by Grace Smithwick

It happens all the time: You have too many busy days in a row and realize your stress levels are rising to unmanageable levels. In short order, you find yourself desperately needing a break from your responsibilities. There are many options for restorative days off, such as the ever-popular pajamas and Netflix binging, the staple of a mimosa-laden (and socially distant) brunch with friends, or the daring of a homemade spa day. But there is one avenue of relaxation most might not consider, and that’s videogames!

When people think of videogames, they think of titles like Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto or Mario Kart, fast-paced, often violent, and the opposite of relaxing. However, the last several years have seen a new trend of soothing, stress-relieving games rising in popularity. From things like farming simulators to city builders to intricate puzzle games, there are dozens of ways that videogames can help you unwind. By offering creative outlets, encouraging problem-solving and providing opportunities for connection, videogames are a surprisingly effective way to combat day-to-day stresses and anxieties. Several studies have been conducted that show a correlation between videogames and mental health. In the article “U of S research finds videogames can relieve stress, improve mental health” published by the Canadian Broadcasting Company, a University of Saskatchewan computer sciences professor had this to say:

“When people play video games… It helps you relax. It helps you feel like you’re mastering challenges, and it helps you feel like you have control over your environment—which are four main pieces to help you recover from stress.”

Another article on the matter, “Do Video Games Reduce Stress,” on the website Healthy Gamer, outlined six aspects of gaming that positively impact mental health. Engagement and enjoyment, the first aspect, is a no-brainer. Games are fun! Granted, games can also be frustrating and annoying, but when you find a game that engages you on an emotional and mental level, you find yourself diving into a brand-new world. Gaming requires the player to be active in the story as it happens, inviting you to participate in the narrative unfolding before you. This differs from the passive engagement required to read a book or watch television, where the narrative happens, but you play no active role in its outcome. This immersion pulls you wholly into a world teeming with new things to see and explore, something that goes a long way to take your mind off your stress.

Also discussed in the article are the benefits of achievable goals. In a video game, it is far easier to reach goals and unlock achievements regularly. Beating levels and defeating bosses allow you to feel a real sense of success when reaching your real-life goals seems impossible or far too tricky. Being able to channel that frustration into leveling up in your favorite game provides a sense of accomplishment, you might be sorely lacking. Whether you are expanding your brand-new farm or saving the world, succeeding at meeting those level-by-level goals can relieve the mounting pressure from your daily responsibilities.

Flow state is another aspect of gaming that can work wonders on an overtaxed brain. According to the Healthy Gamer article, “The flow state is a state you achieve when your mind becomes one-pointed. It occurs when your mind is so focused on the activity that you are performing that your mind stops generating other thoughts.” Like puzzle and problem-solving games, certain games can be a handy way to distract your brain from your struggles. You become so focused on solving the puzzle before you that those things that have been causing you so much stress fade into background noise, and your anxiety takes a backseat to the satisfaction of mastering the puzzle.

Videogames can also be a fantastic way to connect with others. Through online multiplayer games, you can meet up with friends in a virtual world as you explore and build and travel together. And it is not just battle arenas that await those who want to try online gaming. Plenty of online multiplayer games are exploration and building-based, allowing you and your friend to discover and work together. Plus, it is far easier to arrange to meet your friends online than it is to plan a night out together around everyone’s equally busy schedules. Especially during these difficult times, when self-isolation and physical distancing are mandated to keep each other safe, the connective opportunities that gaming provides are invaluable.

On top of all of these benefits is the bonus that video games encourage creativity. Having a creative outlet is a necessary aspect of maintaining your mental health. In video games, you create the world around you, building something from the ground up or transforming it in whatever way best pleases you. They give you a sense of control in an often-uncontrollable world, a care-free and consequence-free place to pour creative energies, and a wonderful avenue for creative expression!

Can videogames help you relax? It may seem like an audacious claim, but engaging with a game that encourages your creativity and fully immerses you in a beautiful new world can go a long way to reducing stress and anxiety. The next time you are looking for an activity to take your mind off your daily stresses, try gaming! There is a stress-relieving game out there for you, from farming to cooking to city management or puzzle solving.