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One look at my Twitch’s history and you’ll find that I have a pretty specific video game genre of choice: horror. I love a good psychological thriller, slasher, fourth wall breaking, or otherwise, game that will make me jump and scream. On a deeper level, I love video games that trigger my psychosis and brings the monsters that I meet in my mind, to my TV screen.
I suffer from schizoaffective disorder (bipolar type) which, oversimplified, means that I experience symptoms of both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Specifically, I have hallucinations. I see things that “aren’t there.” I can smell things that don’t belong. I hear voices, whispers, and chatter, in the corners of my rooms. My world is often a torment of horrors that I have spent almost three decades, trying to peel away from.
Someone without schizophrenia can hear a car alarm go off in the distance and barely register it. The brain instantly knows that the car alarm isn’t salient. You can ignore it.
But for some people with schizophrenia, says Vinogradov, it’s as if the filter is broken.
“They are walking down the street trying to have a conversation and their brain is being flooded with the sound of the door slamming, the airplane going overhead.”
The brain of someone with schizophrenia tries to process all that information as though it has meaning, says Vinogradov. And maybe, though this is just a theory, this onslaught of extra stuff, extra data — that is what gives rise to hallucinations.
“It tries to make sense of it so that the person can go about with their life,” says Vinogradov. “And there’s some evidence to suggest that that’s what gives rise to delusional ideas, to paranoia, to hallucinatory activity.”
Considered this way, schizophrenia is a disease in which the stream of consciousness has swollen into a tsunami.
The fear is real.
The way schizoaffective disorder manifests in my life, I am trapped in what feels to be a Tim Burton movie. Everything feels alive, even the colors on the walls. I can hear them breathing. I can feel the sentience of the world, watching me through their invisible eyes.
When I play horror games, there is a feeling of validation.
The monsters in my head, in my world, are very real. No one else can see them. No one else believes that they exist. When I load up a game of Amnesia or Left 4 Dead 2, the monsters are manifested across my computer monitor and there is no way people can deny seeing the same thing I am looking at.
For a moment, I feel a little less crazy.
I know that I am not crazy.
That zombie chasing me across my computer screen?
You see it, too. I know you do.
And for a moment, you’re in my world of terror and you, too, are running with me.
It’s one of the few times that I feel like other people understand.
It becomes self-triggering and cathartic… but on my terms.
Video games are not recommended for those who are schizoaffective or suffer from some form of psychosis, because it is easy to self-trigger and fall into a rabbit hole of hallucinations.
When you’re schizoaffective, you have a hard time differentiating from a delusion and reality (as others experience it). It’s difficult to play a video game and not have that game stalk you into the darkness of your mind.
For me, I want that feeling of triggering my own psychosis. I spend the majority of my day in fear that I will be randomly psychotic and not know where it came from.
Playing horror games means that my triggers appear when I’m ready for it. I bring myself to the high intensity state of stress induced hallucinations. I experience the terror, but on my time and my own terms.
Horror video games have given me back the power that schizoaffective disorder used to hold over my head.
You don’t have to have schizoaffective disorder to feel the benefits of willfully bringing yourself to a place of fear. I look at horror video games as something that supplements my medication and therapy sessions. Video games are a form of escapism that work hand in hand with my medical routines, so I can live a better quality of life without constantly feeling like I am drowning in chaos.
There’s something blissful and beautiful about allowing fear into my life, especially when I know that the fear is not putting me in real danger. I rather scare myself into a state of relaxation and catharsis than to force myself to drive a car, where the danger is more real. I prefer to play video games where I can confront and even destroy my own mental fears, than to force myself into situations where I can’t pause and take a breath.
Horror game recommendations:
Currently, I’m playing these games (and it does make me feel better!):
- Dead by Daylight
- Until Dawn
- Heavy Rain (not really a horror)
- Doki Doki Literature Club (meta/4th wall horror)
- IMSCARED (meta/4th wall horror)
- Left 4 Dead 2
If you enjoy watching horror streams, click here to follow me on Twitch.
Caveat: This post is completely from my own personal experiences and should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult your own doctor before giving horror games a try.