“Rethinking Escapism in Video Games and Developing Depression Fighting Behaviors in Trump’s America”
For many gamers, video games have been a refuge in times of great stress and anxiety. Our lives, particularly as (QT)POC, are filled with stressors and challenges, on both a macro and mirco scale, that we have to navigate. From the moment we walk into the world we are reminded that we aren’t supposed to exist. We walk around our areas and have to deal with cat calls and unasked for remarks about our appearance and expression. We go to work and deal with coworkers and managers who don’t understand our anxiety when someone touches our hair or a part of our body without consent. We sit in classrooms and have to defend our identities, often times alone, though there are self-proclaimed ‘allies’ present. Coming home at the end of each day, we turn on our consoles and handhelds, and depart from our dreary lives in the real world into worlds of fantastic creatures and scenery, expansive and complex stories of conflict and adventure, and worlds of simplicity and amusement. Within these virtual worlds, we escape into a place where can experience a life outside of the limitations of our bodies, and become whatever we choose to be, free from the stress of our oppressive society.
As 2017 is underway, we have approached the now unavoidable reality of Donald Trump and his Legion of Doom officially taking office. In the days following the election results, America’s white supremacists that were encouraged to show themselves during Trump’s campaign, emerged in full celebration as a white man who played to their fear of losing their power and position of being the dominant group in America, won the presidency. Story after story came out in the media about hate crimes, vandalism, and attacks on marginalized people, especially folks living in the South. Witnessing the ugliness that ensued was like getting the wind knocked out of you when you were barely breathing to begin with.
I did what I would normally do in times of stress; I tried to plunge myself into my favorite games and shut out the rest of the world. I tried to explore the open ocean in Abzû and travel the icy tundra in Skyrim to escape the anxiety and hopelessness I felt. But I quickly discovered that no matter how many Heartless I defeated, no matter how many Pokemon I caught, no matter how many demons and darkspawn I killed and Fade rifts I closed, none of it helped me feel better once I turned off the game. None of it helped. None of it helped the hopelessness I felt knowing that my recurring nightmare of a Trump presidency had been realized by white America, and the danger to my body and other (QT)POC bodies had been increased.
For many of us, escapism through immersing ourselves into our favorite games is our most effective form of self-care and coping. It may distract us temporarily, holding our attention away from the news of attacks and consequences of white nationalists being appointed significant positions in the white house. However, it is a fleeting distraction, as all the bad feelings come rushing back once we return to reality. The anxiety and fear generated by these occurrences create a sort of fatigue in (QT)POC who have to re-evaluate how to navigate the world and exacerbates mental health issues existing prior to this election.
Losing ourselves in our favorite games may be helpful in times of stress, but does little to combat anxiety, depression, and overall racial fatigue, especially in a time of constant pressure. The prospect of a Trump presidency that brought out America’s old school white supremacy was already a blow to our (relative) sense of security, and the apprehension of what the next three years will look like is an invisible force eroding away at whatever security we had left. Depression from white supremacy maintaining and tightening its grip goes deeper than any video game’s story. Depression drains the energy out of us, making it difficult to complete the simplest of tasks. It tell us to be alone: that we are alone. It makes us no longer find enjoyment in the things that we once liked to do. Depression wants us to constantly feel bad and doesn’t allow hope that we can save ourselves from it. Temporarily escaping from these feelings of hopelessness is not the same as healing. Our mental health woes are paused during our dive into our games, but it never properly confronts or alleviates them.
Healing begins with acknowledging that the bad feelings that we so often try to escape from remain, and from there we make intentional changes in our real lives to challenge these depressive feelings. Yolo Akili Robinson in his book Dear Universe said, “Oppression thrives off isolation. Connection is the only thing that will save you.” The same goes for depression. How much better would we feel if after retreating into our virtual solitary worlds, we reached out to a loved one who may be feeling the same anxiety? Or if we began speaking with a therapist about what we are experiencing? Making a change even as small as making time to eat breakfast in the morning or spending time out in the sunlight, is a significant step towards recovery and feeling better. Developing habits and behaviors that directly challenge depression’s hold on us are what lead to the most transformative change.
None of this is to suggest that escapism through video games is inherently bad or impractical. Quite the contrary, our individual practice of playing video games for enjoyment is an unconscious resistance in and of itself and video games can be a part of people’s therapy. Nevertheless, recognizing that our healing process as (QT)POC gamers involves putting effort in the real world into building relationships with others, expressing our feelings with professionals who can help us work through them, and working on learning healthy habits for us. This is how we can deal with depression in a more lasting way. Trump, his cabinet, and the everyday racists do not want (QT)POC to thrive. The depression that they cause/increase wants us to remain hollow and drained so that we can’t challenge their dominance. Living happily and living healthy in spite of their efforts, is a way to resist them. When we improve ourselves and empower our communities collectively we become more of a force to be reckoned with, but it starts with making an intentional decision to face depression and deal with it as opposed to escaping it.
Author: Kendall Bazemore
Editor: Capree Knox
Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a neuroscience nerd turned Creative Consultant and Executive Director of Off Colour!
You’ve probably seen her on TikTok or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels. From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.