Anxiety, Games, and You


I’m someone who has struggled with anxiety for pretty much my entire life, particularly in the last few years. I’ve also have a deep love for games of all types, and, in an attempt to overcome and live a fulfilling life despite my anxiety, I’ve come to rely on games to help pull me out of the hole I often find myself in.

My first real breakthrough came in 2011 when I picked up Magic: the Gathering after a bad series of “friend breakups.” I have always struggled with social anxiety in particular, and the thought of talking and interacting with strangers, especially with the intent to make new friends, felt overwhelming and terrifying. But, somehow, I convinced myself to try it, and it became a tremendous force for happiness in my life. Having something in common with all of these new people made it infinitely more easy to talk, and the structured nature of games meant I could learn how conversations in matches typically flows and become comfortable with it. These days I have no major problems walking into a new game store in a new town and interacting with people, something that a decade ago would have been unimaginable to me. Most of my friends today I made playing MtG.

Interestingly (at least to me), I’ve continued to struggle a lot with online games and communities. My best guess is the impersonal nature of it, past attempts (failures) to join communities, and the general toxicity of the internet are just too much for me to regularly overcome. Even playing other card games online (my current one of choice being Eternal), I can only handle one or two games at a time before I begin to feel overwhelmed, and the only interaction with your opponent is through emotes. These forums have helped recently, as now I have actually been able to do raids in Destiny 1 thanks to finding some cool people to play with here.

I’m interested in hearing the experience of others who have anxiety of all sorts in relation to gaming as a whole. Do you use gaming to help manage/overcome your anxiety? Do games make it better/worse? How do you handle online game communities? Does the (relative) anonymity of Internet help/hurt in terms of your anxiety? Any tips and tricks for dealing with anxiety online (I could really use them)?

Edit: As a fun side note, making this post has made me incredibly anxious! :stuck_out_tongue:


hmmm i find that one of the main reasons I didn’t game for so long was because of my anxiety. Tho I played (or watched) games most of my life, there was always a personal block for me when it came to picking up console games. I still struggle with the idea of entering into online communities or group settings (i play mtg for example but the idea of just going out and playing people on my own honestly terrifies me).

The reason for this is mainly that I hate to feel incompetent. Particularly around people I don’t know or don’t trust. When I didn’t know how to move or fight or what buttons to push in a game it would be humiliating and I couldn’t handle that kind of embarrassment. One of the things that helped me out of that mindset was rethinking how i perceived failure. Before, when I wasn’t good at something I would drop it immediately. But failure won’t kill me. And when I do fail I can go back to the problem again, stronger and more prepared than before. (Watching people stream the original Dark Souls also helped me with that, surprisingly.)

I had to go through a lot to get to the point in my life where I could conceive of trying something I didn’t immediately find easy. Since I started playing more challenging games though I find that it’s helped me get a more healthy relationship with failure and stop dreading new challenges as much. I still do feel that way though sometimes and i miss opportunities because of it, but I’m slowly getting better about doing or trying things that scare me.

I don’t know any good tips for being cool around people, mostly because i’m well… not. But hopefully this holds some kind of value for somebody.


I think my personal success at going out and playing mtg was due to the perfect storm of nonsense going on in my life at the time. To expand on my original post a bit, I stopped talking to all of my friends in the span of about a month to two months, and (cw: depression) I became so deeply depressed that I was willing to try anything to fill the void in my life, even if it meant facing my anxiety.

I definitely understand the feeling incompetent thing too. I’ve always been vaguely interested in fighting games, but I’m so bad that I’m terrified of ever playing anyone who is any good at all, because it would just be so embarrassing to get completely demolished. The FGC has also always come off to me as childish and mean with the amount they trash talk, though that is perhaps a hasty judgement on my part, and it’s kept me from ever really wanting to try to get better. I’ve watched my two brothers get into that community, and they say they are generally welcoming and don’t trash newer people/people clearly below their level, as that is in pretty poor taste, but it still really turns me off as it’s just not my personality to trash talk ever.

I think I’ve gotten a bit better with pushing through being incompetent/“bad” in other areas, at least. I remember when I struggled to make it out of the mines in Spelunky, but I eventually pushed through and beat the game. Watching Patrick learn it also inspired me to return and finally learn the Hell run, and it’s now a game I go to to just flex my muscle memory while listening to podcasts. I too still struggle at times, though. I’ve never been able to get over the Dark Souls hump because I’m just so bad at it, but I still intend to go back and try again at some point. Learning to accept failure is definitely something I need to continue working on, as fear of it has held me back in my life a lot.

