Roleplaying and Depression

Today I want to share something from my personal life. As you’ve probably read on my blog before I am having mental health issues. At first I thought it might be some kind of anxiety disorder, but as it turned out I am suffering from depression. Or maybe it’s a little bit of both.

The depression has definitely messed with my creativity and my ability to run games for my friends. I was always a bit nervous before running a game – it’s probably some kind of stage fright – but nowadays it often borders on severe anxiety when I try to work on a roleplaying-related project. Don’t ask me how many times I tried to write something or work on game prep and it failed. It is really hard for me to concentrate and there’s always a looming feeling of self-doubt marring my attempt to create something. This – pardon my french – sucks balls!

But luckily there is a silver lining. Even though running games is a bit problematic at the moment, playing games helps a lot. I currently play in three campaigns and usually I have a blast and feel very relaxed at the end of the sessions. It might sound weird, but the effect of a good roleplaying session is almost as good as the result of a good group therapy session. Usually the dark emotions are gone if not immediately then at least after a couple minutes of playing.

There are a lot of gamers who suffer from various mental health issues. Have you guys made the same experience? Does gaming help you overcome the symptoms, too? I would really love to read about your experiences. Please share your thoughts below.

P.S.: By the way, even though I don’t feel that well at the moment, I try to get back into running games. Tonight I’ll try to get the Fallout Fate Accelerated game going. I am not giving in that easily! Wish me luck!

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

11 thoughts on “Roleplaying and Depression”

  1. Gaming is so my destress-er. It helps a lot. When my son was a few days old and had been losing weight the thing that helped me the most with my “I’m a failure mom” feelings was playing a game with friends – not an rpg, but some boardgame. I’d say that playing almost every weekend has probably helped me avoid getting down and dark, especially with being home with baby all day by myself.

    Good luck tonight. Have fun :).

  2. well, i never try and think of myself as having depression but i have been told twice by separate people to get help. (still not done).
    Anyway, you know i draw, this has been very difficult for over 3 years now, occasionally i do draw something. I game now, having just got a local group together, i run the games but i put myself under so much presser to perform. I agree to so many thing and then worry.
    I have a Con the weekend next and set 5 games to run. i am still preparing these as i just can not concentrate on what the hell i am doing. rules are just not staying in my mind . i go blank..
    yet. when i do play or draw i forget what is out side my mind and lose myself.
    That is the therapy that Role play gives me. the escape and freedom, no outside influences just for those few hours.

    without gaming i would be a shell of who i could be. i just wish i could game more , to actually play other than be relied on to run the game

  3. I appreciate your candor, and I hope that our fellow role-players can be supportive and understanding. Everybody has their ups and downs, but friends and hobbies should make coping easier.

  4. I have always had feelings of inferiority and self-doubt, and one day I was reading a work-related article about high stress jobs, and it mentioned that it is common for people in creative, high stress jobs to feel like they are a fraud and/or not up to the task and/or a failure.

    Somehow learning that we all feel like we suck and that luckily for us no one has caught on to that fact has made me much less stressed about my self-perceived inadequacies. I hope that can help for you too!

    You are as great as you want to be and no one else is as great as they want others to think they are, but are greater than they think themselves to be.

  5. The worst symptom of depression is isolation and sometimes the best treatment is safe, low impact, socialization (= feeling of connection). Social games certainly provide this, and are just a wonderful social activity where you do something fun and creative with friends. I’ve been running/playing/ organizing games for decades and one thing I find fascinating is to observe why people play, and what they get out of it. This phenomenon you describe is absolutely on the top 10. This being said, I don’t think social games are magnet for people with mental health issues. What I do think, however, is that we live in a culture where it is very difficult for adults to find real interactive activities (where they are actively creating vs. passively experiencing something) with other adults. Social gaming is one of the few activities where participants are active and interactive in expressing themselves/ creating stories/ making experiences for one another. It’s a fantastic outlet for anyone who is feeling isolated or cut off as well as anyone who enjoys socializing and storytelling!

  6. Though I haven’t really had depression per se, I can certainly sympathize with the feelings of anxiety. For many years (much of a decade?), i had more or less constant self doubt, worry and fear of failure led to hypertension, insomnia, general inability to relax, and gradually made interaction with my family more difficult.

