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“Christopher's Dealing with Death”

I’m Chris Leech, a PhD Psychology researcher looking at video games and student mental health. I’m also a person with Albinism, so I’m visually impaired/legally blind and have this awesome white hair/beard combo (it really is as soft as it looks!).

This is the story of how video games played a part in coping with my depression and grief in unexpected ways. They helped me deal with a number of things life threw at me, including the death of my father.

It starts when I was just a few years old playing Super Mario World. Then as I grew up games continued to be fun, something to pass the time, share conversations and community. They were a way to connect playing games with friends or even just playing the same single player game and taking turns.

But then, as I was in the first year of my degree when my father died and things started to fall apart. I found that games could also offer something else. I was experiencing grief, and depression and games helped me through that.

All it took was for a friend to introduce me to Depression Quest (which then led to Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, Celeste, Please Knock on my Door, Actual Sunlight). I realised games could be more than compelling and relatable. They could be something that positively impacted my mental health.

This developed into something I realised I could study. So now I'm working on my PhD that looks at "The Impact of Games on Student Mental Health". I want to know what good, if any, games like the ones that have helped me could do for us as a society?
 

Outcome
Improved mental health and on the road to completing a PhD studying the impact of video games on the mental health of students.


This outcome arises from the following 6 milestones over the span of 23 years, from 4 - 27 years-old:

DetailsPathway Details

Name: Christopher Leech
Stage of Life: 4 - 27 years-old
Genres: Action, Narrative, Platform, Point-and-Click, Role-Play, Simulation, Sports and Traversal
Platforms: PC and PlayStation 3
 

 

Joy Of Jumping On Things

Age: 4-years-old / 01/01/1998 / 24 years ago

Chris played this and Donkey Kong Country. He enjoyed the fun of so much hidden stuff to find and how he could play it independently from a young age. He enjoyed "thrashing through levels and jumping on stuff". He used the co-op turn taking mode with siblings and friends.

It has become a special memory to Chris, with him returning to play the game many times. It has a special place as the game that got him playing games.

Chris fell in love with games as places to have fun on his own and with siblings and friends.

Finding Emotional Substance

Age: 8-years-old / 01/01/2002 / 20 years ago

This game (the original Final Fantasy VII) was the first that had Chris on "the edge of his seat". Along with helping develop his reading, it was the layered plot that really got his attention. "Like cake in that it’s delicious, and has so many layers," he says. He has gone back to play it many times. Each time uncovering more nuance and detail that made him feel differently about the story.

Even as a boy, Chris found something incredible about the moment when your party is cut down to just four people but then Cloud re-joins having overcome his internal challenges, saying “Sorry I was not myself.” This and the following phrase “There ain’t no gettin’ offa this train we’re on," struck Chris powerfully. A moment of narrative climax, powerfully delivered with sound, visuals and writing.

This message of solidarity stayed with Chris to this day. He'll even regularly say it now. It plays into the game's representation of grief, trauma and recovery. It took him from enjoying the fun of games to finding something deeper and more substantial in them; bolstered here by getting engrossed in the lore that spans several other games in the series and supporting books.

Chris connected strongly with moments in the game where characters rallied and the narrative turned. Even at a young age this established the idea that even when things seem bleakest there can be hope.

Activities: Christopher found that the following related activities worked alongside playing Final Fantasy VII Remake:

Reading and researching the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. It's a collection of video games, animated features and short stories based in the world and continuity of Final Fantasy VII (1997).
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Streaming
SOCIAL GATHERINGS

Chris streamed a challenge run with one of the most memorable bosses for him. He enjoyed sharing playing the game with his small community.
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Essential Distraction From Life

Age: 18-years-old / 01/01/2012 / 10 years ago

Platform: PlayStation 3

Another significant game for Chris was FIFA 13. He's from Liverpool and a huge Liverpool fan who played football for many years. He loved getting lost in the ”one more match” cycle, trying to sign the best and cheapest players while taking a team from League 2 to the top of the World.

The game came into his life around the death of his father and the grief and depression that followed in the wake of that. Coping with this, and trying to continue his degree at the same time was tough. In his words, "FIFA was a nice way to switch off and just disengage from everything around me in small (or larger) chunks of time. The simple, engrossing fun. The tactical exchanges, managing form and contracts. It really helped my mind through that period."

Chris found that FIFA was a helpful escape from grief and depression. It was somewhere he could go that wasn't about these things, and offered relief.

Feeling Understood And Seen

Age: 21-years-old / 01/01/2015 / 7 years ago

Platform: PC

Chris describes this period as "experiencing grief and depression" that "knocked me for six and made me reconsider a lot of things in life". He had engaged with support for this both socially and professionally through the university, but in his words found that "people and services have their limits".

