I suffer from chronic depression. There, I said it. It’s not something I’ve shared publicly before, though most of my close friends and family know. I’ve been depressed for so many years that I started to believe it’s just part of my personality. I’m still struggling with finding the treatment that will work for me, but I’m hopeful that will happen soon. Admitting you have depression is a scary thing to do. Mental illness is still vastly misunderstood, and some people can be unbelievably cruel to those who suffer from it. That’s why I’ve kept it hidden from public view for so long. However, one thing I haven’t hidden is how much I love video games. Last year saw the release of Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved, and I believe it’s one of the most innovative games released in the past few years. But my love for this game goes beyond the fact that it’s innovative and fun. I love it because on days when I play it I feel noticeably better in terms of my depression.
There’s been a lot said about video games and depression. Some argue that the excessive playing of games can lead to depression. Others think games are great way to combat the disease. Recently, many games have been made with the express purpose of helping people with depression. However, Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved is not one of those games. Games in general tend to make me feel a little better, but Fantasia is off the charts in terms of affecting my mood. Why is that? Turns out I might feel so much better after playing Fantasia because it brings my love of gaming together with two other things that have been proven to help depression: physical activity and music creation.
Exercise has long been touted as a tremendous tool for combating depression. In fact, some studies have shown exercise to be a more effective treatment than medication. Neuroscientists believe this is due to a number of factors, including the production of endorphins and other brain chemicals, and a rise in body temperature. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t exercise enough, but that’s because I really hate traditional forms of exercise. I envy those people who can go to the gym and feel great. The thought of getting on a treadmill or taking an aerobics class doesn’t interest me in the slightest, but put a motion game in front of me and everything changes. Granted, the physical activity contained in Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved isn’t exercise in the normal sense, and the game can be played without much in the way of physical effort. But I really get into the gameplay with large swoops of my arms and even lunges when I punch to select a new mix. My body temperature definitely rises while playing, and I’m sweating a bit after long play sessions.
Music is another tool that’s used to help all sorts of medical conditions, including depression. Music therapy, as it’s called in the medical world, goes beyond simply listening to music. Researchers have found that participation in the creation of music can be even more helpful than passive listening. Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved includes music creation in a couple of ways. The first is the selection of different instruments from the different mixes mentioned above. The second is the inclusion of “composition spells,” which enable players to create their own snippets of music to include in the song.
Music games are nothing new, and Harmonix, a company who specializes in music games and made Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved, has made other music games in the past, including the Rock Band series and Dance Central series. I’ve played all of those games, but none of them has inspired the same reaction in me as Fantasia does. The Rock Band games, while including lots of songs I love, didn’t involve much physical activity. Conversely, the Dance Central games involve lots of choreographed physical activity, but the music selection isn’t really to my taste, and lots of the complicated dance moves make me feel awkward. Fantasia takes what I liked about both games and brings them together. The song list is stellar, and the physical activity—if you play the game like I do—is enough to get your heart rate and body temperature up while allowing the freedom to “dance” in your own way.
But even those elements don’t fully account for why Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved is so special to me. I really believe the game is much more than the sum of its parts. Its gameplay makes me feel a connection to the music I love like nothing else has ever done. The game’s goal was to make players feel like conductors. It’s a simple concept, but it’s hard to describe the feeling of power that comes with it in practice. Depression results in lots of different feelings for me, but most of all it makes me feel powerless. Playing Fantasia negates that emotion and I feel its effects hours after playing. When it comes to depression, different things help different people. Fantasia has helped me in ways I never expected.