    What got me away from it for the most part was a year or so of professional therapy. The psychologist I’d been seeing encouraged me to try various controlled breathing exercises and what might be described as mindfulness techniques. And it’s been a slow road, but has ultimately worked out pretty well so far.

    I rarely runs games. At one point anxiety might have played a small part in that, though oddly performance for groups doesn’t cause me too much difficulty. My problem these days is poor organization and being stupified when trying to think of a scenario to run with any interesting nuances . . . that and gamer ADD.

    As a player, during a game it could still be difficult for me to relax and take my mind off the fears and doubt I had in life. But sometimes it helped. Even if gaming didn’t seem to help me overcome the difficulties, at least some gaming sessions gave me a breather, a chance to get my mind off things and relax a little. At least temporarily.

    Here’s hoping for a constructive end to the difficulties you are having.

  7. Ok, I try to write it in english: I know what you mean, because I’m depressiv, too. Maybe I’m also Borderliner. I love gameing and world-building, but I can count my gaming days the last two years on two hands. Before this we (my girlfriend and I) played nearly every weekend and our gaming world was really blooming. Now the world is more or less fallow. I’m very stressed, when I’m thinking about gaming at the moment. There is an unspeakable fear of failure in me, to disappoint my girlfriend. She said, that some simple D&D would be good at the moment, but I can’t jump over my shadow at the moment. The depression is too heavy at the moment.

    I know, that gaming would help me a lot, stop thinking about all the RL s**t. Sometimes I can pull my friends to some more simpler games like the “Mansions of Madness” or “Doom” boardgames, but this is only the water drop on the hot stone. Every time I want to start something more challenging game like “Call of Cthulhu” – and the BRP of CoC is not really challenging – they are so negative against this because of the “fear of reading rules” or acting or using their imagination. PC Gaming is definitly simpler, but I don’t want to play “Left 4 Dead” or something else the most time.

    So, I’m now out of my english knowledge. For questions, I’m on Google+ or Facebook.

  8. Michael, I am happy to hear that your experiences with gaming are improving your health.

    I appreciate the potential value of role-playing games and gaming groups for mental health. Relationships are important to the therapeutic process, so establishing a sense of connection to a group of peers while you do something, such as slaying orcs with halfling warriors, that you enjoy is positive! Role-playing, as an activity and process, can provide that new, neutral environment that can separate a participant from their problems. This can be a mechanism for self-evaluation and healing. However, role-playing games have a risk of being a vehicle for introspective evasion. All therapy, from one-on-one counseling to outdoor adventure therapy, has risks associated with it, so “too much” escapism is merely the risk associated with this form of therapy. I am happy that your gaming sessions are, at minimum, providing relief while likely providing a sense of connection to community and setting.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with mental health and gaming. I am new to your blog, so I intend to read some of your previous posts about that topic. I hope that your creative relationship with role-playing games is repaired, for your contributions are important to this genre. Regardless, I hope that you feel more positive about your creative relationship with what is obviously a passion in your life.

  9. I just found this post, so my comment is a bit late. I also suffer from depression (and have since a very young age). I’m also relatively new to role-playing, as I didn’t start until about six years ago. Due to the fact that it’s been difficult to keep a group together (what with us all be adults, some of whom have children), I haven’t been playing regularly until about a year ago when a friend started up a D&D group using the playtest rules. In recent months, since my stress levels have gone up due to external factors, I’ve found that I’ve gotten even more interested in gaming as a way to cope. This has had both good and bad effects in that, obviously, gaming is something that makes me happier, but there are times I spend hours researching various games and alternate rules systems instead of doing more constructive things. That said, I think it has been positive overall. I am neither an introvert nor an extrovert–I hate big parties, but I like having other people around–so the social interaction level of gaming is just about perfect for me. Now if only we could do it more than once a month…

    1. Perhaps you should try to find an online game you can join. On Google+ for example are a lot of gamers who are up for a game most of the time.

      I currently play in two weekly games over Google Hangouts and we always have a blast. It’s not as great as meeting face to face but it’s the next best thing.

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