The eighth installment of the Mental Health Series features Kirsten Carey. A breaking news writer, Carey has also conducted many insightful interviews with prominent female esports personalities along with some very interesting think pieces.
In this installment, Carey talks about her history of video games, why The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is her favorite game, how Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Final Fantasy VII and other games helped her mental health during the pandemic and more.
An edited transcript is below. Each of the responses has been edited for clarity and concision.
HER HISTORY WITH VIDEO GAMES
Jarrod: What’s your history with video games?
Kirsten: When I was a kid, I had a PlayStation, GameCube and a Game Boy Color with Pokemon, of course. I loved playing video games and I played a ton. When I got into high school, I dropped all that and was buried in schoolwork. That remained true through college.
At the end of college, I wanted to get back into gaming but discovered my parents, without asking me, had given away my GameCube and PlayStation with all my games. I lucked into somebody who didn’t want his GameCube anymore. So he gave me his GameCube and I started getting all my games back, like Zelda, obviously.
Around that time, I was also getting really into animation again, which was another huge love for me in my childhood that I had drifted apart from as I got obsessed with school stuff. I got a job at Channel Frederator writing for them. Through the Federator community, and through my own blossoming obsession with The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker on the GameCube, I got a DS, and then a Switch and started really heavily getting into gaming again. It got to the point where animation and video games for me were equally weighted loves.
Jarrod: You mentioned Wind Waker — is that your favorite game? Do you have a favorite game?
Kirsten: My favorite game is Breath of the Wild. When I was a kid trying to play Wind Waker, I couldn’t do it. I didn’t get very far; it was too hard for me. Being in my early 20s beating Wind Waker was an achievement. From there, I got the DS to play Pokemon: Sun and Moon. But I also got Ocarina and Majora’s Mask. The day after I finished Majora’s Mask, I bought a Switch and Breath of the Wild.
It was at a point where I was feeling really down and depressed, probably the most depressed I’ve ever felt. It was my first time, since the GameCube, that I got the newest platform and entering that first moment of Breath of the Wild was magical. That game was just amazing — it’s my favorite.
Jarrod: What about it made you say ‘this is my favorite game?
Kirsten: Opening Breath of the Wild and seeing how beautiful the art style is, how beautiful the music is, and how everything just coalesced into this one experience. This game is art. I was so excited to explore every single nook and cranny that game had to offer. It, for me, symbolizes freedom because you’re exploring nonstop.
Jarrod: Can you recall a time that perhaps is the most memorable to you?
Kirsten: The game guides you to Zora’s Domain. There’s this really cool pathway where you have to follow Sidon, the Zora Prince, and Sidon can just bop up the river but you have to go on a monster-laden pathway. That’s pretty complicated and it’s raining and there are electric monsters everywhere, for which you have disadvantage in the rain. It just felt so epic.
I remember sitting down and just playing for hours and hours longer than I intended to because I was just so enraptured with how the game was constructed.
It feels like you’ve had an album or a show where, no matter how many times you listen to it or watch it, you find new things. Breath of the Wild felt like that: every time you turned on the Switch and played it, you just found something new that you had no idea could even be there. It’s the best.
HOW VIDEO GAMES AFFECTED HER MENTAL HEALTH AND LIFE
Jarrod: Has there ever been a time that you can recall that video games affected your mental health or your life as a whole?
Kirsten: The first couple months of the pandemic, in particular, were just so difficult. I was supposed to travel to Japan on a grant and my grant was postponed two weeks before I was going to leave. My whole plan for the year and beyond was just totally thrown out the window. To ground myself into comfort amid all this disappointment and instability, I played a s***ton of Animal Crossing.
I played Final Fantasy 7 and Persona 5 Royal except that game [Persona] takes place in Tokyo and it ended up making me feel really sad so I stopped playing it. In the first stretch of the pandemic, Final Fantasy and Animal Crossing gave me something to look forward to and gave me a reason to just blank out, sit back, not worry, not be scared and depressed. We all deserved that space and I really got that space from those two games.
Jarrod: We’re talking about specific games and giving ourselves a reason to blank out, video games have this power [of distraction] that people don’t necessarily see.
Kirsten: My therapist, during this period in the pandemic, said the exact same thing to me. Even before the pandemic I was playing Castlevania. I got really obsessed with Castlevania in February 2020. I was neglecting things I needed to do because I just felt so burned out and I just blanked out playing this game.
