Games, self-harm or self-help?

We’re not talking about how playing games will cause you to miss out on important things in life, neglect your friends and families or even about the consequences of gaming itself. No – this is about how gaming can be very similar to cutting yourself with a razor blade or similar alternatives.

I’ve had a friend with such habits – she cuts herself whenever she feels lousy; and these moments are prevalent during the darkest times of her life. People cared, but not enough. Her self-harm here is completely made up of superficial to moderate wounds to her wrist, low-lethal and without suicidal intent.

No one hurts themselves because they want to die.

Then why do they still do it?

Because they want to feel something.

They don’t really enjoy watching their blood trickle from their wounds, or how scarred their arms have become; they use it to as an emotional outlet. They want to stop feeling a certain way, so they submit themselves to a medium that can allow them to feel something else, albeit it is pain. So what has this got to do with your COD, DOTA and all that good stuff? I’ve played my fair share of BF3, clocked over 400 hours in Dota2 on steam, played RTSes since I was E for Everyone – and yet sometimes I think people are playing for the wrong reasons.

Image sourced from Wikipedia Commons.
Image sourced from Wikipedia Commons.

I had my days too; after a lousy day at school, I would get that urge to blow off some steam online. We enjoy pulling that trigger, swarming our opponents with a zerg rush or throwing that fireball spell. All these aggressive actions somehow relaxes us.

 We need to go deeper

The aforementioned situation is an example of negative reinforcement, where the subject achieves a reduction of “bad feelings”. In other words, someone who performs self-harm is doing so to stop feeling lousy – be it a virtual nade or the real, gleaming razor on your medicine cabinet. We may not be actively rocketing ourselves in the face when we play games, but it becomes strikingly similar to self-harm when you realize these gamers willingly put their avatars at risk. We may not be actively be impacted by the rockets in game, least get fragged in real life.

Then we have the Positive reinforcement types, where the player seeks to create a desirable physiological state. We place ourselves into dire situations that simulate life and death, and we willingly put ourselves through all those emotional crunch… and for what? 

In virtual reality, we can’t simply feel the pain our avatars feel. Sure, we can see the character as a manifestation of ourselves. We downed a tower, we got the kill, and we died at this very spot. This is all us, but this doesn’t change the fact that nothing translates into physical pain in real life. Except your emotions. That sweet release, after you pull through a great struggle, the burst of endorphin – an endorphin rush. You feel exhilarated, brought on by pain, danger and similar forms of stress that you have tide through.


Note: The term  Endorphin implies a pharmacological activity (analogous to the activity of the corticosteroid category of biochemicals) as opposed to a specific chemical formulation. It consists of two parts: endo- and -orphin; these are short forms of the words endogenous and morphine, intended to mean “a morphine-like substance originating from within the body.

In contrast, social reinforcements refer to the use of self-harm to actively alter the social environment of the participant. This can be seen in two ways, one in which the participant seeks out interaction (take note: Interaction, not attention.) by inflicting harm upon oneself.  Some people feels that the participant is an (in their words) attention whore. Almost euphemistically, I’d say yes; you’re right. The participant wants attention, they want someone to see the wounds and to respond. They want some kind of interaction with other people, whether the interaction is praise or blame, it don’t matter.

Almost coincidentally, this is why people argue that internet trolls are sad, pitiful people in real life that has gone through some kind of trauma or similar events. Woops, going off rails here. 

Got this from google image search. What do you think?
Got this from google image search. What do you think?

Just boot up any MOBA now, be it LoL, DotA2, HoN and play a game. Less than 10 minutes into the game you’d find plenty of interaction, half of the time your team mates would be reminiscing passionate nights with each other’s moms. It doesn’t matter you do good or bad, you’d just get shit thrown at you either from your team or the opposing teams’. Do we voluntarily put ourselves online to partake in toxic conversations? Hope onto Xbox Live now with your headset and tune into any CoD games and listen to the sweet little nothings everyone’s got to say.

Yes, keep shouting.
Yes, keep shouting.

At the end of the day

There is no physical harm that could come to you whilst playing games, perhaps except obesity while adopting an unhealthy lifestyle. However this becomes complicated when we consider their effects on our mental well-being.

Are we playing games as a form of self-medication, do we use these games to heal and repair emotional and mental scars that real life dealt to us, in the form of morbid self-help?

The article is free for reblog and reuse.
Comercial use is allowed, as long as due credit is given.
The author blogs at
And to the girl who once needed help,
I’m sorry I didn’t care enough.

One thought on “Games, self-harm or self-help?

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