Daily Archives: May 22, 2012

Bipolar Gamers & Programers

It might be my locale, but I would guesstimate that 50% of the people I’ve met in Seattle with a bipolar diagnosis have been (or are still) involved in computer/video game programming, game or software testing, or the like.

At first I thought it had to be some kind of fluke, how could this be such a common pathway that such a large chunk of the bipolar community I’ve met is involved in it?

Again, I realize I live in Seattle, and we are a bit of a hub for that sort of thing. BUT, is there something about the bipolar mind that makes for successful programmers? Does our introverted nature and ability to work in intense bursts make the perfect recipe for software and game development, or is it something different?

Personally, even as a girl, I have been enamored with video games since childhood. One of my early memories is waking up in the wee hours of a Saturday morning to wield that big red Duck Hunt gun hooked up to my Super Nintendo before my parents woke up. One could argue that this is long before any bipolar symptoms ever set in (though if you knew me as a child you might consider that slightly questionable), but it was my imagination that was transfixed with the notion that someone had created another world, a fictional one, that I could interact with.

Talk about escapism!

That said, I did plenty of other, regular sorts of kid things too. Made mud pies and fed them to my sister. Dug a giant hole for no apparent reason. Dressed friend’s little brothers in drag. The usual.

The trouble is that the feeling of escapism came back as a crutch in a big way in the early part of high school. As the world celebrated the millennium, I quickly found myself neck deep in a game you may have heard of called Everquest.

When does someone become addicted to a game? Well the fact that I was depressed certainly didn’t hurt. I was also young and a bit awkward and had braces, someone who tried to be invisible the first two years of high school.

But, in an imaginary place I could only reach through my dial up internet, I was a sought after companion. I was a girl. When you’re a girl and you are a gamer, you are a rare breed -a bit less rare today. Though I could have been a dude pretending to be a chick the whole time, I was treated like royalty, and was given an exceptional amount of attention that I was not receiving in real life.

Frankly, the whole thing was ludicrous, you can’t imagine the number of men who claimed they’d fallen in love with this (very blocky) elf character I made (who was a total prude -thank god I didn’t know anything about how to be sexy), and at 15 or 16 years old you can imagine that the attention felt very nice on my end. There was an imaginary land where I was someone popular who everyone wanted to be around, which was nice to think about because in real life I was sitting at home alone.

Anyway, when people are in the throes of depression (even mildly), escape can feel like an instant cure. There isn’t time to wallow in anything, or muse about life, or feel dread about whatever next awkward and painful milestone is coming next. When you feel alone, it is nice to have a place (even a virtual one) where everybody knows your name.

For these reasons specifically, I have to be very careful about how much time I spend playing video games today.

Part of me can’t help but wonder if this notion is one of the things that coaxes those of us with too many thoughts, or negative thoughts, to peruse a career around this virtual form of escape.

And, I wonder if the work in the programming industry itself takes on some of the same sorts of feelings of escape? Some jobs just don’t take up enough attention to act as a form of escape from the sorts of thoughts that people with bipolar disorder are often struggling with pushing out of their minds, and I can’t help but think that might be why so many people with bipolar disorder have such demanding jobs (and why some, it seems, can’t hold a job if it isn’t a good distraction).

Having a place for our minds to wander, whether that is a good book, a movie, or someplace virtual (like a video game) can really help get us “out of our head” and get a break from those unruly or overwhelming thoughts. An escape is a great thing to have in your arsenal of “tools”, so if you are someone who is able to spend maybe an hour a day enjoying an escape from reality I would definitely recommend it.

Just don’t pack your bags and live there.