I’ve played video games all my life, but it wasn’t until recently that I noticed the positive impact they had on my mental health.
I have suffered from severe anxiety for several years and like many forms of mental illness, I have good days, bad days…and very bad days.
And in the middle of an intense spiral (as my therapist likes to call it), I discovered that simple games kept me from completely losing myself.
There’s just something about chores and small tasks that causes my brain to slow down and eventually calm down. It’s funny and ironic, because real-life chores or errands can sometimes make me quite anxious.
When I explained to my therapist why virtual chores could be helpful, she mentioned that while the “soft goals” of these games have no real effect on our daily lives, they can give us the same satisfaction of ourselves. feel accomplished – even if it’s something as simple as watering a treasure trove of flowers on your island or completing little quests for ghost bears.
It may sound crazy, but sometimes it’s just what I need to stop the spiral of anxiety.
You’re not alone
Apparently I’m not the only one looking for games to control their anxiety. A study (opens in a new tab) titled “Playing Video Games During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Effects on Gamer Wellbeing” focused on the positive mental health impacts of gaming during lockdown. 58% of respondents in the study said that playing games helped them improve their well-being.
Some of the responses included:
“Games have always helped manage anxiety because they give me something else to focus on.”
“I think video games have had a positive impact on my well-being and helped ground me.”
“It’s a lot more satisfying than just watching something on Netflix.”
Another one study (opens in a new tab) titled “2022 Essential Facts About the Video Game Industry” conducted by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) revealed that 97% of Americans see positive benefits from video games and that it has improved their mental health during the pandemic.
In a interview with GamesBeat (opens in a new tab)ESA CEO Stanley Pierre-Louis said: “At a time when we are thinking about what mental health means and how we take care of ourselves and manage stress, especially after a period where we were going through social isolation, video games turned out to be a big comfort for people”
And I agree with him, at the end of the day, that’s exactly what games are supposed to do: have a positive effect on your mood and be enjoyable to play.
But what does each of these games have that signals my brain to relax? Well, these are smooth progression games where your actions have meaning and it’s endless.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
With nearly 300 hours of gameplay, Animal Crossing New Horizon is my go-to game when I have a really bad sanity day. Sometimes I just fish or run to collect shells. Nothing too meaningful happens during my gameplay these days, but sometimes getting my favorite villager to tell a silly joke is just what I need.
In a world where we are sometimes measured by our performance, having someone like Erik tell me he missed me and wants to visit my house just to sit down makes me feel like I’m enough.
Plus, with the Happy Home Paradise extension, I got the positive reinforcement I need, even when I meet the minimum requirements for someone’s vacation home. Having someone tell me how well I did my job (even when I didn’t) is fine with me. Or as my therapist says: Being told exactly what I need to hear puts the brain at ease.
Often described as Animal Crossing with a plot, Cozy Grove fulfills my need to tick the boxes without the hassle. Every day you play, ghost bears around the island give you tasks – find seashells, collect wood, pick up trash – and when you complete it, they reward you with story progression and a hug .
I don’t know, but receiving virtual bear hugs releases much needed endorphins. Also, if I find a task too tedious, I don’t have to panic about completing it within a given amount of time because I’m usually given all the time in the world or I can pay for hints that lead to exactly the elements I need for my task.
This farm game is a love letter to Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon. Tired of corporate life? It’s time to go own a farm and date all the locals (and divorce them all at least twice).
Even after five years of playing and a nearly complete game, seeing the fruits of my hard work become a reality makes my brain realize that with a little patience and love, my goals will eventually blossom and bring me happiness. Just like my basement full of aging carambola wine.
Although Spiritfarer has a very clear endpoint, unlike the games above, its structure makes it easy to forget that you’re working towards an endgame. How can a game about death keep anxiety at bay when the concept of death sometimes sends me into a crazy spiral? I really can’t say…but there’s something about taking your time to say goodbye that soothes my soul.
When I take Spiritfarer, the music always transports me from a sea of chaos to tranquility, it’s like magic. Especially since the game reminds me that it’s okay to take your time on tasks. And when I’m dealing with anxiety, sometimes I need to be reminded that it takes time to unfold and there’s no urgency to the process.
Do it slowly
Many people use video games to relax, thrive or have fun. But I also play video games to keep my anxiety at bay and I’m so thankful that smooth progression games exist.
As fun as it is to complete an RPG or play fake lawyer, in the end, these are mundane, unexciting video game tasks that keep me from feeling like the world is falling apart.