Thank you for your reply :slight_smile:


I have had life long anxiety that was at its worst in my late teens. A few years ago I was fortunate enough to have found a mix of therapy and medication that works for me, but the occasional anxiety attack is still something I deal with.

By far the games I have gone to the most to ease my anxiety has been Torchlight and Diablo 3. I find it easy to slip into looping thoughts of worry, but there is something about playing these ARPGs that just stops that process. My usual goal is to play them at a high enough difficulty that I am totally occupied, but not hard enough to be too stressful. The occasional endorphin hit from loot drops help, but I am really there to zone out and give into process of blowing up a bunch of skeletons with magic or whatever.

All that said, when I try to relax with one of these games I do it solo. I still find it quite hard to put myself out there into online communities.

Thanks for making this thread by the way.


The last time I had a game help fill the void of social anxiety was Team Fortress 2. It was the combination of dedicated server communities, very low-pressure gameplay, and a lack of intrinsic or extrinsic motivators (progression systems mostly) that end up making a fun activity feel like work.

It’s a huge bummer that while the game itself has languished over the years, multiplayer games in the meantime have almost entirely been about the push of high intensity competitive play, invasive skinner box systems that really play on my unhealthy compulsive disorders, and the move from dedicated servers to random matchmaking where in-game communities aren’t able to form.

I know this makes me sound like a grumpy old man here, but I can’t help feeling like I don’t belong in any modern online game communities.


story games that let you make decisions that matter (the Telltale mode basically), stress me out I would much rather that if I make a sub optimal choice it just kicks me to a game over screen in a lot of cases. even playing like Arkham knight or Breath of the Wild or whatever I get a bit anxious that there might be hidden consequences to decisions I make.

the one place I managed to embrace the mechanic was Wolf Among Us. largely, I think, because as a prequel to the Fables comics I already knew that all the characters I like would be more or less fine because they were in the books and doing more or less alright. and also because that series is so much about disaster and mistakes and bad compromises but surviving in the face of that I didn’t have the same urge to do some sort of optimal choice run like I do in most games and in real life.
because obviously life isn’t about disaster and mistakes and bad compromises but surviving in the face of them, it’s about doing everything correct and perfect. rolls eyes.


In the past couple years I’ve also found myself going to the same tried and true games to relax, those primarily being Spelunky and Destiny. I like to listen to podcasts while I play both so that I’m using up all of my attention span on playing and listening, and not worrying about something. Hopefully once I learn all the Destiny 2 systems it will be a worthy replacement to 1. And same with sticking to solo to relax. I’ve raided in Destiny with people from the forums several times now, but it’s still a huge tax on my anxiety to do so and not really what I’m looking for when I want to just calm down.

I really enjoyed what I played of Torchlight several years ago, and I’ve been meaning to try Diablo 3 since I’ve heard several people call it a good podcast game. I need to give them both a go.

And you’re welcome! This is a topic I’ve wanted to post for awhile, but, well… anxiety, haha.


Yeah I’ve been relying on gaming in the past year and a half to cope with some pretty severe anxiety and depression. Went through a bad breakup and then made an ill-advised jump right into freshman year of law school to try and fool myself and my family into thinking I had my shit together. Instead I only managed to sink further into a toxic cycle of negativity and self-doubt. Long story short, I hit rock bottom via a combination of getting kicked out, losing friends, and being so stressed about everything I thought I was gonna explode, yet being too burnt out to do anything about it. I’ve finally gotten back on my feet, but I know it’s a long road ahead.

Thankfully certain kinds of games have been really great at keeping my mind from going to the dark places. Puzzle games help a lot, because getting to solve these mini problems kind of gave me a sense of accomplishment that carried over to real life. Aside from Picross, Mr. Driller and New York Times Crosswords also gave me that same positivity burst.

In contrast with @BananaSam, I got a lot out of games where you make weighty choices, like Persona 4 Golden and The Witcher 3. I actually got both their bad endings, but I think doing that actually helped me reckon and come to terms with my own failures and “bad life decisions”, if that makes any sense. So don’t rule out RPGs just yet!

