A few weeks ago we interviewed Adrienne from She’s So Cool and Fempower Media for our “Autism and Video Game Research: Interesting Findings” episode. If you haven’t listened to that episode yet please do. Her research was fascinating and pertinent, I feel like it helped all of us on Cutscenes be able to express our video gaming experiences in a way that we haven’t before.
As part of that episode, I did some research on gaming and mental health. During that episode, Adrienne’s research and our input seemed to flow together so well and what was being discussed was so great I didn’t get a chance to share some of the video games I found that have been helpful to people in their mental health struggles. I know a lot of us are struggling with our mental health, and quarantine and COVID-19 sure as hell aren’t helping. You are not alone!
I wanted to list some of the games that seem to be most helpful here, and also give a place to get your input on what games have been therapeutic to your mental health and wellbeing. Let’s help each other!!
Sea of Solitude
Sea of Solitude is a Jo-Mei Game released in 2019 about a young protagonist, Kay, whose loneliness turns her into a monster. Kay has to tackle her emotions and interact with others to combat her literal inner demons. I know a lot of us struggle with loneliness and this autobiographical story has amazing reviews about the impact it has on player’s lives. Although not “fun” in the typical sense, it puts gamers in a space where they have to emphasize and feel the emotions to advance the game.
When I was reading about this game it reminded me of a podcast I’d recently listened to, I Weigh with the fabulous Jameela Jamil. She interviews former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy all about loneliness and how it affects us emotionally and physically and how we can help ourselves or those in the midst of it. It was a lovely interview.
Celeste was a breakout indie game of 2018 from Matt Makes Games. Celeste is a side-scrolling journey story about a young girl struggling with anxiety and depression as the main character struggles with the death of her granny. It tackles the ideas like anger, grief, failure and has been praised for blending gameplay and story in a way side scrollers sometimes lack. Its eight-bit style is charming and it’s been on my list for over a year now. Not to mention the soundtrack is killer!!
Night in the Woods
Night in the Woods is a single-player adventure game released in 2017 by Infinite Fall. Our main character Mae is forced to face a dark secret her hometown has been hiding and the disappearance of her best friend, as well as her own dissociative disorder that caused her to drop out of college. Your relationships with the other characters throughout the game affect the gameplay and you have to face your own mental health problems as well as the issues that come along with the destruction of small towns in the U.S.
Pry is another video game that falls into the same vein, where the main character, a returned soldier has to address the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) he’s experiencing. An underlying theme of what your brain is telling you as fact and memory can just be a fabrication is shown, with an emphasis on grounding and using internal focus to find out what’s happening. Pry is unique in its game techniques in trying to find that internal focus and dealing with flashbacks and the triggers that can take you back and remove you from what is truly reality.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons/Stardew Valley
Finally, and this might be controversial, but I’m going to lump Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing: New Horizons together.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, AC:NH has been taking the world by storm with so much isolation (even stirring conspiracy theories that Nintendo created the CoronaVirus to boost sales).
Both AC:NH and Stardew fit into a unique video game mold where it’s slow-paced and not task-driven. It gives space to work as you’d like to, address the different tasks and problems at your own pace, and create your own space. You can go any direction you’d like to in these games without punishment for the order you do things in. Having space to achieve with low pressure can be meditative and can bring routine and a sense of normalcy into life when, especially right now, nothing seems to be “normal.” Not to mention both have wonderful and joyful soundtracks to accompany them!!
Thrive Games who “aim to improve teens’ mental health through video games and education” has praised gaming as a way to connect with those around you. Their director of mental health said, “ Asking someone to play with you sets a very different vibe than asking someone to talk about their problems.” Being part of the gaming community, while having its disadvantages, has a way of making us all feel more connected and able to express ourselves in ways that we might not have in our physical world. Especially now on day 438 of quarantine.
A lot of game developers are taking note of these games and others that tackle real-world problems and mental health concerns that more and more people are facing, and hopefully, we’ll see more games of this caliber come mainstream. I know not all gamers are looking for games like these, which can all hit close to home for those facing the same problems. I know for a lot of us escapism is a huge part of gaming. But I am grateful that gaming developers are not shying away from some of these bigger issues that a lot of their demographic may be facing. And I know for some to see themselves in these video game characters is therapeutic and helpful to not feel quite as alone or unseen in this big scary world.
Have you guys played any of these? What have been your go-to games in dark times? We’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions. I know some of our content has been a little heavier lately but I’m glad to have space and community where we can talk about what we’re facing and how to help.