The Bonfire Effect – Suicide Awareness Week

Today, I wanted to discuss something a little more serious and personal. The week of the 9th to 15th September is Suicide Prevention Week in America. Video games and Suicides have a bit of a mixed history, but i wanted to give my personal thoughts and experiences. Join me after the jump, and of course, I’m giving a trigger warning now.

I was a happy child, if a little different. I was the gamer and nerd in class who stayed at home playing Legend of Zelda when everyone else was out playing football. I had a few friends who I played with, and life was good until I reached secondary school.

I struggled to make friends. I enjoyed card games, video games, board games. Whereas everyone else was out playing rugby or football or cricket on lunch, I would sit in the library and read or break out my Game Boy, or tweak my Magic: The Gathering deck.

Eventually I did find a small group that I played MtG with, and occasionally we’d head to each others’ houses to play Phantasy Star Online or Super Smash Bros. Melee.

Despite the small friendship group, I was bullied horrifically and spent many lunch times locked in the boy’s toilets or hiding behind one of the tool sheds. It was mostly verbal abuse, but sometimes physical too, with plenty of situations of my stuff being stolen and my bags thrown into trees or onto the railway tracks. I would often find my bag missing with notes directing me to where to find each of my text books. I learned quickly to keep valuables in my blazer at all times. I flunked out of my GCSE Graphics Design as my coursework was stolen outside of a Physics Class without enough time to redo it all.

At the age of 14, my best friend finally lost his struggle to skull cancer.

Throughout this, videogames (and board/card games) were my beacon of hope. A small bonfire of respite to rest at.

At University, I struggled to make friends. I quickly tired of “Student Nights” at the local nightclubs and spent my free time burried in World of Warcraft with friends I had never met. Then I met Adam Vian (an old friend from secondary school who would later go on to develop his own games, including the critically acclaimed Snipperclips) and through him was introduced to a group that I’d spend my evenings with instead.

We’d play Smash Bros together. We’d watch each other go through a new game (Shadow of the Colossus, Silent Hill Zero etc) and even got a great D&D campaign going.

Unfortunately, I had to drop out of uni too due to my course being cancelled and funding issues and instead moved to London where I worked for Games Workshop. I always struggled to find friends, but developed a small circle over time that I played Monster Hunter 3U or Magic: The Gathering with.

I still received a lot of abuse from my peers outside of my friendship circle and i was eventually diagnosed with Clinical Depression via a serotonin deficiency. Serotonin is a hormone that balances the emotions, and my body just didn’t produce it properly. Medications helped, but they mainly seemed to numb me. Sure, I didn’t have the days where I just wanted to lock myself in my room, but I didn’t have any elation either.

I had a very messy relationship with a girl in Blackpool that damn near destroyed me and took months to recover. I won’t go into the details of this but it was an abusive relationship where my parents ended up doing two 9 hour (each way) drives to come rescue me. I was a mess.

This is when I discovered Bloodborne and Dark Souls. It sounds trite, but those games taught me to keep trying. Get knocked down seven times, stand up eight. No matter the hardship, persevere and prevail.

There’s a reason I gave the bonfire description earlier. I realised that, for me at least, this was an analogy for my life. The outside world had often been a lonely, arduous place, but gaming had been my own bonfire, a place to rest and be safe, before journeying back into the world to try again.

Did I have suicidal thoughts? Yes. Constantly. But gaming gave me the resting place to recharge, look inwards, and gave me hope. Every time I found myself contemplating ending it all, I’d fire up something like Bloodborne or even Hatsune Miku Project Diva F2nd (which was so ludicrously bright, positive and happy that it was engrossing). I’d soon be so engrossed, that I had forgotten what had me down.

Eventually, I met the woman who is now my wife, and I have never been happier. I pushed through, rested at the bonfires when I needed to, and triumphed. I know that life isn’t going to be plain sailing for me, but I have developed coping mechanisms and have a beautiful and supportive wife to carry me when I need it.

I’ve been lucky, I know that, and people have had it much worse than I ever did. Despite growing up in a “broken home”, I ultimately had a happy childhood, but even then, despite nearly always appearing to be happy and bouncy (often excessively), this was a mask that his what was really going on underneath.

People often say that those suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts need to talk about it. Seek medical help. I’d certainly advise giving it a try – the medication didn’t work for me, talking helped, but ultimately I just needed to change my mindset. The thing about depression though is that everyone is different – some people respond well to medication, some don’t. Some people find counselling really helps, others don’t. I found that having my own “bonfire” to rest at saw me through, but for others, this can be even more damaging.

There was a tragic case in the UK recently where a 15 year old boy committed suicide and the parents blamed the game Doki Doki Literature Club. Outwardly, the game is cutesy Japanese visuals, but beneath the hood is a harrowing psychological horror – there’s a warning in the intro for a good reason. Blaming media for suicides isn’t new – Ozzy Osbourne, Marilyn Manson and more have had their music blamed many times, and games have featured frequently.

The thing is, a game can’t make someone suicidal. A lack of support can. For this young individual, the “bonfire” method I used didn’t work. I have no idea what other help was sought and offered, if any, but I know that the game is not to blame. The individual must have had deep rooted problems like I did and the game may have acted as a final trigger, an inspiration maybe, but, to me, this tragedy serves as a warning.

If you’re suffering from depression or suicidal tendencies, seek help. There are numerous anonymous and non judgemental support lines available out there. Use those, I’d list some but it’s different the world over so just Google “suicide support line” or similar.

Don’t suffer alone. It’s hard to reach out, I know, but you are not alone as you feel.

If you feel that someone you know is suffering, reach out to them. Be kind, suggest some support, be the bonfire for that person. The darker the night, the brighter that bonfire can shine.

This is just my experience and I’m no expert. Have you ever had to deal with suicide or depression? Let me know in the usual ways.

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