5 min read

Can video games help with anxiety?

Not all video game are stressful tense first person shooters. [issue 41]
Can video games help with anxiety?

hello friend

Hello friend. How are you?

On Sunday I lost a filling. On Monday I was able to book an appointment. On Wednesday I was re-filled and exhausted. I had 12 hours to wait before I could even attempt to do anything and then the wait for the appointment. stress I used the time to battle / practice how to handle being stuck in an anxious state.

The way I currently handle my depression and anxiety episodes is to endure them. I view them as a cold. A good honey and whisky "seems" to help but medically speaking doesn't do anything. I wait them out. I've coped every time. I'll cope this time. They always subside. I don't know if that is the healthy thing to do or not. As far as I'm aware I'm currently alive but I think having some techniques or tools to help get through a panic attack / anxiety attack / depressive episode would be useful. This time I decided to try video games to reduce anxiety.

Pew pew Pew pew The sound of my latest weapon acquisition in Destiny 2. I play Destiny every few months which is like watching 1 episode of Game of Thrones per season. I have no idea what is going on but it is nice to complete a small quest and achieve something. It's all I can manage to do.

I'm adequately distracted from my tooth anxiety by the game but I'm not having fun. I'm not depressed. I'm... not invested. What I need is to not only be distracted from my anxiety but elevated back to normal productive levels. I thought shooting NPCs (Non-Playable Characters) would help me. It didn't. I started to wonder if any game could?

“I’ve turned to Destiny in the past,” he says. “It's almost meditative. There's something about the rhythmic nature of the game's cycles, the fact that I know what to expect and that I have a sense of agency over what happens.” /via BBC

I flick through my game catalogue on PS4 and Switch. I wish this had happened 2 days later as I would have a new game to occupy me Microsoft Flight Simulator. It's not available yet so I search my back catalogue for something to return me to "normal".

Platform games are out because you need to make pixel perfect jumps to get to places and that would annoy me. I've already played a FPS and it didn't help. A racing game? The exhilaration of winning a challenging race could be good for a dopamine hit but the challenge could also be good for a controller being released at the TV. Moving on. A beat-em-up? Same issue. Nothing jumps out at me as a calming, fun, uplifting game that can restore my mental health points to normal.

I started to wonder if gaming was an activity that could help me. I've been playing games both video and computer since I was 6. That's nearly 38 years. I am a gamer. This activity should be my go to for restoring mental HP. Shouldn't it? Have I accidentally done too much open water swimming and become an outdoorsy person? Can you get a waterproof case for the Nintendo Switch? I'm a gamer. I needed to find the right game.

I ask on Twitter for advice. People list games I own but failed to consider any of them in my heightened state of anxiety.

  • Red Dead Redemption 2 for the ability to go fishing
  • Cities: Skylines - slow paced city infrastructure building sim
  • Flowers / Journey / Flow - incredibly beautiful and peaceful games
  • Alto's Adventure - another visually stunning game with a relaxing soundtrack and even a continuous mode if you want to take in the view without dying.
  • Animal Crossing - A game that allows you to create at your own pace with no ability to fail. It's pretty to look at.
  • Metal Gear - for sneaking around and sniping people's heads off

Ignoring Metal Gear the general theme appears to be one of slow paced meditative games over fast paced action. I dismissed slower paced games because I felt that they would allow my mind to wander. Was I wrong? Are games like Cities: Skylines, Animal Crossing or Minecraft like painting model aircraft, tending a garden, knitting or making a train set? Simple little achievable tasks that all add to the creation of something larger and beautiful?

Is this what people are looking for when they buy film cameras? A slower more meditative way of working that results in something interesting? The problem with photography is you're always racing against time and chasing the light. I'm never that relaxed with a camera. It would be good to be relaxed.

I'm writing this after my dentist appointment. It went fine and I have a temporary filling to see me through till October, when it's safe again... The past few days got me thinking about how gaming can be more than a hobby for me. There's a chance that if I can find the right game it can be part of my mental health recovery toolkit.

I should finish the story in Zelda and spend time wandering the beautiful world they created there.

Games and mental health

Games that look at mental illness

Microsoft Flight Sim came out recently. The images in this weeks newsletter are all from this game. The premise is that you can fly anywhere in the world. Any time of day. In any weather condition. I spent nearly 2 hours last night flying around the Alps at sunset in storms. The game is astonishingly beautiful. I feel that if you are stressed it could have a calming affect. Load it up and you can be somewhere else watching the sunset/rise. There's no danger. You never crash you simply land... badly. I'm going to try and do Tuesday nights on Twitch as a chillstream. 7-9pm. If you need a couple of hours calm come join me and hopefully it can help.


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