The 10th installment of the Mental Health Series is headlined by Rana Vikramaditya, a breaking news writer for Syft. Primarily a Dota 2 news writer, Vikramaditya has reported on other news as well, such as Master Chief’s inclusion in Fortnite and many, many more.
In this installment, Vikramaditya discusses his memories of video games including playing pirated computer games, how video games helped him deal with his mental health when it was heading down a path he didn’t like, his personal opinion on toxicity in the video game sphere and more.
An edited transcript is below. Each of the responses has been edited for clarity and concision.
HIS HISTORY WITH VIDEO GAMES
Jarrod: Can you explain your history with video games? Where did it start and how has it developed?
Rana: I think it started with just us cousins when I was like eight years old. We’d go on a holiday, gather up in one place, have one big T.V. and cheap N64 rip offs because that’s what was available in India — the real deal was way too expensive. We’d just plug that in, fish some cassettes from our friends or even pirate them from somewhere else, and play Adventure Time, Contra or Mario, of course. I think that was the start of it.
In the early 2000s, I got my first computer and then Age of Empires started. That got me into RTSes, which went on for 5-6 years. It kind of exploded once the internet really came to us, which was around 2006-2007. Then we finally were like, ‘Oh, there’s a whole world that exists that’s not limited to Age of Empires and Mario.’
From then on, it was just like, ‘Well, whatever comes my way, I’ll take it.’ NFS, WWE, NBA, literally anything — I was not a picker or a chooser.
Jarrod: Was there any particular game that stuck out to you and that you hold close?
Rana: I think the only one that I significantly remember from my childhood is Dave. All I [could] remember is the name. It was a very challenging game. I could never finish all of its levels… It was hard enough that I sat for months, trying to solve its puzzles. It was a platformer.
It stuck for me because I was like, ‘Who would make such a thing that’s so hard that you can’t even complete it?’ That, I think, got me into the hole of playing games to the point of frustration until I got them right, which eventually evolved into me playing other equally frustrating games like Dota or even Dark Souls.
Jarrod: So you talk about Dota. Is that your favorite game or series?
Rana: It was for a while. I’m not sure if it’s my favorite at this point, but I do enjoy it. I’ve sunk so much time into it, I feel like it’s become my thing, even if I don’t want it to be. For a very long time it was my favorite, simply because of its complexity.
The sheer amount of things you have to process, think through and combine in a manner that will achieve your victory was satisfying. I think that’s what was fascinating about it and what got me into it.
Jarrod: When you talk about complexities, people don’t necessarily think of it as being satisfying — when people play really tough games and still don’t understand it, typically, they’d be turned away.
Rana: I did enjoy the hardship of it. But there was a persistence in me which was inherent that like, ‘Hey, I want to tackle something that’s difficult.’
I was also going through a pretty sh***y phase. It was a combination of all of these things.
HOW VIDEO GAMES AFFECTED HIS MENTAL HEALTH AND LIFE
Jarrod: That’s actually a great segue: how did video games help you during a particularly rough time?
Rana: Incidentally, it’s quite similar [to your story]. I think there was also a little bit of history in my family about depression and anxiety that no one admitted because of all the stigma. There was this point in 2012 where I’d applied to a college and I didn’t get through to the one I wanted. I was like, ‘I’m incapable; I can’t do what I want to do.’
That spiraled into worse and worse things and the lack of self esteem became widespread enough in every field — that’s when my depression kicked in. That’s also exactly when I started playing Dota. By virtue of the game being so complex, it involved me enough that I did not do anything else, because I’m pretty sure if I were not into gaming or perhaps even books or writing, I might just have been into drugs, self-mutilation or something like that. Dota was what became my savior I played around 10 hours a day for about a year straight. From then, it flowered into a lot of other things, good and bad.
First of all, because the game demanded so much focus of me, my anxieties lessened when I played… That was the positive. The negative is I used to get more angry and vocal. It was, for lack of a better term, a good vent. My own frustrations were vented in that way. Over the course of two years, I grew to see myself become a toxic player at times.
I realized that’s not what I want to be. By 2015 or 16, I was like, ‘I don’t want to be in this place.’ That’s where it actually became more of a leisure thing; I actually played with friends just to mess around. That’s when my depression came down — I was actually enjoying something, rather than being distracted by it. I actually made friends, connections, and met those people in real life as well.
Another game that was really helpful was Dark Souls. I don’t actually remember why I got into the game. But I started it and didn’t understand anything. There’s no tutorial, no information. I just stuck around with it again. Once I was 30 or 40 hours in, I was like, ‘I love this game.’ It was not like other games I played before; I played for 200 hours and most of it was testing 300 different things, failing with all of them.
It gave me something to figure out for myself. I was feeling better if I figured things out somewhere, even if it’s not my actual life. I think that relieved the pressure quite a bit. Otherwise I just go through my day full of depressive, anxious, suicidal thoughts. Being in the game was like, ‘Hey, if I’m frustrated, I’ll jump off a cliff.’ That was cathartic.
I guess my projection from real life was done in the game [in terms] of figuring things out by myself. It reinforced my own ego and self esteem. I think that just relieved a lot of pressure; it was almost liberating.
HOW HIS VIEW ON VIDEO GAMES CHANGED OVER TIME
Jarrod: Over time, how have your views on video games changed?
