Video Games and Mental Health: Name a More Iconic Duo
A year and change into the pandemic, and things are starting to look up. The weather is warming, restrictions are lifting, and vaccines are slowly becoming a reality. We’re certainly far from normal, though, and won’t be for some time. Now more than ever, it’s important to take care of yourself, your family, and your community.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, this episode of Weekend at Dave’s focuses on soothing, wholesome video games. These are games you kick back with after a long day of work. Games that help you process difficult emotions. Games that give meaning to their pixels, and leave you with a sense of fulfillment and purpose.
It’s a heavier subject than most Weekend at Dave’s entries, but I highly encourage you to tune in! We’ve got great vibes, great tunes (courtesy of LiQWYD), and, of course, great games.
Give a listen below:
(00:25) Hi everyone! My name’s David Silbert, and you’re listening to Weekend at Dave’s, a podcast about video game trends, hidden gems… and the occasional hot take.
(00:35) For this episode, we’re diving headfirst into some positive vibes. As some of you may know, this month is Mental Health Awareness Month. And while I’m a big supporter of the idea that games of any sort are good for your mental well-being, there are certain games that really stand out among their peers.
(00:51) So! For today’s episode, we’re delving into five games—some short, others pretty long—that you can play after a long day at work, or school. All of the games here are suitable pretty much for people of all ages, and provide rather safe spaces to process emotions like joy, grief, and everything in between.
(01:09) But enough set up. Without further ado, here are five great video games for mental health. Cue the music!
1. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
(01:37) We start off this list with one of our more obvious choices. If you had a Nintendo Switch during the past year, odds are you played Animal Crossing: New Horizons to survive pandemic life and all the gloominess that came along with it.
(01:50) If you’re by some chance unfamiliar, New Horizons tasks the player with essentially building a town. You’re a new resident on an island, and as part of your living arrangement, you’re to pay off your home loan to Tom Nook, a devious racoon who extorts the locals and feeds off the land like a leech—uh… OK, maybe I’m getting carried away.
(02:09) Jokes aside, Animal Crossing is an extremely chill game for you to enjoy. You can decorate and expand your house, plant orchards, sell fruit, interact with townspeople, and so much more. In its heyday back in spring 2020, New Horizons made a lot of people’s days, and weeks, and months.
(02:27) A year removed, it’s still a great game to kick back with, tea or coffee in hand, and just lose yourself in. Nintendo’s post-release support has been a little lacking, but even still, you’re good for several scores of hours with Animal Crossing: New Horizons. (It’s also a great game to play with your mom for Mother’s Day! My mom can attest.)
(02:59) Next up, we have an older title, but one that certainly holds its own. 2012’s Journey received universal acclaim back in the day, and with good reason. Not only is it gorgeous—inside and out—but it has a story that tugs at the heart and makes you feel all the feels.
(03:14) As a lone wanderer, you travel across the desert, through mystical ruins and dark caverns, all in order to reach the summit of a mountain on the horizon. The trek certainly won’t be easy though, as Journey—true to its name—makes you contend with all kinds of hardship.
(03:29) I won’t spoil specifics, as saying too much about the story would detract from the experience. But know that every moment of Journey’s three-hour runtime is packed with gripping setpieces, beautiful vistas, and stellar music. Seriously, the music is incredible, and was even nominated for a Grammy.
(03:47) But don’t take my word for it. If it sounds up your alley, pick up the game, play through it over the weekend, and don’t look back. You’re in for a treat.
(04:13) Like Journey, our third entry on this list centers about mountaineering. It also happens to be another critically acclaimed indie—and for good reason.
(04:21) I’m talking about Celeste, from developer Maddy Thorson. In this 2D platformer, you play as Madeline, a young girl on a mission to climb the titular Celeste Mountain. As you hop, climb, and dash your way up this treacherous mountain, you’ll make friends, battle inner demons, and test your mettle.
(04:39) What makes Celeste great isn’t just its touching characters or moving story. Nor is it just its pixel-perfect design or gratifying gameplay. What makes Celeste a masterpiece is the way the game weaves gameplay and story together so organically—and creates something truly novel.
(04:53) As Madeline battles that mountain, so do you as the player. Death is frequent, yet the next retry is mere milliseconds away. Celeste is admittedly a tough game—but that’s the point. Unlike Animal Crossing, which offers low-stakes gameplay, or Journey, where all the emotion stems from the story, Celeste tests you on an emotional and physical level.
(05:15) It may sound intense as a video game for mental health, but trust me when I say that Celeste offers just as much serenity to match its intensity. If you don’t mind a challenge, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
4. A Short Hike
(05:41) “What?! Another game about mountains,” you say? “David, what’s wrong with you?”
(05:46) It’s true; mountains are soothing, y’all. In A Short Hike, you play a young bird named Claire who’s spending a few days with her aunt, a park ranger for Hawk Peak Provincial Park. As Claire grapples with some things on her mind, her aunt suggests she take a hike around the park.
(06:05) Thus begins a short, sweet, and utterly beautiful trip up a mountain. In just two to three hours, you’ll walk, run, and glide around the park, chatting with other visitors, completing side errands, and discovering feathers that’ll give you the ability to gain altitude and make your way further and further up the mountain.
(06:19) Despite its brief runtime, A Short Hike doesn’t waste time, cramming all sorts of fun secrets into the experience. Foot races, volleyball, scavenger hunts, fishing… like, really, there’s a lot going on here, and it’s all expertly paced and extremely fun.
(06:34) This is such a wonderfully rich game, that it feels criminal to even call it short. A Short Hike did more for my mental health and well-being than even the longest 100-hour video games. Go in with an open mind and open heart, and be whisked away by the experience.
5. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
(07:02) I just got done lambasting 100-hour games, and here I am ending on one. Aren’t I great?
(07:08) Our final game is one I’m sure you’ve heard of, and probably even played: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. If you want to learn about the story, the characters—Link, Zelda, Ganon—I encourage you to check out a wiki or just ask a friend.
(07:23) For us—here, today—I just want to talk about the world. And wow, oh wow, is Breath of the Wild a treat to explore. From lush forests and sprawling greens, to sandy dunes and frosty mountains (more mountains! wow…), the world of Hyrule beckons to players, and begs to be explored.
(07:39) If you’ve never explored the truly open, freeing wilderness of Breath of the Wild, you have to try it out. Even if you’ve played it for hundreds of hours, honestly, boot it up again whenever you’re feeling low. It’s such a serene experience, packed with memorable sights and sounds, that I guarantee you’ll never leave that game world feeling unfulfilled.
(07:59) All five of these games are marvels in their own right. But The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is particularly special in its ability to provide positive energy, no matter what you’re doing. Really, though, if you’re not climbing mountains, then what are you even doing?
Mental Health Video Games: Honorable Mentions
(08:15) And that’s the list! What’d you think? Like it? Love it?
(08:20) If for some reason you disliked it, rest assured. I have plenty of recommendations where those came from. So many that I’ll just go down the list and share a few other favorites worth your time:
- Stardew Valley
- Night in the Woods
- Ori and the Will of the Wisps
- The Persona franchise
- Sayonara Wild Hearts
- And basically any game by Supergiant
(08:47) The point is, there are plenty of games that hopefully spark joy for you. As always, be sure to share your own picks. If you’re listening, you’ll want to head over to our written article on punishedbacklog.com. Drop a comment! We’ll be sure to respond.
(09:01) Otherwise, I hope you enjoyed the list. Have a beautiful May, take care of yourself, get that vaccine if you’re able, and peace out.