Losing someone close to you can knock you down with devastating effect. It can feel like everything’s crumbling beneath your feet, as you struggle to deal with the knowledge that your last interactions with them were ultimately final.
I went through this experience in a turbulent October and November of 2017 after a close friend passed without warning. Soon after this two pets of mine from home also passed away. It was a one-two punch that sent me reeling, and left me in what was one of the worst emotional ruts of my life.
During this time my room felt more like a prison than anything else. From the outside, it was a quiet, peaceful little area filled with bits and bobs that could keep almost anyone occupied and content. For me, it was my chamber — my area for thought and reflection, and my incubator for thinking about all the opportunities of bonding that’d be missed following my mate’s passing.
Losing someone close to you can knock you down with devastating effect. It can feel like everything’s crumbling beneath your feet…
Nights of restlessness were accentuated by thoughts telling me that those times we’d spent on Facebook chatting about the Premier League and bonding around sports were gone. This was further emphasised by the constant barrage of Facebook ‘memories’ that, to this day, still remind me of the harsh reality that I’ll never be able to chat with him about Arsenal (his team) taking on Manchester United (my team) ever again.
Thankfully, my friends and family were a great source of support, but they obviously couldn’t be around all the time, so I had to find ways to deal with – or at least find respite from – my grief. In short, I wanted to keep my mind occupied and away from a disorientating month of loss, and having grown tired of my comfort game at the time, FIFA 18, I knew it was time to give something else a crack.
I’d always been intrigued by the premise of Psyonix’s Rocket League. I’d dabbled in it multiple times over the years, but had only ever played enough to dip my toes into its accessible and addictive waters.
Rocket League, you see, demands a desire from the player to invest in learning the game’s mechanics and movement to fully enjoy everything it has to offer. And because of this I’d always been deterred by the level of difficulty the game posed, especially after a few early matches online saw my rigidness and stupidity awarded with a slew of sarcastic in-game chat. Similarly, I’d been hooked on the yearly iterations of FIFA since 2008, and so branching out to other games that required such a hefty time investment wasn’t something I was entirely prepared to do. FIFA just wasn’t clicking with me, though, so I finally decided to give the game another shot.
Rocket League is all about precision — it’s about knowing where the ball is, where it’s going, and how best to align your car to hit it. The combination of cars zooming around a giant arena hitting a soccer ball is an oddity in itself, but the simplicity of it all just works as a game. It’s something that anyone can get into and enjoy, but takes thousands of hours to perfect and master.
And this is where the gameplay loop really takes hold, if you let it. Having invested so much time into the FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer series, as well as playing soccer throughout twelve years of schooling, it didn’t take me too long to get a good feel for Rocket League and the systems at play.
I was still hopeless at it, but I didn’t let that deter me. I continued to play, in turn refining my skills, adjusting to the aerial dynamics of the game, and, more than anything, letting myself become fully immersed in everything it threw at me.
Trying to improve my skills as I played online mightn’t have been the best idea for my poor teammates, but the multiplayer component of Rocket League — which is, without a doubt, the game’s central hub — contributed to some wonderful nights of sheer lunacy and banter. I can recall more than a few games where my team would come back from a large goal deficit, or one of us would score some kind of insane goal and the chat would explode with salt, bemusement, and jubilation.
Rocket League is something that anyone can get into and enjoy, but takes thousands of hours to perfect and master.
Having this banter condensed down into chat hotkeys like ‘Wow!’, ‘Nice Shot!’, and ‘What A Save!’ meant I was consistently kept guessing as to how people were using the phrases in terms of tone (though it was almost always sarcasm). This alone led to some of the more enjoyable gaming moments I’d had in a long while, and helped distract me from overthinking the circumstances I’d found myself entangled in.
The use of hotkeys is not only important for team communication, but also adds a playful element to the experience. I was met with my fair share of ‘What A Save!’’s over my many hours of game time, but rather than feel frustrated and useless I usually laughed it off and continued to play — working on my positioning, aerial work, and boosting. It’s a nice kick in the bum really, and over time I grew to appreciate its inclusion in the game. Without this kind of subtle communication tool, Rocket League would likely lose a bit of the fun that comes with the insanity of its premise.
After starting out on PS4, I’ve since made the jump to Switch, and have clocked 40+ hours on that system. I travel a lot, so having Rocket League on the go was an ideal way to fuel my cravings. More importantly, having the game as a portable experience during those months allowed me to continue to submerse and distract myself. Not enough to become completely oblivious to how I was feeling, but enough to give my subconscious mind some space to process my emotions. And enough to keep myself occupied between times with friends and family. That was the most important thing for me — to keep myself occupied, to not let my thoughts get the better of me, and to continue to work on getting over an awful few months of emotional anguish.
For years I’d wanted to try and get into Rocket League, but it took time — and a set of fairly dire circumstances — for me to finally find the motivation to give it a proper go and stick with it. However, the timing was important, and it helped me grieve and recover in a way that complemented the role of friends and family. Nights of potential mind wandering and overthinking were replaced by sessions filled with goals, sarcasm, and fun, and it was an integral part of the recuperation process.
Nights of potential mind wandering and overthinking were replaced by sessions filled with goals, sarcasm, and fun, and it was an integral part of the recuperation process.
Something just clicked with Rocket League throughout those months, and since then I’ve played over one hundred hours of it across three different platforms. I’m still slowly getting better, and it’s managed to find a spot as one of my comfort games alongside FIFA. Further, the ridiculousness of it all — especially during those first few nights of giving it a go back in early November — helped distract me from how dejected I was feeling; about the idea that I had to say goodbye to three important pieces of my life, and that I would only have memories left to look back on.
Coming to grips with the idea that those pieces of my life had gone had a bigger impact than I could have imagined, and I think that came down to the fact that I felt like I’d missed a significant portion of time with them after high school had concluded.
My mate ventured off to do his own thing and I only saw him once in five years — that being at a five-year high school reunion just two months before his passing. Further, sporadic visits to my hometown meant I barely saw my pets last year. I didn’t get a chance to say any semblance of a goodbye to either, and, looking back on those months, I knew I could have spent more time with them and that played on my mind a lot.
Yet that’s the way of life. These things happen, and it’s hard to move on. But you’ve got to, in time, and Rocket League played a vital role in helping me get through those months of emotional distress. I always felt happy while I was playing the game, and having a goal to actively pursue — that being to slowly get better over time and learn new techniques — allowed me to hone in on something fun and positive during a time of real sadness across my friend group.
Rocket League will always hold a special place in my catalogue of games, and is demonstrative of the role video games can have as a recovery tool when you’re struggling after one of life’s big hits.
Toby’s a freelance games and esports writer based in Sydney, Australia. You can follow his ramblings about football and Rocket League here.