Gaming, General, Mental Health, Music, TV

Mind Games: Men, Gaming and Mental Health

I’ve been sitting on this post since around the time I started writing regularly, but its something I’ve been struggling to put together, there’s been alot of self doubt in regards to me actually writing this as I’m really, really concerned that my writing ability isn’t at a level that I feel I can do this justice. It’s a topic that I find particularly challenging.

So, a little background, I’m 35 now, I have three children, all girls, one of whom is 15. I was exactly four weeks to the day off turning 20 when she was born. Two years prior to that I was diagnosed with depression and put onto anti-depressants. Around a year after moving away from home and before my eldest daughter was born I decided I felt much better within myself, I was working and despite being young I was looking forward to becoming a Dad. I decided I was “better” and stopped taking my medication. I’ve never been particularly out going, I’ve always preferred being in my own company or with an individual than big parties and the like, so spending the next few years with just my partner, myself and our daughter, but playing on XBox Live reguarly was absolutely fine. I wasn’t well though, and the pressure of adding two more children to the mix, being made redundant twice and taking on a job where I was very much out of my comfort zone and meant alot of changes at home left me in a really dark place and things became really bad for my whole family, for which I still hold myself responsible. I had to seek help and am now back on medication, its a low dose, but its helping. I’ve started to socialise a little in recent months, its only once a month at a book club, but its just enough and once the kids are back at school I’m looking at other things I can do that will keep me healthy.

However, its very easy to close myself off, seal everything away and bottle it all up, its what my Dad’s always done so its a learnt behaviour. Thing is, this has all come back to mind in recent weeks, especially after being reminded that the world lost Chester Bennington two years ago. Now I used to love Linkin Park, I adored their first album, they weren’t my favourite band (during that era it was Feeder, but it came as a shock when the news broke about his death and the circumstances around it. Like Kurt Cobain, its easy to look back and point to their lyrics and say “oh this was them asking for help” or whatever, and its easy for people close to them to wonder if there was anything they could have done to help them, you only have to listen to Feeder’s “Comfort in Sound” and “Pushing the Senses” albums to hear the grief and torture our loved ones put themselves through after such events (for those that aren’t aware, on the back of Feeder really hitting it off with their Echo Park album plus singles Buck Rogers, Seven Days in the Sun and Just A Day, drummer Jon Lee took his own life, he tried to call Grant Nicholas, lead singer and guitarist of the band, shortly before he did so but Grant didn’t take the call and was full of guilt afterwards, something he has spoken openly about in interviews and his lyrics ever since). Its not just Chester though, look at the list of high profile suicides.  Chester Bennington, Anthony Bourdain, Chris Cornell, Robert Enke, Keith Flint, Dave Mirra, Gary Speed, Robin Williams. Both that list and the names mentioned are only a small proportion of reported suicides, both Male and Female.

However, suicide is the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45. An despite campaigns from the NHS, Mind and movements like Movember, we men seem to not be doing anything about it. We still bottle things up, despite knowing better, I still do it from time to time. We still won’t talk openly about it and we still don’t do much, if at all, to look after ourselves. There’s been great movement in recent years in most people looking after their physical health in a much better manner, gyms are everywhere you look, Instagram is full of people showing off their bodies, both the Google Play and Apple App stores are chock full of free apps that are designed to get you active, and thats great, personally speaking its something that I need to do for myself. However, how many of us take the time out to really work on our mental health? When people who we think have it all, like Bennington, decide to take their own life, then building a social media profile counts for nothing when you aren’t even comfortable in your own mind. When you’re full of self doubt, its exhausting.

I mentioned up post about the book club I’m a part of, I’d be lying if I said I found it easy. The whole group are lovely, but I purposely walk the 40 minutes to each meeting with my earphones in listening to my favourite music in order to deal with my own anxiety before walking through the door of my comic shop, saying “hi” to every body and then finding the courage to voice my opinions on the book we’re discussing at that particular meeting. I have other systems in place too, although they’ve slipped in recent weeks and I’m finding getting into the habit again particularly difficult. Each night I had a handful of apps I’d work through:

Brain Yoga

I’d spend 15-20 minutes an evening working through these apps, then take the dog for a walk before taking my medication and vitamins, then getting into bed (with my phone out of reach and all the apps locked down) and reading my book. I used to be a poor sleeper but this routine has really helped over the past twelve months.

