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Checkpoint: 'How Video Games Power Up Minds, Kick Ass and Save Lives' is a gamer must-read

Content Warning: this book and review discusses suicide, suicidal ideation, and addiction.

If you put the words video games and save lives in the same sentence, you’d be met most likely with a raised brow. That is, of course, if you’re not talking about the never ending and outdated controversy of video gaming as a source of violence. Checkpoint does not dwell on this dark side of video games, and instead the author Joe Donnelly recentres the impact of gaming on mental well being on something else entirely: himself.

Growing up a working class lad in 90s Glasgow, Joe Donnelly walks us through his life, the environment he grew up in, and ultimately the suicide of his uncle and the lasting impact this had on his mental health. What might have made for a rather depressing memoir on suicide discovery and survivor’s guilt is instead flipped on its head. Video games saved his life.

Donnelly and his uncle’s relationship was built on video games, and over the course of 300 odd pages, this is unpacked and analysed with a devastatingly compassionate touch that is not only self-aware, but so very relatable. Everytime Donnelly brings up a beloved game or console, feelings of nostalgia, love, and ‘hey! I’ve played that one!’ rush up to the point that Checkpoint almost feels like a conversation. It is this dialogue that makes Checkpoint land its punches. Video games to the author, and to many around the world are not just escapism, but a coping mechanism, and can even be educational.

The author speaks in depth about his struggles with suicidal ideation, and the trauma his uncle’s suicide caused that he then buried under various other vices, such as alcohol. But even though Donnelly’s personal struggles with his mental health keeps the book tied together, it is the side quests of looking into the production of mental health driven video games which is by far the most interesting -- something Donnelly affectionately calls ‘A New Challenger Appears’. From in-depth discussions about the creation of a game based on a real life asylum, to an indie producer’s inspiration coming from an alcoholic parent, right down to how virtual reality gaming could assist those living with PTSD, Checkpoint is brimming with hope for the future of mental health and video games despite its often downbeat moments.

What really sets Checkpoint apart is the sheer love for gaming you can feel through the page. Donnelly goes to great lengths to ensure all aspects of video games are given their due, and though Donnelly clearly has his favourites, he offers a real appreciation for the impact video games can have on people. Reading this at a time of low mood myself, Checkpoint can only truly be defined as inspiring -- not in a way that emphasises Donnelly’s achievements, but rather, his flaws. Even more importantly, this book is loving of the medium, and is a must read for any gamer out there that needs something to connect with.

By Becca Boyes

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