrote something relatable in a post about the positive effects of gaming: “[Playing a game] allows me to be in control of my entire situation. If I want to explore in that direction, I can. I get to control where I go, when I accomplish tasks, how long it’ll take, and how to approach an enemy. This, for someone who feels like their life is spiralling, is a positive experience and helps me feel a little more inner peace and calm.”

A video game can be a way of spending time with yourself. They provide a way to escape distractions and anxiety for a short period of time, giving you space to think things over subconsciously. Having a virtual space to work through your feelings – even if it is artifical – can give you a sense of purpose and a feeling of release which helps you feel strong enough to keep going.

Being something I don’t have to think too hard about playing explains why I opted to play TESO at 06:00 in the morning when my teammates were falling asleep after 22-hours for our GameBlast18 stream this month. After the stress of previous weeks, being holed up in our living room with the boys for an entire day was just what I needed; completing the event was tougher than any of us expected but I came out of it so much lighter emotionally.

As said by Athena in her post: “Games are undoubtedly immersive. They maintain our attention, and give our brain exactly what it wants. These elements can be used to help modify how we approach our real, physical worlds, and change them for the better. There is a certain satisfaction in having an effect on the environment, and feelings of efficacy are extremely important for coping.”

LaterLevels, Instagram, Gwyneth, hitch your wagon to a star

So after hiding in the lands of Glenumbra and Stormhaven for several weeks, I’m ready to start dipping my toe back into the world of ‘being social’. My other-half’s mother very kindly gave me a ring that belonged to his grandmother, which I now wear. Pete and I are now planning a makeover of our garden with an area dedicated to her and her love of daffodils (being Welsh). And I’ll go into this new role at work with an open mind, give it all I’ve got and see what I can make of it.

I’ll end this post with a quote by Chris from OverThinker Y, taken from something he wrote about what video games can teach us: “…many people’s answers have had this common theme about how gaming’s taught them that nothing is impossible. I think the idea of escaping into a game world as a sort of fantasy or wish fulfilment lends itself to this, and it’s probably a big part of why many people pick up a controller in the first place.”

You can lose yourself in a game. But you can also find yourself.

35 thoughts on “Games and grieving

  1. I am sorry for your loss Kim. Its hard to sort through emotions especially when huge life events occur. I agree that video games have the power to heal… They allow you to take control and hold on to something when you are free falling through life. When my grandma passed away when I was 15 I fell hard and while I still maintained my caregree and fun demeanor on the outside I was spiraling on the inside. I chose multiplayer gaming to console me. I felt a purpose in life when working together with online friends to complete a goal. And I swear by the method everday. I pray you find peace and she sounds like an extraordinary lady. Stay strong 🙂

    -Luna

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words, Luna! It’s lovely to hear how others have found their strength through gaming too. I think you summed it up perfectly in saying that it allows you to take control and hold onto something; games can remind you that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is such a thoughtful account Kim, thank you for sharing something so personal. I recently read another article on this topic published by Daniel Flatt of HomeButton Gaming about how playing Rime helped him to process the death of his father. It is a really excellent, personal and insightful piece, well worth a read.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for sharing, and I’m so sorry for your loss and the added pressures of work. Having been through something similar recently (don’t want to go into it here since it isn’t the place and other things on top) I know how hard it is and how you can think you are fine. I’m glad you have found games that help you and you have plans for the garden in memory as daffodils are lovely. Sending my love to you all, she sounds like a wonderful woman.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words. ❤

      Escaping into a game and giving yourself a mental break can be just the thing you need sometimes to gather your strength before carrying on. Sending love back your way – whatever you've got going on, we're all here for you. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks ❤ It can be the thing you need and the thing that just gives you that boost to gain some strength. As much as I’m still gaming I’m finding the mental break and gaining strength bit tough, the games I’m playing I’m enjoying but at the moment I still think there’s too much going on in my head to get that breathing space and strength and start working through stuff. One day though. I’m glad ESO has been helping you.

