The sixth installment of the Mental Health Series features Jeffrey Jenkins, a contributing and editorial writer covering a myriad of topics on Syft. He’s also spearheaded the “Voices of FaZe 5” series and conducted interviews with some of the biggest names in the esports community, including Sceptic and Overtflow.
In this installment, Jenkins talks about why Kingdom Hearts 2 is his favorite game of all time, what needs to be done to reduce the stigma of video games and mental health in society, the video game community’s toxicity, and more.
An edited transcript is below. Each of the responses has been edited for clarity and concision.
HIS HISTORY WITH VIDEO GAMES
Jarrod: I’m curious, what’s your history with video games?
Jenkins: I recall getting my first gaming system at about seven or eight years old: the PlayStation One. The PlayStation always had a deep spot in my heart. The first games I ever recall playing were Crash Bandicoot, Tomb Raider, and Tekken 2. The OG was my first gaming experience.
Since then, I’ve actually owned a good deal of systems: I’ve owned a Sega Genesis, the N64, GameCube, Xbox 360, Game Boy Advance, one of the original Game Boys, a PSP, a PlayStation Two, an Xbox One and Playstation Four, and a PlayStation Three.
So I’ve had a good amount of systems, which kind of surprised me because I was never like a “gamer” gamer, if that makes sense.
Jarrod: Do you have a favorite game and if so, what about it stood out to you?
Jenkins: For me, the easy answer is definitely Kingdom Hearts II. First of all, Kingdom Hearts is my favorite gaming franchise of all time. I saw my cousin playing it years ago and, for whatever reason, it just got stuck in my head. I wanted to get my hands on it eventually and, years later, I did. I didn’t get Kingdom Hearts I specifically; I think it was Chain of Memories.
Back to Kingdom Hearts II: what stands out to me is definitely the music. Just the way they were able to integrate the music and the way they’re able to convey emotion makes the actual playing experience and story that much better. That’s how I feel about the whole franchise in general.
I still feel that way about Kingdom Hearts II specifically. To me, the game has the best playable mechanics out of the whole series. In general, the gameplay was my favorite of any of the games in the whole franchise.
Jarrod: When you play Kingdom Hearts II, what does it make you feel?
Jenkins: Just playing the remastered version of the game [Kingdom Hearts 2.5], I would say a rush of nostalgia. Pretty much any adjective related to that you can throw in: joy, happiness, elation, excitement. All of the above.
HOW VIDEO GAMES AFFECTED HIS MENTAL HEALTH AND LIFE
Jarrod: I’m curious if you have any moments or if there was a time when video games helped you out.
Jenkins: Honestly, I don’t really have a great answer for you on this one. I can’t ever recall a time where I was just down and out, looking for an escape. Video games were always such a major hobby. I’ve always been a huge basketball fan, pretty much my entire life. If video games have been in my life for as long as they have, basketball has been a part of that for a bit longer.
Usually it would be basketball that I would turn to as far as that’s concerned. Typically, I’ll listen to music while I’m doing that for an escape.
I will say that [while] Kingdom Hearts II is my favorite game and Kingdom Hearts is my favorite franchise, NBA 2K is definitely [there]. 2K is definitely the franchise I spent the most hours playing.
Jarrod: What does [playing 2K] make you feel?
Jenkins: It makes me feel excited to play a game I’m familiar with. I’ve literally and figuratively played the game for years. I’m not just going out there; I’m in the mindset of what I would do in an actual game. Overall, playing 2K gives me a familiar feeling, just being around the game of basketball in one way or another.
HOW HIS VIEW ON VIDEO GAMES CHANGED OVER TIME
Jarrod: How’s your view on video games changed and, when you do play, what does it make you feel?
Jenkins: It’s funny, I was actually talking about this to somebody recently. My personal view of video games, in general, has changed. It’s not as prominent a part of my life as it once was. That just comes with age — we all have more responsibilities, and more responsibilities equals less time to dedicate to video games. It’s just a hobby I do less often.
Jarrod: When you do play, are you more appreciative of the time you have playing it?
Jenkins: I would say it’s definitely more special, because I can’t really do it as often. Honestly, when I play games now, I’ll say a cool 80% of the time, it’s a game I grew up playing. I still keep around most of my old games — I still have my GameCube, my 360, most of my old systems.
From that standpoint, it’s super nostalgic because these are simply games that I’ve never been tired of. Kingdom Hearts is definitely at the top of the list but also Mario Party, Crash Bandicoot, Tekken, Mario Kart, a lot of Mario games for sure. It just makes me feel some nostalgia.
Also, I don’t really play newer games quite as often. There’ll be a game that comes around every now and then that I’m really excited for. But, like I said, when I play games now, it’s mostly older games.
