The twelfth installment of the Mental Health Series is headlined by Sarah Ward. Breaking news and editorial writer, Ward has a knack for pumping gaming lists that all sorts of people looking to enter the world of video games can relate to; from the “Top Five Games for Introverts,” to the “Best Game for You Based on Your Dream Car,” among many more.
In this installment, Ward talks about how World of Warcraft helped her get through a breakup, how her view on video games changed over time, what can be done to curb the toxicity in the video game community, and more.
An edited transcript is below. Each of the responses have been edited for clarity and concision.
HER HISTORY WITH VIDEO GAMES
Jarrod: What’s your history with video games?
Sarah: I had a little bit of gaming experience from years ago, like preteen years. When I was a kid, I played on the original Xbox. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, Shrek, those really old games that I’ve actually written about at this point — they’re classics in my mind.
Then I didn’t game for a long time. I dated someone for about two-and-a-half years and he was, and still is, a gamer. I kind of got back into it for him because I wanted to enjoy that hobby together. We broke up at the end of September and it was probably about two weeks after that I got the interview with Syft.
I hadn’t been gaming post-breakup; it was separating myself to move on, to step away from gaming and everything that had to do with that relationship. When I realized that I was most likely going to get the job, I was like, ‘I should probably start getting back into this so that I have something to write about.’
Jarrod: Do you have a favorite video game?
Sarah: World of Warcraft is, at this point, my all-time favorite game. It’s actually one that I got introduced to in that relationship and then stopped playing. When I started playing it just for myself, I kind of fell in love with it all over again. Now, if I need a mental break from anything or I’m just looking for an escape of any kind, I’ll play it for 15 minutes to three hours. That’s definitely my favorite one to just get completely immersed in.
Jarrod: When you play WoW, what emotions or feelings pop up?
Sarah: It depends — sometimes it’s just joy and peace, if I’m just kind of running around doing random stuff. Sometimes I feel a release of pent up emotions; I’m not an overly emotional person but stuff builds up over time [and] I don’t like to let it out. But if I play WoW and I’m going on really intense quests, I release that emotion through that. It’s an uplifting catharsis.
Jarrod: Do you have a particularly memorable time playing WoW?
Sarah: I can’t trace it back to one particular session of playing. In that past relationship, the most calming time came when I realized that WoW could be that game for me. It was the first time I played it and really got into it.
After that relationship and after I started with Syft, I realized that I could enjoy it just for me and not play for somebody else. It was for my own enjoyment. I think I probably played for five hours that day and didn’t feel pressure to game for anybody else.
HOW VIDEO GAMES AFFECTED THEIR MENTAL HEALTH AND LIFE
Jarrod: As a whole, how have video games affected your mental health and life?
Sarah: It all comes down to post-relationship there. In the relationship, I was gaming for him and I enjoyed it, but it was very much a hobby that I got into for somebody else. Immediately after that, I deleted my WoW account the morning after the breakup and cut that off because I didn’t want anything to do with it.
When Syft started and I realized that I was probably going to need to start gaming again, it started to become something I could do to relax. I’ve always been more of a reader than anything else, but it added another option for me of something I can do if I’m stressed out.
Time-wise, it did help me post relationship. Now that’s been about six months, it’s given me an outlet. It’s also given me a way of looking at the relationship. If you’re moving on from a relationship, you reach the point of not feeling bitter about it and feeling like you can see the benefits of the relationship, but you can also see the benefits of the breakup, if that makes sense.
I think gaming for myself helped me realize there were good things, and there was a little bit of time towards the end where we should have broken up sooner, but did not. I think getting into gaming for myself is just one of those things that helped me realize what I could take away from the relationship and what I could bring into the future with me while holding on to some positives from that time and not be upset about it.
Jarrod: In a way, gaming for yourself helped you become more introspective.
Sarah: Definitely. It gave me a positive outlet for those emotions. There’s something very cathartic about going into WoW and going up against an elite monster that I really shouldn’t be fighting on my own and managing to take it down. That releases some of that pent up rage which there’s not a lot of. Every once in a while there is and if I can just kill some monsters, then it’s a healthier way of dealing with that than anything else.
HOW HER VIEW ON VIDEO GAMES CHANGED OVER TIME
Jarrod: Over time, how has your view on video games changed?
Sarah: I think that [with] my view on gaming, the gaming community as a whole, and my personal gaming experience, I’ve just started to see what you can do with games. There’s so much out there. Night in the Woods is a game [that’s] actually very related to mental health; it breaks down those barriers in such an adorable way.
It was one of those games that just made me realize there’s so many opportunities in games and in the gaming community to work through things and talk about things that still have stigma around them.
I’ve started to see more of the opportunity if there’s creativity and if all the voices of people who have ideas about gaming are allowed to be heard — there’s just so much that could be done with it. Like with any medium, it could change someone’s life.
Jarrod: Conversely, when you play games, what does it make you feel?
Sarah: It just makes me happy. I mean there’s other parts of it: joy, excitement, all of that can come from different games, watching people play, and [actively] playing games, both by myself and in a group. For me, and I think for anyone who is playing games for the right reasons and isn’t feeling pressured to enjoy it in any one way, it just makes you happy.
