Depression is a crippling mental illness that affects a lot of people in the world. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 17.3 million adults in the United States have suffered from at least one major episode and the level of mental anguish, and suffering has only increased during COVID-19. In a time where staying inside and taking breaks from reality is more crucial than ever, it’s even harder to let go of it all and focus on a video game, even if that’s all you wanna do. 

I’ve suffered from multiple anxiety disorders since I was a child and depression introduced itself to me in my mid 20’s. It’s unfortunately only become stronger in a time where human suffering and indifference to it has almost never been higher. Despite all of this, video games have always been a source of joy, adventure, and escapism for me. Have you  struggled with picking out games, sticking with a game you’ve chosen or even experienced difficulty getting into games at all during COVID-19. If so, I wanted to share how I navigate between dealing with my mental illnesses and enjoying something really important to me that allows me to forget what’s happening, even if only briefly. In turn, I hope that it may help others experience some peace in a time where it can be challenging to do so.

Primary, Secondary, and multiplayer games

This may sound strange, since I’m suggesting multiple games in a situation where it’s difficult to even get into a game at all, but this is crucial. The goal is to pick out games that fill different moods and time constraints. 

My primary game is always a game that can typically only be enjoyed for a longer period of time and/or with a higher level of investment. This will usually be something that will only yield results if you’re playing for an hour or more and won’t work as well for shorter sessions. Games in this category will also usually require more focus but will provide greater immersion. 

You won’t always have time to play for an hour or more and there may even be times where you have a few hours to play a game but focus is more of an issue, which is okay; that brings us to the secondary game. 

Secondary games should be those where joy and results can be achieved in shorter play sessions, requiring less energy. There will be plenty of times where you’ll want to play a game but maybe you only have thirty minutes or just can’t turn off your mind. That’s fine. That happens. That’s when you boot up your secondary game. Genre examples include fighting, platformer, turn based strategy, puzzle, most games with a level based structure and even some mobile games. 

It’s really easy to tell yourself you don’t have a lot of time for a game if you’re only playing games that require a lot of time or focus. There have been plenty of times where I’m able to calm my mind and turn it off with a secondary game and then transition into one of my primary games. Either way, I have something to play at all times, without having to spend thirty minutes looking through digital libraries or scanning shelves. This is another benefit to having your two games selected beforehand. 

I also usually have at least one multiplayer game selected and in rotation. Sometimes I don’t necessarily want too many new systems or situations but I’m down with the variety and circumstances of a multiplayer title. Something like Fortnite or Warzone can be the perfect balance of familiar and new, which is perfect if you want to just jump in but don’t have the energy or time to learn new systems and mechanics. There’s a lot of truth to the “just one more match” mentality and it can work against your broken, tired, or busy mind. 

There are also a lot of single player games that have a good balance between variety and simplicity. Games like Slay the Spire, Grindstone, and The Binding of Isaac can give you enjoyment that’s different enough to be exciting, but without having to put a lot of time into learning and navigating menus. You can learn the basics and just hit start and go.

The idea is making sure you always have something to play, no matter how your mind is feeling or how much time you have. This will allow you to play more games and relax a lot more, which is something we all need now more than ever.

Replay Stuff 

It’s easy to put off replaying stuff with new games releasing almost everyday and yet we all have games we think about replaying from time to time. There’s something to be said about trading the latest and greatest for a big dose of nostalgia. It’s kind of like rewatching The Office (US); you’ve seen it all but it feels so good to experience it again. 

There are still plenty of communities surrounding older games too so you won’t even be missing out on an ongoing dialogue with other players. It may not be a brand new experience for you but there will be people playing it for the first time and there will likely be a lot of other people replaying it just like you. 

It can feel good to jump back into games you’ve already completed. It provides a lot of entertainment and relief as you fill in the cracks in your memory to remember exactly what made you love this game in the first place. 

Accept Downtime

There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to relax and having to push yourself into something you’re not feeling. You may love video games but that doesn’t mean you’re always ready to explore uncharted worlds and focus on combat multipliers; sometimes you need to do something else to chill and there’s nothing wrong with that. Whenever I have this happen to me, I tend to just pour my game time into watching more stuff but it could be something different for you. If the idea of playing games sounds really fun but you can’t figure out what you want to play then I’d recommend jumping onto YouTube or Twitch instead of scrolling through your game library for thirty minutes (I’ve been there!). Getting to experience games without the pressures of needing to focus or figure things out can be really fun. I’ve watched entire playthroughs of games this way and I’ve also checked out forty five minutes of something I intend to play but that I’m just not in the mood for at that moment. You may even discover your next game when you’re ready to jump back in. 

Complete old save files and grab remaining achievements/trophies 

Sometimes it’s fun to revisit a game you finished the main story / gameplay component on a few months ago, but without having to worry about pressing on to soak up the next part of the story. 

This could include: 

  • finishing in-game quests and goals until you have 100% completion, like all of the quests in The Witcher III or The Outer Worlds 
  • completing a specific string of quests, like hunting challenges in Red Dead Redemption II
  • Chasing higher scores than you or your friends have achieved, like Balloon Hunt in Super Mario Odyssey

Another way to do this is by focusing on trophies/achievements that you haven’t popped yet. Even if you don’t normally seek them out, it can still be really enjoyable. I’ve always looked at the achievement list as a way for the developer to communicate with the player and will sometimes see what they’re recommending for me or wanting me to check out. One of my fondest memories of this was climbing to the highest height in Assassin’s Creed II. It took me a long time to get to the top but those twenty or so seconds of freefall were exhilarating.  

Don’t underestimate the power of linear games

I love open world games. I spent three months playing nothing but Red Dead Redemption II, until I’d hit ~90% completion of the game. It was an absolute delight and I loved getting lost in the world of Arthur Morgan–but I don’t always have the energy or focus to play games that size. There are times I want that level of detail but there are plenty of times where my depression and anxiety are unbearable.When that happens, the idea of trying to focus on someone’s life sounds like torture. Sometimes the idea of a story sounds appealing but we don’t want to have to look for it. Sometimes it’s nice to just put your head back and let it run down your mind like water, letting it wash across you as you experience it all. This is when I play games like What Remains of Edith Finch, Night in the Woods, and Life is Strange. Even if this isn’t your usual genre, consider picking one up the next time you’re in a mental health funk. A lot of linear games are from indie developers and can be picked up for less than $30, despite carrying the same level of quality as a bigger and more expensive title. 

Taking a break 

There’s never anything wrong with taking a break from things you love and that includes video games. Playing video games and discussing them is my favorite thing to do. I still take a break and focus on other things throughout the year and often take a two month break where I don’t play anything at all. Our brains need breaks and moderation makes almost everything better. 

Video games are really rad but sometimes they’re harder to enjoy because of how our brain is feeling. I use these same exact methods and am able to play a lot of video games, despite being extremely busy and also dealing with anxiety and depression every single day. I know a lot of people were already suffering and that number has only increased since the pandemic,  so I wanted to write this article even more. I sincerely hope it helps you get more out of what you love and escape into a better world when you need to. Stay safe, stay healthy, and wear a fucking mask.

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Josh Nichols
Josh is a writer for Parallax Media

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