It’s not the only positive thing I want to mention here. Last summer the BBC broadcast a new TV show, it was on BBC2 and was called “Mortimer & Whitehouse Gone Fishing“. The premise of the show was that both Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse (who for those who don’t know are both comedians who were really rather famous in Britain in the 90’s) have, in recent years, had heart operations. Paul Whitehouse has always gone fishing and he decided that he’d take Bob Mortimer along with him to get him out of the house and try and stop him feeling sorry for himself. It’s literally two blokes, in some beautiful locations, fishing. But that does it a disservice (not that theres anything wrong with that as a TV show, even as a non-angler its a nice relaxing watch), because its more than the sum of its parts. The two guys talk, they talk about their operations, they joke and compete about the changes its had on their lifestyles, Bob cooks “heart-healthy” meals for the pair of them and its a show that does away with all the bravado that you would expect of these two men. To bring it to some coherent conclusion, its two men doing what two men should be doing, taking an interest in each other beyond “bants”.

You may be wondering what this all has to do with gaming, and you’d be right for wondering that. As I write, this post has become essentially what I thought it might become, a bit of a ramble about mental health, coping measures and the like. But I think I touched on gaming and mental health a little a while back in my The Toxicity of Gaming Culture and my review of Drowning.

I think gamers are awful at looking after one another and I’m not finger pointing here, we’re talking about a past time here thats so heavily focused on competing with one another that there’s that element of not showing any weakness. The absolute biggest games of most era’s are competetive, you can see it when you read stuff that alludes to gaming and gamers such as Ready Player One, we even turn single player games into a competetive environment, what with speed runs and score attacks. This isn’t everyone, I’d never say that, but its hard to ignore. When you have communities surrounding certain games that rather than passing on tips and advice you’re simply told to “Git Gud”, how is that constructive or making a community accessible to all? As a community we spent decades being told we were a certain way, then our past time becomes hugely popular and the most vocal types begin to lash out or we turn on each other, abuse each other and generally act like shit.

I regularly play Gran Turismo Sport with the same group of people, within our group there’s people of all levels, we have people who cant commit to playing as regularly and we even get people from outside our little community who get invited to join in. Everybody is friendly and even when things on track there’s something happening on track, it never develops into animosity. In fact its probably the opposite. There’s something about racing that, in my opinion, differs it to other competetive games. For the most part its all about driving your own race, focusing on your own performance, and then when you are in a battle with somebody else, having the ability and confidence to watch somebody else, learn where you’re stronger than they are and take advantage of that as cleanly as possible and as a gaming experience I find it both tiring but therapeutic. Thats not to say a Call of Duty, Street Fighter, Fortnite or FIFA player doesn’t find their experience of those games to offer them the same, if thats what works for them then thats great, and thats what this is all about.

There’s some much more I want to say on this subject, and its something I may have to return to in future posts. I still don’t feel I’ve done the subject matter the justice it deserves and I’m not entirely sure if I’ve got my message across in a manner thats actually coherent. It’s such a big subject that I’ve given it it’s own catergory which you’ll now found amongst my top menu. I think as I through my own journey with my own personal mental health I’ll be able to provide more insight into my thoughts on the matter, but for now I’ve literally scrambled my brown throwing this all down into a post thats as much for me as it is for you, and I think this is one of the few times I’ve put a large chunk of me down for others to read it.

Lastly, I’d like to say, if you are struggling with your own mental health in any way, please, please get in touch with Mind by calling them on 0300 123 3393 or texting them at 86493. For any readers in the US, if you’d like to leave a suggestion of whom to contact for help then please do so, I’ll be adding details in my side bar so they’re always visible.

Anime, TV

Why don’t I like Hi-Score Girl?

I’ve written this after watching all twelve episodes, plus the three OVA’s but having never read the Manga. Everything I’ve watched is available via Netflix.

At its heart Hi-Score Girl is a romantic love triangle, lead character, Haruo Yaguchi, is a videogame obsessed kid who spends every moment he’s not at school in his local arcades playing the likes of Street Fighter 2. He’s not academic, atheletic or particularly sociable, every waking moment he’s not playing a game he is thinking about and counting down the time to when he can next boot up a game. We’re introduced to Akira Ono as academically the opposite of Haruo, she’s a straight A student from a wealthy family but secretly she also loves videogames and is exceptionally good at them, especially Street Fighter 2. Like Haruo, however, she has no social skills, but whilst Haruo is awkward around other people, Ono doesn’t speak, instead she tends to display her emotions in a child like manner, usually abusing people (Haruo) who disagree or do something to annoy her.

