A Virtual Escape: Gaining Life from Nearly Losing it

In today's society it has become the norm to cast blame on things that we don't understand. When some look at shootings, stabbings, and other random acts of violence they see the cause as something they want to believe, no matter the evidence presented. In the past we have seen comics, music and books as the scapegoats to the downfall of morality in the States. As time has passed, and technology has been furthered, we now see new forms of media being lambasted for the same behavior that was seen during the time of its predecessors. If there is a shooting they look not to the person responsible, to their stability, but to the things that surrounded them, tools, their environment, and the media they consumed. The same things that others take in on a daily basis yet have no outburst in violent behavior. Thus, it's common to see, in mainstream new outlets' eyes, video games are the root cause for all malevolent deeds perpetrated, as many of these misinformed individuals spout their opinions as fact following any sort of terrible crime.

But doesn't this medium provide positivity? Does it not bestow happiness and entertainment to some, while serving as a coping mechanism to others? In my experience it has, and continues to do so, and the same could be said for countless other individuals. While this is the same argument that has been presented numerous times in the past, by others surely more gifted than myself, I wish only to enlighten others as to how this medium helped to save my life during the most turbulent times I can remember. Through this I hope to convey to others the mindset I had during this period of my life, how difficult it was to adequately show rational thought processes and the mental suffering I endured.

The events of this began during some of the most promising moments of my life, and it nearly crushed all the potential I had.

In February of 2010, I was hired on at the Northwest Missouri State University Tower Yearbook, a student publication that spent almost an entire academic year covering major events, promising clubs and groups, as well as seasonal concerts; some of these stories also included major events from around the globe. One of the most notable and tragic stories covered was the earthquake in Haiti, and how it affected the lives of two Haitian students that attended our university. During the academic year, the entire team would be working 40+ hour work-weekends, and would do so for free, as we were only allotted a certain number of hours we could be paid for. This was also on top of the hours we would be working during the week, the ones we would be compensated for.

"I found a strange relaxation in playing, and getting beaten, in a game; gaining a better understanding of the title from each loss."

If there was any downtime during the weekend, and when my studies were concluded, I would spend as much time as possible playing video games. In fact, the one I spent the most time playing during these weekends was the Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty beta. Though I would be facing opponents infinitely greater than myself, I found a strange relaxation in playing, and getting beaten, in a game; gaining a better understanding of the title from each loss. Though I was working in a high-stress environment, playing a high-intensity game, I found a strange amount of comfort in just playing a game. Any stress I felt was immediately eradicated and happiness took its place.

That happiness was needed more so than ever when our Copy Editor had completely forgone the index, the most critical portion of our book. This index was much like one would see in any textbook; contained all student names, organization titles, and, most importantly, each page they could be found on. Less than half the book had been transcribed into the index. This was the last piece of the puzzle and it needed to be finished at eight in the morning. It was currently ten at night. The gut-wrenching, almost numbing feeling of dread that encapsulated my very core was indescribable.

A day earlier I was being interviewed by two Complex Directors, Mike and Kora, for our residence halls, as I was interested in becoming a Resident Assistant at the university; someone responsible for a floor full of students, ensuring safety, promoting education, conducting programs and looking out for their well-being. I remember being asked what program I would want to hold for the incoming freshmen students. With a smile I gave the name: "Get to Know Your Neighb-Oreos". This program was designed to habituate the freshmen to the newness, and fun, of college life. What better way to reach these students, to promote social activity, than a complex-wide cookie and milk party?

Kora looked to Mike then back at me. The smile she had on her face during the presentation wasn't just a regular smile – it was one telling me I nailed it, I hit this interview out of the park.

A day later, as I stared at a mac screen trying desperately to fix the glaring issues within the yearbook, along with my Editor in Chief, I wasn't so sure, and I began to doubt my abilities. I wanted so desperately to do anything to take my mind off this situation. I wanted to turn to video games because I knew it would bring me the comfort, the solace I so longed for and needed. This was one of the first times I needed video games to keep me from having a breakdown, as all the work, all the grueling hours we put in this book would be undone if we couldn't complete this task.

At eight in the morning, with tears in our eyes, we submitted the index to our publisher in the best state we could get it in the time we had left. With a heavy sigh, and a consoling hug to my Editor in Chief, I departed the student publication building and walked, with my head down, confidence shattered, all the way back to my residence hall where I was greeted by Kora, and my friend Dustin, whom was part of the Residential Life team. I said my hellos and was on my way back to my room, when they stopped me and told me that the Residential Life acceptance/denial letters were delivered.

