I feel like telling a story. It’s not a sad or depressing one nor is it one full of happiness, sunshine and rainbows. It is, much like any other story based on a person’s life, a mixed bag of ups and downs. First, though, we need a protagonist so let’s call him Dido. You can rename him to whatever you wish as his name is not particularly important.

Dido is a 27-year-old average-looking, straight, white guy who is a 4th year psychology student and only recently started his first internship… ever. Some red flags but nothing particularly out of the ordinary, so far. The thing that makes him special is the 14 years that he devoted to video games because apparently developing a unique personality was too old school. In reality, his dalliance with video games began quite early.

It was 1999 when for the first time our little 6-year-old Dido was introduced to the fantastic world of video games. Back then having a personal computer was something only people that were well-off could afford, so we had the so-called computer clubs. Think of it as a call centre only seedier with more cigar smoke, dimmer lights and profanity. That was the time our little Dido was first introduced to such classics as Counter-Strike 1.5/.6, Starcraft, Warcraft 2/3, Baldur’s Gate, Age of Empires 2, Doom, Quake, Call of Duty and more… the end of the 90s really was the gaming’s golden age. See Dido did not really have all that many friends and the friends he had… Well, let us just say he always felt like the odd one there. It’s not that they were mean to him or anything, it’s just that the combination of unstable mental health and overprotective parents meant that he didn’t really get to do a lot of things the other kids were doing. Which in turn further meant that every time he missed something his peers did he felt just that bit more isolated. It’s not his parents’ fault mind you, On one hand, they did have good reasons, the little sh… sunshine just refused to learn how to breathe properly, plus he WAS odd. For him, video games became a new fascinating reality, a reality that was always there and he was always able to connect to it, he understood the rules of communication with it as they always stayed the same. You double-click the small square on the screen and after a while, the funny-shaped little models do the weird movements causing him to make the “WOAH” noises. This dalliance with the “running idiot with the gun”, as his mother would aptly describe Counter-Strike and similar such games, eventually grew from a short fling through a full-blown love affair to an abusive relationship out of habit and a non-existent sense of self-worth. And no I’m not saying that video game addiction is equal to being in an abusive relationship, but eventually, you do end up in an abusive relationship with yourself.

This initial amour lasted a good part of 4 years during which video games were still just a hobby. Dido would still go out and play, he would still try to communicate with others and he would still try to study regularly. Sadly the more he grew up the more he became painfully aware of his inability to fit in, if before that was just a feeling now it was a crystal clear understanding. This in turn made him feel more anxious, isolated, lonely, rejected and confused. And that made him spend more and more time playing video games. First, this was somewhat mitigated by the fact that he had to go to a club, spend money and so on but once he got his first PC, oh boy, things went downhill from there.

By 5th grade, he would spend the majority of his free time playing, by 8th grade every free second would be spent playing and if there wasn’t one, by God he would make one. Naturally, his social life went from endangered to extinct, his ability to relate to others on an emotional level was severely limited and his mind was pretty much entirely preoccupied, obsessed even, with the games he was playing at that time.

He felt, angry, confused, lonely, abandoned, rejected, guilty, weak, unworthy, anxious, and hateful. He felt angry, guilty and weak for not being able to stop despite knowing what it cost him, he felt angry and abandoned by his parents because they were unable to understand him despite knowing they could not understand him without him talking to them, he was angry and lonely because he felt rejected by his peers despite knowing that they had no reason to, hell he himself would not be around himself if he could. All this made him feel confused as to what was he supposed to do. And feeling like there was no one to turn to he simply chose to deal with it like a New York gangster, he tied the confusion and emotions, poured cement on them and tossed them into the depths of his barely formed psyche. From there he did the only thing he knew how to do, he kept playing. Only now video games were not fun or fascinating, they were a distraction, a despotic chore, a job, but a way to escape. At this point, he understood pretty much every type of game, he was not competitive mind you, that went down with the cinder block, he had just played so many different games for so long that he simply understood what to do, like a well-trained hamster with a wheel. Eventually, even games were not enough of an escape, so he started eating. He shuffled metric tons of fast food down his throat and soaked it with a healthy dose of Coke… a guilty conscience is a hell of a motivator. He did manage to graduate the 12th grade with a good diploma. Though, that was just something more to feel guilty about. After all, if he could get those results with basically no effort what could he have accomplished if he had just applied himself?

Remember what I said about this being like an abusive relationship, only with yourself? Well, it lasted for about 11 years, until he found himself at the end of his rope, age 22, having not taken 2 years’ worth of bachelor exams, 24 kilograms overweight, utterly convinced he is a worthless piece of crap not deserving of any happiness, success, self-affirmation and, drum roll please… once again planning to escape his guilt and insecurities only this time by running off to the French Foreign legion. Brilliant! Because that worked out so well the first time. If we ignore the fact that he had no passport to travel, no money to get a ticket and no live skills to actually get either of these… it was still a terrible plan.

Being pressed against the wall, he grew a spine and told his parents about what he had done. By that I mean Dido ran off to his parents and was a sobbing wreck for about 3 hours. Those very same people that he felt did not understand him, and to be fair they really didn’t but he was a sight to behold during those 3 hours, so they had to admit that something was wrong in the state of Denmark. Thankfully that turned out to be the better option as he started going to therapy, systematically reduced the amount of time spent playing games, slowly began taking his exams, began exercising regularly and managed to get his eating habits and weight under control. Recently, Dido even managed to realize that despite all the things that he had done to himself he is not a piece of crap and that he does deserve to be happy.

Why did I write Dido’s story though? Simply put, because we might all know a Dido or one in the making. In fact, with the Covid-19 lockdowns and the isolation that kids are experiencing, more and more of them are taking up games. More and more of them are liable to prefer video gaming to deal with the problems that appear unassailable to them but to us are minor or easy. At the end of the day what is important is how they feel, how they see the problem and what they need is to receive recognition that their thoughts and worries are valid and the support that they can deal with said problems. Because with a bit of attention, acceptance and care they can avoid becoming Dido. They can avoid missing out on learning to feel and understand emotions, developing the strength and responsibility to handle freedom and life in general a sense of meaning, that they matter, and that there is a point to trying. They can lead a life worth living. And, if you see a bit of Dido in yourself don’t wait or hesitate to seek help. Therapy doesn’t make you weak or pathetic, everyone needs help eventually for something. And for the prideful out there look at it this way, the sooner you look for it the smaller the amount you’ll need. And while Dido had the excuse of growing up in a time that did not really have all that much support available, nowadays there are plenty of places to get it from school psychologists and therapists to places like the youth house of Project L.I.K.E. If you are between 18 and 29 and you feel depressed or anxious if know you are in a bad place – no job, friends, plans to continue education and you don’t know what the hell you are supposed to do feel free to seek them out. It can be a great place to develop the skills and strengths needed to take control of your life.