17 votes

Any tips for dealing with games that make you too uncomfortable?

I mentioned in this weeks "What are you playing" thread that I'm starting Fallout: New Vegas. I'm really digging the game, but I'm also having a hard time playing it, mentally.

I've got something of a phobia when it comes to nuclear radiation, specifically in the context of, say, a nuclear apocalypse or meltdown. The issue is that any amount of knowledge about nuclear safety doesn't help, the very topic causes anxiety. I use the term "phobia" because I haven't got any rational reason to respond this strongly to this concept, especially since like most people I'll never actually be exposed to dangerous amounts of ionizing radiation. Surprisingly, I have no problems getting x-rays.

The specific issue I'm having is with the entire setting of Fallout: New Vegas, and the rest of the series, being in a post nuclear apocalypse setting. I get extremely anxious when my Geiger counter goes off, even if it isn't affecting my RAD levels in-game. I flinch when I do something that increases my RAD level like eating or drinking new items, and am paralyzed when it comes to consuming anything that boosts the RAD level, even after reading about the system and how it works. I was wound so tight tonight I blacked out for a short moment when a robot came around a corner and surprised me. I'm not screaming or anything, and it's not giving me nightmares or anything, I'm just panicking even just walking peacefully around the world dealing with minor enemy encounters.

My current solution is short frequent exposure to the game at appropriate times of the day/night. I want to play this series and at least finish the main stories of the games.

Does anybody have any similar experiences, and any advice on dealing with this fear and anxiety? I don't see not playing as an option simply because I'm enjoying the hell out of the game, so I'm trying to find a healthy way forward with this.

25 comments

  1. [2]
    EgoEimi
    Link
    This is very interesting. You have a few options: You avoid stimuli that trigger the phobia. Just don't play. You confront and overcome the phobia. Do exposure therapy. You attenuate the stimuli...

    This is very interesting. You have a few options:

    1. You avoid stimuli that trigger the phobia. Just don't play.
    2. You confront and overcome the phobia. Do exposure therapy.
    3. You attenuate the stimuli that trigger the phobia.

    on #2: There's plenty of literature about exposure therapy, or consult a doctor.

    on #3: In your context, it seems that the issue you're experiencing is the game-simulated stimuli for radiation: the clicking sound of the Geiger counter, presumably color changes on screen, and so on. Fortunately your game world is digital, so you have immense control over aspects of the experience.

    • Try reducing or muting your game volume
    • If possible, in sound settings reduce the game effect volume and increase the music volume
    • If you want/need game effect sounds, then try playing your own music separately to mask some of the sound
    • Play with game video settings: adjust gamma, brightness, saturation, whatever.
    7 votes
    1. knocklessmonster
      Link Parent
      This is the nuclear option, if I can't somehow bring the stress level down any other way. I found a trap where I was trying to read about game mechanics to calm myself down and just psyched myself...
      1. You avoid stimuli that trigger the phobia. Just don't play.

      This is the nuclear option, if I can't somehow bring the stress level down any other way. I found a trap where I was trying to read about game mechanics to calm myself down and just psyched myself out. However, I seem to be doing a bit better on that front not trying to address the problem outside of the game.

      1. You confront and overcome the phobia. Do exposure therapy.

      This is the option I really want to try, and may be the easiest: Just play the game, get the effects, and normalize it, essentially, and back off if it's too bad. I may wind up roaming the wasteland to get used to a bunch of elements, so I'm not going into firefights when I'm super high-strung.

      1. You attenuate the stimuli that trigger the phobia.

      Probably one of the best options, even with its limits. "Fallout" is the name of the series, after all.

      If you want/need game effect sounds, then try playing your own music separately to mask some of the sound

      I think the ambiance is a huge issue for me, as well, but that's just a separate issue of me being sensitive with regards to that sort of thing. I'll definitely try modifying the experience to make it better for me. Thanks for the advice.

      4 votes
  2. [4]
    mrbig
    Link
    It seems to me that you have a psychological problem that is being triggered by the game. Gaming tips have a slim chance to help with that. I advise you seek a mental health professional, but not...

    It seems to me that you have a psychological problem that is being triggered by the game. Gaming tips have a slim chance to help with that. I advise you seek a mental health professional, but not because of a videogame. Going to the root of this issue might help you live a happier life. Sure, videogames are great, but your well being is more important. Maybe just put Fallout aside for now?

