I think a lot about the new games that are constantly coming out. In some cases, games that I'd love to play, but that are coming out so quickly I can't keep up. Certain franchises are releasing an entirely new entry in the series every year. Other games that I love have begun to move into a system of "seasons" of play. This is where new content is coming out regularly in time limited chunks throughout the year. Streamers (an industry that I really enjoy, by the way) spend a great deal of time exploring this content and further enticing players to pick up the titles that they're loving and dive into the wave after wave of content.
To begin, I totally understand why this all needs to happen. Gaming is a business. They are selling us entertainment. And just like any other business, new content needs to be created and sold all the time. I get it. I support it. However, I have a hard time keeping up with it. My schedule doesn't allow for an endless supply of gaming. I do get a healthy dose of it every week, but still, it's not like it was when I was younger and could beat a game multiple times to get multiple endings. I've mentioned in previous posts, I have to prioritize my gaming.
This results in me simply having to say "No" to a significant number of games and experiences. Which, had an unexpected impact on my anxiety. My anxiety has a way of being managed by collecting or achieving things. This can manifest in multiple different ways. For example, I gain a great deal of comfort from finishing things. So, finishing a book and moving on to the next book is a sort of thrill for me. Finishing a project, like writing a paper, is a similar sort of thrill, though it requires much more effort than reading a book or playing a video game. So gaming has always been a low impact, relaxing way to manage my stresses and feel good.
In past generations of games, I could take my time and try to completely finish a game getting all of the collectibles, in game awards, and achievements. As new games, and particularly in our modern era of seasonal rewards, began to build up though, I discovered a new anxiety response. I had felt like I was constantly playing catch up to just finish seasonal experiences. I've begun to prioritize my games based on what season content is being released when, and how I can quickly achieve all of the time limited items I wanted before the content closed out. This is not a winning experience though. It makes my relaxing gaming sessions feel a lot more like work.
I've had to come up with a new personal policy. I'm prioritizing again. I can't earn everything, and some things have to drop off. Accepting my limitations feels bad at first. However, I take a lesson from my clients who were part of the NA and AA fellowships. They taught me that when they accepted their powerlessness over certain life circumstances, they gained power over their lives. I see a parallel for myself here. As I give up on earning EVERYTHING, I feel some discomfort, but then I gain a sense of relief. My favorite activities stop being like a job, and they return to being favored activities. I still prioritize and there are some things I'll jump into to be able to try and achieve what I want to earn. However, I'm learning that I can't do everything, nor should I try. That's resulted in a significant improvement on my mental health. I wonder how many others are feeling these pressures to "keep up" with the content that you love, rather than enjoying the content you love. I'd love to hear everyone's' thoughts on this.
- This post written by Dr. Steve Kuniak
I took a few weeks off from writing because I was attending the Pennsylvania Counseling Association's annual conference. It was in Pittsburgh this year, so it was great to be back home for a bit. I always love conferences because it provides the opportunity to interact with like minded professionals, to hear new things going on in the field, and then in this case to connect with old friends. Also, we had the Thanksgiving holiday just last week. So I'm really just getting back to all of this.
I wanted to comment, though, about the loss of one of my heroes, Stan Lee. I grew up reading comic books. One of the things I often share with people is that I basically learned to read through reading comic books. My dad bought me a mixed package of comic books one Christmas, and it provided the springboard that got me into super heroes. Though I've always been willing and interested to check out any good comic book series, my favorite stories surround the Marvel Comics characters. Specifically, Spider-Man has been a personal favorite of mine. I loved the way that these characters seemed to have real lives, interacted with one another in what felt like a living breathing universe, and were based in real world locations. I loved the depth of the characters (both hero and villain) and being able to understand the depth of motivation and decision making that led to each of the characters making the choices and living the lives that they did. They also provided me a great deal of comfort and support when I was dealing with everything we deal with growing up. Particularly bullies. I was picked on quite a bit. I had teachers that would step in, and family that tried to comfort me, I was lucky in those ways. But I could go to my heroes to get a break from all of the negativity that I still had to see. They gave me courage, and an example of doing the right thing even when other people aren't.
