“You Need Friends In Real Life” - Loneliness, Anxiety & Gaming


By Antonio Guillen

I’m sad. To be more honest I’ve been dealing with bouts of depression and fits of anxiety. The depression comes and goes, hits in waves, and it’s currently ‘high-tide’.

My father in law passed away a year ago. We’ve moved house four times since. For a number of reasons it feels as if I live in a state of emergency. Instead of coping I push everything down until I finally crack.

Worry not though dear reader, I’m doing better with time and I’m discussing treatment options with my doctor. I’ve reached the point where I’m ok with getting some prescription assistance, and I plan to start seeing a psychiatrist. It’s important to find an outlet, many outlets, a regimen and smorgasbord of outlets.

“You need friends.”

Last night I was speaking through my mental and emotional state with my wife. ‘Talking it out’ is an enormous help. If you know the struggle you know the value of a caring ear. My words were familiar to her, but she was clearly as concerned as ever- thank God!  

“You need friends.” The suggestion hit hard. “...I have friends.” 

She patiently clarified, “You need friends in real life” *insert gasp here* “...Why?” 

Is there a difference between what I’m experiencing online and friendships in ‘real life’? Should I consider seeking friendships with those around me who don’t share my deepest passion (gaming)? It’s been such a big part of my life since youth it never really occurred to me before. Why do I still feel lonely? Is this proof positive that I’m in need of some correction?

Gaming Culture

My wife supports and encourages my gaming habit for certain. She knows there’s a skip in my step after I’ve had a good laugh listening to ‘Mega Dads Live’. The most heartfelt and interesting conversations I hear all week are on ‘We The Gamercast’ . I’m excited for the future after my dose of ‘Kinda Funny Games Daily’ and when I close out a show of ‘Switch Talk’ I. Feel. Better.

I’ve happily immersed myself in gaming culture. I explain to muggles that our hobby has evolved into much more than simply playing video games. For many of us staying up on the news, discussing what’s on the horizon (hello E3!), and creating and consuming content is every bit as enjoyable as our time with a controller. 

Over the last decade we’ve seen an explosion in gaming communities of all sorts, some revolving around the content we love. Networks of gamers are found in pockets all across the interwebs; in Facebook groups, Discord channels, Reddit forums, fan-sites and even in hubs meeting via Virtual Reality. 

Of course gamers aren’t the only niche lot to find refuge online. Thankfully, you can find alcoves for every interest under the sun. But why are these gaming settlements so prevalent? Out of necessity.

Couch Co-Op

In days of yore, we passed the controller to siblings, booted up the SNES (pronounced S.N.E.S. (or Snez - Ed)) with next door neighbors, and traded gaming stories on the playground and school cafeteria.

Maybe you’ve been blessed enough to hold on to OG gaming companions and you’re still hosting chaotic Mario Party all-nighters every other weekend. The rest of us are old. 

According to the Entertainment Software Association "the average age of someone who plays games is 31 years old. In fact, more gamers are over the age of 36 than between the ages of 18 to 35.”

As life marched on, our gaming core fragmented. We’ve moved, received large medical bills, and have less and less time for, well, anything. By age 35 you've probably got a short list of baby names based on your favourite game franchises at the ready, you know, just in case.

Real Life

My wife is fully aware of the joy gaming content relationships I’ve built, both while playing and podcasting, give me and doesn’t want me to cut it out of my life. She just brings up some good points that has lead me to some realizations and further questions.

The majority of the time I participate in gaming culture as an observer. Like many of you, I’m primarily a consumer of content. When I do socialize with others it's through the prism of technology. As anyone who has been fortunate enough to ‘meet-up’ with online friends in person, there’s a difference between a Skype video chat and that first friendly hug.

But does the fact that the technological filter exists negate the quality of the relationships we forge? Can you consider the people you meet online true friends and not merely acquaintances? 

I think about how often I’ve seen live chats drift from game trailers to sharing real life struggles. I’ve seen rumor forums posts evolve into cultural exchange. People are confiding in each other, leaning on each other. People open up, sometimes on live podcasts, about health concerns, their children, and divorce. Can conversations get any more real?

The Dark Side

You’re not going to make real friends online or through gaming without intention. Like any bond, they get stronger with time and effort. I think it’s all a matter of how real you want to get, how truthful you are, and how committed you are to let your true-self be known - and that can be dangerous.