"I can't take any more bad news, guys," I started. "I just had the worst night in my collegiate career and — I just can't."

"I was completely overcome with jubilance, and, even then, I don't believe that can adequately describe the euphoria I felt"

Kora walked to the wall, which housed the mail slots, and pulled out my letter and handed it to me. Reluctantly I opened it up, with tears starting to well again – I just needed to lie down and forget the day.

Dear Cory,

Congratulations! We are pleased to announce that you have been selected as a Resident Assistant . . .

I was completely overcome with jubilance, and, even then, I don't believe that can adequately describe the euphoria I felt; going from a the lowest low I could imagine to the happiest I'd ever been, in but a moment, was jarring and I could do nothing but hug both Kora and Dustin. I wanted so much to speak but the words wouldn't come. At one point I was able to state how grateful I was, but it took time and some Kleenexes.

I celebrated later in my room with pizza, soda, and video games, as the weekend was upon me. I decided to replay through Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2, probably the greatest RPG's I have ever played. It was, if I recall correctly, my seventh playthrough of both titles. And, even then, I didn't feel like I had given these games enough of my time. They were extraordinary experiences, through and through. These two titles were the games that I would play when times were great, and when things were looking grim. I played these after break ups, as a reward to myself for doing some great work, because they were the one thing I needed: something fun.

A Virtual Escape: Gaining Life from Nearly Losing it

Video games were an extension of me, and at most even part of my personality. If ever there was a way I could work a video game reference into conversation I would take it, even if I knew the person I was speaking with wouldn't understand it. I could rely on this medium no matter how I was feeling at a time in my life, and I would immerse myself in the games I played. I couldn't imagine a day or so going by without firing up a game and playing to my heart's content. And, with my promotion to Copy Editor for the next year's book, as well as being an RA, I knew that any spare time I had would be minimal and I would need to make the most of it.

August came around and with it came training. Or, at least it should have, but something happened to me. It was a subtle thing; started out slowly, as a meandering dizziness that would strike unexpectedly, lasting only for a few moments before dissipating. It lasted for about three days, which was the length of our Community Building training, where we performed team-building exercises with other Resident Assistants, whom would be working in other buildings.

The morning after the final day I became violently ill. To this day I still do not know what I had, but I do know it almost killed me. It was bearable the first few days I was stricken with this illness, but then it took a drastic turn for the worse as I was unable to even keep water down without having it come right back up. I could barely walk a few feet before experiencing the overwhelming feeling that I was about to pass out. In fact, I couldn't remember the last time I was able to eat. When showering I would have to sit down as the mere act of standing in place was too much physical exertion for my body to withstand. And, as grotesque as it is, my urine had turned a dark brown.

"Then, one night, I stopped breathing."

My fellow RA's and my Complex Director would make visits as often as they could, but the tight training schedule left them quite busy for a majority of the day. The custodians, whom I had befriended a year or so back, visited me and brought a dehumidifier to the room, as they feared I had a severe allergy to mold, as the building I was in had several reported cases of it. The hum of the dehumidifier was the only sound in my room for a majority of the time I was awake. I couldn't bring myself to even turn on the TV as I was beginning to feel a sense of guilt that I was still going to be an RA yet I didn't have to go through the rigorous training involved to become one.

Then, one night, I stopped breathing. I had been sleeping, but was jolted awake by the fact that my body was deprived of oxygen. In a panic I fell out of bed, away from my phone, my one lifeline. I hit the floor and every ounce of energy I had left in my body was rocked out of it. I lay there, unable to breathe, trying to find a way to get one intake of air I so desperately needed. But it never came. And I lay there motionless, my body screaming at me that it needed oxygen, and my vision slowly darkening.

I woke up the next morning. I don't know how, or why. But I said a prayer and called my mother. After that night I started to get better. I was finally able to visit a doctor who prescribed me generic antibiotics, and by the time training had concluded I was almost at one-hundred percent. But I felt an overwhelming guilt by not being able to participate.

Classes started shortly thereafter and I was still attempting to get caught up on all the information I missed out on, as well as trying to finish the decorations I was trying to get done for my floor, so it wouldn't look so barren. I was taking four, 400-level courses, all in psychology, as well as one 300-level Sociology course and Yearbook Practicum, which was a class where we would eventually hire the best students to work at Tower Yearbook. Needless to say, there was a lot or work involved in just these classes alone, with the research papers I needed to write, as well as going over the work the articles the students would turn in.

