Without getting too down, the last year or so has been tough for many - if not all of us. We’ve been faced with a situation that we never even dreamed of coming across in our lifetime, and it’s been exceptionally challenging on many fronts. As a result, people around the world have found solace in video games. Whether it’s playing some online games with friends or embracing a whole new world in a captivating single-player adventure, gaming has been used as a source of hope for thousands, if not millions. Just like those who felt comforted by games, I have too, and my recent experience with Assassin’s Creed Valhalla proved to be a journey of self-discovery and acceptance of something I’ve been battling for a while now - anxiety.
Just this week, another “video games are bad” article surfaced (thanks for the spot, VGC). While I don’t want to get bogged down in what was said, it felt like another misguided representation of the industry, projecting a narrative that I personally believe not to be true. Sure, there are negative effects to video games - as there are with most ‘good’ things - but there are also an incredible amount of positive elements. Games such as Tell Me Why have resonated with members of the LGBTQ+ community, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a dark, yet realistic portrayal of mental health, and in the case of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, it allowed me to confront the fact I’ve been struggling with my own anxiety for a long time now.
I'm not going to say Assassins Creed Valhalla tackles any sort of themes of anxiety within its narrative. In fact, it possibly could have been any other game that made me face the reality, but in all honesty, I am in debt to the sprawling RPG. Over the years, I've secretly battled with health and social anxiety - the latter of which was increased working in a very demanding retail job that often involved conflict with the general public. During that time I would often go to work, come home and shelter myself away with games. I was constantly drained by keeping my anxiety at bay, that I never made time for friends or experiencing anything else outside of my own four walls.
Fast forward to today and I'm in a much better position. Writing for Pure Xbox, engaging with the community, and doing something I love has been a massive boon to my mental wellbeing - something I will NEVER take for granted. The global pandemic began while I was in my retail job and started a transition into full-time writing. This career change went into full force at the beginning of the year - the same time I was playing Assassin's Creed Valhalla. Knowing I would never have to battle daily with anxiety and embrace it for what it is was a tough thing to process.
As I grew accustomed to the big changes in my life and struggled to accept that I had battled anxiety for such a long time, I found solace in exploring a digital rendition of England. While many reviews complained about the game's length, repetitive mission objectives and the ridiculous amount of content, all of this proved to be a comfort blanket for me. Every day I would log on, slowly chip away at more of the world by grabbing wealth, completing mysteries or just losing myself in the Viking setting. It allowed me the time to escape from reality and allowed my brain the time to process the fact I'd struggled for so long with anxiety. Of course, those brutal kill animations also allowed for a cathartic release too.
People who don't play games might dismiss the fact that Assassin's Creed Valhalla helped me process a lot. Much like how people read, watch TV or go on late night drives to process information, Ubisoft's massive RPG provided me with hundreds of hours to come to terms with everything that's happened in the past year. Living in the middle of a pandemic with health and social anxiety is a recipe for disaster, but just accepting the fact was the first step.
It took me about a month and a half to finish Assassin's Creed Valhalla, with an initial playtime of 124 hours. This involved completing the game to 100%, slowly combing the land for all its worth. It might be down to coincidence, or perhaps my mind being tied to the game, but when those final credits rolled, I felt a fog on my mind lifted, and much like the game's protagonist Eivor, I'd emerged victoriously. You'd think at this point I'd hold sour memories of my experience, not wishing to ever return. On the contrary, it's felt like wrapping myself in a blanket of security, and I've since played the two expansions that have launched. With news of another year of content on the horizon, I couldn't be more excited.
I understand my experience with the game will most likely in no way compare with anyone else's, it perhaps just came at the right time for me. But I think the central point is accepting not only that games can be a fun distraction, but a great creative outlet for mental health. As I look back on my journey with Eivor across Assassin's Creed Valhalla, the process my mind was going through doesn't even register, but I recognise it helped me realise what had been building up for all those years. I'm much better now, massively in fact, but it's still an internal battle I'll face every day. At least I know there's an escape when I need it, just a few controller button presses away.
Have you found any video games that have helped you in real life? Let us know in the comments below.