The third installment of the Mental Health Series features Erik Ruof, a breaking news/editorial writer for Syft. A lifelong gamer, Ruof’s repertoire ranges from Cyberpunk 2077 to gaming conventions and even the occasional guide, among other types of news articles.
In this installment, Ruof talks about his history with video games, how Overwatch helped him deal with his anxiety episodes, how his view on video games has changed over time, and more.
An edited transcript is below. Each of the responses have been edited for clarity and concision.
HIS HISTORY WITH VIDEO GAMES
Jarrod: What attracted you to your position in Syft? Because, obviously, everyone here has some sort of history with video games.
Erik: [I’ve] got a long history of video games. I had the Game Boy Color and the PlayStation One. It started with racing games, platformers like Mario and Sonic, and just general puzzle games. Over time, I grew more involved with console gaming and PC gaming. I feel like it’s just been a natural part of my life as far back as I can remember. [My] first memories were playing video games.
Jarrod: Do you have a particular game that stands out?
Erik: I’m generally a fan of RPGs. I also have some great memories playing all these competitive multiplayer games with my friends, because it’s a social thing and that makes it a bit more fun. I remember Halo Forge, just making stuff with my friends, and Call of Duty back when I was in middle school on the Xbox 360. We would always do “Michael Myers” in Modern Warfare and stuff like that.
Those were fun times. Those are the best memories I have with friends. I can recall countless times I’ve been playing video games and felt totally immersed with Fallout or Skyrim. That’s more the independent journey, instead of doing something with your friends.
HOW VIDEO GAMES AFFECTED HIS MENTAL HEALTH AND LIFE
Jarrod: You talked about playing with friends, and then the independent journey. What about that journey or that situation, playing with friends, do you recall the most?
Erik: I’m happier playing with friends. I feel like there were times where, if I heard people talking about a certain game, I would always be like, ‘Oh, I guess that’s the game to get’ so that I could fit in and just hang out with my friends more often outside of school. There are times where I value independence as well. I don’t always want to be social — I want to find time for myself and read a book.
Jarrod: Do you feel your alone time is the best chance for your mental health to calm down a bit?
Erik: In different ways. If I was depressed or anxious, I feel like there would be different games I would go to based on my feelings. With anxiety, there’ve been times where even simple puzzle games help, like Tetris. With depression, there’ve been immersive story mode games where I feel like I’m connecting with the characters on some sort of level.
I remember when I played The Last of Us, I was going through a tough time. The characters are obviously going through a tough time as well, but in a very exaggerated way compared to myself. I just felt like I had a connection to them because we were on the same level emotionally and the weight was being carried off of me to them, in a way.
Jarrod: How have video games affected your mental health, and your life, as a whole?
Erik: I remember in 2018, I was having some anxiety episodes and had a tendency to hyperventilate. Using games as a distraction kind of took my mind off of them and returned my breathing back to normal for a little bit. I remember it was Overwatch I was playing at the time — it could have been any game that would serve as a distraction at that moment. Whatever you believe is your comfort-food version of a video game would be best suited for those scenarios and at the time, it was Overwatch, of all things.
Jarrod: Do you remember a time when that [Generalized Anxiety Disorder] was such a prevalent force in your head that you had to see what was going on?
Erik: I remember I went to the hospital for a bunch of different things. I had an EKG done and had blood work done and was just like, ‘Tell me what’s wrong with me?’ I was thinking, ‘It must have been something terrible.’ [Doctors] tell me, ‘We don’t see anything wrong with your body. Have you ever been to a therapist?’ And I was like, ‘No, why?’ And they said, ‘We think you might just have anxiety.’
I didn’t believe it. I feel like I’m going through the worst things I’ve ever gone through in my life. And it’s just something I thought was so simple. But after researching and getting help, I realized it’s a lot more complicated.
HOW HIS VIEW ON VIDEO GAMES CHANGED OVER TIME
Jarrod: How’d your view on video games change over time, because you played it throughout your life?
Erik: Well, I think my view of video games changed since I was a kid by seeing the storytelling capabilities of it. Because in my mind, I see myself as wanting to be a storyteller in all sorts of ways. I felt like in the beginning, video games fulfill the role of just being, ‘Oh, you save the princess from the castle’ and that’s the end of the game — that’s all you’d have to do.
