Video Games and Mental Health


#1

Over the last year I’ve developed a fairly serious case of anxiety. Lying in bed freaking out over uni, feeling uncomfortable in large groups of people, that kind of stuff. A couple of weeks ago I started seriously digging into Breath of the Wild, the only time I’ve seriously played a +5 hour game in 12 months, and I’ve found it very healing! Playing the game just feels very peaceful and allows my mind to roam into good spaces instead of bad. The fact that the game is so open to letting you play how you want, and not punishing in most situations, is definitely part of this. Combat in Zelda has never been very complicated, and the new free form nature to puzzle solving allows you to float through most situations pretty casually. Additionally, the fact that the game focuses more on exploring as opposed to map cleaning is far more relaxing to me. I always turn mini maps off in games, and for BoTW to feel designed around that style of play is very cool! And obviously the gorgeous graphics and music help. The way that the overworld music filters in and out instead of constantly bombarding you is yet another example of how well made this game is for people who really just need a chill time.

My only complaint is that in certain areas of the maps it rains far too often. Also the fish people are too hot. Yep, he’s a gamer.

Does anyone else have any stories they’d like to share about games affecting their mental health, good or bad?

EDIT: Also, shouts to Austin and Danielle for the permadeath streams. Your infectious love of the game has been a serious help in these shitty months. The streams just have such a great positive vibe! You know, other than the constant threat of death by swimming.


#2
cw for bad effects on mental health (anxiety)

I feel compelled to get platinum trophies in games if I know that I can. It’s not such a compulsion that I don’t play games I can’t platinum (which is a thing I see happening on trophy guide websites where people refuse to play Wolfenstein 2 because of its unforgiving hard mode), but it does mean that I tacked on an extra ten to twenty hours of collectibles in Assassin’s Creed Origins well after I was bored of that game. Actually, even in Nintendo games, with no real achievement system, I still feel compelled to 100% completion as long as it isn’t difficulty-gated. However, at least I genuinely enjoy those.

I have no idea whether the completionist thing could be related to my anxiety disorder, my depression-addled brain seeking a sense of accomplishment, or maybe just a system designed to trap me into playing games for an extremely long time doing its job (thankfully, even in games designed as single-player “services” where you can buy “time savers” I haven’t actually bitten on spending real money - the time I waste is 100% worth more than the few bucks I could throw instead, but hopefully by just ignoring time savers, they’ll stop being a thing pushed in tons of open world games now). Whatever the cause, completionism feels terrible though. It also might partially be due to the fact that I still rent games from brick-and-mortar stores, which means trying to complete a game is a 5-day affair, or ten days with a re-rental. In my mind I calculate that if I go too slow and re-rent it too many times, I’ll have spent more money than if I just bought it outright. I have never felt bad about being completionist with a game I purchased, because I get to do it on my own time and take breaks to play other things. I guess economic anxiety was the real problem all along.

On the flip side, games like Animal Crossing, Rune Factory, and Stardew Valley all work wonders at making me feel at peace. When Wild World had just come out, I think, there was an article in Nintendo Power where they talked to a woman about the joy of Animal Crossing’s routine in her hectic life and that really resonated. I’m still a completionist there, tracking my catalogs and in-game achievement equivalents, but the pacing of those games makes it feel more casual and less rushed.


#3

I think I’ve mentioned this on here before, but I’ll repeat because I’m sort of a newbie who I’m sure nobody remembers, lol:

cw for depression, suicidal thoughts

Last fall (2016) I was in a terrible place, mental health wise. I’d tried seeing a counselor earlier in the summer, but he was the wrong therapist for me and it just made things worse. While I was still able to get to work, put on my “gregarious professor” face, I was just done the rest of the time, sitting in my house, not working on my research, not getting anything done. I reached the point where I was having suicidal ideations.

Around that same time, I listened to a podcast where one of the hosts gushed about Stardew Valley, so I decided to give it a try. I was immediately wrapped up in the game, working to find the best kind of farm for the type of play I was looking for, and started to focus a little less on my difficulties and my mental health because I was focusing on my garden.

Finally I began seeing a new therapist, which helped me work through my suicidal thoughts and to get to a better place, mental health wise. And while most of that was therapy, I don’t know that I ever would have gotten to the point where I was ready to seek help without Stardew Valley giving me something to focus on.

It’s cheesy and I don’t play the game much these days, but I’m immeasurably grateful for those 200+ hours I sunk into my various farms last winter helping keep me alive.

I’m in a much better place now, but I still know Stardew Valley is there for me when things get rough.


#4

not playing them but, listening and watching Let’s Plays of rogue-lites like BoI helped me exponentially with anxiety and ocd in some of the lower parts of my life, it’s not always the same but its predictable enough that i can settle and somewhat anticipate what will happen (even if im terrible at playing them). it helps me de-stress and distance myself from panic attacks

on the other hand, theres games which i love to play but shouldn’t, most horror will throw me into panic attacks even if theyre a lot of fun and games like Fallout 3 and Stardew will get me so stuck in OCD i won’t do anything else for 14-16 hours, including eat and drink


#5

Went into a dark place myself about 7 months ago, I actually stopped playing games for this entire period as I thought they were causing further issues (typical anxiety correlation nonsense!). When my neuropsychologist helped me finally see they weren’t at fault, I gorged on everything I’d missed. I found the way Nintendo approaches game design to be the most helpful for relaxation, something like Cuphead was the exact opposite of what I needed.

The fish people are indeed hot, I will ship Prince Sidon and Mipha


#6

Ohhhh boy. Oh yes.

cw for anxiety

A few years ago, I bought Alien: Isolation because I adore the Alien movies and had longed for a game that would allow me to become part of them, in a way. Isolation definitely succeeded on that part, but the primary gameplay loop—the Alien being able to show up basically anywhere, the way it actively hunts you, the heightened awareness and reflexes you have to develop to stay alive—set my anxiety off constantly. Even though the game’s excessive length was a detriment for most people’s experience, I didn’t mind it because that anxiety never wore off throughout my first playthrough. I wrote about it at length not long after completing it the first time: https://www.therobotsvoice.com/2014/10/alien_isolation_ripley_video_games_xbox_one_ps4.php

More recently, I played Night in the Woods not long after crawling out of a five-year-long anxious/depressive episode that had basically defined my post-university adult life. I was left in a constant state of distress with poor financial skills, and my reluctance to take steps in addressing my issues had alienated a few friends. So, Mae, ecstatic fuckup that she is, really resonated with me as I was piecing my life back together. I ended up showing my mom the conversation Mae and her own mom have about college and finances.

cw for self-harm

It hasn’t just been constructive experiences, though. Stuff containing self-harm can still wig me out, such as Senua scratching herself in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and Mia slamming her head against the wall in Resident Evil 7. I used to punch myself in the head. A lot. So that coming out of nowhere can be heavy.


#7

If other folks w/ anxiety are looking for something more pick-up-and-play than BOTW, I’d suggest Steamworld Dig 2. Exploring and digging for treasure while listening to podcasts is an absolute pleasure.


#8

This came out when I was at my worst. Really helped me forget my problems for a little while.


#9

Yes, this! This was the first game I played after my hiatus last year and its gameplay loop is insanely addictive. Its power-reveals are incredibly well made to give you a real sense of accomplishment for each one.