Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The Nintendo Switch Got Me Through Hell

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Zachary Alexander Roberts
Zach is from sunny Los Angeles. He loves games, the culture around it, and the history. He also feels that Batman Vs Superman is a good movie and is unjustly hated.

In February of 2017, I became injured at work.

Initially, it consisted of some light back pain. While it was definitely painful, it wasn’t a cause for alarm just yet. As the days progressed, the pain spread to my leg, and before long, I couldn’t stand.

I won’t bore you with the details of my medical diagnosis, but I want to highlight how significant it was. Every moment of the day, I was in anywhere from an 8-10 in pain.

I couldn’t sleep because of the pain. I couldn’t stand because of the pain. I couldn’t even sit up straight because of the pain. It was the sitting portion of that which was most damning for me. This ruled out playing video games or watching TV comfortably. On top of that, it obviously made daily activities such as eating a trial to say the least.

The sudden and absolute loss of mobility as a 27-year old man also created a new problem for me: anxiety. Panic attacks would arise with the sudden realization that I wouldn’t be able to leave the house if a fire were to occur or a loved one was suddenly hospitalized. Couple all of this with several close deaths that I experienced, and it is safe to say that 2017 was the hardest year of my life.

It was during this time that I found an unlikely ally: Nintendo’s newest system. The Nintendo Switch prides itself on being a hybrid system which means its appeal exists as a handheld device that can be connected to a TV via a dock for a more traditional entertainment experience. All of these details are crucial in understanding the Switch’s ability to pull me through this dark time.

Since my pain was substantial enough to prohibit me from even sitting up straight, my entertainment options were limited. The vast majority of my time was spent faced away from my television due to the pain being prominent on one side of my body. This meant that my options were bound almost exclusively to something I could hold in my hand. While mobile gaming has come quite far, games intended for phones scarcely have the same levels of immersion that something that is closer to a traditional game does. Additionally, I had played everything that I was interested in for other handheld devices like the PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS. And the same problem exists with those options, the lack of big, blockbuster, triple-A experiences.

On March 3, the Nintendo Switch was released. While everyone seems to love the console, I loved it for my very specific reason. One of the launch games was The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

This was unlike previous Zelda games that had a linear story and held the player’s hand through most of the game. This game boasted a massive, vibrant open-world that let the player do what they wanted to do without restriction. The world was varied, unforgiving, and dynamic. It was everything that someone who was suddenly plunged into the same room for months needed. While I remained stationary, in bed, and with little contact with the outside world, getting lost in the world of Hyrule was the purest form of escapism I ever felt. Exploring new locales and encountering new enemies made me feel part of an actual world which was a feeling that was abruptly absent in my life.

Typically, tutorials and hand-holding portions of video games are welcomed additions. However, when Zelda opted out of this traditional blueprint, I was unaware how much that would change benefit and empower me. During a time when I was unaware if I was ever going to walk (or sit up for that matter) again, being subject to strict guidelines and rules was the last thing I wanted. Given the option to bypass every enemy and physical limitation and head straight for the final encounter despite how unprepared I would be was exactly what I needed. All of these massive and well-polished features are typically bound to experiences found on home consoles and thus anchored to a television. But thanks to the Switch, I was able to have that experience in the palm of my hands.

Another Nintendo Switch game that helped me a great deal through this time was Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. Before I get into how that game helped me, let me talk briefly about my anxiety and panic attacks during that period of my life, I promise that it is applicable.

While I would have almost daily panic attacks and anxiety during this period, I think one example sums up the stages of how they would happen. On occasion, friends or family members would come visit me in an attempt provide me with even a modicum of socialization. On one particular occasion, as my friend was leaving my house, I could hear her almost get into a car accident. As that happened, the other driver became enraged, and it sounded as if a physical altercation was going to transpire. So at that moment, I have my friend potentially about to get attacked by an angry driver, and I can hear all of it, but I can’t do anything about it. I can’t get up to check on her. I can’t do anything to help her, and she is potentially in peril. This gave way to one of the most prominent panic attacks that I had. These attacks were frequent and unexpected.

How does Binding of Isaac relate to this? One of the most commonly suggested methods for managing a panic attack is to find an activity that “occupies one’s mind.” For me, Binding of Isaac became that activity. BOI is an incredibly tough game that is punishing and rewards slight mistakes with massive loss. On paper, it isn’t the type of game that would interest me at all, but since my entertainment options were bound almost exclusively to the Switch, I gave it a chance. BOI has procedurally-generated environments which insures that every time you play it, you are experiencing something different. While the game is brutal and unforgiving, it makes the satisfaction of progressing so much more rewarding. Since the game requires such precise movements and decision-making, this became my go-to in avoiding or limiting panic attacks. For me, it was difficult for my mind to meander when avoiding an incoming projectile meant the difference between losing 90 minutes of progress and sweet victory. While it didn’t completely obliterate these attacks and instances, it did help a great deal.

The Nintendo Switch will always hold a warm place in my heart since it helped me get through this catastrophic time in my life. Even though the console is barely a year old, it has already cemented its place as one of my favorite consoles ever.  

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