These courses were a full-time job on top being an RA, which was another full-time job in itself, as well as being the Copy Editor. I essentially worked three jobs, having a high-intensity, stressful lifestyle, but one I believed myself ready for.

It didn't take long to realize how wrong I was. I slowly started getting behind in my classes, and my work as a Resident Assistant. I was failing to hold programs that I needed to and still couldn't find time to get my Star Wars decorations done. Try as I might I kept failing these tasks, but I kept at it.

Work was going well in Tower, though. I was completing all the revisions I needed to and providing the necessary feedback to everyone, letting them know what they could improve on and what they were excelling at, and during the weekends I would still be reporting on stories, yet I started finding myself working on school work during our work-weekends.

"I'm getting so behind on everything and I can't keep track of what I need to do, what I've missed and what I'm still working on."

So I began falling behind in my Copy Editing duties while trying to make up the work I needed to do for my classes. I needed to find my syllabi so I could find out what I needed to – I have test. I have a test tomorrow and I am not ready for it. I didn't know there was one this early. I told Allie I wasn't feeling well so I could go back and study as best I could. I didn't sleep because sleep meant I wouldn't be prepared.

I took the test and went to all my classes for the day and immediately started studying again, as I had another test coming up shortly. I needed to study, but I needed to finish some decorations. I needed to put on some programs. I wasn't able to visit with my floor of guys as often as I wanted to. So, I closed my books and started conversing with everyone, but I'm getting more and more worried with each passing minute as I need to keep studying.

I'm getting so behind on everything and I can't keep track of what I need to do, what I've missed and what I'm still working on. Everything is a big blur and the only thing I can think about is playing a game – how long had it been since I was able to actually play a game for fun? When was the last time I actually played a game at all?

I needed a break from all this work and I pop in Halo: Reach. I'm playing it, and I'm getting lost in it, and each time I die I remember I need to keep studying, I need to keep editing papers. There's so much I need to do, so little time to do it in and I can't possibly figure out how I'm going to be able to get all of it done.

I don't sleep that night. I play Reach until I work up the nerve to start studying again, which has turned into an act of futility. I decide to drop one of my classes, the one I'm furthest behind in. I feel a massive weight lifted off my shoulders. I remember my door decorations still haven't been finished yet, but I don't care, as I just need to escape for a bit with Halo: Reach.

A Virtual Escape: Gaining Life from Nearly Losing it

I wake up at three o'clock in the afternoon. I have slept through all my classes. But that's OK; I can just study and make up the work. I decide to play some games in the meantime because there's so much work I need to get done and I can't think about it.

It's ten at night and I haven't started doing anything. Should I keep trying? I should try to sleep. I can't sleep because I have a quiz in the morning. I need to study and sleep.

"If I keep playing games, I can't think about how much I'm failing in everything I should be succeeding."

I wake up at noon and arrive late for my class that I have a quiz in. When I leave class I head back to my room to do more revisions for Yearbook Practicum. I get them done and play more Mass Effect. I play it until dinner time. I order pizza and keep playing. I play all night.

I wake up in the middle of the afternoon again. I don't care. I'm so behind I don't care. If I keep playing games I can't think about how much I'm failing in everything I should be succeeding.

I hold a program and it's about the Kinect, which will be released in a few weeks. People are really interested in it. So am I. I need video games to keep me going.

I wake up late for classes. I get a call from my professor who says she is administratively dropping me from her class because I haven't shown up in over two weeks. It hits me at that moment that I have failed as a student. I need to play something to take my mind off my failures.

It's not enough. I'm playing games and I can only think about how terrible a college student I am. I should probably just kill myself. I could. No. I can't. I won't do that to my family.

I'm getting all my stories done in Yearbook, and they are turning out really well. It's the one thing I am very proud of. I realize I have a twelve page paper that's due in a week that I didn't realize I had. I have a comprehensive exam over all that I have learned in Psychology in my collegiate career.

"No. I can't. I can't die until I've seen how the Mass Effect trilogy concludes."

I study as best I can for the test but I know it's all for nothing. I don't know half the names I'm seeing. I barely recognize most of the terms being thrown around. Why can't I remember any of this? Why can't I just fake sick and leave? Why did I major in Psychology?