All of this was possible because of Stan Lee. He created these characters and spun the universe into existence. He may not have been involved on the day to day projects that I was reading at the time, but I still knew exactly who he was. He was still so active in the development of that universe and being the spokesperson for the company he was heading. I admired him. He was as much of a hero to me as the characters I was experiencing on the page. Over the years, just as much as I would continue to explore the characters, I would follow his projects. I'm proud to say that a handful of years ago I was able to meet him ever so briefly at a Wizard World Comic Con. I got his autograph, and a few minutes to express my appreciation and get a "no thank you" back from him. It was a great experience. I knew over the years that he was aging, and the reality was clear that at some point we'd lose him. But I still looked forward to catching his cameos in all of the Marvel movies. When I'd catch something he happened to write or someone was referencing about him, it would put a smile on my face. But now unfortunately, he's gone.
Stan Lee is one of those people, though, that will live on in all the stories he's created, and through those he's inspired. That was the real magic of Stan Lee's impact. He's left a legacy that, I imagine, will go on for generations. The lessons I've learned from the heroes he created have found their way into my life and my work. I'll always appreciate that and carry that with me. I'll end with a quote from Spider-Man 2 that I always think of when I consider what it is to lead a good life. Rest peacefully Stan. Excelsior!
"I believe there’s a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble, and finally allows us to die with pride, even though sometimes we have to be steady, and give up the thing we want the most.” - Aunt May to Peter Parker, Spider-Man 2 2004 Columbia Studios
- This post written by Dr. Steve Kuniak
I tried to come up with something that I could write focused on my typical interest in geeky and gamer topics. My mind keeps drifting to a mental health theme instead. However, this theme is still present in our geeky world, it's just different in that this is a theme that shows up in everyday life with just as much frequency as it does in our great culture. The concept that I want to focus on for this blog entry is that of Confirmation Biases.
A confirmation bias is a cognitive experience wherein we seek out information, only seem to recall information, or interpret information that backs up our pre-existing belief pattern. This could mean that you only seek out information that backs up your perspective, or it could mean that you interpret ambiguous information as being tied to your perspective. From where I sit, it's a dangerous phenomenon.
First off, I believe that we all struggle with this to some degree. However, I think when people really struggle with confirmation biases, they put themselves in a precarious place. They cause problems because they can lead someone into being overly confident (about something that may not be true) even in the face of contrary information or they can lead to people making poor decisions based on inaccurate information. Of particular concern, to me, is that once someone starts down this path, it becomes more and more difficult to step away. The stakes are constantly increasing as a person becomes more and more polarized in their particular viewpoint.
It's believed that confirmation biases result out of our brains attempts to simplify complicated concepts, or that it may be related to our brains propensity to focus on one topic at a time (so not entertaining alternatives as a result). From a mental health standpoint, this relates to an old explanation of how we get stuck in problematic thinking.
I come from the school of thought that many of the diagnoses that we deal with in counseling are related to behaviors that at one point existed to protect us, but now are getting in the way. So anxiety, or fear of a future that hasn't happened yet, is in some ways protective. It gets us thinking about problems before they've arrived. It's just sometimes these fears become completely crippling, and we become paralyzed in living our life. Or these fears may be based on things that are extremely unlikely to happen, but we get paralyzed nonetheless. Regardless, it has a noble purpose, but it really isn't helping us at all. Confirmation biases do this too. They help us to feel comfortable and safe. They help us to support our belief system, when others are trying to get us to think differently. However, they get in the way and lead us to really negative patterns of behavior. From my perspective, when I assess my own biases, I have to ask myself who else this impacts, and if my perspective is in any way harming anyone else (or at it's highest degree might it have the potential to infringe on someone else). If it does at all, then I need to reevaluate what I'm doing.
Please consider how this relates to things as simple as disagreeing about which console you should purchase and play on, or which Avenger ought to survive the next Infinity War movie. Please also consider more deeply how confirmation biases may be impacting your life and the lives of others on a more global scale. And before I go, if you're saying to yourself, "yeah, this is totally what's wrong with ________," then please turn that mirror back on yourself for a moment and see if you've got a little of your own bias showing too.
