It’s never been more important to take a break and recharge, especially when checking your social media feeds or the news can lead to such a sharp spike in stress and uncertainty. Gaming provides a unique way to escape while nearly all of your senses are engaged, and being able to put the burden down for a few minutes is an important step in making sure you’re strong enough to deal with ... well, everything.
The challenge is that it’s hard to motivate yourself to do things that make you feel better while feeling bad; that’s what makes exhaustion, anxiety and depression so insidious. You often don’t begin to crave games or escape when things get really bad, and in fact your brain may want to wallow in the feeling of despair while short-circuiting your attempts to help yourself feel better.
So start simple. Take a shower, get 30 minutes of hard physical exertion out of your system and try to eat something that isn’t junk. Once those things are done, however, it may be helpful to put your foot down and play a frickin’ video game.
So what works?
A few suggestions
“When I'm feeling blue, I play FIFA,” Polygon’s Colin Campbell told me. “I've played so much of it over the years that I've reached a plateau and, frankly, I'm just as likely to lose as to win. But I find the rhythm of it so soothing, the sounds of the commentators and the crowds, the little moments of magic that let me think, yeah, I can play this game.”
I talked to a few coworkers about finding the right games to help them relax, and that sense of familiarity was important in many of them. This is the power of comfort food in general; you’re not tapping into some magical properties of the ingredients themselves as much as you’re taking advantage of the positive associations of the dish itself. It’s about finding a sensory trigger that’s positive in an attempt to override the current negativity.
But it’s not like having a grilled cheese sandwich overwhelms your brain. It’s easy to continue thinking negative thoughts while eating, which is why games are such a great substitute for comfort food in terms of helping you feel either better or at least removing that acute sense of pain for a bit. You want something that engages the front of your mind enough that you’re not rehashing the same negative thoughts over and over.
“More importantly, I love to wallow in the transfer market, working my budget up towards a much-admired player, tweaking my subs bench to get that perfect balance,” Campbell said. “Soccer and video games are two of my favorite things, so FIFA is my natural go-to. Up the Villa!”
What was interesting was that everyone I spoke to had a game ready to discuss when I asked about using the hobby as a means to comfort yourself.
“I find the Dots brand of games to be very good for calming down quickly when I know my stress is not rational,” Susana Polo told me.
Other coworkers had picks that were explicitly tied to trying times in their lives.
“I love period pieces and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas reminded me of all the things from the early 1990s that I'd enjoyed, when life seemed a little more certain and secure,” Owen Good said, talking about a game he used to deal with the stress of a new job and being in a new environment. “Carl Johnson's adventure also balloons from something haphazard and reactionary into a sci-fi/military thriller. There were moments that I'd stand at the back porch of the save point in Tierra Robada, the safehouse that Mike Toreno gives you, and watch satellites pass in the night sky overhead and feel like, even in the nadir of my bad decisions, just another headcount hire in an office cube job who threw away his career, that I was having the greatest summer ever lived.”
Other people had lists of games that work for this purpose, along with games they want to try for the purposes of decompression and relaxation.
“I play a lot of roguelikes when I need to zone out. Like Risk of Rain, Dungeons of the Endless, Crypt of the Necrodancer, etc,” Jeff Ramos said. “I've also been dipping into complicated games like hackmud and wanted to try some Zachtronic games like Shenzen I/O.”
I’m personally into rhythm games and physical VR titles. Rez Infinite in virtual reality is a wonderful combination of brain vacation and legal psychotropic substance. Holoball isn’t just distracting, it’s a bit of a workout; when I focus on moving or even strapping weights to my wrists and ankles it’s a good way to work up a sweat. I also enjoy giving myself a few minutes to do a silly dance in Old Friend.
But there’s no right answer here, the important thing is that you find a game that helps you feel better for a bit. That’s it. That’s the goal. Hopefully you already have a few in mind, but if these suggestions get you a bit more motivated to find games that work for you when it comes to relieving stress? All the better.
Finding yourself in the dismal pattern of refreshing Twitter, Facebook and other social media is quicksand; it just keeps you locked in place and feeling bad. Find a game that makes you happy. Play it. Even if you don’t feel like it at first. You’ll feel better.
And that’s important.