Elite and Resilience - gaming as therapy for commanders with mental health issues

Hello Commanders,

I’m starting this thread in response to some discussions I’ve had with fellow Commanders, and after a number of personal stories I’ve seen on various Elite: Dangerous-related social media channels recently.

(Excuse the length of this post, but I feel it’s an important topic.)

Mental health issues affect about 1 in every 4 to 5 people around the world each year. Anybody can be affected. If we take an average figure of c. 8,500 people playing ED each month since February 2018 (based only on Steam Charts), this means close to 1,700 of the Commanders we share the galaxy with in any given month are suffering, or are likely to suffer from mental health issues at some point during their lives. Many more of us will be affected indirectly through friends, partners or family members who have struggled with mental illness.

On the upside, there is a lot of evidence showing that gaming can help people deal with challenges associated with depression, anxiety, trauma and other related conditions. From my own experience and discussions with other Commanders, I know that playing ED can promote mental well-being for some people who otherwise are struggling, helping them be more resilient in times of difficulty.

For example: A common symptom of mental health issues is a pervasive kind of executive dysfunction – feeling overwhelmed and being incapable of getting through routine daily tasks. In my case, it may be that I should start something for work, but can’t even begin. Maybe I should exercise, but can’t get motivated. I should dress and eat, but can’t even get out of bed. I should ask someone for help, but feel exhausted at the idea of trying to explain what’s going on. That’s when switching off from the world and spacing out to Netflix or just surfing the web for hours on end seems so attractive – and then it’s very unlikely anything will get done. However, sometimes logging out from the real world for a little while is perfectly OK, and it can be a vital part of self-care, as long as it doesn’t turn into prolonged aimless escapism. This is where Elite: Dangerous comes in for me.

Being in the black on-line helps keep some of us out of the blackness that can seep into the rest of our lives. Due to the benefits of structured play, aspects of ED have much in common with elements of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy): promoting relaxation, helping with focus, reducing stress, encouraging innovation, and stimulating brain activity. Apart from being an awesome way to spend time, just an hour or two of ED several times a week helps to keep me at a place where I can effectively tackle challenges in real life. From my time in conversation with others, I know it is the same for many other Commanders.

It’s not always easy to be open about mental health issues, and many of us who struggle from time to time feel it can be difficult to make positive friendships in-game. Mental ill-health is nothing to be embarrassed or unkind about, and its something we as a community can address in a small way, not least by remembering that there is a person behind the CMDR name on our screens who may be experiencing difficulty in their lives. So, I’m starting this thread to post links to articles and scientific papers about the benefits of gaming for people with mental health issues, and encourage us all to be aware that many of our fellow Commanders suffer from day to day.

If anyone wants to chat with me about any of this, feel free to message me. I have a private group in ED (Cmdr Conilocks) and I’m happy to add anyone, particularly any commanders who are affected by mental health issues and would like to get more out of the game as part of their self care. I’ve also started a Discord server (Elite Resilience) for anyone who wants to expand their in-game friendships, or share their experiences.

o7 to you all,

Coni
 
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Great post. I'd certainly be interested in joining a group like that. I just started playing a few days ago, but I'm loving the game in vr. I just don't know how to "get involved." I've got autism, so it's definitely harder to understand how to participate in the more social aspects of the game.
Hi Whiskey River, welcome to the game! I've been playing for 4 years and played Elite 2 in the 1990s but I still consider myself a complete novice. I'll send you a message and if you wish we can arrange to connect in the game.
 
Hello Commanders,

Here’s a short personal story from someone who found relief from depression through gaming: From stackup.org (November 2015) How video games helped me cope with depression

The story is told by an American military veteran, who found that gaming and linking with friends on-line helped pull him out of depression and gave him a new lease of life.
I’m posting it because a few sentences struck a chord with me.

Here is a quote that I think will resonate with many devoted ED players: “To me, a game console wasn’t a piece of entertainment technology. No, a console was a gateway to worlds that followed the rules of their creators and things made sense.”

For me, as an ED commander, my PC is a gateway to countless unknown worlds that follow the rules of the designers at Frontier, but also the rules of the huge player base, that vast community of explorers, traders, mercenaries murdering thugs griefers criminals, tour guides and combat pilots whose interactions with the BGS constantly shift the dynamics of the game. Not so long ago, I accepted a trade run across 20ly of space, only to find that the faction I was delivering to didn't exist at the destination. I was confused, so came to the forum to find out whether it was a known bug. Some commanders went digging on Inara and discovered that the recipient faction had lost the influence wars and had been kicked out of that system in the hours between me accepting the mission and arriving at the delivery port. I was fined and took a rep hit for not completing the mission, but when other commanders explained what had happened I found it absolutely thrilling.