I've had a busy few weeks of work. I'm just getting past Midterm in the semester, and as a result I've completed a ton of reading papers, grading (as some of my classes are accelerated 8-week courses), and doing internship evaluations. On top of that I'm contributing a chapter for a book coming out. As a result, I've done a lot of double duty on work related stuff, often taking breaks from doing one type of work to do another type of work. There's just not been a lot of time for some of my passion areas recently.
This will all work itself out of course. In the coming week my workload should level off again, and I'll be able to get back into some gaming. This ebb and flow of work is pretty common now, and in talking to several of my friends, I'm not alone. I remember a friend in college who would often paraphrase something he watched or read stating, "All this living up to my full potential is cutting into my sittin' around time." That's very true. But a worthy sacrifice. However, it's also caused a change in how I look at my gaming experiences.
I've grown up in a golden age of gaming. As I grew, the games were constantly evolving. I started with a vintage Nintendo and a Sega Master System (along with my dad and uncles' Atari). I got a lot of games as a kid, and during holiday and summer breaks, after my homework was done, and on odd weekends where my family didn't have any plans, I could peck away at games pretty regularly. I didn't always finish everything, but I was able to polish off quite a bit. And in some cases I would replay certain games over and over again, trying to unlock everything I could. In the age of Achievements and Trophies I found a new drive to try and complete everything I could in as many games as I could. Some Achievements were simply unreachable for me, but I would try and fully complete everything I could. It was important to me to try and reach "Fully Sync" in every Assassin's Creed, and pick up every Riddler Trophy in the Arkham games. I had to beat Halo on Legendary, and in multiplayer, I tried to unlock every customization for my weapons and prestiges before I felt comfortable moving on to the next title in the franchise. This, even in the early days of my career, was doable, though it has quickly become unmanageable.
As my career and personal life have evolved over the years there simply hasn't been the space to enjoy multiple play throughs of a title. Or, for that matter, to try and squeeze out every single minor piece of my favorite games. Admittedly, this has created a sort of anxiety for me. I had historically gained a sense of pride from completing achievements, or fully completing every title. So when I don't, I feel like I'm betraying myself. Sometimes that means I just don't play a title at all, because it feels disingenuous to be the person who doesn't achievement hunt every corner of the game. But this also means that I'm constantly behind, and never experiencing any of the great stuff that made being a geek and gamer a passion of mine.
So the long and short of this is that I'm in a state of restructuring. I'm learning what it is to be a geek who may not watch every single new series or film franchise that comes out, but I do watch and enjoy the ones I want to. And I may not reach the max level with every one of my favorite titles, but I can still enjoy the games I want to. It's like Carl Rogers once shared about the "real self" and the "ideal self." If our real self and ideal self are too far apart, we create discomfort. So this means we either have to move the real self closer to the ideal, or we move the ideal a little closer to the real.
In some areas of my life, like my health, personal relationships, etc. I try and move my real self closer to my ideal self. In the case of my gaming, I'm trying to move the ideal self closer to the real self. I don't have to be an achievement hunter, unlocking every secret to still really enjoy the franchises that I love. So that ideal self can can come a little closer to the real. I'm a work in progress with this. But I'm sure I'm not alone in trying to accomplish personal transformation.
Over the summer I was spending some time catching up on Destiny 2. For those who aren't familiar with the Destiny franchise, every summer they begin a themed event called "Moments of Triumph." The basic idea is to encourage everyone who has been playing throughout the year to finish off the high difficulty challenges (like a Raid or the quest for a special item) that you may not have completed yet, but also to go back and indulge in all of the content that you may not have visited and tried out in a few months. This is a kind of a "victory lap" of all of the games activities for the year before they release the new years content in the Fall.
Though I play on and off throughout the year (see my previous post about my "Relaxation Paralysis" experiences) this is a reminder to go back and finish things up that I might be missing. The folks over at Bungie, who create Destiny, create incentives to complete the "Triumphs" by adding unique emblems, cosmetic items, and even a t-shirt you can earn in real life. This year there were a series of challenges that needed to be completed to earn a unique set of armor. These challenges were mostly low level in nature, but there were a lot of them. These, along with some of the slightly higher difficulty challenges either required, or were made easier through completion by a team. Sounds great right? The catch to all of this is that I'm mostly a solo gamer these days. Many of the people I used to game with just aren't as involved in gaming or we don't play the same things anymore. My schedule is non-traditional at work, and trying to find new consistent people to play with is difficult, because I'm very inconsistent right now. So that leaves me one option to complete challenges like this. I have to searching on "Looking for Group" forums, abbreviated to "LFGs."
