Game Rec: The Beginner’s Guide

The Beginner’s Guide is a uniquely simple and emotional story-driven game about depression, anxiety, and the diseases of external validation and the impulse to “fix.”

Created By:  Davey Wreden
Initial release date: October 1, 2015
Platforms: Linux, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS
Time to Complete:  about 1.5 hours
Cost:  $9.99

What begins as a game that traps you inside the twin feelings of depression and anxiety, inviting you to empathy and concern, ends with the realization that perhaps these emotions do not need to be fixed.  In the fictional world of The Beginner’s Guide, “Coda” invites “Davey” to play his impossible games – prisons without exits, mazes without solutions, codes that cannot be broken.  Davey keeps offering us solutions where none exist, and the twist that sets this game apart is his eventually realization that this is wrong.  Coda is not sharing the games (his pain, his creativity, his soul) in order to be fixed.  Coda just wants Davey to share in these experiences alongside him.   Continue reading

Elijah’s Depression (originally written 10.1.13)

I’m starting a new bi-weekly series where I will share some of my favorite papers written when I was in seminary studying counseling.  They will be about faith, science, and faith + science!  

The Bible is not a psychotherapy manual, but the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 reveals much about depression, both in how humans experience it and in how God reacts to it. After Elijah witnesses the mighty power of God in burning up sacrifices (1 Ki 18:38-39), wiping out the Baal prophets (1 Ki 18:40), bringing rain after a drought (1 Ki 18:41-45), and empowering him to escape the wrath of Ahab (1 Ki 18:46), one would expect Elijah to feel strong and confident. Jezebel’s death threat (1 Ki 19:2) doesn’t sound all that threatening when God has just performed multiple miracles. Yet Elijah’s response to the threat is to flee to the desert outside Beersheba and lay down to die (1 Ki 19:3-4). This incongruence between experience and reality is normative for depressed persons. Although Elijah has every reason to trust God, he feels weary of his burden and wants his life to end.

Many Christians do not understand depression and therefore react badly to those suffering from it. Well-meaning Christians can give very bad advice that often leads to more guilt rather than deliverance from depression. How comforting, then, is God’s response! Rather than impressing upon Elijah his stupidity in not trusting the almighty God, He sends an angel to feed and care for Elijah (1 Ki 19:5-6). For forty days and nights, the angel gently leads Elijah through the desert to Mount Horeb (1 Ki 19:8-9). God takes care of Elijah’s needs for a month and a half, treating him with over-kindness and silent support. It is not until this loving foundation is laid that God speaks to Elijah and says, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Ki 19:9). This too is telling. God does not list all the ways in which He has been there for Elijah or guilt Elijah for his lack of trust. Instead, he invites Elijah into a conversation, meeting him where he is rather than demanding more from him than Elijah is capable of giving. Continue reading

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

18460392Wow.  Rarely has a book so enthralled and gutted me.  This is a HARD book to read, but so necessary, and (if you don’t care about that) so beautiful that it makes the hard things worthwhile.  This is a book about teen suicide, about mental illnesses, and the ways in which people react to “acceptable” mental illnesses versus those that make us uncomfortable.

Violet and Finch meet on top of the school clock tower, both of them considering jumping.   Violet’s sister died in a car accident for which Violet feels responsible, and Finch is climbing towards mania with undiagnosed bipolar disorder.  They find understanding, joy, and love with each other, and their romance is really unique and cute and all the things a fictional romance should be.  But that is not the point of this book.

The point is how the rest of the world treat Violet and Finch.  Violet gets passes from teachers, fellow students bend over backwards to regain her friendship, and her parents are willing to slowly love her back to health.  Her depression is understood and therefore “deserved.”  Finch, on the other hand, is tolerated by teachers, bullied by students, and beaten and/or neglected by his parents.  No one knows how to understand his mood swings (and neither does he), so they replace understanding with intolerance.

And even though this is the “theme” of the book and it’s so important, there are so many other beautiful things happening!  I’m from Illinois, and I had the same feelings of “this place is the most boring place on the planet” as Finch and Violet do about Indiana.  So it was so fun to read about them exploring their state and finding magical, silly, and beautiful places to visit and enjoy.

I also really loved all the Deep, Important conversations Finch and Violet have about life, growing up, and struggling.  This is one of the things I love most about YA books – they capture the overwhelming sensation of first realizing life is not fair and trying to find some kind of control over everything.  I loved the scene where Finch and Violet sit in a closet, writing words and phrases on post-it notes, ripping up the ugly words and sticking the good ones to the wall.