    I can't play or watch horror myself.

    6 votes
    1. [2]
      Adys
      Link Parent
      Seconding the suggestion of trying to figure out the root cause of this phobia. Introspection will do a lot of the work if you don't want to go as far as getting a mental health professional to...

      Seconding the suggestion of trying to figure out the root cause of this phobia.

      Introspection will do a lot of the work if you don't want to go as far as getting a mental health professional to help. Put yourself in the situation that makes you uncomfortable and try to figure out which are the triggers and why they are causing you panic. Knowing all too well that this is not the real world and you are not in any danger.

      4 votes
      1. knocklessmonster
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        This thread has actually been helpful with this approach because even talking about it causes my anxiety to spike a bit. In trying to explain my phobia, I've had to try to understand it a bit, and...

        Put yourself in the situation that makes you uncomfortable and try to figure out which are the triggers and why they are causing you panic.

        This thread has actually been helpful with this approach because even talking about it causes my anxiety to spike a bit. In trying to explain my phobia, I've had to try to understand it a bit, and am surprised by how inconsistent it seems to be. In the real world, the parts that trigger my anxiety response are things I will never have any exposure to. I'm fine with the things I am exposed to, like x-rays, airport backscatter scans, or background radiation, but warning signs trigger this response to varying degrees based on context.

        I'm thinking of embracing the opportunity to confront a fear I've had, which was why I made this thread. I'm terrified of heights and couldn't climb a stepstool, but learned to manage this fear by taking up bouldering, and even doing some top rope climbing. In the game I can control my experience via many different means, like perks to provide buffs with radioactive exposure, game difficulty, etc. I'll try do do what I did when I was climbing walls, and just ask myself why I feel the way I do. The reason I made this thread is I hadn't considered this as a solution, to be honest.

        3 votes
    2. knocklessmonster
      Link Parent
      Definitely. It's a major reason I'm limiting my play time currently because I want to play the game, but not cause any psychological harm. Once I put the game down, I'm fine. If I find I need to...

      Sure, videogames are great, but your well being is more important.

      Definitely. It's a major reason I'm limiting my play time currently because I want to play the game, but not cause any psychological harm. Once I put the game down, I'm fine. If I find I need to tap out as the story progresses, I will.

      I have every intention of seeing a therapist for my anxiety issues, but I'm mostly waiting for life to stabilize before I go about that as it's not usually an issue day-to-day.

      3 votes
  3. [2]
    TheJorro
    Link
    How open are you to responding to phobia or unease by overcorrecting into nearly-comedic levels gung-ho acceptance? That's what I do when I'm playing a game that I feel is threatening to stop me...

    How open are you to responding to phobia or unease by overcorrecting into nearly-comedic levels gung-ho acceptance?

    That's what I do when I'm playing a game that I feel is threatening to stop me for one reason or another to do with horror, creepiness, or unease (which is my own frictional texture with media). The way I break through is to simply become what I fear most.

    Yes, I took it from Batman. I was six years old. But, hey, it works.

    So whenever I play horror games and find myself getting freaked out, I force myself to rethink of myself as the monster and everything else as things that will fear me, or as close as possible. For a game like Resident Evil 7, I'm given all the tools to take out any monster in my way so I consciously can reframe it as a game where monsters must justify their continued existence to me or risk my shotgun. For a game like Outlast, where you are not given the tools to fight back, I reframe it more as a comedy where I make a game of dodging around and making faces at the things that go boo, like I'm playing a fun game.

    Silly? Of course! Silly beats fear.

    So, Fallout. Fallout does give you a few tools to approach radiation in this way, there's a lot of humour to be found in FNV especially. I believe there are entire builds that revolve around basically eating radiation and becoming comically superpowered from it, especially the Rad Child perk. Combined with a few radiation weapons, you can basically be the radiation!

    Of course, you can always mod away the Geiger counter sound as much as possible if that still sets off a visceral reaction. The Fallout games use it for ambience a lot, on top of the practical use in-game.

    6 votes
    1. knocklessmonster
      Link Parent
      Sounds like a good opportunity to reprogram myself! If i go to a horror themed thing I start talking shit to comfort myself anyway (nothing too bad, the actors are still people, after all), but it...

      How open are you to responding to phobia or unease by overcorrecting into nearly-comedic levels gung-ho acceptance?

