Opinion: "Games can be there for us in the toughest of times"

Most of the time, we enjoy games for the sake of entertainment, be it an engrossing story such as in The Last Of Us or getting together with friends on PSN on GTA Online, Battlefield or Destiny. But they’re also there for us in the toughest of times. I know because I speak from experience.

In September last year, my mother was taken into hospital feeling unwell. Soon afterwards, without going into the specific details, after a brief period of recovery she fell ill even further and subsequently passed away two months later.

One day, after making the trip to the hospital to sit with her for a few hours while she was still better (and in fact, seemed to be recovering at one point), I started another run through of Metal Gear Solid 3 on my PS Vita. MGS3: Snake Eater is special for me not just because it made me want to write about games – I love it above all other games for its fantastic story. And in particular, for one of the best, well-written characters you’ll ever see in any game: The Boss, my favourite character in all of video gaming land.

One of the best virtues of The Boss is her show of strength through adversity. Yes, The Boss is the game’s antagonist, but there’s that ending reveal: her self-sacrifice as part of her mission to help stop a nuclear holocaust between the US and Russia. “A lesser woman would’ve been crushed by such a burden,” EVA says at its end. But The Boss isn’t a lesser woman.

She shows herself as a very strong-willed soldier, not to mention the clear motherly instinct about her, something Hideo Kojima has overtly mentioned before. Some of these virtues that The Boss displayed played a part in helping me through a situation that made me feel like my life was in massive limbo. Soon after my mum’s death, I played any open-world game I could get into: GTA V, Far Cry 4, Dragon Age: Inquisition, anything just to have something to do that took my mind off what was happening in the aftermath of such a massive life-changing event. Because I knew that if I played something linear, there’d be an end. And I didn’t want any of my games to end at that time.

It’s not just me who’s used games as a way to get through such personal situations, however. I’ve heard stories of how games can help someone through separation from their parents when young, or divorce, or when suffering from depression or other illnesses – either through pure escapism, or by experiencing a tale made by developers who have gone through similar situations. Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons’ director Josef Fares had to bury his own brother when he was younger.

Games have this fantastic, wonderful ability that no other form of entertainment have to offer: they let us escape our real-world situations and enable us to become who we wish to be and go where we want to go. Even if that escapism lasts a few hours, it’s a powerful tool. It doesn’t have to be genre-specific games, it can be any game you wish, as I discovered first-hand when I needed help. We all know games can be amazing forms of entertainment, but few appreciate the comfort they offer, also.

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Johnny Cullen