I have so many outlets, and they’ve stopped working. It feels disingenuous to bring up the pandemic again and again, wielding it like an excuse for every low feeling and depressed thought I have these days, as if there aren’t millions of others out there experiencing that very same thing. Video games have been my outlet of choice for a long, long time — for a person without health insurance who can’t afford therapy, spending a few hours in Ghost of Tsushima feels like brain balm.
During this unstructured whorl of days that are both too long and too short, even my favorite method of escapism isn’t helping to treat the overwhelming dread that’s taken over my most endearing hobby: writing.
I’ve been on unemployment for over six months, and haven’t worked since March. That alone feels like it something I shouldn’t be allowed to complain about, as not working has definitely come with its fair share of bonuses. What I didn’t count on was how much of my free time has become wasted space that I was certain would bloom endless hours of creativity. My creative writing has felt like a weight, and even in the brief moments of sudden inspiration, the motivation reserves have been vastly depleted.
A few nights ago, on a whim, I decided to download Kind Words on Steam. The game costs less than a cup of coffee and is something I’ve known about for a while, and was curious to check out. The concept is simple: you sit in a little room listening to a lo-fi synthwave soundtrack while you send and receive anonymous letters. The twist of the game is in its subject matter, and how vulnerable its users make themselves. The requests that come in run the gamut of self-harm, depression, anxiety, suicide, cancer, relationships, school problems, and personal loss. Over the last few days many of the letters I’ve read have been about the American election and it’s many faults and effects on our daily lives.
After answering a few requests in as honest a way as I could, I decided to make my own request. The responses were kind, and overwhelming.
The idea that other people are out there sitting at their computers and looking for some kind of reprieve from their black thoughts is enough to twist something in even my calloused heart. Once I started to reply to messages, I did so for nearly twenty minutes on end, addicted to the very simple concept of handing out kind works and nuggets of personal advice. The responses to my own request were so kind, so soft, so uplifting — and so unprompted. No one told any of these people to write back to me. They don’t even know who I am.
None of those things stopped them from taking time out of their day to offer some simple words of kindness to an anonymous stranger that they’ll never meet, and never know.
I don’t know if Kind Words will fix my motivation issues. It probably won’t. What the game does is create a soft, safe space. It gives anonymous outlets to people who don’t have them. It makes us feel less alone. Spending only a few minutes with Kind Words every night feels like a brain balm, but in a different way than killing monsters does. It’s different because — on the other end of every letter — is a real person with real problems who just wants to feel like they’re less alone.
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