Rana: It was basically just another pursuit for a very long time. By the time my depressive phase hit, it became a vent. Gradually, it’s now evolved into an art form for me because I matured, sure, but I also feel the industry itself has become more creative with it. It’s such a complex mishmash of emotions, issues, feelings, anecdotes and experiences in general.
I think it has once again become a subject of pursuit for me when I’m trying to decipher and understand things, but from a different perspective. It’s not about the skill anymore — It’s about a more intellectual pursuit. I’m just trying to evaluate how it plays in humanity and culture in general. It’s a very cherishable art form for me at this point, which I really, really relish.
THOUGHTS ON THE GAMING SPACE’S TOXICITY/SOLUTIONS
Jarrod: I want to get your thoughts on the video game community’s toxicity and what we can do to mitigate that toxicity so that people’s mental health isn’t as degraded?
Rana: Basically distract them constructively, if possible. For the most part, I had mostly seen women being the victims of it, which was rare because very few women play Dota and even fewer use mics. But good Lord, the few times that they did use it, it’s a terrible experience.
I honestly cannot fathom the kind of s*** they have to go through. I’ve only gone through three instances where I wasn’t even the victim of it. It’s just terrible. What I try to do is distract the person because there’s such anger in people that I’ve come across in video games, it’s unfathomable. I literally do not understand where it stems from.
I look back upon my own instances where I’ve been angry to the point of breaking things and punching the wall. I can’t ever justify doing this to someone else. This is something I really want to understand. Whenever people are toxic, I try to talk to them like, ‘What’s up, what’s happening?’ I want to figure this out and actually help other people because it’s terrible, having been on both sides. I think the whole conversation about how to tackle these issues comes down to talking, in some form or the other.
THE POSITIVE IMPACT OF VIDEO GAMES ON MENTAL HEALTH
Jarrod: In your opinion, how can video games positively help someone’s mental health? What would you tell them in terms of how video games can help them?
Rana: I think it’s about the narration; you have to be vulnerable enough where you’re like, ‘Hey, I went through this deep s***.’ You explain to them the days you went through crying or being angry, being despondent, so sad you couldn’t move your limbs.
You just give an emotional-enough response to the other person that maybe in their heads, it lights up a bulb. It doesn’t necessarily even have to be about games. But the narrative of it could be the spark that lights the flame, evokes some emotion even if it’s anger.
Another good example is Undertale. It’s not a big game by any stretch. And yet, the amount of people who came to Twitter, thanking the developer saying, ‘Thank you so much for making that game. [It] made me feel nice and made me feel in the first place.’
Again, it’s not a very big game. But the fact that it made at least a couple thousand people appreciative is good enough. Perhaps it’s an opportunity: you’re giving them an opportunity to get out of the rut. It’s like a potentiality that you’re invoking and that potentiality is evoked through emotions and, again, anecdotes, which brings us back to communication.
CHANGING THE STIGMA OF MENTAL HEALTH IN SOCIETY
Jarrod: I don’t know how it is for India, but in the United States, more celebrities and professional athletes are coming forward and discussing their own mental health to reduce the stigma around the subject so it’s easier to talk about. From your perspective, what can be done in society so the stigma of mental health is lowered or removed?
Rana: Part of me doesn’t want to pretend like I know, but part of me is also like, ‘Hey, I’ve seen things work.’ Overall, I’d say we, as a society, really do not know how to deal with these technology-related mental health issues. Usually in history, cultures have developed over long periods of time. In that time, people have developed skills through a lot of trial and error. Then technology came in and it’s just been too fast-paced.
I feel like I’ll be lying to anyone if I say, ‘Hey, this is what you do to make mental health more approachable,’ because I feel like we’re figuring things out. I feel like we just have to give it time. Because there’s a good part that celebrities and people are coming out about their own experiences and anecdotes. Again, it’s motivating other people to talk about it as well, and that’s a good thing.
For me, what’s made more sense is just talking about it. Whatever medium does not matter. Just talk, because I think that communication is where we figure things out… I feel like you just have to do things and hopefully, make people more compassionate so that they’re at least receptive when people say things, because a lot of the problem is people just not accepting others.
I think more people have to be a part of it somehow, which I think is also happening with time. Whether it’s soon enough or not, I can’t really say.
CHANGING THE STIGMA OF VIDEO GAMES IN SOCIETY
Jarrod: One thing that you mentioned; you talked with your parents. What can we do as journalists, as gamers, as people in society to help lower or change the stigma around video games?
Rana: Very honestly, I’ve actually struggled with this question a lot. I’ve always felt that giving anecdotes has been helpful. But I’m always confused, because there’s so much information everywhere that I can’t figure out how to give it to the right people or give the right piece of it to people in general.
On the offset, I’d say I really don’t know — I’m still figuring things out. Sometimes I write, sometimes I make people play the games to make them see what it is. I’m still figuring out how to do it. Some change their views, some become neutral. Actually, most have changed a little, but I’m just figuring out which one is the best one.
Rana: Every effort I’ve made has at least made people think that, ‘Hey, games probably aren’t that bad.’ Even if they still think like ‘Eh you know, I’ll not let my children play,’ they’re at least not as bad as like, ‘Oh, I’ll keep them away. This is blasphemy!’
Instead of saying, ‘Hey, they’re bad,’ maybe try to form better relationships through games, because I never thought I’d make real-life friends out of a game. It just happened to be because of my own – for lack of better term – demons I had to deal with. I’ve seen some light at the end of this tunnel; people are making attempts. I think, and at least hope, I’m part of it in making it through.
You can check out the other entries in the series here.