If you struggle to cope, find yourself experiencing high levels of distress frequently, or compartmentalise emotions and actually feeling numb to things which should be upsetting, you may benefit from exploring your toolbox of coping mechanisms. Everyone uses a few different ones, and everyone has the capacity to learn more adaptive techniques. The first step is to understand what defence mechanisms are, and to help with that, we’ve applied them to examples in our favourite video games.
This is not by any means a definitive list and all of the examples are used as entertainment and educational purposes only! Yonder thar be spoilers…
Adaptive Defense Mechanisms
EXAMPLE: Henry, Firewatch
We all have thoughts, feelings and impulses that are not socially acceptable. Whether it be rage or sex or something else, this is human nature, and it is how we deal with it that matters. Sublimation is a descriptor for dealing with unacceptable impulses using an acceptable behaviour. The classic example is an angry person playing rugby. The physicality of the sport allows him to channel the rage he feels without it being destructive to him or others.
I struggled to find a valuable example within video games but Henry seemed to fit. Our troubled protagonist isn’t necessarily ready to deal with the stress of his marriage or the abandonment of his wife, but instead seeks solace and a time for contemplation in the watchtower.
Another great example is the act of playing video games itself!
EXAMPLE: Sora, Kingdom Hearts
Compensation is a great way of accepting ourselves as balanced individuals, composed of strengths and weaknesses. We’re all good at some things and not so great at others. For example, I was always pretty good at science, but have never been any good at sport no matter how hard I try. And that’s okay! This is a way being okay with imperfection. It’s also a good start when making up for personal inadequacies – we’re all a work in progress, and whilst we develop one aspect that needs improvement it’s good to keep up morale by being happy about something else.
Sora is like, one of the most grounded characters I’ve ever seen, it’s so funny. Particularly after his experience becoming a heartless, he has a sense of realism and humility in him that you don’t often see. He understands that he has weaknesses, and that he can’t be perfect all the time, and he leans on his strengths in those times. Namely, the friendships he has made with those around him, and his strength to persist even in the darkest times. I kind of love Sore, his fantastical optimism sometimes can hold a real power.
EXAMPLE: Link, The Legend of Zelda Series
When we suffer a challenging situation and make a conscious decision to delay paying attention to a thought, emotion, or need in order to cope with the present reality, that is suppression. This helps us bear the unbearable, to make it through safely and it helps us to accept those feelings of distress at a later time so that they have been dealt with.
The reason I’ve chosen Link for this one is because of a really cool revelation in Breath of the Wild, which I discussed in this article. He has always been a silent protagonist, if you choose to believe that the cartoon TV series doesn’t exist, which would be an example of using denial in a healthy way. And after something like 25 years of silence, we finally know why.
Link chooses to hold his tongue for the sake of everyone around him. He is able to quash the anxiety and pressure that comes with being the Hero of Time, to take the burden of the entire kingdom’s fate, and take it with an attitude that says, “Everything is going to be fine”. This important role helps Hyrule to continue to function even whilst under almost constant threat.
EXAMPLE: Nathan Drake, Uncharted Series
Our wise cracking hero endures some pretty traumatic circumstances throughout his journey. He regularly has entire groups of people trying to kill him, sometimes with rocket launchers. He has killed thousands of men (and in fact the player is awarded with a trophy called “Ludonarrative Dissonance” for doing so). His mother died by suicide, his father gave up care of him, and he lived with the belief he had watched his brother die for years.
And yet Nate is never without a jig in his step and a wry comment. He uses humour to balance out the negative, to put a silver lining on the clouds. This is a very mature defence mechanism and one, if used in moderation, that can make life feel that bit easier. Of course, Nate is an exaggerated example and if anything he’s probably a murderer with antisocial personality disorder but…that’s a story for another day.