Monday, October 14, 2013

On Gaming as a Tool Against Depression

A few weeks ago, I got a new phone (it is a shiny new Samsung Galaxy s3).  I asked friends for app recommendations, and among the suggestions was Ingress.  As that website's not very helpful, allow me to explain:

Ingress is a worldwide online multiplayer game of Risk, basically.  There are two teams, and each team is vying for territory.  The 'Enlightened' represent those working to bring the effects of this alien 'exotic matter' more fully into the world, on the premise that the coming evolution is both good and necessary.  The 'Resistance' represent those working against that influence, on the premise that there is malicious intent behind it.  When you begin the game, you default to 'Resistance' but you have an opportunity to choose 'Enlightened' during training.

The territory is controlled by 'portals', which are usually found at places of interest.  Churches, post offices, historical markers, scenic overlooks, state parks, landmarks, that sort of thing.  You claim a portal by putting 'resonators' on it, and can also add things like shields or defensive turrets.  If the portal is owned by the other side, you use 'XMP' grenades to take out its defenses and claim it.  Once claimed, you can link portals together and use those links to create 'mind control fields', territory held by your side.  You can also 'hack' a portal, which nets you some shiny new gear.

One of the primary features of the game is that it must be played in person.  To capture a portal, you have to be standing next to it.  You can defend remotely, but only by recharging existing resonators, so if someone can attack faster than you can recharge, you'll lose your portal.  But to really play, you must get up, go out of your house, and walk or drive around your city seeing the things that someone, somewhere has decided are interesting and worth looking at (some portals were generated by the game makers, but more have been submitted by users, who love their cities and want people to see what's cool about them).  If you really want to play, you have to break out of the 'wake, work, home, relax, sleep' cycle.

I'm enjoying the game.  I'm very close to level 5 (the game is in beta, and currently only goes to Level 8), so I have a reasonable ability to take and hold portals, though sometimes other players take mine.  What I'm finding, over the last three weeks, is that this game is uniquely suited to resisting my personal manifestation of depression:

1.  I must leave the house to play.  I must go out, into the fresh air and sunshine.  The game sends me a message that says, "Someone has attacked your portal, and you only have one half-powered resonator left!  If you don't go rescue it, you'll LOSE IT!"  That's a perfect trigger for me to put down the book or laptop and go, because it's just enough of an 'emergency' to feed the need for manufactured crisis, without any actual crisis.

2.  The game is geared around small, attainable goals.  The above-mentioned manufactured crisis is easily resolved.  I get to my portal, I put more resonators on it, I re-attach all its links and fields.  Or I locate a weak enemy portal, go to it, and capture it.  Mission accomplished, small 'hit' of confidence acquired.  I made a plan, I executed a plan, and the plan worked.  I did A Thing because I am a Competent Human Being.  On dangerous days, when the Traitor Brain is loud, it helps tremendously.

3.  The defeats are small and without serious consequence, and provide more challenges.  This weekend, someone took out a couple of portals I was using to anchor a large field.  Now I get to find a way to get them back, find a new field to build, or work around what that person did.  I may have 'lost' something, but that 'loss' just gives me more reason to play, more to think about, a chance to re-plan my field layout.

4.  Because most of my portals are interesting things to see, I also spend a few minutes in a city park, or at a church labyrinth, or at a scenic hill country overlook.  I'm forced on a regular basis to stop and appreciate some aspect of my city that I might otherwise have passed by.  When people ask "Why are you standing here in front of our church looking at your phone?" I smile and tell them "I'm on an electronic scavenger hunt of beautiful places, and your church is one."

5.  There is a supportive community.  Perfect strangers will point out unclaimed portals to lower-level players, or even go on strafing runs to knock down a bunch of enemy portals for you so you can claim them yourself and level faster.  Maybe you only hold them for a day or two because you're Level 2 and everyone in your area is Level 8, but you get the points for claiming and linking them, so you can get to a higher level faster than you would alone.  I have been able to help a couple lower-level players myself, now.

I'm coming to realise that I need to seek out systems and activities like this if I want to stay emotionally healthy.  I see how I respond to 'get outside' triggers and a structure of small crises and accomplishments, how the structure and the planning and the ability to say, "I have had a hard morning.  I think I want to go capture that park near work and make it my own," gives me a lot of tools to stay even-keeled.

The more I dig down into this brain I inherited with no user's manual, the more tools I find for operating it.  It's really pretty excellent to have found this one.


  1. I look forward to playing this game with you some more! So far, I have played with you as a compadre - a chauffeur. Soon, I'll get a new phone and be able to join in a more concrete way. The only thing left to decide is, 'do I join the side of the Resistance or Enlightenment'? :-) *Smoochy*.

  2. Very glad to hear that Ingress has had this positive effect on your life. This should be posted in an ingress community somewhere because of your excellent ability to describe how it directly effects you. Thank you for sharing!

    1. I put it into one community, but I'm not sure where it should go in any others?

      If there is one you can think of where it would be well-received, please feel free to put it there!


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