I get six questions correct out of 100.

This is it. I just need to die. I need to finish myself off and be done with it because I can't take any more stress. No. I can't. I can't die until I've seen how the Mass Effect trilogy concludes.

I wake up in the afternoons constantly, now, and I can't fall asleep until classes start in the mornings. I don't remember the last time I was able to go to class. I don't know if I got enough RA things done. I don't know why I keep going.

My Complex Director asks me how things are. I lie and tell her I'm great. She asks how my classes are going. I tell her I'm doing my best. I want to leave and go back to my room and try to be a college student.

I play more Mass Effect and work on the paper in between. It's going well. So well I don't realize I've been playing almost all night without much work on my paper. I email my professor saying I'm ill. I turn in the paper via email. I can play more Mass Effect now.

But I have to keep revising articles and doing reports. I have to finish those because I like that stuff. But I like Mass Effect more. I keep playing.

I failed the paper. I'm failing almost everything. I no longer care about Mass Effect. I no longer care about my family. I don't care about myself.

I try to kill myself on December 1, 2010. I failed at that, too.

A Virtual Escape: Gaining Life from Nearly Losing it

I need to do something about this. I text one of my coworkers saying that I need help. She tells me she knows of some study groups going on for my courses. I tell her in return that studying is not the help I need, that I just tried to kill myself and I think I might do it again.

Twenty minutes later I'm greeted with a knock on the door. I open it and Rachel, my coworker and Garret, the Assistant Complex Director are standing there, telling me they are happy to see I'm alive. At this moment I realize that my phone had been on silent. I'm overcome with something I haven't felt in months: emotion.

I sob, telling them everything that has been going on in my head, everything that has been going on the past few months. I don't make much sense. I keep bouncing around, unable to stay on topic. Garret calls University Police, and they escort me to the hospital, where I check-in to their psych ward.

My Complex Director showed up first thing that morning, with tears in her eyes she hugged me, told me she had no idea anything was wrong and said, 'you're my Cory.' I'm instantly heartbroken. And with her at my side, I have to make one of the most tearful calls I've ever made – a call to my mom because I needed to tell her … everything.

Before my boss left she distinctly told me that this was just a vacation for me, just not an ideal one. Everything would be taken care of by the time I got out and I didn't need to worry about anything. This was a stress free environment and that I needed to let everything go.

I heeded her advice and I could feel life, my personality, everything, rush back into me. Without the worries of my duties as an RA, without the copious amounts of work I needed to do in all my classes weighing on my mind, I could, finally, think clearly and began to feel healthy again. I smiled, laughed and actually held conversation with people, in the ward, without the voice in the back of my mind urging me to continue doing things that should have been completed last week.

"I was merely playing games as an escape, not as a means of enjoyment."

My professors, even the one whom had to drop me from her course, came to visit me, each showing love that I could only describe as motherly; embracing me and urging me to use this experience to educate, as they educate. One told me, specifically, that she believed each psychology student should be required to stay in a psych ward so they would have the first-hand experience of what it was like to reside in one, as well as go through the rehabilitation within.

And during my six-day stay within the system I didn't feel the urge to kill myself, nor did I have the desire to play video games, as I realized that, when I began to slip down that slope of depression and anxiety, I was merely playing games as an escape, not as a means of enjoyment. I turned to them when the stressors in my life became too much for me to handle. I relied on video games, when I lost sight of the things that were most important to me, as the focal point to my survival. When my compassion toward people waned and dissipated, I still felt toward video games; without that I may have given up long before I did, and mayhap have been successful at killing myself.

And I hope you can clearly see when depression took hold of me, as I have tried to show you through written word how it affected me and what became of my once stable mindset. I lost my vocabulary, my ability to reason, to think clearly; staying on one topic just long enough to get to another, each different from the last. And I tried to properly show this by using short, seemingly pointless paragraphs that couldn't stay focused on the topic at hand, with the subject changing nearly every sentence.

In the end, it's easy for some to say video games made someone violent. It's easy for me to say video games saved my life. Both of these are inherently false. Video games give people a means to vent frustration, as well as having prolonged my life, respectively. Video games can't help commit murder, nor can they help call a suicide hotline.

But what these both have in common is the action taken by a single person. A person taking action in one scenario can kill. Another action can save a life.

Making the text to a friend saved my life, but my love for games stopped me from cutting it short.