I get anxiety – often. I usually do a pretty good job of pushing those anxious voices out of my head and moving on with life, but November is especially rough because it is the anniversary of family deaths and some other well-rooted pieces of my past that ramp my anxious voices up to 11. The first part of this November I spent more days than I would like sequestered away from the world and listening to my anxiety-driven voices.
The problem with anxiety is that it makes you forget a lot of good things about yourself. Things that you’ve done, the good stuff currently going on in your life, or the things that give you joy that might help combat the anxiety. No matter how big and bold the good stuff is, the anxious voices in your head can make you forget the awesome person that you are.
Gaming To Combat Anxiety
Gaming has often been a way to ease stresses and keep myself a bit more balanced in life. Gaming offers a lot of benefits when you don’t feel quite right in your own skin. You can imagine yourself as a different character, one who excels at difficult tasks and tackles great challenges. You put yourself into your character, making it an avatar who you can see pieces of yourself in, but you have the added bonus of seeing how the system works and gaining some control over how you overcome challenges. When you succeed, you do so awesomely and get to accomplish something incredible, and when you fail you often see the outcomes and have a firm sense of the limits so you can easily move past them. When you look at your avatar in a game world you get a different perspective on things, and that’s why I sat down the other day to stat myself up as a character.I wanted that perspective on my own life.
[pullquoteleft] It helped me see myself in a different, more complete way, one that the anxious voices in my brain never shed light on. [social_warfare] [/pullquoteleft]
I’d hazard a guess that most gamers have looked at the world and imagined it in game terms, or applied game logic to themselves. Gaming applies rules to fictional worlds, and we get familiar with that concept. It makes sense that we would look at the world around us and imagine it like our fictional worlds, trying to determine how it would work according to the rules we’ve been playing with. When I pulled out the old folder of characters as I was sitting in my reading/game space, I began to wonder what I would look like as a character. I’ve done this often, but I thought about it a bit longer and realized that in my current anxiety-driven state, there were many things that would be on my character sheet that I wasn’t currently building into my view of myself. I’ve thought about myself according to game world rules, but I’ve never actually written up a character sheet for me as I am.
The Real Life Character Sheet
I didn’t build the idealized version of myself – the one innately good at art and music the way I would like to be, nor did I build the version of myself made to fit a fantasy world of superpowers and urban magic. I took a character sheet and built just myself – just as I am and without too many liberties or embellishments.
Statting myself up as a character was hard. It was partially like making a resume, but not with the explicit goal of selling myself, instead with the implied idea of showing myself as I am and recognizing what skills and abilities I could lay claim to realistically. I did it in a few different systems, some – like Fate – were good at encapsulating the many hard to define variables about a person with just a few brushstrokes. Some, like D20 modern, Gurps, and Cortex – required some handwaving and fugdging some options for more realistic versions that could encapsulate the real and actual me, instead of the one with awesome powers like teleporting.
Part of this exercise was taking a deep look at myself and really thinking about abilities I use in normal life. Skills like Computer Use and Knowledge (Business) were easy to include and rationalize, while I had to make a case for including things I don’t feel as awesome at but have to admit I possess in some degree, like Craft (visual art) and Perform. When I got done with stats and skills, I added a background and listed things I would typically put on my resume – things like books I’ve written or art-directed, the multitude of websites I’ve done, the awards that projects I’ve contributed to have won, the programs I’ve been involved with. These are the sorts of things that are always absent in my mind when my anxiety voices start talking.
Listing them on the character sheet takes them out of the nebulous space of things I’ve done and things I’m good at, and puts them in a real physical space in ink and words that make it hard to ignore. When I was done, I could see myself in a different way: a series of +2s and +5s and a few +7s for things I was good at. A collection of skills I had and was thinking about in a positive way, instead of the “I’m not as good as that person” or “If I was really good, I’d have done X in my life by now” way that my anxiety voices sneak past my mental barriers. On my self-portrait character sheets were all the parts that stand out that you don’t see until you take a look from the outside. Since I already had a build in idea of using a character in a game world, I could start looking at myself as a collection of possibilities and options for tackling the world – one more way to combat the anxiety-driven voices that come up in everyone. It helped me see myself in a different, more complete way, one that the anxious voices in my brain never shed light on.
We are all amalgamations of the things we’ve done, the skills we use to overcome everyday challenges, and the places we want to grow – but few of us are good at realizing that. Too often the image we build of ourselves is influenced by the voices of anxiety we all have, and it doesn’t reflect the incredible and awesome things we do. The character creation aspect of gaming is a wonderful tool for building a different, more complete image of ourselves – one that does us more justice than we do when we look at ourselves normally.
If you ever suffer from anxiety, or if you just want to see yourself in a different light, go build a realistic version of yourself as a character. It helps in a way you might not otherwise think it would. Build yourself according to the rules with the number of skill points or options the game tells you to have. Whatever you do, don’t sell yourself short when writing yourself up as a character. We’re all better than we think we are, especially when we aren’t feeling at our best. With a written up version of yourself in hand, you can see so much more of yourself. You can pull it out and look at it and step into a new way of seeing the world. You feel much more motivated to tackle that project when you know you’re doing it with at least a +3 instead of the 0 to the roll you’re currently imagining yourself capable of. You can always take 10 or invoke an aspect to get a bonus, something you don’t think about when you’re deep in the dredges of worry. There is the added benefit that, with a character of yourself in hand, you’re always ready for a zombie apocalypse game to see how far you would get or to play the game where everyone gets super-powers and deals with that brave new world.
We all put some part of ourselves, or the person we want to be, into the characters we build for games, so take it a step further and build yourself on paper so that you can see the more complete, more realistic version of you. Have you ever made yourself for a modern game or built a realistic version of yourself in a setting? Do you ever use gaming as a way to help overcome anxieties and how does it help? What is the highest skill you would have on a real life character sheet?