Gaming As Self-Care: Why Going Outside Isn't Always All It's Cracked Up To Be
As someone who finds something fresh to worry about on an almost hourly basis, the concept of self-care is not new to me. Even as a child, I always found great pleasure in taking the time to indulge in things that made me feel happy, whether that was cuddling with my favourite stuffed toy (I'm looking at you, Teddy), drawing pictures in sketchbooks, or scribbling my deepest thoughts down in a diary. As I grew older, my surroundings and habits changed – the teddy bears were resigned to a shelf, and the diary became a Livejournal (the less said about that, the better) – but the thought and intention behind self-care remained the same. I did it because it made me feel good.
The idea of self-care as an 'essential' part of modern life has certainly taken off in recent years – at the end of 2018, Apple announced that relaxation apps such as Calm and 10% Happier had dominated their annual download chart, with Calm alone gaining an astonishing 50,000 users per day. People are feeling stressed, and they want to do something about it.
Somewhat ironically considering the statistics above, one of the overwhelming messages we're all given with regards to maintaining good mental health is that less screen time is better. Feeling anxious? Go outside. Breathe the fresh air, stay away from the internet. Turn off your phone and unplug your TV. Perhaps take Manny Bianco's advice: add a dab of lavender to some milk, and leave town with an orange.
And whilst, yes, for most people laying down in a field and counting the passing clouds would be relaxing, it's not the be-all and end-all of self-care techniques. If nothing else, for the majority of us who live in towns and cities and work in busy jobs, it just might not be that practical at the end of a long day. We must remember that at its core, self-care is about doing what makes you feel comforted, relaxed and happy – which for many of us, can actually mean staying indoors, cosying up and switching on our favourite video game.
Of course, games aren't always calming - anyone who has played Alien Isolation can attest to that - but they certainly can be. For me, any game that involves quiet, contemplative tasks is ideal self-care material. I recently played Laundry Bear Games' A Mortician's Tale which, whilst dealing with a subject matter (death) that some might find grim, was actually incredibly soothing. It's a beautiful little point-and-click in which you play a newly-trained mortician, with simple objectives such as preparing bodies for burial, comforting relatives and paying your respects to the dead on the agenda. Far from being gory or depressing, it's an educational, death-positive game - quiet and thoughtful, which meant it was perfect for those times when I couldn't face anything too taxing.
Games with a sense of nostalgia can also have a therapeutic effect. As someone who grew up loving Bullfrog's Theme Hospital, the launch of spiritual successor Two Point Hospital in 2018 was music to my ears. Once again I could gently while away the hours building pharmacies, doling out weird medications and curing ailments with punny names. It's repetitive and predictable, sure, but it's also safe and familiar, which sometimes is exactly what my brain needs.
Setting yourself goals - and completing them - is a quick and simple way to give yourself a little boost of self-satisfaction, and games are the perfect place to put this into practice. Whether you're completing pre-set objectives or even just covering a certain amount of ground in an open world adventure, finishing a task that you've set for yourself will give you a mental lift, however small it may seem at the time. And if you don't complete your mission? Don't beat yourself up - take pride in the fact that you're working towards something and give it another go tomorrow.
There's myriad ways in which gaming and self-care cross over - from the sweeping creative possibilities of titles like Minecraft, Kerbal Space Program and Sim City to the ASMR-like, almost mundane tasks of games like Viscera Cleanup Detail, Farming Simulator and of course Animal Crossing, which is perhaps the most meditative game of all time. And let's not forget the social benefits - whether you're collaborating with friends on a co-op mission or meeting IRL to start a new D&D campaign, sharing is caring, as the old saying goes.
So, whilst I will never discourage anyone from venturing outside to work on their mental health, I also don't think we should feel guilty about shutting ourselves away once in a while and immersing ourselves in an activity that makes us feel safe and happy. To put it simply - you do you, whatever that may be.