Sometimes, I am surprised that I am no longer constantly sad. I am surprised to realize that I feel neutral rather than be in a swamp of tears waiting to devour me. This is a short account of how I rose above depression and how gaming helped me navigate my way as I learned to see the world in a much varied perspective.
After my sophomore year, I left college and returned home. It was a hard decision because attending university in the US was my dream for such a long time. Ever since I was little, I wanted to become a professor and get paid to study what you like, all your life. But college life was different from what I imagined. Moving to the US, I was homesick but I didn’t even know I was homesick. All my life, I saw myself as a human but suddenly I was a woman, an Asian and a foreigner before I could be anything else. It made friendship extremely difficult. Hanging out with other Koreans felt like I was missing out on an invaluable college experience while purposefully finding non-Korean friends always resulted in some sort of unease because we never connected. Everything that I thought made me a valuable student lost meaning. Being multilingual was the value I found in my existence. But everyone spoke English in the US, nobody spoke Korean and “Isn’t Japanese basically like Korean?” was, sadly, not an uncommon response from my peers and professors. The worst of all was that once I stopped getting good grades, I no longer enjoyed it. I was completely disoriented.
I tried hard to “fix” my problem and convinced myself that I was enjoying this “college experience.” I sometimes told myself that it was because I was not trying hard enough. Other times, I told myself that if I tried harder, I could do it. Of course, both were not true. In hindsight, I know that I just was not in a condition to do anything. After struggling my way through a year and a half of school without a break (I took a summer term as well), I realized that it was either I break or I take a break.
This long, potentially unending break was the first time that I was invested in video games. Overwatch was a relatively new game and I came across it. Before then, I found gaming to be a complete waste of time. What you can do in games did not reflect any of your abilities in real life? Why play video games when you could do so much more valuable things with that time? But when I had nothing but time, gaming turned out to be one of the most efficient and cost-effective way to spend it. Time flies and you only need to pay for the game once for hundreds of hours of enjoyment. If my life was meaningless and worthless anyways, I thought I might as well fill that void with something mildly pleasant. Thankfully, Overwatch proved itself to be more than what I expected it to be. It provided me with new means to re-orient myself.
Through playing Overwatch, I learned for the first time that I can enjoy something without being good at it. It took some time, of course. By then, I already spent twenty-something years only enjoying things I am good at and avoiding all other things. There was a long period of avoiding competitive play and constantly telling yourself that you must be better than what it seems; that you just had a couple bad games and throwers which placed you lower than where you are supposed to be. But once I stopped judging myself, I could finally have a lot of fun playing the game. That is how I can be a gold-border silver and still play on my main (also because I like my OWL skins). It made me also forgive my IRL self from not being perfect and allowed me to re-evaluate what I enjoyed, independent of whether I was good at it.
Gaming also provided me with a community that was different from the ones I was used to. Most of my friends from childhood are similar – upper middle-class in suburban Korea from a well-educated family who were now all in college. But the online world was not limited to the social boundaries I was used to. I bonded with a lot of people who never judged me with standards that I was used to being judged on – Ganymede’s Girls, one of them. My “online friends” never asked me which college I went to, how “smart” I was, or any other measurements of success. Instead, they were more interested in what character I played, how kind (or toxic) I was online and when I was available to play with them. Suddenly, what I never considered to be significant played an important role in my life. The standard of love has never been low in my life as it was in GG. Everyone just showered each other with “heart” emotes and other means of expressing love and support. This experience helped me not just love myself more but also break down the rigid values I was locking myself into.
I am worried that this account might come off as saying “just change your perspective and everything will be fine!” No. I had help. I was in counselling for a long time, I had support from friends and family and I had other means of dealing with my problem. Without them, I would have been stuck in a helpless place that any attempt to change a perspective would have been impossible. But it was video games that provided me with a first-hand experience of how sustainable change might be possible.
Also, I doubt that the gaming world is an inherently healthy space because it presents the same problems that I faced in real life that made me seek refugee in that world. Minority faces danger online just because of their identity. Women continue to be sexualized and marginalized. Homophobia is real and constantly reflected in the everyday language use of gamers. The meritocracy that I was used to (“you get rewarded only for your accomplishments and rewards) in real life is very much present in video games. This is why higher level players look down on lower SR players. This is why some people find it okay to say “I have 4 gold medals, you are all trash.” This is why people want to be “carried” by smurfs, why people hack, and why there are so many contention and emotional outcry around the ladder system.
But I want to believe that these problems can be solved. I want to believe that the gaming world is not just a toxic space but also has the potential for healing and growth. If we can slowly break down the false belief in toxic meritocracy and provide a safe space for various community, gaming can provide a new sensibility to many. This is why I am glad to participate in GG’s charity stream with RAD. I wish our gaming will provide a chance of healing for someone, either directly or indirectly.