I expressed guilt to my therapist and she was like, ‘Why? It sounds like you need it. You should just play video games.’
When you’re dealing with depression and OCD, which are two of my primary cocktails, the only time I can turn it off is if I’m watching something I’m really invested in or playing video games. Having that space is really important.
HOW HER VIEW ON VIDEO GAMES CHANGED OVER TIME
Jarrod: How has your view on video games changed and conversely, when you do play games, what does it make you feel?
Kirsten: Because I had just such a large gap in my gaming where I was absorbing things [during the late 90s, early 2000s] and then came back to it in 2017, gaming had changed so much in those 10 years, 15 maybe. I still have a wide-eyedness for how in-depth stories have become, how immersive worlds have become, and how nuanced the storytelling is.
I’m thinking of NieR:Automata. I’m on my second playthrough right now because you need multiple playthroughs. There is just a lot going on and that’s really exciting. When I play myself, I’m either specifically looking for catharsis, which are fighting games, but also things that pull me in with story, adventure, or both, and a bit of quirkiness — I tend to like things that are more in the JRPG realm.
For me, whenever I watch movies or TV, I find that characters are what pull me in. I’m finding that’s also true with video games now, which is awesome.
THOUGHTS ON THE GAMING SPACE’S TOXICITY/SOLUTIONS
Jarrod: I just want to get your thoughts on the toxicity of the video game community. What can we as gamers, journalists, as people in society, do to help mitigate that so that other people’s mental health isn’t as degraded?
Kirsten: The creation of safe spaces is important. A lot of people are doing that like the*gameHERs. In these larger spaces, if I’m commenting or playing something and someone says something sexist to me, it’s very tiring if the onus is always on the woman to call that person out. The person that’s most affected by the toxicity shouldn’t have to be the only person responding to it. I think that’s what makes the best allies and the best creation of safe environments.
THE POSITIVE IMPACT OF VIDEO GAMES ON MENTAL HEALTH
Jarrod: In your opinion, how can video games help someone’s mental health?
Kirsten: It depends on what the person needs, of course. In the pandemic, when everything was so uncontrollable and you couldn’t see your friends, Animal Crossing provided this specific plot of land I had complete control over. It took me a second to realize that’s why I found it so comforting — it was immensely comforting.
One of my favorite games in the past year, because I’m a gigantic “One Piece” person, has been [One Piece] Pirate Warriors 4. The women in “One Piece” are kind of slender and sexy, but you can play as them in Pirate Warriors 4 and then just kick like thousands of bros’ asses. I found it so therapeutic to just have that proxy, just girl-power it up.
Within video games, you have the power of distraction, the power of catharsis and the power of creation. There’s any number of specific, very therapeutic ways that you can use video games to help yourself through a tough period.
CHANGING THE STIGMA OF MENTAL HEALTH IN SOCIETY
Jarrod: What can be done to change the stigma of mental health in society?
Kirsten: I really think it’s just talking about it and normalizing talking about it which is why I don’t hesitate when someone asks me, ‘I have PTSD and this is all my baggage.’ My hope is that being in the open about my own experience and — I’m a musician and I create art very much around these themes — having these themes in my work hopefully destigmatizes them for the people consuming the work.
Then they’ll talk about it themselves and hopefully that creates this large ripple effect, and that’s a slow move. But yeah, hopefully over time [we’ll change for the better.]
CHANGING THE STIGMA OF VIDEO GAMES IN SOCIETY
Jarrod: How can the stigma of video games be changed in society?
Kirsten: I think Animal Crossing entering the mainstream to the extent that it did during the pandemic did help change that. I think games like Minecraft [are also the answer] because Minecraft is a game where you’re just kind of creating.
I feel like there’s this thing in America where, because certain people refused to do anything substantive about gun violence, they need a scapegoat. Video games have become that scapegoat. I saw it pop up again on a front page New York Times article last year. It’s lazy. I think there is this thing within certain subcultures of the country where there’s a ‘video games are making our kids violent’ and ‘they should be outside’ kind of thing.
Pointing them towards Animal Crossing and Minecraft is a good [place to] start to be like, ‘It’s not just like violence.’
Jarrod: If people are open and receptive, maybe that might be something that could happen — conversations like that could happen for the better.
Kirsten: I definitely think so.
You can check out the other entries in the series here.