Anxiety and video games: Coming together through Final Fantasy XIV

  • Posted June 23rd, 2014 at 21:08 EDT by
    Kyle Prahl

I’m sharing this story for three reasons: 1) I think anxiety is a relatively ignored, woefully silent medical condition that deserves more conversation, 2) I love Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, and 3) I love when members of a gaming community come together to meaningfully support each other over something bigger than the medium.

Yesterday, Redditor MrBleck shared stories of his or her anxiety over tanking in Final Fantasy XIV. For those without MMORPG context, the “tank” is a traditional role that pulls double duty as leader and damage sponge. Tanks charge headlong into battle by “pulling” enemies and “holding aggro”–it’s their job to make sure enemies are only hitting them. If enemy attention re-focuses to another, less hefty party member, it can be a death sentence–especially for healers, who aren’t equipped to survive more than a few hits. If the healer dies, it’s pretty much game over. As such, tanks are the first, and most important, line of defense. It’s a stressful, often thankless, job–you need to know exactly how a given boss, raid, or dungeon operates, you’re expected to lead, and you must generate enough damage and attention to hold the aggro of every hostile foe.

I’m generalizing a bit–endgame fights are more nuanced than this, and every class in Final Fantasy XIV has a crucial role to play in keeping the party alive. But as a level 50 Warrior and endgame tank myself, I understand how MrBleck could feel crippling anxiety at the thought of jumping into a boss fight or raid for the first time. I’ve felt some, not all, of the same pains: The inability to let go of the single mistake that caused a wipe on Turn 4 of the Binding Coil of Bahamut. Lying awake at night, playing over and over in my mind the moment I failed to grab Phase 6’s Soldier and Knight in time to protect our healers. Staring at the Party Finder menu, afraid of joining a Turn 5 group lest I cause another wipe with a similar mistake. Nervously waiting to see the complaints of an anonymous stranger after countless other gaffes on my journey to level 50. Growing furious when another stranger admonished my girlfriend’s ability to dodge a major attack while healing the party. Don’t they know she’s trying and learning? Don’t they know how terribly these words can tear us down?

I’m not a doctor, and I can’t accurately diagnose anxiety, the medical condition: “an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physiological signs (as sweating, tension, and increased pulse), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.” I know that, from time to time in my life, I’ve exhibited the symptoms, and certain video game experiences can exacerbate them. I also personally know people for whom anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder can be crippling; for me, it isn’t, so I hesitate to speak on behalf of those worse off than myself.

But I’m confident that video games can bring people together in a way that makes sharing these feelings and experiences easier, especially as they pertain to our common hobby. I don’t know MrBleck, I don’t know how emblematic his or her Final Fantasy anxieties are of a mental illness, and I don’t know whether we’d make good friends if we ever met in real life. But this morning, as I read MrBleck’s story, I felt more connected to a new person than I have in weeks.

For its part, Final Fantasy XIV can be extremely fun and immensely rewarding, and the community it fosters has consistently impressed me with polite attitudes and a warm, nurturing embrace of new players. Certain video games, under certain conditions, with the wrong kind of people, can breed or evoke terrible feelings that are terrible for us. But I believe they have a greater potential to to bring us together, deepening our understanding of ourselves and each other. In this way, I don’t regret a moment of the four months I’ve spent playing Final Fantasy XIV. I’ve learned more about what sets off relentless anxiety in myself. Consequently, I go into dungeon groups and real-life social situations alike more mindful of how I can foster a healthier environment for others. As a tank–a leader–my chance to do good is even greater.

That, in itself, could be a source of trouble; after all, the thought of letting people down makes me anxious. But I look forward to finding strength in the gamers I choose to share these feelings with, just as I hope MrBleck found strength in the deluge of positive responses from players who’ve felt the same.