gaming, mental health

5 video games that helped my mental health

Video games are known for being subject to constant controversies and debates. They have been a major talking point in US news recently because of the argument that video games can enable and encourage people to commit extremely violent acts. It is a common stereotype and accusation that gamers are lazy, distracted or wasting their time. In 2018 the World Health Organization even declared gaming addiction as a disorder. However, to mirror the people who actively seek out the negatives and issues surrounding video games, is a wide community of people who love gaming and wouldn’t change their hobby for the world. There are plenty of studies as well that actively prove benefits of gaming such as improving problem-solving skills and improving memory.

A close up of a grey game controller that has darker grey buttons and blue, yellow, green and red buttons. The background is lilac.
Photo by Adam Valstar on Unsplash

Growing up video games quickly became one of my favourite past-times. One of my earliest happy memories with gaming includes playing Barbie games on our old blocky desktop ‘family computer’. I loved immersing myself into joyful, positive narratives where I could play as a vet, horse-rider, ice-skater or fashion designer. Eventually, I discovered simulation games such as The Sims and I would find myself writing stories, designing houses and committing hours to these imaginary characters and families I made in this game. Games were something to look forward to when bullying at school was a recurring stress. They were an escape just as much as drawing, reading and watching cartoons could be. When anxiety and stress began to be quite a prominent part of my life upon hitting the school-leaving mark, I found myself returning to a lot of similar video game genres; simulation and RPG games that encouraged routine, community and rewarded you for positive outcomes.

It’s been proven that routine, although easier said than done, is actually great for depression recovery. Our bodies function better when they keep to a regular schedule and healthy routines are key elements to recovery and healing. Although video games cannot completely replace a healthy routine of sleeping, eating and exercise – video games that emulate simple routine and encourage patience could actually reduce stress levels. Today, I thought I’d share with you 5 video games with routine or reward mechanics that I believe benefit my mental health positively.

1 – Animal Crossing (Series)

Animal Crossing being at the top of my list is inevitable because I’ve already discussed how much I adore the relaxing elements of the games before. Animal Crossing as a series has also been discussed in terms of positive mental health by other writers too including this fantastic article by Screen Therapy. Every Animal Crossing game on consoles (I do love Pocket Camp although I have different feelings about it) has bought me inexplicable joy. The more you play, the more you find yourself having your own routine: talk to your villagers, water your plants, go fishing, visit the museum, visit the store. The game helps you unwind, slow down and gives you a feeling of reward and accomplishment that is beneficial to your state of mind.

A screenshot from the Animal Crossing game on Wii named Let's Go to the City. The screenshot shows 4 characters stood on the shore of the sea with fishing rods.

2 – Pokémon (Series)

I wasn’t a Pokémon kid by definition – I didn’t play any games up until my early teen years when I discovered Pokémon at the age of 14. Since then I have been extremely grateful for the core games and its spin-offs. The core game series; endlessly lovely with its beautiful levels, art and soundtracks, is excellent for encouraging the routine of looking after small, virtual pets whilst providing unique, fun narratives alongside the RPG mechanics. When the series expanded to mobile with Pokémon Go it was even reported that the new app was helping people’s mental health by encouraging them to take a walk, talk to others and go outside. I can’t wait for the next core games to release because I have happy memories from past games of planning and taking on small, in-game routines to have my ideal Pokémon team and I cannot wait to relive this in Sword and Shield.

A screenshot of the upcoming Pokemon games Sword and Shield. On a background of green plants and flowers sits 3 pokemon, the new starters. The grass started resembles a green and orange monkey, the fire starter is a white and red bunny with a plaster on it's nose and the water starter is a small frog-like creature with a light blue and yellow colour scheme.

3 – Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life

I picked a specific Harvest Moon game here as I haven’t actually played a lot of the others in the main series. Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life on GameCube was an important title in my childhood, and I was always excited to visit my sister’s house and play this game. In the game you inherit your father’s farm and move into the quaint ‘Forget-me-not Valley’. Each year in game is 40 ‘days’ in length, 10 days a season and the in-game clock runs by a second representing a minute. With each in-game day you are encouraged to commit to a farmer routine of waking up early, tending to crops, looking after animals, collecting animal produce and then using your spare time to develop friendships and relationships with other characters in the town. I was extremely pleased to discover they ported this game to PS4 as it’s great for reducing stress and the soundtrack is so peaceful and pleasant.

A screenshot of Harvest Moon A Wonderful Life. The main character who has brown spiky hair is stood in the middle of his farm carrying a blue watering can. There is crops in the background and a brown dog sat next to him.

4 – Minecraft (Console)

Almost everyone has heard of Minecraft at this point. If you haven’t heard of Minecraft or played it, it’s a sandbox game with both survival and creative gameplay options in which you start a life in a seemingly empty world. The game has been known for encouraging amazing creativity from its players, with the game’s community actively sharing their building creations online and celebrating what they can do. The soundtrack for Minecraft is also beautiful and calming. I’ve only ever played Minecraft on console which I know is limited in comparison to the PC game as you cannot access mods. Despite the platform I play it on, I still enjoy playing Minecraft because it helps distract your mind from any negative or anxious thinking and being able to create your own unique world feels rewarding.

A screenshot of Minecraft. You can see a mini house built out of dark wood with a blue pond in front of it.

5 – Rollercoaster Tycoon/Zoo Tycoon

These games were very popular with me in my childhood. I remember mentally planning theme parks at school when bored in classes and coming home and recreating my ideas. Although these games don’t technically have ‘routine’ mechanics, you do find yourself feeling accomplished when you can get your zoo or theme park working clockwork with happy guests or happy animals. Both games also had sandbox levels where you could just unleash pure creativity without limitations which was great for stress-free, fun gaming to improve your mood and distract yourself from worries.

A screenshot of Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 which has a red banner across the bottom that says 'The Original Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 Experience'

To finish my post, I thought I’d mention a really fantastic charity that I came across whilst doing quick research for this post. The charity Child’s Play helps improve the lives of children in hospitals and related facilities by providing fun, relaxing games. Child’s Play has raised more than $20 million in 10 years. They also have a list, that is separated by different emotions and situations such as anxiety or pain and then each section shows recommended games for both under 12s and ages 13 and over. If you are a parent or friend of a young person who is struggling with anxiety or just needs a good coping method to help with reducing stress and getting back into a healthy routine, then you can use their list to find a particular game to recommend.

Signature: Helena
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