Gameslife

Gameslife #3 Batman: Arkham Knight & Mental Health

You may not think that Batman would make a very effective advocate for positive mental health, and, well, you’d be right! He’d be a terrible mental health advocate for so many reasons, but that’s not why I want to write about here.

Having played through Batman: Arkham Knight recently, I was quite struck at how Batman’s struggles throughout the game were not too dissimilar from the struggles of someone dealing with poor mental health. Beware of spoilers ahead as I delve into the game’s story:

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OK, still with me? Good, that means you’re happy with spoilers about the game’s story and, like me, you think this idea is worth exploring. Good for you! Let’s go on a journey!

People who have played the game will perhaps not be too surprised to read that I believe the strongest mental health metaphor comes in the form of The Joker’s portrayal here. Now, to bring you up to speed, Batman: Arkham Knight is the latest in the series of Batman games, with ‘Arkham’ in the title, which all form parts of the same story. By the start of Arkham Knight, Joker has already died as a result of blood poisoning from a chemical compound called Titan, and the first thing you do as a player is to cremate his body. A harrowing start to the game, that sets the mood for this dark tale and gets across the message that Joker’s very much dead and gone. However, Joker’s legacy lives on in various forms, but most notably as hallucinations that appear to Batman as a result of having been contaminated with Joker’s blood.

What all of this means in practice is that you, as the player, spend most of the game with an omni-present Joker around while you’re trying to get on with your various important duties defending Gotham.

There’s two things that are quite insidious about Joker’s presence in the game:

Firstly, only Batman can see him – Part of what make real life mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, difficult to deal with is that they can be invisible to other people. If you have a broken leg, you can see that and deal with it accordingly. If you are suffering with High Functioning Depression, you could seem fine to those around you, possibly a bit tired, but be dealing with things that sometimes make you feel like you’re fighting for your life. Indeed there are times when Joker’s presence can range from a minor annoyance to an overpowering force that threatens to consume you.

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Secondly, and this is a strange one, so bare with me, it’s possible to enjoy having him around –  I must admit, I thought Mark Hammil’s vocal rendition of the clown prince of crime had been so on point in the previous Arkham games that I was pleased to see him back in Arkham Knight, despite how unrepentantly despicable his character is and the clearly dark and twisted intentions he has. Oftentimes Joker appears as just a distraction to Batman, sometimes even bringing back painful memories, sometimes making horribly dark and inappropriate jokes about Batman’s loved ones, sometimes jumping out at him when he least expects it, and sometimes trying to convince him to just give up and let the Joker in his head take charge.

However, every now and again, I caught myself laughing at his jokes, enjoying his twisted sense of humour before immediately feeling guilty. His rivalry with Batman sometimes gets twisted into respect and there are parts of the game where he’s actively rooting for you and even acting like they’re in some comically dysfunctional romantic relationship.

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He even occasionally has helpful bits of advice. If you’re stuck for what to do to get past a problem he might drop sarcastic hints or stand next to the switch or clue you’re looking for to progress. Playing the game, I found the occasional gratitude I had for Joker quite unnerving. If everything he did was against my interests, it would be easier to disregard whatever he’s saying, but since he could be so helpful and entertaining at times, I find myself listening to him more, including times when Joker’s more actively sabotaging you.

Dealing with mental health issues has often been likened to having a voice in your head telling you things that don’t serve your interests. Depression can sometimes manifest as an internal monologue, telling you you’re not worthy of being happy or that nothing you do is ever good enough. If you suffer from Generalised Anxiety Disorder, you might be having all kinds of internal discussions when facing challenges or making decisions, even fairly inconsequential ones. You may worry about what happens if you do or don’t do this, what happens if you fail and who you might let down. And, as illustrated with Joker’s inconsistent behaviour, it can be quite difficult to distinguish between what inner dialogues are in your interest and what aren’t.

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(Photo by Nathan Cowley from Pexels

Throughout the game, you can see Joker’s influence on Batman become stronger. When Joker first appears to Batman, he appears sick and diseased as he was towards the end of his life, but later in the game, he appears in perfect health as he comes close to taking full control of Batman. Joker’s influence also increases when Batman is exposed to Fear Toxins, a chemical weapon used by arch-villain, Scarecrow, sometimes to alarming extents. In one encounter, Batman appears to be talking with Joker’s voice, delighting in the violence he’s engaging in and even pushing him towards murder, something he has taken a personal oath to never do.

The fact that Joker’s negative influence grows in response to Fear Toxins is quite telling as being put in states of stress, such as fear, can be known to worsen mental health conditions and allow the worries in your head to take over. To quote Peter Stillman from another video game series, Metal Gear Solid – “When you give into the fear, the darkness comes.”

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There is some debate in the field of outdoor adventure education practice as to the relationship between facing one’s fears and developing positive mental health. Many outdoor activity practitioners operate on the assumption that by overcoming activities with elements of perceived risk, you can increase your resilience and better respond to stress in the future. However, it is also generally understood that pushing participants too far and inducing too much stress can lead to the opposite effect and induce trauma that might worsen a person’s mental health.

