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Are RPGs The Key to Healing Anxiety?

Think for a moment of your favourite RPG.

This can literally be anything from World of Warcraft, to Dungeons and Dragons, to Fallout. Just put it in your mind and then think of one character that you have played as in this game. What did you create them to be like? Usually in RPGs you have about a million options from class and skills, to weapons and appearance, and everything in between. But in your own creative process, you narrow down your options until you create the wizard knight elf bard of your dreams and then as you play through the game, your character levels up to take on harder and harder challenges and gains more skills.

Now, what if you built your character as you and instead of viewing that character as, well, a character, you viewed them as yourself just living in a fantasy world. Now, I know some people do this to a degree by making them look like them for example, but what I am talking about is not just giving them your name but rather imbuing them with your characteristics, including your fears.

What if you used your character as a reflection of yourself and thus every obstacle that they face is something that you are facing in your own life? So, if you struggle with anxiety or depression make your character suffer from those as well. But here is the key, because it is a game, you are going to play forward, that is the fun of it. Even though your character of you has those obstacles to overcome you are going to push them forward because you are playing. You can actually use this as a technique to push yourself forward in your day to day.

The next step in this process would be to think of the monsters and bosses that you face in the game as things you are overcoming in your own life. For example, if you find that you have anxiety in social situations maybe the boss at the end of the next level represents your sister’s wedding that you have to go to next month and all the smaller enemies that you face on your way there are the smaller things that you do in preparation for that event, like going to a barbecue at a friend’s house that you would otherwise avoid.

There is immense power in not only visualization but in stories and by gaming in this way, you are making your brain think about your life in a different and very concrete way. Viewing your life and problems as something external to you helps you to think objectively and to figure out new positive solutions. It also helps to understand the journey of your life without massive amounts of emotional fog that you can easily get surrounded with in the everyday.

Not only that, but having your growth on a linear pattern, such as it is in games, can help you ease into healing and overcoming huge blocks in your personal life in little bite sized steps. When you are faced with a new mental health challenge in your life, gaming it away actually gives you a way to organise your thoughts about your challenge without getting wrapped up in the real world yuck of all of it.

Our brains learn the quickest and easiest through stories. It is the reasons we are told fables when we are children because it is easier for us to remember lessons when they are about a boy and sheep than our parents simply telling us not to lie. However, if we use this principle now, we can actually help our brain unlearn its anxiety patterns and instead create new story based lessons. By consciously choosing to play through our own stories, we take back some agency over our lives and feelings.

After I left an abusive relationship, I suffered from extreme anxiety. It was incredibly debilitating and, if I am being totally transparent, therapy or counselling was not something that I found I wanted to invest a ton of effort in. Mostly because it was a challenge in and of itself to even set up an appointment. So, because setting up an appointment gave me anxiety, I simply avoided it. However, I knew that I needed to do something to help myself to get over this, I didn’t want to live in fear forever.

When I first tried this method (I am a deep lover of all things nerdy), I was shocked at the difference I noticed in my life. The big turning point for me was I no longer had to try and imagine what it would be like to not have anxiety cripple me. I actually had a visual that I didn’t come up with in my own mind. It was there! Right there in front of me on the screen! Conquering monsters. Suddenly things started to become less scary to deal with.

I am not saying that this method can be an anxiety cure the first time you try it, but giving your mind an image and a story to follow can seriously help the next time life springs something at you. You can even take this RPG strategy and keep the game going mentally as you are overcoming your challenges. Picture the character of you going to the grocery store and view it as an adventure. Bringing the fun of play into your everyday can help those monstrous fears seem deeply less terrifying.

So give it a try! Use the things that you love to help you overcome the things that you, well, don’t love. I think you will be surprised with the results!


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