Trigger Warning! – Depression and the RPG Grind

[“Trigger Warning” – is a piece dedicated to showcasing video games which focus on mental disorders as well as emotional and psychological trauma. It is my hope as a lifelong gamer and sufferer of various psychological disorders to combine my greatest passion with my greatest weakness to benefit the gaming community at large. These pieces are meant to applaud games that I have found to appropriately exemplify such issues in the human condition. Some of them are visceral and violent games that take a liberal approach and are not for the faint of heart. Others take a lighter approach to the whole affair and can apply to a much wider audience. Hopefully, those who do not suffer from such afflictions can look at these games as a chance to grasp at something otherwise intangible. While those who do suffer from psychological afflictions can look to these pieces of fiction for hope and catharsis. Without further ado, enjoy. 🙂 ]

[By the way, this is the trigger warning for the article: depression]

 

Grinding, In Summation

The term “grinding” is a fairly wide blanket statement in gaming that refers to dedicating a large amount of time doing repetitive tasks. This is either to improve your own skills against a specific obstacle or to “farm” for experience points, items, or quest objectives in game. “Farming” refers to stockpiling massive amounts of a desired object.

In some cases, grinding is a self-inflicted affair.  The player actively decides to farm desired items/levels/experience that might make their gaming experience easier in the long run. Take for example, the ever popular Pokemon series and grinding levels for individual Pokemon in game. Unless you’re playing on a competitive level, the Pokemon games are easy enough. You don’t need to pour massive amounts of time into leveling up each and every Pokemon you come across. But, if the player wants to, they can spend countless hours leveling up each and every one of their pocket monsters to their heart’s content. The motivation is intrinsic and left up to the player’s own want to build up their party.

Some games require grinding. For without grinding the player cannot advance. Games like the Monster Hunter series places grinding as the central pillar of progression, because the player’s advancement is determined by how good their equipment is. The player builds better equipment by slaying different monsters and getting different parts they drop. And every complete armor set or weapon requires multiple monster parts. So the player is all but forced to replay levels and hunt the same monsters again and again. Grinding is a staple in MMO’s where the endgame content is playing the same, massive events (called raids) over and over again in hopes of collecting extremely rare pieces of equipment. And despite the player being forced into these gameplay elements, they’re designed to not become exhausting to the player. However dedicated or not the person may be.

 

It’s Not All Fun and Games

In somes cases, grinding can be a frustrating and discouraging experience. Thanks to factors like inordinate amounts of key items or the ever hated random number generator that determines the rarity of items you get. Some games have players spending inordinate amounts of time grinding for just one item that might complete a high level set of armor or the last piece of crafting material they may need to make a top tier item. And in some cases, that’s not even for end game content but to get to the next place they can grind at. It becomes an exhausting process of repetition for the type of player who simply wants to advance. And even the most seasoned veterans who have been playing the same games for weeks, months, or even years just hoping for that one piece of loot might become discouraged over time.

It can become an exhausting process with no end in sight. However, the promise of something greater at the end of all the struggle is what drives the player forward. Oddly enough, this same process shares quite a strong parallel the day to day life of combatting depression.

 

The Depression Treadmill

Ad Nauseum is an apt description for the daily life of people living with depression, functional or not. Depression has numerous factors both physiological and psychological that can hamper a person’s ability to function. All of these can combine together to make an insurmountable, invisible monster the afflicted person has to tackle every day.

Most people don’t realize that the body can have physiological, that is physical, reactions to depression. Severe fatigue and chronic pain can be factors that stem from high levels of stress and tension caused by depressive episodes. This makes an otherwise psychological disorder into something more tangible. Not to mention dissociation which put simply is a separation of a person’s mental state from what they might be experiencing. It’s a rather difficult sensation to describe but it’s as though you’re looking at the world through a lense that sits just behind your own eyes. Not unlike the out of body feeling one gets from having a high fever during a cold or flu. The person remains aware of what they’re doing but they’re unattached emotionally from what might being happening. This can also manifest in ways like complete numbness in limbs and so on. So it’s easy to see how these physical factors can be distressing to a depressed person as well.

While the physiological factors aren’t often discussed, the psychological and emotional factors are what comes to the forefront of people’s mind as the stereotypical signs of depression. Self-loathing and self-deprecation, suicidal ideation, a bleak world view, and so on. These psychological factors can dominate a depressed person’s mind until they crowd out all other thoughts to the point where they become the person’s reality.

However, all of these factors can be overcome, much in the way grinding through a video game can get a person to their perceived goal.

 

What Can One Gain from Grinding in Games?

While grinding in a videogame isn’t necessarily as taxing to the mind as a psychological disorder the same principles can apply. Grinding is an effort in planning and preparation just as much as an exercise in momentum.

Players who are going into a raid for an MMO have to know what they’re up against. They study the raid’s structure, learn enemy weaknesses, and plan equipment accordingly. Meanwhile they have to take stock of what their position is as a healer, tank, attacker and so on. Knowledge is the key here when it comes to success. Know thine enemy if you will.

The same can be said for learning how to combat one’s mental illnesses. Learning the signs, symptoms, and treatments of one’s own mental illness can be immensely helpful in providing self-care. Not self-diagnosis mind you, but more of learning to recognize a particularly bad dip into depression, how to combat thoughts of self-harm, and so on can be helpful in overcoming the pitfalls of depression.

In the aspect of the actual mentality of the grinding itself, it’s a matter of perseverance and routine. The willingness to go forward each and every day with the understanding that you might not have that breakthrough you’re looking for. That one epic loot drop, if you will, that will make all the time and energy spent worth it. But if you never make the attempt, you’ll never even have the chance at the reward itself. So it comes down to developing a routine for success. Adopting forms of self-care. Setting up a safety net for those days when you’re too far down to take care of yourself. Simply having a routine of getting up, eating, going to work or school, and so on at specific times can be immensely helpful in giving one’s mind something to grasp on to. Effort, over time, will eventually lead to a breakthrough to something so much greater.

 

Your Dear Writer’s Thoughts on Depression and the RPG Grind

I’m not one for grinding in games. At least, not in the sense of the endless crawl of MMO’s. I’ve never even made it to the end game for one after trying so many times. I don’t even like grinding in games I enjoy. I can think of the most painful experience I had was spending a solid week straight in Borderlands 1 slaying tens of thousands of Claptraps just to get a series of insane collectables for the last achievement I needed for the game. I hated every second of it. But I learned quite a bit of the mentality of people grinding. It takes focus and a determination that’s set on the end goal. Not on the immediate overbearing and potentially disheartening grind that’s taking place. I was bored to tears but I had my methodology down and whenever I would waver from it, however slightly, I would find my progress and my willingness to proceed dwindling as well.

The same can be said for battling depression. I can recall a time when it was easier to simply not participate and deal with my emotions and fevered mind. But then I started building myself back up. At the time, that meant doing simple things like eating a full meal, showering, or doing my laundry. As time went on, that turned into taking my meds regularly, seeing a therapist, and actively seeking employment. Nowadays it means keeping a consistent sleep schedule, eating right, exercising, socializing and performing at my workplace. And when things get tough, the fact that I have a schedule and a plan to stick to means that I won’t fall too far off track.

Depression is a never ending battle that will test a person’s will. Not unlike doing Heroic raids for that one last piece of shiny purple loot! And you might not always come out on top. It might takes days or even weeks before things start to look promising. But all the effort that comes beforehand is not only helping build you up to those great moments, it’s helping to form a more dedicated player or a stronger individual through your resolve alone.

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