        Like

        1. There’s a comment from GamerDame which contains some great advice and she picked up on several really important points. We shouldn’t feel guilty for doing things which make us happy; we all need a temporary escape once in a while; and it’s important to take a break when we need to, to gather our strength.

          If you ever need someone to chat to (or play a game with), you know where I am. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Kim, I just wanted to say thanks for writing this piece! The grieving process can be so difficult and personal! I really appreciate you sharing this with us.

    I’ve definitely had experiences where I use games to help me sort through and process reality. When I was a miserable high school student and my family was coming apart in a big crisis, games were always there for me.

    Getting back to reality can be helpful, and going out with friends too, but so is processing grief in a quite and safe place.

    Wishing you the best with your healing and recovery! It’s a slow process so make sure to give yourself lots of space and love!

    Like

    1. Thanks so much, Lara! Hiding away in The Elder Scrolls Online for a while gave me the opportunity for breathing space to subconsciously work through how I was feeling. Having something like a video game that can give you a bit of a mental break when times are tough can be really beneficial. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I can very much relate to your story. Back at the beginning of 2014 my dad was in & out of the hospital & rehab for what I knew was eventually going to kill him. Chronic emphysema & leukemia had taken its toll, & he was sick with one illness after another. On top of that, I was trying to help my mom take care of the house so she could spend her time with him while also working a full-time graveyard shift & going to graduate school part-time. Games are what kept me sane during those months. I was alone a lot, & when I wasn’t working on some responsibility, I used video games to offer a healthy reprieve from the stress & grief.

    I’ve offered a lot of grief counseling in my career, & it’s the same council I give others: you need a break. We all need a temporary escape from stress, be it grief or some other unpleasant emotion. These feelings can be overwhelming, & we need to take a step back now & again to distract ourselves. Rebuild our strength before returning with new resolve. Too often people don’t allow themselves a break, or feel guilty for doing things that make them happy.

    I can clearly remember playing through The Stanley Parable & Scribblenauts Unlimited right before he passed away because I wanted something that wasn’t too serious. And before that, when he first got really sick, I took a personal day from work to rest, but my “rest” was playing through Mass Effect 3. They were escapes. And when I went back, I felt better able to face the challenges awaiting me.

    Like

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It sounds as though you went through an extremely tough time, and I really appreciate you taking the time to tell us about it here.

      I think the comment you made about feeling guilty when doing things which make us happy will resonate deeply with a lot of people. I know this is something I certainly do myself: I’ll often set everything aside to focus purely on responsibilities and then end up draining myself mentally. I think it’s important to keep reminding ourselves that it’s ok to take a break and focus on ourselves every once in a while – and perhaps that means getting lost in a game. As you say, it’s important to rebuild our strength and return with new resolve.

      Thank you once again. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I play DDO and have for nine years, I started gaming when I lost my right leg, then when I lost my left I realised my life had changed in ways I never imagined. I would always run three games DDO, Yugi Oh online and a facebook game. I have to say DDO has given me ways to work out my anger, upset and other issues. I am more evenly balanced now mentally than I was with both legs and gaming has contributed to me being able to move on and enjoy my changed life style.

    Like

    1. Thank you so much for sharing such a personal story. I love the way you say that DDO has given you a channel through which you can work out any issues; anybody who says that gaming is just mindless entertainment couldn’t be more wrong! Games have definitely taught me a lot, both about myself and the world around me, and they’ve given me a place to escape to when I need some time to focus on myself.

      Thank you once again, I wish you all the best. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so sorry to hear that… sending love to you and your family. And we’re all here alongside video games if you ever need us!

      Like

  7. I’m so glad you’re feeling a little more peace and a little more healing. Video games have certainly been a powerful mechanism for change, acceptance, and management in my life. I’m glad they do the same for you! I’m so impressed by you every day and I’m grateful you’re feeling a little stronger than you were. Please, please, please let me know if I can help in any way!

    Like

    1. You already helped – your post about the positive benefits of gaming struck a chord with so many people. I hope you don’t mind me linking to it and using a quote. 🙂

      Just keep doing what you’re doing and writing those inspirational posts!

      Liked by 1 person

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