      Sounds like a good opportunity to reprogram myself! If i go to a horror themed thing I start talking shit to comfort myself anyway (nothing too bad, the actors are still people, after all), but it never translates to games, oddly.

      I believe there are entire builds that revolve around basically eating radiation and becoming comically superpowered from it, especially the Rad Child perk.

      Honestly, I hadn't considered this, but it may be a great way forward. With Ultimate Edition I can use Rad Child and Atomic! which seems to turn irradiated food into a power boost, even.

      4 votes
  4. [2]
    Thra11
    Link
    Do you play alone, or with other people / another person in the room?

    Do you play alone, or with other people / another person in the room?

    4 votes
    1. knocklessmonster
      Link Parent
      I'm not usually alone in the room, but it's not an issue that is made better by having somebody I know sitting behind me like horror-driven media. Even then, I avoid horror games for the reason...

      I'm not usually alone in the room, but it's not an issue that is made better by having somebody I know sitting behind me like horror-driven media. Even then, I avoid horror games for the reason that I just can't do them (Fallout is, arguably, not a horror series).

      2 votes
  5. knocklessmonster
    (edited )
    Link
    I figured I'd post an update after a few longer play sessions. Frankly, if I'd known the game's sound was designed the way it is, I would've never picked it up. However, that stuff can be fixed,...

    I figured I'd post an update after a few longer play sessions. Frankly, if I'd known the game's sound was designed the way it is, I would've never picked it up. However, that stuff can be fixed, and has been remedied to the best of my ability with great results. The rest is tweaking how I play and interact with the world to avoid the radiation mechanic, and moderate my response to it.

    General ambiance:.

    1. Muted the music. It creeps me out, and I don't need that if I'm already having a hard time with the setting. It greatly improved my experience.
    2. Turned down sound effects: The interiors are creepy, even if they're innocuous, but I can't mute this audio channel completely, or I won't hear gunshots and it would actually affect how I play.

    Gameplay presents two seemingly contradictory solutions, and can be modified by others:

    1. Don't get irradiated! It's going to be unavoidable (vault 34 is coming up on my list of things to do), but I'm controlling my response by controlling my exposure.
      • It feeds somewhat into RP and game mechanics since I've got my Vault 13 canteen keeping me hydrated (one of the DLCs), and I can choose to use stimpacks instead of food.
    2. Do get irradiated! I'm also looking into sort of an exposure therapy route here. I wandered around in Clark Field, a nuclear power plant that had fucked with my head, and just explored it, taking it slow, and over time was able to calm myself down a bit. I killed the geckos there with no problems, and then reloaded my save so I didn't have to waste one of my two RadAways.
      • This also helps from a gameplay/RP perspective: I can play characters who try like hell to not eat/drink irradiated stuff to save money on RadAway, or whatever.
      • I'm still open to using the mods @umbrae suggested, and may fiddle with them eventually.
      • I'm still quite far from the Rad Child and Atomic! perks at Lvl 20 with 70 Survival.
    3. Game Difficulty: This isn't a power fantasy sort of game, at least at level 12 for me, but I found turning down the difficulty helped disarm some of the overall anxiety, so it's one less contribution to distress.
    4. Companions: It feels a little better not travelling the Wastelands alone, I guess. I normally hate this mechanic, especially since this is the technological Skyrim precursor with even more jank from the kill cams, but it feels better not being completely alone.

    To test the new changes I ran around Clark Field, which was the area that kicked off the series of events telling me I had an issue. I still had that "oh shit" panicky feeling when the radiation warnings showed up. I sucked it up and ran around the power plant, killed the geckos, and checked things out while calming myself down as nothing happened. I then reloaded (I accrued +120 RAD, didn't want to waste a RadAway), ran around the overworld to progress in a quest, and found I was able to calm myself down more. It's a similar approach I use when I'm in a high place, like when I started bouldering, but I was honestly stuck enough in the context of a video game I couldn't see the way out.

    Update on the update: I'm approaching main story endgame, cleared the weather station bunker with an unexpected all +1 RAD/sec, and it definitely seems manageable now.

    4 votes
  6. [2]
    Seven
    Link
    I don't play the Fallout games for that exact same reason. I would personally measure whether the enjoyment I get from the game is worth all the anxiety it puts me through, and whether or not I...

    I don't play the Fallout games for that exact same reason. I would personally measure whether the enjoyment I get from the game is worth all the anxiety it puts me through, and whether or not I could get a similar enjoyment from a different game that doesn't spark such anxiety.