Another quote from the article: “I didn’t know why I was depressed and on the verge of suicide, but I did know that Lara Croft could climb certain walls in Tomb Raider. I wasn’t sure how my life had gotten to such a low point, but I was sure that I could pass a certain part in Halo 4 if I could just get my grenade timing right.”

Sometimes, when I’m at a low point and don’t know why I feel as low as I do, I know I can regain my focus and get some positive energy going by climbing back into my AspX. I can set a target of collecting 60 units of mercury or antimony from the surface of some beautiful rocky planet on the edge of the Orion Spur, or getting those heat dispersion plates I need to work with one of the engineers. I can practice my survival skills in combat training, or for that extra thrill I’ll fly into Deciat like a noob with a death wish to provoke an attack from a ganker and see if I’ve improved since the last time they got me (no, I never have... still get killed in 10 seconds flat).

The author also mentions the social benefits of gaming, and how it links him with people thousands of miles away. I don’t link with many people online, because its not always easy to start friendships with other commanders. Most of my in-game friends are the gankers who smashed me… there are LOTS of those... But unfortunately they tend not to chat very much! My brother plays from time to time, but he’s a busy pilot in real life with young kids, so his availability is limited (the best day of my ED life was when he joined me as a crew member and we went popping around the bubble together. CMDR Noddy, I miss you!). Still, knowing that I’m part of the ED community is special, and has its own innate sociality which I love. Anyone saying just "hello" or giving me the salute in-game is great. And I'll never forget one evening last year when I was in a café in Dublin on my mobile to my brother, waxing lyrical about Horizons and how he should get back online and come visit a planet surface with me. A guy walked past me on his way out, and while I was on the phone he caught my eye, smiled and quietly said “zero seven, commander”. I nearly wet my pants (spilled coffee).

One more quote: “The power that video games have over people is something that is hard to explain. It fits squarely in that “If you get it, you get it” category.”

That’s just it, isn’t it? ED is something you just get. And, particularly if you’re a veteran of the earlier versions from the 80s or 90s, a lover of ED lore and the vast universe of legend and narrative, you get sucked into the idea that you can be a part of shaping that fictional world for the future. My girlfriend doesn’t get ED, but she gets that I do, that it’s a great way to unwind on my good days, and that the game helps me immensely on my “down days”.

Today is a good day, and since its Sunday I'm looking forward to a few hours on a mammoth journey, as I'm slowly making my way out to Acheron and the Formorian Frontier. Then it's Sunday dinner with my girl. Awesome.

o7 to you all. Coni
 
Hello Commanders,

Here’s a short personal story from someone who found relief from depression through gaming: From stackup.org (November 2015) How video games helped me cope with depression

The story is told by an American military veteran, who found that gaming and linking with friends on-line helped pull him out of depression and gave him a new lease of life.
I’m posting it because a few sentences struck a chord with me.

Here is a quote that I think will resonate with many devoted ED players: “To me, a game console wasn’t a piece of entertainment technology. No, a console was a gateway to worlds that followed the rules of their creators and things made sense.”

For me, as an ED commander, my PC is a gateway to countless unknown worlds that follow the rules of the designers at Frontier, but also the rules of the huge player base, that vast community of explorers, traders, mercenaries murdering thugs griefers criminals, tour guides and combat pilots whose interactions with the BGS constantly shift the dynamics of the game. Not so long ago, I accepted a trade run across 20ly of space, only to find that the faction I was delivering to didn't exist at the destination. I was confused, so came to the forum to find out whether it was a known bug. Some commanders went digging on Inara and discovered that the recipient faction had lost the influence wars and had been kicked out of that system in the hours between me accepting the mission and arriving at the delivery port. I was fined and took a rep hit for not completing the mission, but when other commanders explained what had happened I found it absolutely thrilling.

Another quote from the article: “I didn’t know why I was depressed and on the verge of suicide, but I did know that Lara Croft could climb certain walls in Tomb Raider. I wasn’t sure how my life had gotten to such a low point, but I was sure that I could pass a certain part in Halo 4 if I could just get my grenade timing right.”

