How Tetris Became A Lifesaver In Managing My Depression - Prima Games

How Tetris Became A Lifesaver In Managing My Depression

by Morgan Shaver

The subject of my mental health is something I’m both open with, and private about at the same time. I tend to keep the “TMI” details to myself as much as possible, but I’m realizing more and more how unhelpful that is. 

Being honest about one’s personal struggles can be cathartic, at least that’s how it’s been for me the more I’ve tried it. This is another example of that, and is without a doubt the most personal thing I’ve ever shared in the gaming space. 

TW: Depression, suicide, negative thoughts.

How Tetris Became A Lifesaver In Managing My Depression

 

One thing I tell just about everyone when they ask me why I like Tetris so much is because it’s been the one game from childhood onwards that’s consistently helped me through difficult times, particularly with my anxiety and depression. 

It may sound odd to say games like Tetris 99 are relaxing to me, but when I’m stressing over winning in Invictus Mode for example, I’m no longer stressing about other things in my life.

It’s always been fascinating to me how the unique form of respite that Tetris provides has been more therapeutic than other forms of therapy I’ve tried, and I’ve tried many. Most have done little to nothing to help, some have even made things worse.

Time and time again though, the one thing that has helped is Tetris.

My introduction to gaming was on Game Boy which came bundled with one of the most iconic games ever made… you guessed it, Tetris. 

Nintendo having Tetris bundled with the Game Boy was brilliant and I’ll always be thankful for it because had they not come bundled together, I likely wouldn’t have discovered Tetris until much later on in life. To my detriment, I’m sure. 

You see, I spent more time playing Tetris growing up than any other game. You could say it’s because of how easy it is to drop in and out of Tetris as opposed to a game like Pokemon Silver, which I also played a lot of growing up, and that’s true.

However, one reason that stands out to me is because there were no real moments of pause in Tetris where my focus could shift to the negative thoughts swirling around in my head like dark clouds on a rainy day. 

Tetris GIF | Gfycat 

I could (and still can) hyperfocus on Tetris for hours, and during that time I would feel at peace in a way I almost never felt otherwise. I often tell people that life was torture for me growing up, and I mean it. The only places I felt safe were the places where I could play Tetris on Game Boy for hours uninterrupted, or read books alone.

School was a nightmare, I was bullied to what I’d describe as an extreme degree. I’ve heard every insult under the sun, I’ve been pushed down stairs, I’ve been kicked in the shin, I’ve been punched in the face, you name it I’ve experienced it. 

It was overwhelming, and I never understood why it was so easy for so many kids in different classes at different schools to hate me with that same level of intensity when all I ever wanted to do was find a quiet corner to read in, or play Tetris in, before class.

I guess I made for an easy target, I never fought back, I just accepted it as something I deserved. I remember writing in my journal as a kid, age 10 or 11, something to the effect of: “I feel like a monster, everyone hates me, I have no friends, I wish I’d never been born because then I wouldn’t be here being a burden on everyone.”

I still have journal writings and old poems from middle school and high school in a binder that I’ve kept for some masochistic reason, and re-reading them is always incredibly difficult because they all have that same general theme. It didn’t help that my home life was no better than my school life.

If anything, it was the source of some real PTSD. My mother had her own mental health issues and it was only her and myself growing up. There was no escape. You can fill in the blanks of how well that went. Even as a 29-year-old adult, I still jump every time I hear someone yell or scream. 

I’ve blocked out a lot of memories from childhood, but instinctive reactions like that you can’t quite clear like you can lines in Tetris. It could have been a lot worse though had I not had the welcome distraction of Tetris.

Recently, I learned there may be a scientific reason for how Tetris has helped me. Several studies have shown that playing Tetris can help in areas of mental health, particularly PTSD, with one of these studies explaining:

“Work using Tetris as an intervention has focused mainly on attempting to disrupt consolidation of the traumatic memory within the first 6 hours after the trauma exposure, or reconsolidation of the traumatic memory the next day.”

The same study goes on to note:

“After a reminder for a specific intrusive memory, patients played 25 minutes of Tetris. The authors found that after completion of the study, the frequency of targeted intrusions was lower than that of nontargeted intrusions.”

I’m positive I’d be in a much worse place mental health wise had I not had Tetris to distract me and reduce the impact of some of the more painful childhood memories that I have. Not only that, but I can’t help but think of the possibility that I may not be alive to overshare these details of my life had I not had Tetris. 

Like the journal entry I shared, and others I’ve kept that I won’t be sharing, there were times I felt like ending things. I’m glad I didn’t. If you’re in a similar boat as I was and are wondering if Tetris can help, I definitely think it can.

I also want to say, even though I may not know you who’s currently reading this, I’m very happy you’re here, and I hope you continue to be here. 

One of the Tetris games I recommend to people with issues similar to mine is Tetris Effect: Connected. The game’s campaign is something I play through in a single sitting every so often, typically when I’m having a rough go of it in my personal life.

Without fail, I always feel better once the credits start to roll, and I feel so thankful that such a game exists because I know if it’s able to help me, it’s likely able to help other people in a similar way.

That’s one of the most important things about Tetris – I’m not unique in this story as I’ve seen others share similar accounts of how Tetris has helped them, and I think it’s wonderful how helpful Tetris can be to so many.

It’s also not just Tetris itself that’s helping me now, but other Tetris players, and the Tetris community as a whole. I’ve made friends through Tetris, something I could only dream of as a kid.

Despite the pain of the past, I think everything I’ve gone through has been worth it because I can recommend Tetris to people and point to myself as living proof that it can help.

Obviously there are other things that have helped me as well including therapy and medication, and I’m not a medical professional so don’t take any of this as medical advice. If you’re struggling, reaching out to a therapist or a friend or family member is an important first step to take.

Never be afraid to ask for help when you need it!

But if you’re at home and feeling anxious, or you’re struggling with negative thoughts, Tetris can be like a nice drink of ice cold water on a hot day. Or it can be like the memory eraser (neuralyzer) in Men in Black in blocking out traumatic memories.

Whatever you’d prefer, Tetris has you covered.

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