Video Games and anxiety revisited

hello computer

Back in August I was having some trouble with anxiety and I wondered if gaming could help? There are all sorts of therapies that people find helpful these days. Art, music, ceramics, drawing, getting out into nature and wild swimming. But gaming?

This week various media outlets reported that gaming might benefit your mental health. Finally someone did some solid research to confirm something us gamers have believed for so long.

Since writing the newsletter back in August what have I been playing and finding helpful? In September I spent an afternoon playing Sayonara Wild Hearts. I played it on the Switch and I think it is available on most major platforms from console to iOS. The game was incredible and moved me to write about autistic masking in issue 47.

I need to get back into playing Animal Crossing. There’s a winter update coming (possibly out now) that looks fun. My villagers are going to shame me for not checking on them in a while. I have tried to relax with Animal Crossing. It’s nice to not play it for a while so there’s lots to do. I can dip in for an evening and spend time catching all the new fish or cleaning up the island instead of my living room. The game is relaxing at times but other sometimes I’m unable to decide what to do next. It feels like I’m wasting my evenings doing nothing productive. That’s something I’ve struggled with in most open world games. Minecraft, GTA, Eve-Online, Cities: Skylines, etc. You can enjoy the novelty for 5 minutes or lose your life to them. The in-between space is a foggy confusing place where the simplest of things is boring and everything else takes work. I’m not here to work.

I have Minecraft on many platforms and what you can do in it now is insane. There are Quake clones for it. Bonkers! But with so many things you can do I don’t know what I should do. So in the end I don’t do anything and feel frustrated. You could argue the same can be said about having a Netflix account. What do you want to watch? Is it enough to spend the evening browsing Netflix? Probably not.

I have played a bit of Microsoft Flight Sim and I find that soothing. It’s a stunning game to look at and I love visiting places I can no longer visit, picking the perfect time of day and taking photos. It’s like being able to send a drone camera anywhere in the world at the perfect time. It’s just a shame it takes a while to load on my iMac as it isn’t designed to easily run Windows. Therefore it’s not an easy game to dive into when stressed and anxious.

Games I have been enjoying are mostly on the Switch. I can pick it up and play anywhere any time. I keep telling myself to get back into playing Zelda as I never finished but despite having no real job right now I never find the time to sit down and play a story game. The games I find I’m playing are ones that can be played while we watch TV in the same way that my wife knits. They’re low power games that are relaxing, fun and I can chip away at. Games like Space Crew or Doughnut County. Animal Crossing of course fits into this as does Stardew Valley.

There is a part of me that does feel like I’m wasting my time playing games. I could be doing… or should be doing… I haven’t been playing much recently as I’ve been tinkering with a WordPress project in the evenings. Games feel like I achieve something yet nothing at the same time. I should take up knitting. Once I levelled up I would be able to casually do it while watching TV or listening to music/podcast. A calming mindfulness exercise and before you know it you have new socks. The knitting grind results in something tangible. Grinding in Destiny 2 results in me boring my wife for 3 hours explaining the lore and why what I just did matters. 15 years ago I gave up playing Eve-Online to focus on going outside to develop my photography skills. That seemed useful at the time.

What I need to do is keep exploring games and be ok with relaxing. I feel the weight of needing to be productive, to make money and to sort things. Maybe I’ve lost the ability to play? You could argue that I don’t play games I complete games. If I spend the evening digging in Minecraft and I’ve done nothing is that bad if I can sleep at night?

There are studies that show that play is important to adults as well as children. I guess children are free to play whereas adults are pay to play. We have such weight on our shoulders that taking time out to play around and be silly seems like an unproductive waste of time. I actually had great fun playing Age of Empires a month ago with a good friend in Toronto. Oh sure it was stressfully competitive but at the same time fun to play. We planned to do it more but life got in the way as it does.

If its incredibly important to be doing regular exercise and to make that part of your day then maybe it is also important to schedule in play time whether it’s a video game or something else. Go play.

now playing

  • Animal Crossing – Switch
  • Star Wars : Squadrons – PS4
  • The Patheless (On my next up list) – iOS
  • Microsoft Flight Sim – Windows PC

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This week’s photographs were taken back in 2009 on Heswall Beach, Merseyside, UK. We’re spoilt by sunsets in this part of the world.


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