    2 votes
    1. knocklessmonster
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      It works out weird: I feel I get more enjoyment than anxiety overall, and am trying to figure out how to deal with a super specific problem I don't seem to be able to think my way out of. If it...

      It works out weird: I feel I get more enjoyment than anxiety overall, and am trying to figure out how to deal with a super specific problem I don't seem to be able to think my way out of. If it was general horror game issues I would totally not see it as worth the effort, but the game isn't even that scary, until there's suddenly an enemy you didn't know was there.

      2 votes
  7. [4]
    umbrae
    Link
    Have you looked to see if there are any mods that remove radiation from the game? I know fallout generally is one of the more modded franchises.

    Have you looked to see if there are any mods that remove radiation from the game? I know fallout generally is one of the more modded franchises.

    2 votes
    1. [3]
      umbrae
      Link Parent
      @knocklessmonster it looks like this mod might make it so that radiation is no longer a problem, specifically the “RR Removed” mod? https://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/46985

      @knocklessmonster it looks like this mod might make it so that radiation is no longer a problem, specifically the “RR Removed” mod? https://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/46985

      5 votes
      1. [2]
        knocklessmonster
        Link Parent
        That's just a series of resistance buffs, I think. It could help with building up a power fantasy experience, which could disarm my issue. I'll consider it if I can't use any other techniques to...

        That's just a series of resistance buffs, I think. It could help with building up a power fantasy experience, which could disarm my issue. I'll consider it if I can't use any other techniques to cope, or I don't adapt to the game.

        2 votes
        1. psi
          Link Parent
          From my reading, it sounds you can use it to effectively disable the rad stuff (emphasis mine). It also sounds like you can selectively enable the mods, eg rad removed but normal damage...

          From my reading, it sounds you can use it to effectively disable the rad stuff (emphasis mine).

          I've tested the rad resistance and it works. With the rad resistance perk or a high enough endurance even the basic rad suit will give 100% protection. At 100% the rad meter will not come on and the rad counter noise will not play. You can also wait in irradiated areas.

          It also sounds like you can selectively enable the mods, eg rad removed but normal damage resistance/threshold (weapons/melee damage).

          5 votes
  8. [2]
    Macil
    Link
    Does this have to do with the gameplay (the idea that your character state is imperfect, that you've messed up a perfect play, that you've wasted inventory items fixing the issue that you might...

    Does this have to do with the gameplay (the idea that your character state is imperfect, that you've messed up a perfect play, that you've wasted inventory items fixing the issue that you might not get back in time for an important situation, etc), or about imagining the reality of what the game is telling you about (thinking about radiation unrelated to the gameplay systems, like in the way someone might be freaked out about seeing spiders in a game even if they don't harm the player at all)?

    If it's mostly the first category, then try saving your game and then play for fifteen minutes carelessly and aggressively. Use a bunch of the temporary boost items to amp up your damage or whatever and get in a fight with some enemies while not bothering to take cover. Use that high-damage ammo you've been hoarding. Take some damage in fights instead of playing it safe and see if you can still kill the enemies quickly enough to win. And then see how quickly you get that health and ammo back anyway despite being careless, and realize you probably had been playing the game much more cautiously than necessary. Maybe turn on cheats for a bit and walk into some fights just to see how the enemies attempt to fight to get used to it.

    2 votes
    1. knocklessmonster
      Link Parent
      I guess like somebody with arachnophobia encountering a harmless spider. It's honestly signs, signals, and concepts, rather than actual exposure. For example: I'm fine passing the local nuclear...

      like in the way someone might be freaked out about seeing spiders in a game even if they don't harm the player at all)?

      I guess like somebody with arachnophobia encountering a harmless spider. It's honestly signs, signals, and concepts, rather than actual exposure. For example: I'm fine passing the local nuclear power plant or getting an x-ray. I'm not fine reading about nuclear power plant accidents or seeing warning signs. My reaction to these is a fight or flight response that varies in intensity with the context. It's usually mild, but I noticed it was ramping up as I played New Vegas.

      If it's mostly the first category, then try saving your game and then play for fifteen minutes carelessly and aggressively.

      The issue isn't even enemies. I would think I'd be freaked out by glowing ghouls, for example, because they're actually dangerous products of in-universe radiation exposure. I'll take hits and mow down a herd of radscorpions no problem. I may jump at an enemy coming around a corner, but it's just surprise.