For the opening few episodes the show lets the “relationship” between the two develop, this mostly amounts to Haruo man-splaining pretty much everything about the games he’s playing both to the viewer and to Ono. The sheer amount of dialogue that comes from Haruo is overwhelming at times and the relationship between the two is mostly friendly rivalry (Haruo seems unable to comprehend that his main competitor in the arcades is female). Soon after, Ono leaves Japan, and we’re introduced to another girl as Haruo enters Junior High. Koharu Hidaka is more sociable than Haruo, and the relationship between the two, like with Ono, develops thanks to Haruo’s love of videogames, however Hidaka (initially) prefers to watch, and once again there’s a bit of a “girls dont understand games” attitude from Haruo.

Despite watching the whole series I never really warmed to Haruo, he never really develops as a character, despite the show being set over a few years (The characters go from Elementary to Junior High to High School, I think), his attitudes and behaviour never really alters and it isn’t until Ono runs away from home that he shows any semblence of being considerate of others (and even then during his search for her he finds the time to buy a new/old console), but quickly reverts to type when Hidaka gives him an ultimatum and beating his opponent becomes priority number 1. You’re left feeling sorry for both girls by the very end of Hi-Score Girl and I was certainly rooting against Haruo developing any relationship with either of them. Essentially, like Scott Pilgrim, Haruo is a complete and utter dick who by the end of the shows run time still has not developed any character beyond being “a bit of a nerd”.

I’m probably being a bit harsh on it overall, especially as many seem to quite like it, but the constant name checking and lack of character development (which I appreciate is hard to do over 12 + 3 twenty-two minute episodes/OVA’s) and maybe I’ve gone into it expecting more than it was ever intending to do. But if all you want from a 90’s video-game scene anime is for the writers to name drop Virtua Cop, Darkstalkers, PlayStation and “TURBO GRAFX 16!!!!” then you’ll be pretty damn happy with this.



A competition in creepy

Netflix have been really pushing their True Crime documentaries over the past couple of years, particularly since they released Making a Murderer. Two have recently generated quite a lot of discussion: “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” and “Abducted in Plain Sight”. My other half have watched both this week and despite Netflix’s promotion of “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” via their Twitter focusing on it being scary

its that “maybe don’t watch alone x” comment that really stands out, and indeed certain websites have clung onto it to say how scary it is. But you know what? Its just not. Sure, its a good documentary about a notorious guy and the thing I took away from it was just how egocentric Bundy was. He was the perfect killer, so “intelligent” he thought he was better than everyone and only “confessed” to his crimes right at the very end as a delaying tactic to try and avoid the death penalty, his “intelligence” (read: ego) was such that he wouldn’t let his defence lawyers, State appointed or otherwise, do their job, he knew he was a better defence lawyer. Not only that but he gave him opportunity to relive his crimes. However, we all knew that he met his maker, and whilst the World will never know the extent of his crimes, its clear he’s no longer on the loose and that the worlds Policing and profiling specialist learned an awful lot from those cases. What is scary about the world we live in afterwards is that the media we consume does still stereotype to an awful degree, murderers in TV shows are nearly always weird, counter culture types that don’t socialise and have strange behaviours.

Onto Abducted in Plain Sight which my partner and I found far more terrifying. Why? Because of the sheer ineptitude of absolutely everybody involved, sure the fact we have three girls ourselves may play into that fear to some degree, but as each moment, each cock-up, every manipulation was revealed and how the girls family were, seemingly, more interested in protecting themselves from their own indiscretions, our jaws dropped further and further. The story is something that you just could not make up, could not imagine, it’s beyond baffling, and yet it happened. Not only that but “B” has committed similar crimes on other young girls and never served any serious jail time prior to taking his own life. That the mother of Jess recollects being seduced as part of his plan to get closer to Jess with a smile on her face, seemingly looking back on that time almost fondly, because he made her feel special, never seemingly properly acknowledging the fact he only made her feel like that in order to get close to his real target. Likewise Jess seems to still be in love with “B” (and has even admitted her relationships since haven’t been the same, that she hasn’t loved them like she did “B”). That to me is terrifying, that despite everything they don’t seem to have learned their lesson, and despite Jess’ tears and her voice cracking there still seems to be a longing there for the relationship to have continued.