Although this is far from a feel-good book, I did finish it feeling hopeful and encouraged.  All the Bright Places went to some REALLY dark places, and I love it for that.  Life is full of darkness, and it is so important to have books like this one that are willing to shine a light on that darkness so that we can understand it better.  Because of that, hopefully, we can make the darkness a little more tolerable for those who are struggling to find the light.   Continue reading

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

I’ve been a fan of Felicia’s from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog to her YouTube gaming show with Ryon Day, Co-Optitude.  It was inevitable that I would read her memoir, though now that I’ve read it, I regret letting….one whole month pass.  I should have read this the second it was released! Continue reading

StumbleUpon Sunday (12)

StumbleUpon is a great way to lose hours of your life.  Luckily, I braved the Internet vortex so you don’t have to.  This week I found these especially interesting websites:

  1. She Lives in a Boeing 727
    This woman is a genius!  I want to live in an airplane treehouse!
  2. Wild Polar Bear vs. Dogs
    I was side-eyeing this photo series in case something horrible happened, but they became friends, how adorable!
  3. 20 Photos of “Terrifyingly Ferocious” Pit Bulls
    I lived with a pit bull last year, and she was the sweetest little cuddle bug.
  4. There are Two Kinds of People
    These cute little drawings highlight the (often technological) ways we differ.  I found myself cringing throughout this post–how can people leave notifications on their apps??
  5. 7 Disturbing Comics on Depression
    I would necessarily say “disturbing” so much as “encouraging” and “awesome.”
  6. Clever Tips to Make Your Life Easier
    These suggestions are genuinely helpful, from increasing phone volume by placing in a bowl to downloading YouTube videos with a simple hack.
  7. Visit Norway – Geirangerfjord 360
    This is a place.  On Earth.  How can I go there immediately?
  8. How I Can Afford My Life of Constant Travel
    Blogger Wandering Earl gives a detailed list of 12 years worth of travel–where he went and how he picked up odd jobs to get him to the next destination.
  9. Apps to Watch
    Ten new apps to consider downloading, whether you like photo editing, pruning trees, cooking eggs, or finding wi-fi.
  10. 15 Strangest Houses From Around the Globe
    #8 and #13 are especially delightful/weird!

I Was Here by Gayle Forman

WOW.  What a necessary book.  I feel like there is decent representation of depressed and suicidal teens in YA books, but there are not very many novels that deal with the affects of suicide on others.  Cody’s grief over losing her best friend Meg is palpable–the anger at her friend for killing herself, the blame she places on herself for not seeing it coming, and the slow hope of moving forward by finding her own strength.  I thought I Was Here did a wonderful job of honoring the mental illness and pain of those who commit suicide without ever glorifying or justifying the action.

There’s really not much to say about this book other than Read It.  It handles a difficult topic with delicacy, is full of memorable characters (and kittens!), and creates a vivid picture of a part of the country I’ve never experienced (rural Washington).  Most of all, it is a hopeful story.  It is about a girl who loses what she loves the most…and continues to live.  It is about the brave task of living one day at a time.  I adored it.  Continue reading

A Fully Realized Christian Hope Counteracts the Cynicism of Postmodernism and Legalism

I grew up in two worlds: the postmodern culture of my public education and the isolationist culture of my church. Although I was not consciously aware of the secular culture in which I grew up, it influenced me all the same, both implicitly shaping me and as I explicitly reacted against it. On the positive side, postmodernism taught me to value individual experiences and to look on the world with wonder at the multitudes of cultures and belief systems around the world. On the negative side, I internalized a belief that I could never fully be sure of anything. This applied to friendships, family members, and truth. I became a cynical person who doubted people’s love and wondered if I had any purpose in life. Although I was a loud-and-proud Christian at my public school, the theology I parroted rarely took root on an emotional level to counteract these fears.

In fact, although my church tried to offer hope in the face of a “sinful” culture, the theology I learned only exacerbated the loneliness and detachment of postmodernism.  I was taught a theology that was centered upon the cross in hope of a future in heaven. I learned about the depth of love Jesus had for us by dying a horrific death in atonement for our sins. I had a guilt-based relationship with God in which I feared every new sin I committed would crucify Jesus all over again. The only hope, I believed, was in heaven. This world was entirely awful, and I certainly was not capable of making things better. Therefore, I looked forward to the day when I would be dead and blissfully happy in heaven, a nebulous place of whites and golds where I knew my sin-stained self would be able to see Jesus face-to-face. Continue reading