A friend recommended him this game, Depression Quest. It was a very different experience to other games he had played. Although a simple text and still image presentation he connected deeply with the game. While experiencing a second and more serious bout of depression he found the game "made me sit up and take note" that he wasn't alone in how he was feeling.

He found a "wonderful catharsis" in the game character describing and doing things he resonated with. Reflecting on this later, he realised that for him it was a very accurate depiction of his depression. At a time when he was struggling to be understood by many of his peers, the game soothed this sense of aloneness.

Chris found his story reflected in the game, which not only soothed his isolation but contributed to his personal story turning a corner towards recovery.
Chris view of reality was altered by encountering the game. He was not alone in his grief and trauma.

Inspiration for PhD

Age: 24-years-old / 01/01/2018 / 4 years ago

Chris came across Celeste by seeing a speed-runner performing "mesmerising feats in the game that looked really very fun". It reconnecting him with his childhood love of platform games like Super Mario World.

When he played the game himself, he was surprised not only by the fun of the jumping and running challenge, but the mental health narrative it offered. The character's journey of climbing a mountain was a perfect metaphor for the internal climbing he was doing.

Then, later on, the game introduces Badeline (the main character, Madeline’s physical manifestation of her mental health challenges). This extends the metaphor and underlines our need to unite and accept ourselves in order to climb our mental mountain.

So strong was this encounter for Chris, it not only offered positive support to his mental health but got him thinking about how this unsung aspect of gaming may be studied. This lead to his PhD.

Chris enjoyed the interactions with Madeline’s darker alter ego. This lead to reflection on how he felt about aspects of his mental health challenges that needed to be uniting and accepting in order to move forward.
Chris was inspired by this and other game's work in mental health. And started to see an opportunity to be someone who would study this at a high academic level.

Activities: Christopher found that the following related activities worked alongside playing Celeste:


Celeste Soundtrack
PODCAST AND MUSIC

Chris enjoyed listening to the substantial soundtrack to Celeste. Which he described as "certified bangers to accompany what is easily 50 hours of gameplay".
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Importance Of Representation

Age: 27-years-old / 01/01/2021 / 21 months ago

Platform: PC

Chris was now on the lookout for suitable games about mental health to study. Please Knock On My Door was a good fit. It's a game that asks the player what the “best” decisions they can make, without really knowing what the outcome could be.

Chris found this took him back to previous meaningful encounters with games. Again he found himself stunned by the experience it offered: the representation of mental health combined with an engrossing and engaging challenge.

It was a game that got him to re-assess, reframe and recognise his own state of mind which then prompted some change. Some of this was to revisit resources and conversations with friends. But also it was to use it in his PhD study.

Chris found the game reminded him of other mental health themed experiences. This led to him taking steps to reflect and revisit the resources that had helped him previously.

Pathway Outcome

The culmination of the milestones in the pathway lead to Christopher improved mental health and on the road to completing a PhD studying the impact of video games on the mental health of students. We have described it as a linear journey, but of course, there is always a fair amount of back and forth between the games they played.

Along with the main outcome Christopher also changed in the following ways:

  • Behaviour: Chris found the game reminded him of other mental health themed experiences. This led to him taking steps to reflect and revisit the resources that had helped him previously.
  • Belief: Chris view of reality was altered by encountering the game. He was not alone in his grief and trauma.
  • Disposition: Chris enjoyed the interactions with Madeline’s darker alter ego. This lead to reflection on how he felt about aspects of his mental health challenges that needed to be uniting and accepting in order to move forward.
  • Disposition: Chris found that FIFA was a helpful escape from grief and depression. It was somewhere he could go that wasn't about these things, and offered relief.
  • Disposition: Chris connected strongly with moments in the game where characters rallied and the narrative turned. Even at a young age this established the idea that even when things seem bleakest there can be hope.
  • Experience: Chris found his story reflected in the game, which not only soothed his isolation but contributed to his personal story turning a corner towards recovery.
  • Identity: Chris was inspired by this and other game's work in mental health. And started to see an opportunity to be someone who would study this at a high academic level.
  • Knowledge: Chris fell in love with games as places to have fun on his own and with siblings and friends.

We focus on how games contribute to this outcome, but also include related activities that play a part of this journey:

Taming Gaming Book Written by parents for parents, the database complements the in-depth discussion about video game addiction, violence, spending and online safety in the Taming Gaming book. We are an editorially independent, free resource without adverts that is supported by partnerships.

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