Instead, there are different story modes and campaigns where I was gripped by the events of the story. When I first played Bioshock, I was totally immersed and felt like I was watching a movie, but I have free will; I am the character. Video games are capable of telling insane stories. That’s why you get Red Dead Redemption and you end up with games like Detroit: Become Human where all of your decisions become your story. And that’s amazing.
THOUGHTS ON THE GAMING SPACE’S TOXICITY/SOLUTIONS
Jarrod: I just want to get your thoughts on the toxicity in the video game community and how we as journalists, or as just regular gamers, can mitigate the toxicity within the community.
Erik: That’s a really tough question. I know the Call of Duty chat rooms have been just the worst since the games came out with multiplayer a decade ago. That’s a game where I feel there’s a lot of frustration. It’s pretty deep stuff; there could be a whole pipeline that goes into it.
A person plays a certain video game and feels like some language is acceptable in and outside of the game, and that could lead them to dangerous ideas. I don’t know the proper way to address that. They can bring attention to it, because I don’t know what else there is.
Jarrod: That’s actually an interesting point. A couple of the FaZe guys said the main thing is respect because the video game space has always been toxic. The best we can do is try to curb that so other people, especially women and other minority groups, don’t feel like they have to be someone else, get accosted every time they play, and have their mental health take a massive dip just because they want to have a good time.
Erik: Yeah, it’s respect and empathy at the same time. Being empathetic is really important to just progress socially. I think another thing is anonymity: you could have any Gamertag you want, say whatever you want, leave the game, and then keep doing the same thing. It’s very childish to say those types of things and have that type of behavior. It’s the same thing with internet trolls. It’s just the same mindset of, ‘They don’t know who I am, I have the power to do anything and for some reason, that power is looking down on others.
THE POSITIVE IMPACT OF VIDEO GAMES ON MENTAL HEALTH
Jarrod: On the flip side, how can video games help someone? A lot of studies have shown it helps reduce stress and anxiety.
Erik: Well, it’s another form of escapism, and I feel like escapism has always been the best way for me to calm my nerves and dull my mind a little so it’s not racing so much. There are multiple forms of escapism: you could read a book or listen to music, but video games are a good way to do it. There’s a lot of focus usually put into video games. We were talking about distractions being helpful for certain types of anxieties and depression — escapism is good for us sometimes.
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? There’s still a group of people out there who think playing too many video games can cause your son or daughter to be this deranged, maniacal killer with weird, irrational mood swings. All of a sudden, they have video game addiction.
Erik: Things should be done in moderation as well. You have to make sure you’re not actually addicted to things, like I find myself addicted to social media and, at times, video games when it feels like I shouldn’t be doing this task. That being the only reason to keep people from playing video games is not a good reason. You can say the same things, like, ‘You can’t eat too many hamburgers or you’ll get bad cholesterol levels so don’t eat a hamburger ever.’
I think the stigma is going away over time. You’re seeing the job potential the video game industry creates and how the video game industry is becoming the biggest entertainment industry globally. I think the violent video game stigma is still going to be debated for a while, even if science sees it one way and not the other. Parents’ jobs are just to be concerned, right? They’ll be concerned about anything that’s new that they didn’t grow up with. I’m sure we’re going to develop some sort of concern for something new for our kids — we just have to take time to talk to them and understand more about it.
CHANGING THE STIGMA OF MENTAL HEALTH IN SOCIETY
Jarrod: What can we, as a society, do to change the stigma of mental health? Athletes are talking about it, video game professionals are talking about it and now there seems to be more of an acceptance about talking about it, but not to the level we would hope.
Erik: I’ve definitely noticed in the past year there’ve been more celebrities and corporations bringing up mental health issues. Nothing to the extent of having new health care measures put into place to cater to people who have mental health issues, which is the more logical thing to do. I think having the conversation is the first step.
So continuing to do stuff like that and stuff like this interview with several people is part of the process which will get us to a better place with a better acceptance of mental health issues in the future.
Erik: I think there was a quote from Quentin Tarantino which said, “Films are the ultimate form of entertainment” because all the devices go into it. There’s a music soundtrack that goes into it, there’s acting that goes into it, there’s set design. [As such] I think video games are the ultimate form of entertainment because they have all of that.
Our sincere thanks to Erik for sharing his story. Also, on this day— May 9— we want to wish him a happy birthday!
You can check out the other entries in the series here.