On a foggy October morning in 2011, I bought From Software's aggressive and punishing action RPG Dark Souls. I skipped class that morning, having not slept for over 48 hours, but at the time that was the norm for me. The highlight of my life was this game, which when you put in to perspective of being 19 and attending a high quality post-secondary institution, was kind of depressing. Of all the things to be excited about, about the new opportunities and the affordances of youth, the only thing I was interested in was a video game. Depressing.
I can't use a word like depression as a catchall for just being sad. I have no idea about what it does to anyone else, or why they feel it. Even though we suffer through something with a similar label, it treats us all differently, and likewise our reaction to it is completely unique to ourselves. What I do know is how I chose to handle it, and that was by playing Dark Souls.
When I returned from the store and put my copy in, I was immediately absorbed. The art style, the frantic yet calculated combat, the sense of being constantly outmatched, it was all fantastic. I fell for it instantly. But my favourite part, above all else, was dying. The viscous cycle of death and re-birth, where you drag yourself along to salvage what little you had before you die again had me entranced. Sure, it made me angry when I was a few strikes away from killing a boss. For the most part though, every death was more than a learning experience. It was a reason to not stop playing.
Death was more than punishment. As easy it was to turn off the console after a painful loss, for me it was an escape. A reason to try again, whether to test time or myself, it was one more reason to not put the controller down, and it had me hooked.
Within the first two weeks of release I had already put in over 50 hours in to the game. That doesn't really sound like a lot when you look at it, I mean as someone who enjoys video games as a hobby, I believe I speak on behalf of many when I say that this is an enthusiast's pastime. We play one game then move on to another one, or we play the same one for hundreds of hours, it doesn't matter. We simply enjoy what we do. However 50 hours means something more when I could have been studying, looking for a job, or doing literally anything else. This is in retrospect. At the time, I couldn't care less, about that or anything really.
Seasons changed, fall winds and orange leaves gave way for snow and all the other nightmares of Canadian winters, and I was still playing Dark Souls. I played it right up until New Year's Eve of the same year. It was that day that I wrapped up the game. I had done everything. I had every weapon, ever spell, every piece of armour and I completed every covenant related quest. Nothing changed. I was still miserable. I didn't know why I was, still don't.
Winter break finished much like it usually does, far too quickly and with the feeling of not having done anything worthwhile. I started paying more attention to school, and managed to slightly undo some of the damage caused by the previous term. And I wasn't playing Dark Souls. I still don't know what changed. I feel the same way now as I did then. It's not constant, the feeling of hopelessness and the despair of simply being, but I can't figure out what changed that I decided to just move on.
Fast-forward about 3 years and Dark Souls II is released. More brutal enemies, new weapons, more numbers to crunch. Excitement is an understatement. When I go to start my game, I expected to go down that same slippery slope, but I didn't. I played through half the game, then decided to quit for about 3 months until some point in the middle of summer I picked it up again just for the sake of finishing it. It didn't have the same hold on me. The problem was that I was too good at it. I wasn't dying. I had no reason to stay and play because I knew that I was capable of reaching the end.
I never looked at my hobby as escapism. When I lay it out in front of me like this though, that's all I can see, a text book definition of it. Yet I feel like I still genuinely enjoyed my experience with the Souls franchise. And I don't know if it makes me angry or sad, knowing that something I'm so passionate about is being used as a crutch to not have to deal with the nuances of day-to-day life. I might not have any answers to why I feel the way I do or how to make it stop, but I'm talking about it so there's a start.
If you are struggling with depression, or know someone who is, seek help. From family, friends, or professionals, there are people who want to help. The worst thing you can do is keep it to yourself.