Opinion 3

Gamers & Depression: How Paper Mario Saved Me


Depression is not a new thing. Millions of people worldwide suffer from it and a lot of them never even know it. The ability to enjoy things, the ability to feel any sort of happiness or even the anything at all can be taken away and reality becomes unbearable.

Video games are often thought of as a form of escapism. An objective art form that helps us transcend from our reality into another; a reality where we have control over everything we need to. We are allowed to save lives, to be heroes, to be looked upon with adoration and acknowledgement or with fear and loathing as we see fit. There are lots of gamers out there who go to another realm periodically to escape from something: stress, dysfunction, everyday life, a mental illness, etc.

I want to tell a story about how a video game may very well have saved my life.

It was Christmas time and I was fourteen years old. I didn’t leave my room for much else besides school and to use the computer. It was where I was safe from the various forms of dysfunction and abuse that plagued our apartment.

At 6:00 a.m., we all wearily sat before the tree and I opened a small gift. It was Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, the sequel to Paper Mario for the N64. I hadn’t really felt a whole lot beyond general apathy and occasional fear until then, but the moment I saw it, my heart leapt into my throat.

I spent almost all of my Christmas break playing that game. Every single moment that my Gamecube was puttering away and I was adventuring, I remembered what it felt like to be alive. The game didn’t hesitate in displaying the full range of human emotions either; it exploded in a glorious array of feelings.

For anyone who played the original Paper Mario, you might remember it had a somewhat more serious tone than the other Mario games. While it was still colorful, humorous and overall focused on making the experience enjoyable, there were moments that really caught me off guard. I doubt I’ll ever forget Shooting Star Summit. I used to just leave Mario sitting there for hours on end while I listened to that beautiful, ambient background music and watched stars fly across the screen.

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door actually starts out in a rough and tumble overworld called Rogueport. It’s gritty, seedy and full of criminals just waiting to cause problems for you. However, the more you explore the new world presented to you, the more the game shows off some truly brilliant designs and art.

Even with that said, there are a few moments that hit so hard, they had me in tears. Without spoiling the game too much for anyone who hasn’t played it yet, I’ll just tell you right now that while they may not have you crying like a small child, they are heart-wrenching. They are also the moments that were a sticking point in my life. When, at last, I had finished the game, there was a very distinct moment where I turned off my Gamecube and sat in silence for a long while before carefully tucking the game away. I still have it, even to this day.

More than anything, I wanted to learn how to create these beautiful moments for other people. I wanted to learn how to induce these emotions in others. That’s why I began to write. I’d write every single day as soon as I got home from school, every single thing I could think of. Trying to recreate what I had felt in this game proved challenging, however. A lot of people know that when you first begin something, you’re bound to be pretty bad at it. Only by doing a huge volume of work or continuously trying to push your limits can a person move from the proverbial phase of “sucking” into being sort of good at it.

Now, as an adult, I’m working towards becoming published. I want to make stories for people that they can always hold on to, something they can escape into that might even one day help them through their own situations. Whether it be via games, books or even cartoons, I hope to someday get there.

As for the depression, it took me over a decade to finally admit something was wrong and to seek help. It’s a dangerous journey, one with lots of ups and downs and perils. Even at my lowest of points, I try to remember that I still have gifts for make to people, so giving up isn’t an option.

This is, of course, a personal story. Everyone is different and we all traverse the video game universe for our own reasons. Whatever yours is, I hope that you find your own Thousand Year Door, your own source of inspiration, your own adventure.

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  • http://deepexistence.com Stephen Guise

    Hi Amber,

    That’s a great story. The Paper Mario games mean a lot to me, too. It’s my favorite game series.

    I loved the first game’s story, where you’re trying to protect the princess from Bowser and he defeats you, and then you have to build up your strength to face him again and save the princess. It’s simple, but carries powerful messages like perseverance, courage, resilience, and determination. That game was very emotional for me when I first played it as a teenager.

    The thousand year door is just a magnificent adventure. I think developer Intelligent Systems puts a lot of thought and heart into these games. They have that special sentimental quality that’s hard to pin down, but it’s there.

    It’s an older game, but if you get the chance to play Chrono Trigger, it’s an incredible story and game. I think you’d appreciate it.

    Best of luck to you! You seem to be a great writer, capable of expressing your thoughts. You should consider self-publishing your stories. I’m a self-published author and my first book outsells most traditionally-published books (it’s called “Mini Habits”).


    • AColyer

      I meant to reply to this ages ago so I apologize for the wait. First off, I wanted to thank you for your incredibly kind words and encouragement. A struggle I often face outside of depression is trying to move forward towards my dreams and always holding back because I just don’t even know where to start. I think a lesson I forgot from Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is that holding back because you don’t know how to get there gets you nothing but stress and pain.

      All that said, it is people like you who remind me that just writing and learning and working is what matters, not the indecision or the end goal. I’m very humbled to meet a published author and your perspective on things has really helped me get back on the proverbial horse.

      Again, thank you. May you never stop creating!

      • http://deepexistence.com Stephen Guise

        That’s great! I really connected with your story and I’m always excited to meet someone who shares the love I have for Paper Mario (which is more than “that’s a cool game”).

        You may benefit from reading my book. I actually wrote Mini Habits using a mini habit of writing 50 words a day (or more). It sounds stupid, haha, but there are a lot of logical and scientific principles that back up why it works so well. Namely, it creates forward momentum every day, establishes consistency, and allows you to develop a powerful winning streak because the task is too small to decline or make up an excuse for.

        I’ve used this technique to get in the best shape of my life and read and write far more than I used to. It’s especially effective for those prone to depression (depression causes low-motivation states, and this strategy doesn’t rely on motivation).

        I’d love to send you a free copy of Mini Habits. I really think it could help you get to the next level with your writing or other dreams. It’s helped thousands of people so far, some of whom had failed for decades using the typical “get motivated” strategies you read everywhere else. Personally, I made mediocre progress for 10 years until I accidentally stumbled upon this concept.

        If you want to read it or skim it, please email me at: sguise -at- deepexistence -dawt- com