LFGs are a really mixed experience for me. I've met some great people out there by randomly connecting with them. However, I've also met some people who weren't willing to be patient with anyone who needed to learn something new. I get this to some degree, some people play a lot more often, and are just trying to find some random additional players to jump on and quickly knock out a bunch of challenges. Unfortunately, there's many of us who never have the opportunity to learn how to achieve these challenges, but would like to. The reality is that I've run into many Gamers who can play well, and are interested in playing socially, but are too uncomfortable to put themselves out there and risk rejection or negative feedback by their peers. However, occasionally, there are posts that come up in LFGs that encourage new people to jump in. I began my search looking for these sort of posts. They're very few and far between. But this is when I discovered a new tagline that ignited my curiosity.
In order to group LFG posts, people use short phrases or hashtags to help interested players more quickly find what they're looking for. So you'll see posts labeled "#Raid," or "#KnowWhatToDo," or "#BeLevel350." The ones that caught my eye were those labeled "#NoMicNeeded." What really shocked me about these posts is how quickly these parties would fill up. I immediately realized why. If I don't have to have my in game mic active, then I don't have to communicate with other players in real time. As a result, the pressure to get rejected or experience negative feedback is significantly diminished. This is great for a lot of players. Many of us know the basics of what to do, but we don't want the pressure that comes along with having to perform cooperatively at a high level with people we aren't familiar with. Hell, much of the time I can even perform at that advanced level, but I don't want my gaming to feel that pressured. Additionally, a lot of the time that I do get to play, I'm streaming my Xbox onto my laptop, so that I can spend time with my wife, but we can enjoy the experiences that we prefer. If I have my Mic on I'll be talking in the room with her while she's trying to watch TV or read, and that totally defeats the purpose of trying to hang out and talk to one another while we're enjoying our own interests.
So finding this #NoMicNeeded tag was a breakthrough for me. I tried a bunch of times to get into these rooms, but I had to be extremely fast because of how quickly they'd close. Then I came to another realization. What if I made a post with this tagline? Would I have the same results? Yes, I absolutely did. I began creating my own requests for the things I needed to finish in Destiny 2, and posting a request for players with the tagline #NoMicNeeded. I would sometimes have so many immediate requests to join I had to turn people away. I started logging those peoples Gamertags and would contact them directly with the next activity I was planning to play, to try and be fair.
This little experiment has been eye opening. I fully completed my Moments of Triumph in record time (for me) once I landed on my discovery. The number of Gamers who are willing to play together, but are intimidated by the pressures of interacting with people they don't know and that they can't be sure will be safe or friendly, was significant. It's resulted in me spending a lot of time thinking about ways to be more inclusive in my gaming, and how I present myself to others online. Definitely more on this as it evolves.
All the best,
- This post written by Dr. Steve Kuniak
This post is about the question I ask myself regularly ("What should I play?"), rather than any actual advice on what's best to play. I struggle with this question every time I get a chance to pick up my controller. Mostly, I struggle, because the opportunities to pick up my controller are so few and far between. I'm a faculty member in a Masters of Counseling program and I work non-traditional hours. In addition to teaching my assigned classes and grading materials I also supervise Internships, and have to respond to student questions for all of these things along with my the needs for students with whom I've been assigned as an academic advisor. On the side I'm also having to keep up with long term requirements that are associated with my earning tenure. So, I've been working on several writing projects along with presentations, and service on committees, etc.