Sometimes, when I’m at a low point and don’t know why I feel as low as I do, I know I can regain my focus and get some positive energy going by climbing back into my AspX. I can set a target of collecting 60 units of mercury or antimony from the surface of some beautiful rocky planet on the edge of the Orion Spur, or getting those heat dispersion plates I need to work with one of the engineers. I can practice my survival skills in combat training, or for that extra thrill I’ll fly into Deciat like a noob with a death wish to provoke an attack from a ganker and see if I’ve improved since the last time they got me (no, I never have... still get killed in 10 seconds flat).

The author also mentions the social benefits of gaming, and how it links him with people thousands of miles away. I don’t link with many people online, because its not always easy to start friendships with other commanders. Most of my in-game friends are the gankers who smashed me… there are LOTS of those... But unfortunately they tend not to chat very much! My brother plays from time to time, but he’s a busy pilot in real life with young kids, so his availability is limited (the best day of my ED life was when he joined me as a crew member and we went popping around the bubble together. CMDR Noddy, I miss you!). Still, knowing that I’m part of the ED community is special, and has its own innate sociality which I love. Anyone saying just "hello" or giving me the salute in-game is great. And I'll never forget one evening last year when I was in a café in Dublin on my mobile to my brother, waxing lyrical about Horizons and how he should get back online and come visit a planet surface with me. A guy walked past me on his way out, and while I was on the phone he caught my eye, smiled and quietly said “zero seven, commander”. I nearly wet my pants (spilled coffee).

One more quote: “The power that video games have over people is something that is hard to explain. It fits squarely in that “If you get it, you get it” category.”

That’s just it, isn’t it? ED is something you just get. And, particularly if you’re a veteran of the earlier versions from the 80s or 90s, a lover of ED lore and the vast universe of legend and narrative, you get sucked into the idea that you can be a part of shaping that fictional world for the future. My girlfriend doesn’t get ED, but she gets that I do, that it’s a great way to unwind on my good days, and that the game helps me immensely on my “down days”.

Today is a good day, and since its Sunday I'm looking forward to a few hours on a mammoth journey, as I'm slowly making my way out to Acheron and the Formorian Frontier. Then it's Sunday dinner with my girl. Awesome.

o7 to you all. Coni

I am a PvPer and if I am not in a dedicated PvP ship I can get blown up in ten seconds if pulled by a wing. So kudos to you for trying Open. Nevertheless, there are not only Naughty Bois in Open but Nice Bois, too. I f you are interested in the lawful play style and learning how to defend yourself, come to SPEAR. https://elitedangerous-spear.com/

We are very friendly and polite. And I am a recovered depressive. SPEAR is not a squadron, it is an alliance of players. So you can join regardless of squadron affiliation if it is lawful.
 
I am a PvPer and if I am not in a dedicated PvP ship I can get blown up in ten seconds if pulled by a wing. So kudos to you for trying Open. Nevertheless, there are not only Naughty Bois in Open but Nice Bois, too. I f you are interested in the lawful play style and learning how to defend yourself, come to SPEAR. https://elitedangerous-spear.com/

We are very friendly and polite. And I am a recovered depressive. SPEAR is not a squadron, it is an alliance of players. So you can join regardless of squadron affiliation if it is lawful.
Hi there Slange Lands! Thanks for the reply and for telling me about SPEAR, I'll definitely check it out. I'm not anti-PvP at all, as long as it's done with a spirit of fair play. I feel it's a legitimate gaming preference which adds to the diversity of the game. My experience with griefers is that most have been polite, it not overly friendly or chatty. I almost always play Open, purely because I want to be in the same space as other people. It's that feeling of being part of something which I adore, and which helps me feel connected on days when I otherwise might feel isolated. Being killed is a risk which I am happy to take - except when I am trying to get to an engineer, then usually I will go to Private, because there's zero fun in knowing I'm probably going to be murdered en route to Black Hide by a ship that has such a massive advantage with fully upgraded everything 🙃 Anyway, when someone such as yourself says "hi", it makes a difference. On days when life is a struggle it makes a HUGE difference 👍
Thanks again.
o7
 
An article at the New York Times says the current situation is helping boost the numbers of gamers: It's a perfect time to play video games, and you shouldn't feel bad about it. Meanwhile, BuiltIn.com talks about the very real social benefits of online gaming.

And over at Empire Magazine, Matt Kamen gives Elite: Dangerous some love as one of the best games to play while you're stuck at home, in self-isolation, and riding out the current crisis.