You live with the free time you have nowadays; you’ve got to pick and choose your battles. It’s all about sacrifices. You have to sacrifice yourself in order to get stuff done and also do what makes you happy.
THOUGHTS ON THE GAMING SPACE’S TOXICITY/SOLUTIONS
Jarrod: I just want to get your thoughts on the toxicity of the video game community. How can we, as journalists, gamers, and people in society, mitigate toxicity within the community so that others’ mental healths aren’t as degraded?
Jenkins: As far as mitigating toxicity in gaming, I want to go back to the “Golden Rule:” treat people how you want to be treated. That applies in every space, every environment you’re in with multiple people. The whole idea of toxicity is literally [opposite] to the idea of playing games with other people.
When you’re playing games, you want to have fun. Toxicity and gaming is not fun for anybody. It also doesn’t help with the whole mental health process because people come to these games for an escape in some cases. Name calling, putting down other people who aren’t as skilled as you or anybody else in the game, that’s not what people come to that space for.
You’re just looking to have fun and interact with friends and strangers alike.
There’s really no place in the community for [toxicity]. This is a space for everybody to come and enjoy themselves and feel like they’re part of a community worth being a part of.
THE POSITIVE IMPACT OF VIDEO GAMES ON MENTAL HEALTH
Jarrod: In your opinion, how can video games help someone’s mental health? People have mentioned it being an escape or a way for them to calm down if they’re feeling some type of way. It helps them process things.
Jenkins: That’s pretty much exactly what I would say when you’re dealing with mental health, stress, anxiety, depression, all the above. It’s absolutely pivotal to find ways to take your mind off stuff as best as possible. Depending on your mindstate, it’s tough to completely get away from that.
One thing video games do is put you in a certain mindframe to escape reality, whether it’s diving into a full-fledged story mode, taking the role of any given character that you’re playing, or [getting lost in] any given game. Video games offer you a sense of engagement that you can’t really get anywhere else. You can watch a movie and do other stuff that people do to kill time, but video games have a sense of engagement like none other, in my opinion.
CHANGING THE STIGMA OF MENTAL HEALTH IN SOCIETY
Jarrod: What can be done to change the stigma of mental health in society? In some cases, it’s still seen as, ‘Oh, you have a mental illness? You’re crazy. Something’s wrong with you.’
Jenkins: I’ll be honest, I think this is definitely going to be tough. When you think about mental health, it’s just tough not to think about the absolute worst. We tend to think of mass shootings.
I think we have to just understand that there’s a lot that goes into mental health: you have to have a support system behind you, we have to understand that a lot of people are really going through mental health, whether it’s everyday stresses or anxiety. We have to understand that people oftentimes don’t really have the support system that they need.
They don’t necessarily know who to go to or who to talk to. I feel like that type of information isn’t necessarily readily available or easily accessible. To change the stigma, we have to realize that you can’t judge people based on the situation. First of all, we have to try to understand where they’re coming from, what their headspace is like, what they’re doing to try to cope with it and to set up a system where people are more comfortable talking about their mental health because it’s not an easy thing to talk about.
To change the stigma, we have to, first and foremost, recognize the symptoms, not judge people based on their mindstate and really, just educate ourselves on mental health. It comes in so many different shapes and forms, you’ll be surprised. To summarize: just educate ourselves on mental health in general.
CHANGING THE STIGMA OF VIDEO GAMES IN SOCIETY
Jarrod: What can we do to change the stigma of video games in society?
Jenkins: You just have to understand that everybody is going through something different; people are going to turn to whatever they feel the most comfortable with to escape their issues, no matter what it is.
We have to realize that video games are a pivotal part of the culture nowadays. Especially considering what’s happened the past year with COVID. Just to add to that, we have to understand that gaming nowadays is more than just a hobby — it’s a multi-billion-dollar industry and people are getting much more out of it.
They’re making a living out of this. All of that drives home the point that we have to understand that video games are more than just a hobby; they’re an escape from everyday life and any tough times someone may be going through. Video games are very pivotal from that standpoint.
Jenkins: People have to realize that gaming is universal: every demographic and race exists within the gaming realm. When you’re in this realm, so to speak, you’re going to come across people of every background, every skill set. Gaming is an all-encompassing activity; any and everybody is welcome.
I want to say [gaming] is trending in the right direction as far as overall toxicity. Some of the biggest names in the industry are women and other people who weren’t prominently featured in the space even just a few years ago. Valkyrae, for example, is one of the biggest gamers/content creators out there and she is one of the co-owners of 100 Thieves.
You can check out the other entries in the series here.