In the case of our hero, Batman, he eventually defeats the Joker in his head towards the end of the game when Scarecrow has him captured and injects him with a concentrated dose of Fear Toxins. Initially, Joker becomes stronger and seems to take over completely and the player finds themselves loosely in control of him as he engages in a rampage through Gotham. However, Joker finds himself in a dark crypt-like place as Batman’s consciousness starts to fight back and eventually, Batman returns to the player’s control and defeats The Joker, throwing him into a sealed cage in his mind before disappearing into the mist as Batman overcomes his affliction once and for all.

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Now, let’s be careful here, as this final confrontation does very much oversimplify the process of overcoming mental health problems. We’ve explored the similarities between Batman and a Mental Health suffer, but now let’s look a bit more at how he deals with his condition. Throughout the game, we see Batman as a heroic, but highly flawed individual, particularly with regards with his Mental Health. He takes on an unreasonable amount of responsibility, whilst consistently denies offers of help from those around him, all the while holding himself up to impossible standards and experiencing flashbacks of traumatic events that you could easily argue demonstrate the ever present Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that he has never dealt with. Taking the appearance of Joker as a metaphor for deteriorating mental health, he responds to this by mostly ignoring it and not even telling anyone what he’s going through. The final confrontation with Joker described above seems to conform to the myth that Mental Health issues can be overcome by just soldiering on with an iron will alone, and it is this myth that often worsens cases of Mental Health. In fact, those who have completed the ‘Knightfall’ ending of Arkham Knight may argue that, although he did great things to protect Gotham, he ultimately failed to look after his own wellbeing.

So, if you can’t beat your issues into submission, what can you do with them? In recent years, a lot has been done to reduce the stigma surrounding Mental Health and to help those suffering from its various forms. In the UK, institutions such as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) provides information and advice for various issues, whilst GPs at your local medical practice can be a good first point of contact to refer you to all sorts of resources and programmes to help sufferers out. It is also heartening to see the many charities out there as well, including Mind, SANE, and Rethink, offering varying degrees of support and guidance.

Off the top of my head, various smaller things you can do to boost your Mental Health include spending time in green spaces, engaging in stimulating physical and mental exercise, and just making a point to reserve some self-care time to do things that boost your mood, rather than feeling you have to work yourself into the ground – the trap that Batman fell into and I’m sure many of us have also fallen into. And, of course, I cannot overemphasise how important it is to keep talking to friends and family to make sure you have an active support network and that you’re not suffering in silence while you’re dealing with something that other people can’t see, but is very real to you.

The important thing to remember is that you’re not alone.

I guess I could summarise this up by saying: “Be less Dark Knight, and more Adam West!”

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(Photo from IGN – click the link for a brilliant interview with the man himself from Comic Con 2014)

Operation: Soaring Eagle

Operation: Soaring Eagle – 3 Highlights of our Swedish Adventure!

Hello one and all! Me and Megan are briefly in between trips, recently back from Sweden and about to set off on our final sabbatical adventure to Iceland, where we’ll be leading trail maintenance teams in the mountains to support the Iceland Forest Service! We are currently being held at Manchester Airport as our scheduled plane to Reykjavik is undergoing maintenance, so I figured I’d use this time to give a quick rundown of our Swedish adventure and in particular 3 things that have made it such a joyous trip!

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Gameslife

Gameslife #2 – Death Stranding and Connections

On May 29th, a new trailer for Hideo Kojima’s much anticipated ‘Death Stranding’ came out, announcing that the game will be available from November 8th of this year. For those of you unfamiliar with Hideo Kojima and his work, he is kind of a big deal in the world of video games. He is best known for his hugely popular ‘Metal Gear Solid’ series (of which I am a huge fan) and for his unique cinematic and surreal style of narrative and game design. This new trailer has definitely piqued my interest in the game and given me good food for thought in the way we interact with others, both in the gaming world and beyond.

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(Norman Reedus and Léa Seydoux as characters; Sam Porter Bridges and Fragile respectively. Picture from Death Stranding’s PlayStation website)

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Operation: Soaring Eagle

Operation: Soaring Eagle – 7 Highlights Of Our Montenegrin Adventure!

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In previous articles I’ve shared with you a little bit about my six month sabbatical so far, offered guidance on planning for adventure and dealing with Day One Jitters, but now I’d just like to share with you the highlights of our recent trip to Montenegro. I hope this proves useful and rousing for anyone considering Montenegro as a potential travel destination and also goes to show, in general, that once you get past all the tricky stuff with planning your travels and dealing with your nerves, great things can follow! So without any further ado, here are my seven highlights from my trip to Montenegro:

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Operation: Soaring Eagle

Operation: Soaring Eagle – How To Deal With Day One Jitters

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Hello all! I would like to share with you, if I may, my experience of beginning my adventure in Montenegro and I hope that if you are thinking of having an adventure of your own, wherever in the world that may be, that it proves useful in helping you prepare and finding your feet once you’re out there!