Its a good thing too, seeing as I have 4,915,000,000 credits still to go to be able to afford a Fleet Carrier this summer. :oops:
 
Very rare I post much (apart from a couple of posts on my new faction).
I have been suffering from depression for a number of years now. I have been suicidal, down right given up on life almost and yet some how in this game I find an escape. Im currently going through a divorce. My wife cheated on me (she actually did this a few days after I was diagnosed with depression). We tried to make it work but it failed. She is trying to screw me over financially and the pressures of life are massive. Now we have this lockdown here in the UK because of this coronavirus and to say my sanity is being tested is an understatement. I drink a lot, probably bordering alcoholic, actualy, probably not bordering. I am one.

I have played this game from V1 on the C64, and I keep coming back to it to escape into a different world that is not the harsh reality I live in. If this game was taken away from me, I dont know what I would do. I fly with friends, play the BGS (i love that even though its frustrating as hell) and follow Drew Wagar because its a nice to have an amazing distraction that spawns around this game.

I rant at FDEV for the bugs/problems but only because I want this game to be perfect. I would probably be in a gutter if it was not for this game. The high wake boom as you enter Witch space just makes me smile.

I commend David Braben and the Dev team for Elite Dangerous. It keeps saving a life, mine. If other people can find the same distrations as I have, then its some amazing therapy.

Paul
Cmdr Winny1974
 
Very rare I post much (apart from a couple of posts on my new faction).
I have been suffering from depression for a number of years now. I have been suicidal, down right given up on life almost and yet some how in this game I find an escape. Im currently going through a divorce. My wife cheated on me (she actually did this a few days after I was diagnosed with depression). We tried to make it work but it failed. She is trying to screw me over financially and the pressures of life are massive. Now we have this lockdown here in the UK because of this coronavirus and to say my sanity is being tested is an understatement. I drink a lot, probably bordering alcoholic, actualy, probably not bordering. I am one.

I have played this game from V1 on the C64, and I keep coming back to it to escape into a different world that is not the harsh reality I live in. If this game was taken away from me, I dont know what I would do. I fly with friends, play the BGS (i love that even though its frustrating as hell) and follow Drew Wagar because its a nice to have an amazing distraction that spawns around this game.

I rant at FDEV for the bugs/problems but only because I want this game to be perfect. I would probably be in a gutter if it was not for this game. The high wake boom as you enter Witch space just makes me smile.

I commend David Braben and the Dev team for Elite Dangerous. It keeps saving a life, mine. If other people can find the same distrations as I have, then its some amazing therapy.

Paul
Cmdr Winny1974
Paul,
My heart is with you and I know how you feel.
I was a depressive for thirty years and although I am stable and have never been more happy, I certainly do have my downs. And like you, I play Elite Dangerous as my most favorite and most absorbing distraction.

The pandemic is horrendous and I understand your needing to drink. But I am sure you know alcohol is a depressant and although temporarily it may take the edge off, in the long run it may exacerbate your depression. I can't drink anymore. It plunges me into the abyss.

But thankfully, we can fly through a 1:1 copy of our incredible universe and ever remind ourselves of the beauty that envelopes us. A beauty that we depressives sometimes have a hard time seeing, but is nevertheless there always, incorruptible and indomitable.

I'm logging in right now.

Take care.

o7
 
I commend David Braben and the Dev team for Elite Dangerous. It keeps saving a life, mine. If other people can find the same distrations as I have, then its some amazing therapy.
Hi Cmdr, nice to know you! It's so cool that ED has turned things around for you too. (Slange Lands is right, avoid the booze when you're low... I've been there, done it, and sincerely wish I hadn't). Great that you have some friends to connect with in-game. Feel free to connect with me too if you ever want a chat. For me, I've built ED into my day-to day as a distraction but even more importantly as a tool for keeping me on track, upbeat and focused on improving myself and my quality of life - which I'm finding even more important now during the pandemic than at any other time. And whatever you may have lost or experienced in the past, you're genuinely part of something epic and wonderful as a member of this community, and that's something to appreciate.

BBC Sounds has recently launched a new weekly podcast called “This Game Changed My Life” which is available online. I’ve listened to episode one (from 26th March) which focuses on a NASA technician’s love of Kerbal Space Programme, and though I think the podcast suffers a little from a lack of structure (and presenters who forget that an excited laugh-filled on-the-fly conversation between two friends doesn’t always make for an absorbing listening experience for everyone else) it was interesting enough and could become quite good. Apparently, an upcoming episode will include an interview with Mat Westhorpe, whose nephew Michael Holyland will be well known to many people on this forum as a young man whose too-short life was transformed by Elite and the community of commanders who devoted themselves to helping make his final days awesome. Mat has written eloquently about Michael’s love of Elite, and I’m really look forward to hearing speak a bit more about his story.

o7
Coni (Cmdr Conilocks)
 
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