Then, there are the "just being an adult" responsibilities that also cut into my gaming time. I'm married to a wonderful woman, who is also a counselor, and I want to make sure I'm a good husband to her. We have our two dogs, and they're wonderful, but I have to be a good doggy daddy. There's taking time to pay bills, and go grocery shopping, and keep the house clean, and the list goes on. It all adds up so that my free time is usually spent doing another form of work. So much so that when I'm actually free I experience a sort of relaxation guilt. I don't feel like I SHOULD be relaxing because there's probably something else I ought to be doing. #Adulting
I'll add that another complication is that I want to make sure my wife has time to enjoy the relaxation activities she loves too. We try to practice compromises in our relationship, and we also like to spend time with one another. In many instances we find Netflix series that we both like, or genres that we can share with each other. But I'm still a Gamer, and this adds to my subdividing my game time. A fix to this has been the ability to stream my games. I'm primarily an Xbox fanboy, and a lot of times in order to fit my gaming in, I'll stream my Xbox through the Xbox app on my laptop, so that my wife can have the main TV, but I can still play at the same time. I can't always have the volume fully up, and I definitely can't jump into in game chat, but Xbox's game streaming has been a help (I'm writing another article about this specifically for another time).
So all this to get to the point that, when I do convince myself that I don't have anything else to be doing, I feel like whatever I choose to enjoy ought to be something that is absolutely going to be worth it. It's a question of what's going to give me "the most bang for my buck," as it were. What's funny about this is that it results in a sort of "relaxation paralysis" for me. I can never find anything that is in any way going to fully meet my needs. For a while this resulted in me just never playing or watching anything of quality. I would intentionally find something that I didn't want to really indulge in, just to fill the space, rather than to find something to enjoy. I realized I was "saving" the stuff I loved so that I could enjoy it when I finally had the time to really indulge in it. The reality is that I will never find THAT time. I always have a next thing to do.
So I started forcing myself to just play something I would like when I had some time. This works in a general sense. Though I've discovered a new layer to this process. I choose a game and while that game is loading I think of another game I'd also like to play. So I switch games. Then I think of another one I'd be excited to play too. So I switch games again. This actually eats from 10-15 minutes of my "free time" before I actually get to play anything.
I love story based games, and some of my favorite titles are Halo, Gears of War, Assassin's Creed, Destiny, etc. I end up trying to savor these titles, because I really want to be immersed in the story. I end up playing games that have some mindless components like multiplayer, or side quests that I can keep advancing on without having to experience all of the aspects of the game in order to enjoy it. I tend to jump into multiplayer in Halo and Destiny while playing side missions and generally leveling up in titles like Assassin's Creed and Sea of Theives (one of my new favs).
As a result of these balancing decisions I make, I have a huge backlog of games that I would like to play, and never really catch up on (Fallout, I'm looking at you). In the interest of practicing better personal mental health, I've made a pact with myself that I will begin working through that backlog, and that I am just as worthy of having recreational time as anyone else.
We all deserve to give ourselves some of this kindness, though as a counselor I know this is much easier said than done. I always advise my clients that they are deserving and should take opportunities for self care. I'm going to do my best to practice what I preach, and begin seeking more opportunities to log on and indulge in the things I love. I hope you all do the same.
All the best,
- This post written by Dr. Steve Kuniak
Welcome everyone! It's great to get back to writing.
I'm Dr. Steve Kuniak. Maybe we've met before at one of the conventions I've attended, or perhaps we've talked on Twitter or Facebook. Maybe you're totally new and arriving here for the first time. I've been working as a mental health counselor for over a decade now, and have been a geek and gamer since I was born. Truly, for those of you who don't know the story, I've been playing video games since I was about 4 years old, and basically learned to read through comic books. I've dedicated a huge portion of my career to using my mental health credentials to educate folks around the idea that being a "Geek" or "Gamer" really isn't bad. In fact, I believe that when people use the stuff we love in healthy ways, it can actually be really good for you. I've done some blogging and been interviewed on these ideas before (check out the Resources Tab for links to articles), and plan to do more. Experience Points is that base for these new initiatives. My goal is to grow this site into a resource center, and eventually move into doing outreach services as well.
I have several projects I'm working on simultaneously right now. I look forward to sharing them as they reach completion. For now, this Blog will serve as a place where I, and some of my colleagues, can share what's "good in gaming," or what's "good in being a geek." I look forward to catching up with everyone on social media and out in the world as well. For now, thanks for stopping by, and plan for an update here every week going forward!
All the best,
- This post written by Dr. Steve Kuniak