I don't remember much of my second year of university. I just remember my room. Days bleeding into one another as I listened at my door to make sure my housemates weren't around before I crept out to get food.
At the start of the year I had tried to kill myself for the first time. Thankfully I didn't do my research and woke up in hospital, but the angst I felt for trying and failing, and the stigma around it, crushed me. My Asperger syndrome hopped into the party and convinced me that everyone would judge me. The result of this ultra combo of neurosis was that when I was released from hospital, I retreated to my room and stayed there.
The situation was dire. After a few weeks, my friends had stopped trying to get in touch and while I was keen to socialise again, I felt too drained to leave my room. My housemates often had parties, but jumping straight in was overwhelming. I was welcome, but couldn't really connect. I felt isolated and the situation seemed hopeless.
I wasn't expecting respite to come from a lurid arcade shooter. One night, I was washing up in the small kitchen next to the living room as a TimeSplitters: Future Perfect tournament rocked the lounge. It'd been months since I'd played a video game; my own Xbox 360 sat under a thick layer of dust. I watched for a while before shyness overcame me and sent me scurrying back to my room.
TimeSplitters is a multiplayer FPS from the makers of N64 classic GoldenEye 007. There was something about the mess of watermelons, monkeys and explosions that kept drawing me back in. The game takes every cliché it can get and smashes them together: the average game could see you shooting everything from '70s cops to intergalactic space robots.
Over the next couple of weeks I ducked in and out quietly with nothing more than a polite nod. A series of unofficial house rules had created a code of honour for the players and spectators. Thanks to drunken spectators turning into commentators, I started to learn these ad-hoc rules: any sort of mine was frowned upon and it wasn't how many but who you killed, and how, that gave you prestige.
Past midnight one night, a knock came on the bedroom door. My housemate looked sheepish: "We're just about to play some TimeSplitters, fancy it?" My heart hopped up in my throat. Besides a brief smile and nod to the cashier at Tesco or the harried-looking guy that delivered from the Chinese place down the road, this was the first human contact I'd had in weeks.
Turns out I'm the fucking best at TimeSplitters. We laughed, we cried, we did that whooping thing that guys in their early 20s seem to do. We got really stoned. For the first time in months, I went to bed in a good mood.
Around midday the next day, another knock. Less apprehensive now, my housemate yelled through: " TimeSplitters in five!" I ended up playing the game a lot over the following month: it was easier to curl up in my living room than leave the house. Whenever I was worn out I could sneak back to my room.
'TimeSplitters: Future Perfect' trailer
The crowd of stoners that rocked up at my house night after night were always happy to play. Their mixture of acceptance and indifference helped me slowly drag myself out of my shell. Conversation stuck to easy topics with a rotating cast and nobody ever really asked any awkward questions about why I was always wandering the house in a pair of Teenage Mutant Hero Turtle pyjamas that were a tiny bit too small for me.
Behind the inane characters and explosive weapons, TimeSplitters was an incredibly varied game. The time travelling plot device allowed designers to mix and match their tropes for level and weapon design, while the multiplayer aspect that made GoldenEye such a timeless classic had been revised and improved upon. A variety of competitive and silly game modes, and a map-maker, meant there could be hundreds of hours of content.
A few weeks later, three months after my attempt, I started to venture outside again. Little things like tagging along to the pub, or coming out to get a takeaway. Small adventures. Shortly after that I started to appear at the back of lectures, batting away the more awkward questions with a smile rather than feeling the urge to retreat.
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I'll always have a soft spot for Future Perfect for giving me a way to interact with others when I didn't feel able. It was instrumental in my recovery. When playing TimeSplitters, motives are pretty clear and socialising is easy. I didn't have to second-guess how someone was reacting to me, or whether they were judging: they were just screaming at me for killing them with a brick.
TimeSplitters helped me communicate. Games gave me that space. As many people with depression will tell you, it's easy to slip into a tailspin: nothing is good, nothing will ever be good. You feel like a prisoner in your own head. For me, that was stopped by one very good shooter and a group of people who were tactful enough not to make a big deal of things while I re-learnt the ropes. While much is made of the incredibly toxic communities surrounding many of our most popular online games, the communities and friendships that form around local multiplayer games can be exceptional for helping people to deal with a range of issues.
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