Collecting games also helped, but that ended quickly after I’d burned through my measly savings. From a practical standpoint it obviously did way more harm than good, and it ended up being another mistake to hate myself for. On the bright side, I learned to moderate my spending habits.


i have a lot of anxiety surrounding failure and social interaction so games that are known to be difficult such as the dark souls series and multiplayer games are really hard for me to get into. i’ve tried to play dark souls 2, dark souls 3, and bloodborne, but i just get too frustrated too quickly from the pressure i’m putting on myself. on the bright side, watching my younger brother play these games is much better and has been a fun activity for us to share. i wish i could play them myself but i’m just not ready for it yet. the only multiplayer game i play is guild wars 2 and i only really play it with a small group of friends. i’ve never joined a guild in that game and i’m not sure i will any time soon and i’m fine with that

games that help most with my anxiety tend to be games that i’m really familiar with, particularly games on handheld consoles. i really enjoy going back to games in the pokemon series because i’m so familiar with the mechanics of those games that i can have fun without any pressure.

anxiety has kept me from trying new games a lot lately but i hope i’ll be able to get past that. my big goal is to start a dungeon world campaign this year with my best friend and some of her friends from college. hopefully diving into that will help me with my social anxiety and fear of failure both!


All of that very similar to my own past couple years, though I’m still climbing out of the whole I dug myself. Good luck with school, if you choose to continue to pursue it.


I didn’t start really gaming until after I started taken medication for my anxiety, but it’s definitely been a factor in how I interact with games. MMOs like WoW trigger my anxiety hard because of the potential for my poor skill to harm other players I’m grouping with, which then leads to them getting mad at me and I just shut down. Single player games are often an escape from the way my brain works, but the all of the choices are bad mechanic in Life is Strange messed me up pretty badly.

Offline, joining a monthly board gaming community has helped me push past some of my in-person fears.


If I’m completely honest with myself, games and other form of art have probably provided me with a sense of fulfillment in my life that substitutes for the need to spend time with other people and form relationships. This was more useful as a teenager, when my anxiety was at it’s worse and staying home all day was probably best for me. But even now that many of my issues with social anxiety have largely dissipated, I still don’t feel any urge to push back against my introversion. I feel perfectly content devoting all of my free time towards video games, film, anime, manga, books, etc. I feel as though there are more worthwhile artistic experiences out there than I have time for even if I were to live a decently long life (which I don’t expect), and trying to form and maintain new social relationships would honestly be a less enjoyable use of my time. So I’m at this point where I can logically see the negative implications of my current lifestyle, but I feel no significant compulsion to change it.


I’ve been struggling with depression/anxiety/bad brain stuff for a few years now and what has really helped me are games that I can build stuff in, be it RollerCoaster Tycoon, the Sims, or Stardew Valley. Hell, even the minimal time I spent with the settlement building part of Fallout 4 was great, I just had to stop because the keys were awful. Building games help me to focus on positive things, and I get to create stuff that I can be proud of, and this usually also results in making people happy. If I can’t always love myself I will sure as hell make sure other people, however fictional, are having a good time.


Echoing your experiences with MTG, when I moved to a new city a few years ago, I joined both a board game meetup and a video game meetup, and I was personally surprised at how different they ended up feeling. The board game meetup was very welcoming and conversation came naturally, while the video game meetup felt very cold in comparison.

It seemed like the main thing was that board games force you to talk to your teammates/opponents like human beings. At the video game meetup, provided it was a game I had played before, I could just wait for my turn, pick up the controller, get trounced, and move on without a single word being said. It was barely different than playing online.

After a couple months, I ended up dropping the VG meetup, while the BG meetup has become a very close circle of friends and we hang out nearly every weekend.


For videogame communities I’ll be super active for a while, convince myself I’m not wanted, and then disappear. (if you’ve seen me around the site, you probably seen the whole process!) This isn’t isolated to VG communities, though - I’ve dropped from other social media for the same reasons.


I tend to experience a low-intensity flavor of anxiety at a fairly persistent rate. Games are kind of a band-aid for that kind of anxiety but I’ve learned to get kind of nervous about it because I know it’s a band-aid. I get a feeling that I’m distracting myself from something that needs more of my time and attention and that I’m adding to the problem instead of giving myself an emotional release from it.

I also tend to experience anxiety in gaming or online communities, weirdly enough. I’m anxious about always having something worthwhile to say, or being able to keep up with content/personal connections. It’s almost like a perfectionism towards my online presentation of myself that doesn’t exist elsewhere in my life. I feel more pressure to be thoughtful and likeable when I’m around like-minded people with similar interests. It kinda sucks but I guess I’m here to work on that.

I checked out the Waypoint forums when they began and I’ve just returned for the first time, so being here and posting is a bit of a weird experience to me.

This year, PUBG turned out to be oddly relaxing. I’m pretty average at the game, but I’d always drop at the school or military base. It was really nice to try something difficult and experience that low-consequence failure until it worked. I think it helped my mindset with a lot of other things, too.

