Depression as a Roguelike

Okay, let me say right off the bat that this entry is going to be nerdy. I mean, SUPER nerdy. Video game genre level of nerdy. That being said, even if you aren’t that level of nerd, I think this entry may have something to offer you that you can connect with.

My favorite type of genre of video games, I have finally come to realize, is a type of game called “roguelikes.” Hear me out. Stop rolling your eyes. I promise this will get to depression and mental health.

So, Roguelikes. They’re games in which you have to get to the end. My favorite all-time Roguelike – maybe my favorite all-time game at this point – is one called Enter the Gungeon. I cannot understate how obsessed I am with this one.

Games like this are designed for you to die. Like, a lot. A lot, a lot, a lot. They are typically very, very difficult games. What makes them a little extra special – and extra difficult – is that they’re never the same. The games often use a randomization procedure known as “procedural generation.” In these games, levels and bad guys will change. Layouts change. And while the game will follow the same certain pattern, it’s never the same run through the dungeon.

So, what does this Sisyphean-like task have to do with depression? Well…a lot, actually. Take Enter the Gungeon. You will die a gazillion times in this game before you make it to the final boss – and then all the secret final bosses – which is a different story. But, every time you beat a level boss, you gain these extra tokens. You use those tokens to buy better weapons for your next run. Then, you’re next time, you do a little bit better. You get a little further.

Even more importantly: The more you play, the more you learn the patterns. Like, this little bastard, who my kids call the Pinky Malinky enemy:

 

He’s blurry, but deadly

Pinky Malinky up there will fire a shotgun spread at you as you walked. The first time I ever saw him, I was totally taken aback. The second time, same. By the third time, I had it, and I rolled out of the way. 

Of course, that’s not to say that the knowledge of what he does makes me immune from screwing up. Every now and then, I’ll get distracting by dealing with another one of the little guys that shoot at me, and I’ll take a hit. But I learn. I always learn.

See where I’m going with this?

It’s kind of a weird metaphor, but it does hold. My favorite type of video game genre, Roguelikes, is very, very similar to how all of us battle mental illness. Consider the similarities:

  • No two days are ever really, truly the same – but you recognize the patterns.
  • Recognizing the patterns of a Roguelike level means you can learn how to better cope with an attack.
  • Once you learn the patterns, you have a better shot at defeating your enemies.
  • The bad guys appear in different orders, at different times, and in combination with different things, but it doesn’t mean that they aren’t different.
  • Just because you know how to kill them doesn’t mean you always will. Sometimes you have a terrible day and get a Game Over at level one. Other times, you make it to the final boss without batting an eye.
  • Randomness plays an important role – but your skill often is what makes the difference.

Look, video games are an important part of my life. They’ve given me a virtually endless source of joy or entertainment, inspired the names of my kids, and taught me some exceptionally valuable life lessons about persistence and creativity. But I do really, truly believe that there are parallels between how we fight depression and how we play some types of games. I hope this helped to provide you with a valuable metaphor, and please let us know in the comments your thoughts.

Now, please listen to this kick-ass soundtrack:

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