The Games That Helped Me Through Heartbreak

Originally published on Trevor Trove on February 22, 2016

A little over a month ago, my world was thrown for a loop when my girlfriend sat me down to tell me she wanted to break up. It completely blind-sided me and took its toll on me emotionally. Because we were living together, it affected other parts of my life too. Due to the nature of the breakup, we still had to live together for a bit while we got situated in our new lives apart from one another. In the meantime, I threw myself even more into video games and maintaining my daily writing here. Recently, I came to the realization that a lot of the games I’ve played in the last month or so have been instrumental in helping me through this breakup. Here’s are some of the games I’ve played and how they’ve helped.

Actual Sunlight – One of the very first games I played start-to-finish post-breakup, Actual Sunlight did a great job reminding me that the situational sadness I was feeling from the heartbreak was nothing compared to the severe depression others feel on a daily basis. I admittedly went into this game knowing it was about depression and looking for a “misery loves company” experience. It’s a short little story-driven experience but serves as an excellent illustration of what someone suffering from depression has to deal with on a daily basis.

Dark Cloud – While Actual Sunlight was the first game I played start to finish, Dark Cloud was probably the first game I played, period, during this transition. I picked it up shortly after PlayStation announced their PlayStation 2 on PlayStation 4 games because it was one of my favorites from that generation and I had already started playing through it bit by bit before Cat and I had that fateful conversation. It was serving as my go-to game between games. But when the breakup happened it became my comfort game as well: a game I could just jump into without needing a focus all that much (because I had already played it years ago) and could just comfortably revisit.

three fourths home – Following up on Actual Sunlightthree fourths home was a game I played through on my Vita in one sitting in the bed that Cat and I used to share. The standout takeaway from this entry on the list was that I am incredibly fortunate to have my family nearby willing and available to help me out when times are tough. Even though I’ve pretty much always lived within 10 miles of my parents, we’ll go weeks or even months without talking at times but I know they are there for me when I need them. With Cat moving out, I decided to downgrade my own living situation in order to save some money and my family has graciously been helping with the move. three fourths home served as a great reminder to stop taking my family for granted.

The Witness – Walking around the beautifully vibrant island of The Witness in and of itself is calming and relaxing. But solving any number of the games particularly challenging puzzles was incredibly rewarding in light of the breakup. Any time I triggered one of the lasers, or especially when I completed the game’s difficult musical timed challenge, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of pride and personal validation that helped combat the “woe is me” mentality that I might otherwise have been feeling.

LEGO Marvel’s Avengers – As dumb as it might be, LEGO Marvel’s Avengers might have been the toughest of these games to play through on an emotional level for me. Playing through LEGO Jurassic World and LEGO Dimensions with Cat and writing about those experiences for my Co-op with Catherine series are some of my favorite experiences from our relationship so playing through another LEGO game solo stung a bit. But it didn’t take long to remember that I’ve been playing through the LEGO games alone since the original Star Wars ones. And the breakup can’t take away those co-op memories. Hell, I’ll probably remember my time playing those games with Cat more than the others in the long run because I wrote about the experience as it happened. When I was thinking back on the LEGO Star Wars games recently, I had completely forgotten that the first game was the crappy prequels but I’ll remember those Mr. DNA loading screens from LEGO Jurassic World because “[Catherine] hates Mr. DNA. He represents waiting and [she] hate[s] waiting.”

Firewatch – I had largely stayed away from preview coverage of Firewatch so I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into when I loaded it up. I had seen some screenshots and knew it fell under the first-person experience/walking simulator genre. I was pleasantly surprised as I uncovered the story unfolding between Henry and his voice on the other end of the radio, Delilah. Without even seeing one another, the two (at least in my playthrough) forged a bond. They were certainly both probably too damaged for anything lasting to come of it and this game hit me just as I started reaching the acceptance stage of grieving for my own relationship. Things didn’t work out, but there will be other opportunities.

Life is Strange – The most recent game I finished also wound up being one of the most heart-breaking tales I’ve ever experienced in video games. The love that Max has for Chloe in Life is Strange, romantic or platonic, is powerful and experiencing the highs and lows of their supernaturally insane week served as a microcosm for my own relationship. As Arcadia Bay fell apart around Max, Catherine and I were finally moving our stuff out of the home we shared. But just as Max is able to rise up over and take the ultimate control of her destiny, so too will I.

One last small commonality of all of these games: I Platinumed or 100%-ed each and every one of them. I’ve never really identified myself as a Trophy-hunter but there certainly is some personal pride to take in the meta-game of “completing” each of these games. Much like my experiences with The Witness, every time I finished another one of these games, I felt like I had accomplished something, on my own. Each game served as a small step of transition back to the single life. I don’t play games as an escape from my life because I consider the very fact that I have access to and the ability to play games an indication that I have a pretty good life when all is said and done. But every now and then, I’m incredibly grateful that they can lift me up when the chips are down.

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