It’s amazing how we gamers associate certain points in our lives with specific video games. For me, my childhood will always be tied to the SNES; Donkey Kong Country, Super Mario World, Super Mario RPG, and A Link to the Past, defined my youth as a nerdy elementary school kid without a ton of friends.
Middle school was consumed by Goldeneye and Mario Kart 64 with my brothers, and Ocarina of Time by myself. In high school, I discovered Halo. I met a small group of friends that also believed in Microsoft’s upstart system. We spent countless weekends hooking up Xboxes to every TV in the house and throwing down in some Team Slayer.
This continued through college, both in the dorms on the university network and later in apartments as Xbox Live rolled out. Halo would go on to play a major part in my transition into the “real world”, as the other half of Two Guys Playing Zelda and I would get together weekly to dominate some Halo 3 online. No matter the era of my life, gaming was the constant.
Nintendo Switch in the ICU
In March 2017, the Nintendo Switch launched. I assumed that I would leave it hooked up to my TV about 99 percent of the time. But then my wife got sick. Shortly after the Switch launched, my wife spent ten days in the hospital. I spent that time exploring Breath of the Wild’s version of Hyrule from a room in the ICU, and I learned to truly appreciate the Switch’s mobile capability.
Throughout 2017, my wife was in and out of the hospital on numerous occasions. Through it all, Breath of the Wild was there. Whether it was finding shrines and Korok seeds, or just exploring the vast landscape Nintendo had built, Breath of the Wild was my escape. I would spend countless hours lost in that landscape, just trying to distract myself from what was happening in real life.
Uncharted 4 and Wife’s Passing
In November 2018, which was during the holidays, my wife passed away. It was somewhat of a sudden death. I was playing Uncharted 4 at the time. On the surface, Uncharted 4 is about Nathan Drake trying to find a pirate treasure. But the more important storyline involves Nathan trying to settle into a normal life with his wife, Elena.
When I beat it, and Nathan and Elena reunite as the credits roll, I broke down. I don’t think I’ve ever cried while playing a video game (ok, maybe at the end of the Mass Effect: Citadel DLC), but the closing moments of Uncharted 4 hit me like no other gaming experience ever has. I was in the middle of my grieving process. I’ve been a gamer literally my entire life, and finally, it was too much for me to handle.
Coping with loss of spouse like that has been next to impossible. It’s difficult losing loved ones. I spent a lot of recovery time going back to what I know best: gaming. I fired up Gears of War Remastered on the Xbox. Afterwards, I dove back in to A Link to the Past to help with my grief and mourning.
A Link to the Past was the Zelda game that introduced me to the franchise, and to this day it is one of the best games I’ve ever played. Exploring that simple, top-down version of Hyrule all over again has been a true joy. And it makes me think of those times I spent exploring the gigantic, 3D Hyrule we got in Breath of the Wild while my wife was in the hospital in the first place.
Video games have always been an escape. Whether it’s escaping loneliness as a nerdy kid, or escaping the most unimaginable loss possible of wife, games are an outlet for us to get away from real life. Games are a means through which we cope with hardship. Games are a method for expressing ourselves. And games are a way to explore beautiful worlds without ever having to leave our living room.
It’s one way how to help someone coping with loss, and many people are coping with loss and grief at any given time.
Video games have been more than just an escape for me. Video games are helping me to try to return to normalcy. They are helping to distract me from my daily issues. They are helping me coping with loss and change, coping with loss and loneliness, and coping with the loss of loved one.
So, from A Link to the Past to Halo to Breath of the Wild to Uncharted 4, all I can say is: Thank you, video games, for helping millions of us deal with our real-world problems. Because sometimes we just aren’t strong enough to deal with them on our own.