Social anxiety can be crippling to live with and difficult for others who don’t experience it to understand. It sucks, and it doesn’t go just away with people telling you to get over it.
People who haven’t felt social anxiety don’t understand panic attacks or heart palpitations. They may not know the loss of speech because someone asks you a question you haven’t rehearsed. They won’t understand the voices in your head mocking you and telling you you’re no good and that you don’t belong here with friends.
This is a glimpse of social anxiety, and it doesn’t cover most symptoms, but this is just a quick peek.
Social anxiety is a form of anxiety that manifests in social settings. These can be events like being at a party, giving a speech, even standing too close to people on the subway can cause anxiety. More and more people are opening up about their mental health, and anxiety is a significant one that comes up often.
Low self-esteem, misconceived notions of what a “normal” person does, and having few social interactions can all be social anxiety symptoms.
There is hope.
Mental Health is becoming a significant health concern. Therapies exist to help you understand where your anxiety comes from and what you can do to manage it. BetterHelp has hundreds of therapists who specialize in Social Anxiety and can work with you to help take control of your life. For more reading on social anxiety, click here: https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/therapy/are-you-struggling-with-social-anxiety-therapy-can-help/.
Out of the fray, video games have entered the arena as a new challenger to combat social anxiety. Specifically, role-playing games offer players a chance to explore social interactions virtually and less threatening than IRL.
Character and Personal Growth
In their essence, RPGs are stories of the hero’s journey. A character goes on an adventure, equipped with a weapon and their view of the world.
As the plot advances, the character meets others with different worldviews that challenge their conceptions. These interactions may change the protagonist by seeing the world through other lenses.
Video game character arcs can demonstrate the hero’s journey interactively. You get to see which events made the most impact in their respective arcs. An excellent example of this is Steiner from Final Fantasy IX. Initially an honor-bound knight sworn to protect the Crown, Steiner evolves after meeting Zidane, a thief. Through his interactions with Zidane, Steiner’s rigid adherence to honor comes into question. The story’s events further challenge his notions of loyalty and force him to question what morality truly means.
This character evolution can serve as a roadmap of sorts for players to see what actual change looks like at the other end of development. You may find inspiration in how a character finds redemption after living a life of crime like outlaw John Marsten does in the Red Dead Redemption games. There is a vicarious thrill in rooting for an unlikely hero, especially when they start off far from the spectrum of a hero. It can also help us realize that a hero doesn’t have to start as one and that there may be a hero inside all of us.
When done right, RPGs develop immersive stories about the human condition that exposes players to conflict and resolution in a tangible, less threatening way. Games such as Mass Effect and Fallout give players a chance to choose what type of character they wish to embody and how they solve issues. Do you approach situations with diplomacy or with violence? Do you take the time to read every line of text to grasp the nature of a problem? Or do you reach for your sword and let your steel do the talking?
Video games allow players to explore every possibility and witness the consequences of their actions in real-time. Sometimes, violence isn’t the answer. Sometimes, diplomacy fails. The answer may not be as clear-cut as IRL, but it still gives players a chance to explore these approaches without fear of judgment or consequence. No one’s going to judge you for nuking Megaton in Fallout 3.
Real-life conflicts may arise in our daily lives. The lessons we learn from conflict resolution in video games can better prepare us for real-life social interactions. How we handle rude customers, sarcastic family members, bullies, or any interaction that can trigger anxiety can benefit from these lessons.
Addressing Ethical and Moral Issues
Well-written RPGs also tackle difficult ethical questions that show players how social interactions affect others. For example, playing The Elder Scrolls V shines a light on discrimination among classes. The way that citizens treat Dark Elves, for example, can be a thinly-veiled attempt to show the effects of racism and segregation. NPCs will react differently to Dark Elves, allowing players to learn how opinions and views can differ and ultimately lead to wars and conflict.
Often, anxiety may come from not knowing or understanding a person’s perspective. Perhaps we don’t know where someone is coming from or have trouble empathizing. By playing video games that involve characters with different viewpoints and opinions, we can learn how others think and engage with them in ways we couldn’t before.
Developing Strategies based on Strengths and Weaknesses
RPGs throw players into battle against hordes of enemies and villains, each with their style of attack and specialties. Magic-based villains are resistant to physical attacks but have an elemental weakness. Flying-type monsters are immune to Ground-based attacks but are vulnerable to Wind magic and Bow attacks. Plant-based monsters will absorb Water-based attacks but shrivel up when attacked with fire.
While these situations may not be identical to real-life situations, it does engage players to analyze opponents’ weaknesses to develop different strategies for success. This can translate into different situations IRL that call for more nuanced approaches and research.
Say, for example, you’re not the best at small talk, but you excel at debating. You can develop strategies to use your skills and expose yourself to different opportunities that utilize them and work on your weaknesses.
Team-Building and Cooperation
RPGs have teams of characters with their skills and strengths in the same fashion. Tank players that can take massive damage can protect weaker characters and allow them to focus on healing or magic attacks. Placing black mages and healers in the back row can minimize damage without affecting magic attacks. These are decisions the player must make and develop to advance in the game. This strategizing and thoughtful understanding of battle can help build players’ knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses. Knowing yourself is half the battle IRL and in videogames, and having this knowledge will empower players to focus on what makes them successful.
RPGs can also provide team-building skills and understanding character strengths and weaknesses. Coordinating attacks and giving character roles and tasks helps players focus on objectives and practice mindfulness. It can also help players appreciate different skillsets in people rather than focus on their shortcomings. That worker that never seems to shut up? Maybe they’re highly charismatic and can teach you how to small talk.
It’s only fitting to have this section as the final section. All of your skills are put to the test in a final confrontation with the boss. With boss battles, players face a seemingly insurmountable challenge that will give them a chance to test their newly acquired skills.
While constantly losing may cause you to rage quit if you’re playing Dark Souls, the process of dying and losing works with mindfulness. Characters in RPGs advance and get stronger with more play hours invested. You have to get stronger and learn the bosses’ behavior and tactics to come up with your own to defeat them.
This can build mental grit and focus on a goal applicable to real-life situations. Developing mental fortitude and rigor to continue training can build tolerance for monotonous tasks towards a greater purpose, like workouts in the gym to lose weight.
This can also desensitize us to failure and setbacks. The idea of failure may be paralyzing to some people, so much so that they give up trying something new before they even begin. Dying in video games can instill a sense of not giving up and getting back up after a loss or defeat.
After training, acquiring new weapons, and finally defeating a boss, you’re rewarded with a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. This is how the game rewards learning, and it’s also similar to how our brain rewards us.
Videogames are evolving to address anxiety—a final word of advice. Well, two. As an avid gamer, I know how all-consuming playing can be. You sit down, and suddenly, the whole day vanishes. Moderation is always something to consider.
Lastly, video games are not a substitute for professional help. Licensed therapists are a much more effective means of addressing anxiety and should be considered first.