What else could you want? Happiness and financial security are all you need in this world. If you can play games and feel happy from it, you’re halfway there.
THOUGHTS ON THE GAMING SPACE’S TOXICITY/SOLUTIONS
Jarrod: How can we mitigate that toxicity as journalists, writers, people in society, etc. so other people’s mental health isn’t degraded?
Sarah: I’ve actually written about this and thought about it a lot and it comes back to that same thing: there are people who are toxic that you just cannot change. All you can do is not add to it and actively add positivity to the community.
Izzy [Salant] actually framed it really well. He said outright: “There’s toxicity in gaming and there’s not necessarily something you can always do about it. But [what] we have the opportunity and the privilege to do as journalists writing in this space is not add to it, and make Syft a place where people can come and enjoy the video game community and feel seen in it and feel like they belong.”
As a female in the video game community, there aren’t a lot of us. There’s more of us now, but it’s not a whole bunch — I’m very aware that there are not a lot of girls writing at Syft. I feel like it’s just another opportunity to say, ‘Hey, I’m a girl writing about this’ and that’s OK.
I think we have the opportunity at Syft to both be a part of and create a community where it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from, how good of a gamer you are, or how long you’ve been playing. You can just enjoy it for you and whatever that means to you. The only thing you can’t do is be a negative person with it and tell other people, ‘No, you’re gaming wrong or you shouldn’t be a part of this community.’ That’s the one thing that is not allowed; it shouldn’t be allowed.
There are still people who are going to do that. But we, and anyone who wants to start to break down those barriers, has both the privilege and the responsibility of being that positive force and, when appropriate and safe, say, ‘Hey, you’re being toxic. That’s not okay here.’
If they’re open minded and they’re willing to talk about it, then that’s an opportunity to make the gaming world a little less toxic.
THE POSITIVE IMPACT OF VIDEO GAMES ON MENTAL HEALTH
Jarrod: In your opinion, how can video games help someone’s mental health?
Sarah: I think it all comes down to how you play them and how you use them. If you use games that both make you feel better and also are a release for any negative emotions, that’s the first stepping stone to helping yourself move through those things through video games. If you choose a game that just makes you angry when you play it and you think that it’s a release of emotions but really it’s just fueling the fire, then I think that’s probably not the healthiest way to do that.
Just give your brain something else to focus on to deal with those things. Sometimes there’s things that if you thought about them head on, you wouldn’t be able to handle it. That’s why we dream; so our brains can compute the things that we couldn’t figure out in our waking hours. I think that can be a way for gaming to help too. It lets you work through those things in both a positive environment and an environment where nothing you do actually has consequences.
It’s like journaling, reading or sleeping and working through things in your subconscious. It’s just a mental way of working through things that you might not be able to face head on.
Jarrod: That’s an interesting point because it does allow people to work things out. If you’re dealing with something, play a game so that while your brain is distracted, you also have a clear view on things and whatever it was that you’re thinking about.
Sarah: It is like going for a walk. If you’re working on something and you’re getting really down and out about it, just get outside and just put your brain in another situation. If you can do that with gaming, more power to you because gaming is just fun.
CHANGING THE STIGMA OF MENTAL HEALTH IN SOCIETY
Jarrod: What can be done to change the stigma of mental health in society, considering that more celebrities, people with prestige are talking about their own mental health issues?
Sarah: All you can really do is talk about it. I will paraphrase a quote from an Emma Watson interview and give you the gist of it. Basically the artist’s or the actor’s job is to tell the story in such a way that not only is love possible, more that hate is impossible, because everyone understands everyone else is part of the story and understands that we are all the same.
Once you break down those barriers, there’s no room for hate or saying whatever it is you’re going through is wrong. I understand the stigma around mental health and it takes a while to get used to it, especially if you don’t deal with it on the same level as someone else.
All you can do is say, ‘You know what, maybe I don’t understand your exact struggle. But I have struggled in a similar way. And I can be open to that.’ Having people who say ‘It’s alright, take your time to deal with it,’ is the only way to get through it. That’s the start of breaking down those walls.
CHANGING THE STIGMA OF VIDEO GAMES IN SOCIETY
Jarrod: In your opinion, what can be done to change the stigma of video games in society?
Sarah: I think if someone comes to the conversation dead set on not liking it, there’s nothing you can do to change that. Some people are just going to dislike it for whatever personal reason they have. But if you walk up to the table, so to speak, and you both are like, ‘OK, we might disagree on this, but we’re respectful of each other’s opinion,’ then there’s just room for growth there.
Sarah: You can really only change [the stigma] if you’re having a conversation with someone who is willing to see the other side. I know that there are people out there who just won’t ever be willing to see that other side and that’s kind of a bummer. You can also move past that and just say, ‘You know what, that’s their issue. And I can let them be negative about it.’ If I’m positive about it, then that just adds a little more inclusivity to the gaming space.
That’s all you can really do: try to make the positives outweigh the negatives.
You can check out the other entries in the series here.