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Video Game Therapy: Chill Games for Chill Times

Video games are quintessential to the American youth lifestyle. It’s a hobby that most likely recalls afternoons following a long day of elementary school. 

The reward for a hard day’s work could include some gaming, maybe an after-school treat and letting the day’s stress wash away. 

Gaming as an adult conjures much different imagery, somewhere in the realm of clear cased computer towers with LED set ups and, usually, a lot of high stakes multiplayer matches. 

However, there are many games that are peaceful and can be used as tools against the anxiety caused by both the pandemic and general student life.

In a paper published in Oxford Internet Institute in February 2021, the researchers discuss the positive effects of gaming on mental health. The study looked at how players self-reported play time, actual play time and personal well-being were related. 

According to one statement from the report, “…play can be an activity that relates positively to people’s mental health.” We have all heard the rumors that video games can rot brains and result in violent tendencies when left unchecked, but there is now some well-adjusted evidence to the contrary.

There are several popular games out now that are praised for their calming gameplay. Many people turned to Animal Crossing at the beginning of the ongoing pandemic for an escape from restricting COVID life. Others reached for Stardew Valley to feel accomplished. Minecraft, a tried-and-true mainstay of multi-platform gaming, also made an overwhelming comeback for its rhythmic and calming style.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons was a game that many reached for in March of 2020. While the world shut down around us, Nintendo’s release was a welcomed dash of excitement. 

The game involves the player voyaging to their own tropical island, where they are given free reign over decoration and development. The player is also encouraged to interact with their cutesy animal neighbors who have their own personalities and quirks. 

The seasonal and holiday events allow players to feel connected to the outside world and celebrate days they would have otherwise spent alone. When nothing else could, Animal Crossing allowed for friends to meet up safely.

Stardew Valley is a very different game with a similar style to Animal Crossing. One of the major differences is that Stardew Valley’s crucial core is the quests that the player takes on throughout the game. The pandemic and college life can often leave us feeling like we have no purpouse. 

Our achievements can feel like they mean nothing. When in Stardew Valley, little accomplishments have positive social consequences. When you complete even the smallest quests, you are rewarded with friendship that extends beyond just one interaction with a character. Your relationship with the character will forever be changed for the better. For the player, the long-lasting effects are personally meaningful and even inspirational.

And finally, the ever popular Minecraft allows the player to endlessly explore their unabashed creativity. With the closed off world that we have all experienced during COVID, many people have turned away from their creative pursuits because of burnout. Minecraft fosters this creative spirit and actively encourages exploration and experimentation without fear of failure.

Personally, these video games have provided a much-needed respite from the pandemic world. If school or the world gets too much, my little island, rustic farm, or tree top house are instantly calming and make everything okay. As a college student, I recommend that whatever platform you play on, you find a calming game to foster good mental health during this semester.