Thanks for the thread, great topic with a lot of interesting replies!


I can empathize with that unnecessary pressure you put on yourself to succeed.

Aside from occasional SNES sessions with a cousin, I avoided every opportunity to play games for years. All out of fear of doing it “wrong”, and not having the privacy to try and fail without outside judgement. That mentality still crops up as an adult, but when it comes to those challenges in games, I now seem to feed on it.

I feel like my ego has a hard time accepting a loss, or what I deem poor performance (even when “winning”), so I just keep throwing myself at games headfirst until I get to the other side of them.

In theory I go to games to decompress and chill, but they bring me the most visible frustration of anything I do throughout the day - and maybe that’s why I keep coming back. It’s cathartic to blow up, or cave in over things that will never really matter, while I’m passively brushing real life stressors off at work and home like they don’t bother me - the mask has to shatter somewhere.

So, I give most of my time to games that dangle their carrots from the longest sticks of defeat and dissapointment; Dark Souls and its clones, PUBG, and other competitive shooters. Even chiller games like Skyrim get modded into instakill ragequit sessions.

To stay on topic, I would say anonymity makes it too easy for me to stumble into conversations that wouldn’t happen around me if people knew more about me. I’m past the days of my youth, having heated arguing with every turdlord and troll king, but I still assume the worst until they prove me wrong.

With Destiny 2, I found myself playing with a lot more new players outside my network, but when they’re coming into an environment of me and my fellows there tends to be greater self-censorship and respect.

Finally, I’ll say that my social fumbling is nothing in a game world when compared to the real one. Wherever I can speak to things I know well and understand the rules, the tension fades. That means that even a table top or MtG session in a public place is hard for me if I don’t think everyone around is “in on it”, but it’s getting better.

Sorry if wandered down my own lane with this. Thanks for the post.


I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety for my entire life, but have only been recognizing and working through my mood disorders in the last few years. Due to Life Events I’m probably at a real nadir from both ends of the depression/anxiety thing right now.

Not being able to know or control what output I’m going to get from a given input can be a very strong trigger for me (probably one reason social stuff is hard). I’ve found it helpful to either replay old favorites, or to play very low impact games where I know exactly what to expect. I do a lot of solo play in MMOs, where the play can be very rhythmic. I enjoy optimizing things, so I like making small tweaks and seeing immediate measurable feedback. I also like doing “people” watching – seeing what outfits people put together, what kinds of things are coming up in global chat, etc.

This is kind of a bummer, since my favorite thing about games is the way they can teach you to think in new ways. Any time I go to fire up something new, I recoil from it like I’ve touched a hot pan, so I figure the best thing is to just do what’s comfortable for now.


In addition to chewing handfuls of anti-anx meds, I do use gaming to help manage my depression/anxiety.

Games sometimes make it better, anything that has a compelling world that makes me forget what’s outside the house is good. Pokemon or JRPGS in particular. Single player works best. MMOs are definitely not good for me. And I never, never, use voice chat and/or mute others if I feel things are going south.

Online gaming communities (and this applies to MMOs as well) have always been something that increases my anxiety. I want to reach out to people (online and IRL), but there’s just so much toxicity online and I find it’s getting harder and harder to avoid it. I also think there’s a bit of pressure to be “perfect” at online games (e.g. fighters, racers, MMOs) and when I don’t live up to my self-imposed (read: impossible) standards, that tends to throw me for a loop.

I think, for me, single-player games are the best, or couch multiplayer with good friends. I tend to gravitate towards online games on Nintendo because voice chat capability is rare, or reduced to a series of canned responses. The perfectionist problem still creeps in though. I’ve let my PSplus subscription lapse out of fear of online interactions.

I want this to change, I really do. But I honestly don’t know what the solution is. It sucks because I absolutely LOVE gaming with others IRL. Most of my friends aren’t gamers and I think the fear of abuse IRL is causing me to miss out on meeting some really cool people, making friends and being involved in supportive communities. They’ve got to be out there somewhere, right?


I absolutely feel the same way in regards to online games. The more indirect the communication the better for me. I usually stick to games I’m good at or familiar with.

A good type of game for me is something like Battlefield or TF2. There’s such a large number of team mates that if you die or suck or don’t know what you’re doing it’s not a big deal. Splatoon or Dark Souls are good too because the in-game communication is intentionally very limited.

Overwatch, Dota and Counterstrike were a nightmare for me. They’re very fun, well made games but the pressure’s too much.