      I think I get your point, though, and New Vegas, and I believe most of the other entries, provide a mechanism by which you can benefit by irradiating yourself. Sort of how I was climbing up and down walls, I can just play around in radioactive pools.

      2 votes
  9. [2]
    Pistos
    Link
    It seems odd to me that someone would want to subject themselves to a specific game that elicits such a strong negative response in them, but, that aside: Have you considered playing with no...

    It seems odd to me that someone would want to subject themselves to a specific game that elicits such a strong negative response in them, but, that aside:

    Have you considered playing with no sound? Perhaps the game's audio settings has a separate slider for sound effects.

    If sound is critical to success in the game, you might be able to somehow pass the audio through some audio filters which would key in on the geiger counter sound, and lower or mute it. Perhaps the "tick" sound is a very specific frequency, and so then you can apply an EQ filter to mute that frequency.

    1 vote
    1. knocklessmonster
      Link Parent
      Honestly, it's because it's not the game that scares me, it honestly feels like something that isn't a part of me dragging me into the anxiety. It's not like horror games, which I avoid because...

      It seems odd to me that someone would want to subject themselves to a specific game that elicits such a strong negative response in them, but, that aside

      Honestly, it's because it's not the game that scares me, it honestly feels like something that isn't a part of me dragging me into the anxiety. It's not like horror games, which I avoid because they're a conscious problem that'll give me nightmares or make it hard to navigate my dark apartment, if that makes sense.

      I'll play with sound levels, and try to mitigate the Geiger counter sound, or turn of ambient sounds, or something if I keep having problems. They keep the sounds separated into different channels (Music, Voices, Background, Effects, Footsteps), so I should be able to moderate one without affecting the others.

      3 votes
  10. [2]
    nukeman
    Link
    For a long-term fix, I would recommend seeing a therapist, especially someone who has dealt with radiophobia in the past.

    For a long-term fix, I would recommend seeing a therapist, especially someone who has dealt with radiophobia in the past.

    1 vote
    1. knocklessmonster
      Link Parent
      Therapy is definitely something I will do in the future. I never considered this an issue that needed it, but it may be part of a larger thing anyway.

      Therapy is definitely something I will do in the future. I never considered this an issue that needed it, but it may be part of a larger thing anyway.

      2 votes
  11. [2]
    csos95
    Link
    I remembered your comment on the other thread about getting most of the games and starting New Vegas and thought you were in for a great time. Having the context that you have a phobia of...

    I remembered your comment on the other thread about getting most of the games and starting New Vegas and thought you were in for a great time.
    Having the context that you have a phobia of radiation, I have to ask what made you want to play the Fallout series to begin with?
    It's one of my absolute favorite series (I have hundreds of hours in each of the 3d games), but the main theme of the series is that it takes place after a nuclear apocalypse and pretty much everything is irradiated/mutated.
    I would've though this is one series you'd stay far away from.

    1. knocklessmonster
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      I didn't know I had a phobia or anything resembling one. Yeah, I found stories about nuclear accidents freaky, but who doesn't? Signs warning of radiation risks, like in x-ray offices, made me...

      Having the context that you have a phobia of radiation, I have to ask what made you want to play the Fallout series to begin with?

      I didn't know I had a phobia or anything resembling one. Yeah, I found stories about nuclear accidents freaky, but who doesn't? Signs warning of radiation risks, like in x-ray offices, made me pretty nervous, but that's what they're there for, to warn about a hazard, and I don't bat an eye when getting an x-ray. When I made that comment, the game still felt pretty uncanny, having gotten to Primm and walked down stretches of abandoned highway I've driven, but I was doing just fine.

      I'd chalked my initial response to the radiation mechanics in game to normal concerns over a new mechanic, like in any new game: mild concern and very much a "let's see where this goes" mindset. I was working on the "Come Fly With me" quest when I stumbled into Clark Field and I became instantly scared, like I felt like I was in physical danger sitting in my chair, but being used to dealing with anxiety I followed my radar marker, dispatched the geckos when they came, completed that part of the quest, and kept going. After the rocket launch at the end of "Come Fly With Me," the Geiger counter responded to the increased background radiation, ramping my anxiety further when I realized what it was, leading to me completely blanking for second when I came around the corner to a Mr. Gutsy when I was working on "That Lucky Old Sun." Then it all clicked that I may have a problem.

      1 vote