Gaming with Anxiety

It was only about a week ago that I finally completed my first Destiny 2 raid. Together with other guardians, we took on The Last Wish, defeating the monstrosity known as Riven. This raid was released back in September of 2018, a bit after the release of the Forsaken expansion. Why did it take me so long to finish this raid, or at the very least, pursue the treasures that awaited me inside? Hold onto your hats because you are about to take a roller coaster of a ride, diving deep into the unbalanced mental state of a 34-year-old man with a nail-biting problem, and an unhealthy addiction to loot-based games.

I don’t know exactly how to answer that question without feeling as if I need to show you my credentials as a fan. I can go on and describe to you how deep and meaningful this game is to me, and how Destiny 1 shaped my views on multiplayer cooperative experiences. Most of all, I feel the need to tell you that I completed all the raids back in Destiny 1, from Vault of Glass to Wrath of the Machine, to help validate my professionalism (if that exists). For some insane reason, I must share my history and prove to you all that I am a hardcore fan for the same reason why I have only completed a single Destiny 2 raid, because I am filled with anxiety.

When it comes to mental illness, anxiety is ranked the most common. Over 40 million adults over the age of 18 experience anxiety in one form or another. It can be a debilitating disorder, as it comes in many forms. It can come from anywhere, from not being able to pick a game on Game Pass because there are too many choices and you don’t want to pick the “wrong” one, to not feeling good enough to raid with strangers in a video game you absolutely adore. Chances are, you have experienced some level of anxiety, and feel the necessary need to overthink.

The odd part is how my anxiety has differed compared to the window that was the Destiny 1 era. My life was drastically different, and I can say that I cared less about myself back then. My history with raiding in World of Warcraft and recruiting members to join the 25-man party was something I was familiar with, so I swiftly fell into the position of a “raid leader” which oddly enough can fit on a resume if worded properly.

Going from one game to another that shared the same social aspects should show some sort of relative skill set. It wasn’t that much different, albeit without a social system that allowed me to easily group with people. Instead of WoW’s trade chat, I would try to organize strangers on Reddit and third-party grouping sites. Destiny 2, for some reason, has the exact opposite effect on my psyche.

There is always the chance of running into the occasional asshole, which, if you are reading this, you very well know that. Not wanting to deal with stress of insufferable people is perhaps the number one reason of why I stopped participating in raids or any group-related activities. Dealing with the organization aspect brings another level of annoyance. As my life occasionally spins out of control, being a father of a 13-month-old, working a full-time job, and now putting effort into my health, my time has become finite. I don’t have the three hours to recruit people like I used to have.

Outriders is another game that I look forward to playing with others once it releases

Within these reasons why I don’t do things, there are fact-based truths that would occasionally rise out from the deep bog of logic, like Swamp Thing but more unrelenting. This realistic, brash, and tough side doesn’t take any shit as it attempts to break through the nonsense perpetuated by the anxiety-ridden side, and occasionally sends clear messages to me. “You barely dealt with assholes in the past when trying to find pick-me-up groups,” it would say, “you have time to do these things, but you just spend too much of it on social media.”

This brash side, which I have dubbed “Turner,” likes to go all out, and attempt to break the fallacy that my anxiety side (properly named Hooch) has created. Hooch will go, “I want to do something, but I don’t feel like it.” Turner will counter with, “That is because it is new and unfamiliar, but starting is the first step to your success,” with a bunch more expletives thrown in to pepper the statement like any movie featuring Samuel L. Jackson.

“I don’t have time to organize a party,” Turner will cry out while I sit there looking at how many people liked my Tweet. “Bullshit, there are apps that allow you to organize teams, and you just don’t want to put in the effort.” Hooch says accurately. This is where my mind begins to come to a sense of reality, yes, the truth is that I do not want to put the effort in.

Sometimes it is easier to be alone, do nothing, and have time pass. It is incredibly easy to do nothing than it is to attempt any sort of challenge. If you believe there to be this unnerving cloud of failure above you, the longer it dwells, creating a situation that cancels the contract on your metaphorical homeowner’s insurance.

“Please don’t cancel the contract, just let me stare at my phone for 4 more hours please.”

Still, it doesn’t prevent me from examining myself with such questions like: What if the team failure is built around me? What if I am not good enough to do what the team needs me to do? What if they look at me like a weak link instead of a strong, well crafted section of the chain? “Even they started somewhere,” Hooch echoes, holding a chloroform rag over Turner’s face.

So how did I eventually gain the courage to dive into The Last Wish? It was all thanks to a friend (who I will remain nameless because I didn’t ask for permission to include them). Months ago, he invited me into their clan where I felt so damn awkward to a point where I just didn’t talk to anyone out of this unrelenting fear of not being accepted (I told you we were gonna take a dive). But once I jumped into the raid group with my friend and he properly introduced me to people I have seen on Discord so many times before, I felt better.

Then came the true test, the moment where we walked into The Dreaming City where we would take out the first three bosses in one night, with the rest falling days later. Time after time, I would listen to each explanation and carefully attempting to follow. We would fail several times over but never was I discouraged. Did I mess things up? Naturally, I did, but I was never met with any bit of hostility and it really helped build up this level of confidence within me.

These clanmates were significantly higher level, more equipped, and better suited for the raid than I ever was. “Do you have Anarchy? The Lament? Falling Guillotine?” they asked me, which I replied with a resounding, “No, it’s been a while.”

“That’s okay. Let’s figure this out.” One of them said.

Borderlands is another series that’s fantastic in co-op, but I often play solo

This fear I had about being kicked for not having a specific weapon or not being a great player instantly fell off. Failure after failure, time after time, I was never dissuaded from attempting to get better each time. This positive reinforcement made Turner take a time-out for a while, that was until the end where Turner would occasionally shout, “Don’t mess this up!”

We beat the raid, and I came out of it feeling like a new person. Thanks to my friend and the clan that I am a part of, I have a new, invigorated passion for Destiny 2. I have a goal, to keep on trying my best and get the weapons and gear needed to help become a more integral part of my team. Destiny is a game I have a love/hate relationship with, but I would have dropped it again if it wasn’t for my friend who extended his hand and helped me overcome not just my first raid, but a minutia of my anxiety.

At times, I feel like anxiety in gaming can have a death-grip, keeping us from venturing into new worlds and becoming a part of new experiences. Others acclimate to games and social circles with ease, proving that there is a wide array of aspects to us all. There is comfort in repetition, familiarity, and staying inside the box. Even though Turner can sometimes dissuade me, Hooch will help me think, and friends will always be there to give me the courage to move forward and try something new.

By Steve Esposito

Steve Esposito is a dedicated content creator with a focus on his love for technology, video games, and the very industry that oversees it all. He also takes part in organizing the Long Island Retro and Tabletop Gaming Expo as well as a Dungeons and Dragons podcast: Copper Piece. You can find him on twitter @AgitatedStove

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