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19 'Go-To' Video Games People Play When They're Depressed

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When we think about video games, we are perhaps still trapped in the idea that they are simple time-wasters played by young children. However, as technology has progressed, the video game industry has evolved dramatically — and what we often don’t consider is the positive impact they can have on our daily lives.

As a lifelong gamer and a person with depression, I can personally attest to how vital they have been in coping with mental illness. They have carried me through some of my roughest times, and while they do have to be appreciated in moderation and cannot be used solely in place of medication or therapy, they are a fantastic way to distract the mind. They can also be a source of immense validation. Modern video games are powerfully cinematic experiences, dealing with everything from domestic violence, to grief, to mental illness itself. More recently, “Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice” was created to accurately represent psychosis and auditory hallucinations.

With this in mind, we decided to ask our mental health community which video games they play when they are depressed. Whether you’re a gamer or not, perhaps their answers will inspire you to jump in.

Here’s what our community told us:

1. “Life is Strange”

“It’s a game where your choices impact your future, and it made me feel happy when I was depressed because the choices you make have consequences. I thought, if I’m constantly depressed or unmotivated, then how am I ever going to be happy again? It was then I realized that I can either let my problem consume me or I can do something to change my outlook on life. So, ‘Life is Strange’ is my go-to when I’m feeling down!” — Mya C. 

2. “Minecraft”

“’Minecraft,’ as silly as that sounds. I play creative mode with my sister and it helps me kinda have ‘control’ over something, and focus on something else if I wanna make something really intricate. It’s really calming and not too much action that might cause me more stress.” — Lauren N. 

3. “Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice”

“It is specifically designed to mimic mental illness and as a result, I feel much stronger once I’ve finished it. It makes me feel like I’ve battled my own demons. This is the most important game I’ve ever played in my life.” — Scarlet L.

4. “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim”

I’m a big gamer so there are many games I play when depressed. I really like open world and role-playing games like ‘The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.’ I love video games because they allow me to escape reality and be someone other than myself. They get my mind off things. They allow me to be someone strong, invincible and amazing whenever I feel like I’m none of those things.” — Kaylie M.

5. “Animal Crossing: New Leaf”

“’Animal Crossing: New Leaf.’ Having no set ‘goal’ sometimes and just being able to fish, catch bugs or help the villagers on my own time is relaxing. But also ‘Fallout 4′ or ‘Skyrim’ for the opposite reason: they’re so immersive and there’s so much to do, it keeps my mind focused on what’s next.” — Jocelyn B.

6. “Stardew Valley”

“Having no set task is so relaxing. I’ve spent many days tending to my virtual farm and making friends with the neighbors. I can completely forget the rush and stress of real life while I play.” — Sian B.

7. “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.”

“It helps me escape into such a beautiful and complex world and helps calm me down with such breathtaking visuals and music. There’s so much to do, and the story shows how despite the world being taken over by such an awful thing, there’s still a glimmer of hope. I just love the game so much that despite the fact it hasn’t quite been out a year yet, I’m planning on getting a tattoo to represent it because it’s helped me so much in the past several months.” — Shannon S.

8. “Spyro The Dragon”

“The way you can mindlessly travel around the different worlds and kind of just putz around used to be a huge part of my mindfulness as a kid, though I didn’t know that’s what it was back then. I played for hours, just running around and doing silly stuff. It helped bring my mind back to a place of ease, calm and contentment.” — Stefanie K.

9. “World of Warcraft”

“It’s nice to be able to escape reality. Be somebody or something else in another world for a change. I’ve met some really cool people through the game as well.” — Nina B.

10. “Pokémon”

I play one of my ‘Pokémon’ games, because I’ve played them since I was a child and it always calmed me down — the music, the childish atmosphere, the peace between humans and Pokémon…” — Joya M.

11. “The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess”

“‘The Legend of Zelda.’ It doesn’t matter which one. I started playing ‘Twilight Princess’ during a rough patch in high school and saving the world made me feel a lot less useless, even if it was only in a video game. I even bought a Nintendo Switch just to play ‘Breath of the Wild’ at launch.” — James R.

12. “Fallout”

“‘Fallout.’ I can immerse myself so much in the post-apocalyptic world that I kind of forget everything happening around me. And there are so many quests and side quests that the game can last for hours and hours, so I can always come back to it when I’m feeling low.” — Lauren H.

13. “Chibi-Robo”

“’Chibi-Robo’ was probably the 100 percent most helpful to me with depression. It’s calming and I love how rewarding the tidying feels in-game. Because the game focuses on cleaning and improving the lives of the family, I often call on Chibi-Robo experience to get me through household chores in my own apartment. My boyfriend even calls me Chibi-Robo when I’m able to accomplish something that’s usually very difficult with my condition.” — Nova H.

14. “Candy Crush”

I like playing puzzle games like ‘Candy Crush.’ The way the pieces move is satisfying, relaxing and keeps me distracted.” — Kathryn B.

15. “Jak and Daxter”

On my dark days, I always go back to playing the ‘Jak and Daxter’ series. Not only because it is a relatively simple game series, but it also helps bring me back to ‘normal.’ My mental illnesses contribute to me being a disorganized and unfocused person. When I am playing these games, not only do they help take my mind off things, but also help boost me because of it being a task-oriented game. It also helps bring me back to a time when I was truly happier, before I knew the pain of losing relatives, my father, friends and just genuinely being disrespected and stereotyped by society. Gamers get a lot of flak from society, stereotyping them as lazy people, when most of us use it as a form of therapy even if we don’t realize it at the time.” — Troy H.

16. “Kerbal Space Program”

“Being able to get bogged down in minutia that has no bearing on my actual life, while simultaneously learning firsthand how every problem (no matter how complex it seems) can be solved with enough attempts, really distracts me and calms me down. More often than not, whatever triggered the episode (when there is a trigger) seems a lot easier to handle afterwards.” — Gabe B.

17. “Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst”

“It’s a game about parkour and taking down a corrupt government. It just makes me feel in control and, since I have pretty bad physical health too, all the running and the parkour makes me feel free.” — Lizzy H.

18. “Journey”

“It only takes a few hours to finish, so I don’t get sucked in and start isolating myself like with longer games. The visuals and music are both really soothing, and the story is about struggle, perseverance and overcoming obstacles. It’s kind of easy to picture yourself as the wanderer and the elements it’s fighting against as whatever hole you’ve sunken into.” — Serah D.

19. “Horizon Zero Dawn”

“Games where I have lots of tasks to do make me forget about my depression or why I’m even depressed. Most of the time, I play for so long I don’t have time to think about it afterward either because I go to bed.” — Hollie B.

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Originally published: January 24, 2018
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