Most travel blogs start with listing the highlights of a trip, or describing an idyllic scene of natural beauty and supreme tranquillity, but I’m going to start by describing a difficult portion of our trip. Me and Megan had a very smooth flight from Manchester to Tivat Airport, where we found the weather to be gloriously sunny without being overpoweringly hot. The host we were staying with picked us up promptly from the airport and took us to our nice, incredibly reasonably priced apartment and then we were able to amble around the Bay of Tivat enjoying the weather, the views and the food. The next day, we were picked up by the driver from Playworking‘s Adventure House and taken there, which we would be using as our base of operations for the rest of our in Montenegro. So far so good, right?

IMG_7703I’m sure you all can remember a time where, even though things are going great, something just knocks you off kilter and you end up heavily doubting yourself. For me, that happened the first time we went into our local town of Radovici to do some shopping and get the lay of the land. I found myself confused at where the local hiking routes were, unfamiliar with the products on offer at the market and feeling unable to get clarification or assistance due to the lack of English-speakers in the area and my extremely limited grasp of Montenegrin.

We just about cobbled together some food that would maybe last us a day or two but I wound up questioning myself: why was I paying for accommodation and food all the way out here when I was doing just fine back home? Why hadn’t I learnt more Montengrin or done more research about the area before arriving here? I was in such a state of doubt, I wasn’t appreciating where I was. However, by the next day, I had completely turned myself around and was getting stuck into adventures left, right and centre (which I’ll write about in a later Highlights of Montenegro piece).

For now, here are four things you can do to get over the jitters that are usually part and parcel of going on a big adventure somewhere new:

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Operation: Soaring Eagle

Operation: Soaring Eagle – Planning for Adventure!

In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of planning and budgeting to allow yourself to have the kind of travelling adventures that suit you without breaking the bank. I would like to share with you a few things that me and Megan have done with our recent trip to Montenegro prior to even setting foot on Montenegrin soil that allowed us to have a fantastic two and a half weeks out there with no need to sell any kidneys whatsoever! So without further ado, here’s four things you can do from home to save on your upcoming adventures:

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(Photograph from Porapak Apichodilok)

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Operation: Soaring Eagle

Operation: Soaring Eagle – Or Why I’ve Given Up A Regular Paycheck For 6 Months

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(Photograph from Eberhard Grossgasteiger)

Hello everyone! Hope y’all are happy and healthy wherever you are!

So, this title… I’m interested in how people might react to it. Operation: Soaring Eagle is the name I’ve given to the 6 month sabbatical I am taking from my place of work, after which time I shall be returning to my position which has been kept safe during my absence. This time stretches from March to September of this year and during this time I don’t have to do a single bit of work whatsoever, but obviously as the work stops, the pay also stops. I’d imagine some of you wouldn’t be too fussed about not having a regular paycheck since maybe you already have a good savings tucked away or you live quite a free range lifestyle allowing you to comfortably pick up work here and there. But I’d also imagine some of you couldn’t fathom a world where you don’t have a regular source of income for a prolonged period of time.

Let me tell you a little about my situation.

Continue reading “Operation: Soaring Eagle – Or Why I’ve Given Up A Regular Paycheck For 6 Months”

Introvert's Guide

EGX Rezzed – An Introvert’s Guide

After attending Comic Con in Birmingham a few weeks ago, it wasn’t long before my sights were set on EGX Rezzed in London, a convention dedicated to a celebration of the Video Games Industry. EGX hosts numerous games events in the UK and overseas, with Rezzed having a particular focus on up and coming ‘Indie’ developers as well as established ones.  The high number of exhibitors and events give Rezzed more of an intimate feel to it, with talks being conducted in smaller, more inclusive settings and developers eager to talk to you about the games they’re showcasing.

This being my first of hopefully many  EGX events, I feel I’ve learnt a few things I’d like to share with you to help you get the most out of your time there and events similar to it!

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Introvert's Guide

My Comic Con Odyssey: An Introvert’s Tale

March 23th, Birmingham, National Exhibition Centre. My third Comic Con experience, having attended two in previous years in Manchester.

For the uninitiated, Comic Con, is a global convention dedicated to celebrating works of fiction; particularly comics, films, tv shows and video games. These events host panels, meet & greets and question & answer sessions featuring actors, writers and producers upon many others in the creative industry.

However, perhaps the most iconic feature of Comic Con is the fact that members of the public are encouraged to attend these dressed up as iconic characters from their favourite franchises.

As a shameless nerd, it’s been my ambition to attend one of these for ages! A big part of the appeal was to be able to pay homage to some of my favourite characters in fiction, that have had a real impact on my life, by dressing up as them.

In 2017, I managed to cobble together a Solid Snake costume. For those of you not familiar with Snake, he is a lead character (arguably, THE lead character) in Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid video game series. My partner, Megan, was also taken in by the Comic Con hype and joined me by cosplaying as fellow Metal Gear icon, Meryl Silverburgh.

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Gameslife, Uncategorized

Gameslife #1 – Uncharted and Scrambling

Hello and welcome! This is the first in a series of features on video games that have had a real world impact on me and has inspired me to try new things. Today, I’ll be looking at the Uncharted series of games and how they have inspired me to try new and adventurous activities such as scrambling!

It’s hard to play a globe-trotting action-adventure game such as Uncharted and not get a sense of wanderlust; a desire to get out there and have an adventure of your own!

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