When you share online you are vulnerable. Make no mistake the web is a dangerous place for thin-skinned people like myself. Maybe that’s why I’ve left many online groups and communities when people choose to exercise their online freedom of speech without any filter of decency. I cringe at how I’ve seen people speak to each other with the shield of anonymity protecting them.

Just as in real life, no place or social space will ever be perfect. Because the sea of citizens online is so large (and the shit rises to the top) it seems like for every decent and compassionate person there is a legion of trash-talking, garbage spewing, gay-bashing, women-hating, little boys giving gamers a bad name all across the net. They're a tiny minority, but they often shout loudest.

My fears

Thanks for tuning in and not tuning out. It’s time to really put myself out there now and share a little more about my own state of mind. 

I’m extremely afraid of sharing the type of thoughts and feelings that I am in this write up. For all the talk of transparency and forging friendships I tend to hold back because I’ve been burned before. Like I said, for all the progress I have made I still feel very lonely. This is unfortunate because I crave connection more and more. It seems like an almost insatiable desire, very much related to my need to be liked and accepted. 

I’ve come to the realization recently that there are aspects of gaming and content creation that are hurting me. I continually strive to put out quality work and simply do it for the fun of it all, but online reception for passion projects can be a mixed bag of silence and crass comments (both hurt), regardless of your actual quality. 

What else isn’t helping my anxiety? The dreaded ‘backlog’. Fear of missing out on the latest games and associated conversations. Not being able to connect or schedule gaming sessions with those I want to for months on end. Fear that if I chime in with an opinion literally anywhere on the net that I’ll get berated. 

Mario Friends.jpg

Thank you

That’s my story for now. My working theory, I do need to change things up. I see the potential value in real world interactions. I definitely recognize the advantages and dangers of being immersed with gaming culture and making online interactions my only focus. 

From a social standpoint I’m at a crossroads. Do I try even harder to make friends online? It seems like an easier path than the ‘real life’ option, though it may come to that. From an artistic standpoint I’m in a months long internal dialogue trying to convince myself if my new podcast is a good idea or not. Anxiety tells me it's not ready. Depression tells me it's not going to be good enough. Online friends (true friends) tell me to take the leap. 

I guess this article isn’t as much of a cry for help as it is a ‘thank you’ letter. I’m grateful to be writing for Nintendo Village. When I see what we continue to build together I feel like I’m part of something great and as I see it grow I surge with pride. I’m thankful to every one of my kind co-conspirators, concerned online friends who have leant me their ear. 

I think every time we share our secrets and our pain, our thoughts and our insecurities, we are ‘doing-life’ together in the truest sense. I’m glad I’ve connected with so many amazing people over the years but I’m certain I haven’t found the right/healthy social mix, so I’ll continue to work at it. Maybe I’ll supplement my social interactions and lean into building friendships with people in the ‘real world’, even non-gamers if need be.

If you need help

May is Mental Health Awareness month. 1 in 4 people will suffer from some form of mental illness in any given year - you’re not alone. If you’re doing just fine then get out there and help someone who isn’t.

Be positive, your words have impact. Support each other, not only the content, the person. Make friends and have some deep conversations. Let it out and remember for every 1000 people that might ridicule you for opening up like I’m doing here and demand that you toughen up or leave the planet, there are many more potential friends that will see your vulnerability and appreciate your candour.

NAMI is the US’s largest grassroots mental health organization. Hundreds of volunteers, state-to-state affiliates, and local organizations work across communities to provide education, raise awareness, and offer support to those with mental health conditions
Reach the NAMI HelpLine at: 1-800-950-6264 or info@nami.org

The Trevor Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to suicide prevention, crisis counseling and intervention, and supporting the mental health of LGBTQ youth.

Mental Health Foundation
The Mental Health Foundation is a UK based organisation designed to help people understand, protect and sustain their mental health.

Antonio specialises in video production, audio engineering and graphic design, and co-hosts the Switch Talk podcast. His love for the Switch has brought him back to his first love, Nintendo. He turns to gaming for escapism and gravitates towards RPGs, FPS and Action/Adventure games. His favourite game of all time is Super Mario World.