When it comes to mental health, treatment can be a multifaceted approach. Therapy and medication are often primary forms of treatment, but one under-explored avenue is games.
Not only can they serve as a fun escape, but games can also provide beneficial mental exercise. In this post, we’ll delve into 10 games, both digital and traditional, that offer an engaging outlet for mental health patients.
The first on our list is an acclaimed digital masterpiece—Journey. This video game, developed by that company and released in 2012, is much more than a mere escape from reality. Its tranquil and almost spiritual atmosphere can be a source of calm and reflection for players, making it an excellent choice for those dealing with anxiety or depression.
Journey uses beautiful graphics and music to create an emotional experience that can bring about feelings of tranquility and peace. The game is non-violent and revolves around exploring a vast desert with the goal being to reach a distant mountain. There’s an element of mystery to it, and it encourages players to think and reflect deeply.
The unique aspect of Journey is its simplicity and implicit storytelling, which can be a therapeutic experience for players. It offers an immersive and non-stressful environment that can serve as a form of digital mindfulness, encouraging players to be present and engaged in the game, keeping their focus away from anxious thoughts.
Moreover, Journey provides a non-verbal, anonymous multiplayer experience where you can interact with others without the pressure or anxieties of social engagement. You can cooperate with strangers to overcome obstacles, providing a sense of camaraderie and accomplishment that can be helpful in combating feelings of isolation often associated with mental health struggles.
Dixit, a card-based game by Jean-Louis Roubira, has won numerous awards for its innovation and enjoyment. Unlike most games, Dixit relies heavily on interpretation and imagination, making it a creative outlet for mental health patients. It’s a social game that encourages conversation and interaction.
The game uses beautifully illustrated cards, each one unique and full of symbolism. Players take turns being the “storyteller,” choosing a card from their hand and providing a clue about it. The other players then choose a card from their own hand that best fits the clue, and everyone has to guess which card belongs to the storyteller.
Dixit’s focus on interpretation and imagination can be a powerful therapeutic tool. It encourages players to articulate their thoughts and feelings, which can be especially beneficial for those dealing with conditions like depression or anxiety, where communication can be challenging.
Moreover, it stimulates creativity and can act as a form of expressive therapy, allowing players to externalize their emotions and thoughts through the symbolism in the cards. It also encourages social interaction, which can be beneficial in reducing feelings of isolation.
3. Stardew Valley
Next on the list is the charming farming simulation game Stardew Valley. Developed by Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone, the game revolves around managing a farm, interacting with local villagers, fishing, mining, and even battling creatures.
What sets Stardew Valley apart from other games is its tranquil, soothing nature. Despite the multitude of tasks that players can engage in, the game never feels overwhelming or stressful. The pleasing pixelated graphics and calm music create an atmosphere that is therapeutic in itself.
Stardew Valley provides a structured yet relaxed environment where players can set their own pace and goals. This sense of control can be incredibly beneficial for mental health patients, particularly those dealing with anxiety and stress disorders. It provides an environment that encourages productive activity without the pressures often associated with real-world tasks.
Furthermore, the game stimulates strategic thinking and planning, thus acting as a mental exercise. It also encourages positive social interactions with the in-game characters, offering opportunities to build relationships, navigate social cues, and even deal with conflict—essential skills for anyone, particularly those dealing with social anxiety or ASD.
The classic game Jenga is another valuable addition to this list. Originally created by Leslie Scott and launched in the 1980s, this physical game involves removing one block at a time from a tower and balancing it on top, with the goal of not letting the tower fall.
Jenga is simple to understand, yet it requires concentration and precision, making it an engaging game for people of all ages.
The beauty of Jenga lies in its ability to foster focus and concentration. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals with attention-deficit disorders, such as ADHD. The game demands players to be present and attentive, helping train the mind to concentrate on the task at hand.
Additionally, Jenga is a social game, making it an excellent medium for fostering interaction and communication. It can be used in a therapeutic setting to encourage discussion and teamwork, making it a great tool for those dealing with social anxiety or other interpersonal difficulties.
One of the most iconic video games of all time, Tetris, also finds a spot on this list. Developed by Russian software engineer Alexey Pajitnov in 1984, this tile-matching game is as much a test of spatial reasoning as it is a fun pastime.
The game requires players to manipulate geometric shapes as they fall at increasing speeds, with the aim of creating a horizontal line of blocks without gaps. As simple as it sounds, the game requires quick thinking and decision-making, providing a mentally stimulating experience.
Playing Tetris can act as a cognitive workout, improving mental flexibility and spatial reasoning. It encourages players to think quickly and adapt to new situations, skills that are often needed in real-life problem-solving.
Moreover, a study published in the journal “Behaviour Research and Therapy” found that playing Tetris can help reduce the onset of PTSD symptoms. The researchers believe that the game’s demands can help prevent the brain from forming the visual memories that contribute to flashbacks common in PTSD.
6. Animal Crossing
Animal Crossing, a series of social simulation video games developed by Nintendo, provides players with a relaxed virtual environment where they can fish, catch bugs, and customize their living spaces. The game runs in real-time, mimicking the changing of seasons and time of day in the real world, which makes for a dynamic and immersive gaming experience.
This game’s essence is in its open-ended gameplay. You can explore and shape the game’s world according to your preferences, interacting with anthropomorphic animals, creating unique infrastructures, and even visiting friends’ towns.
With its open-ended nature, Animal Crossing offers a safe environment for players to express their creativity and individuality. This feature can be particularly therapeutic for those dealing with conditions like depression and anxiety, providing them with a sense of control and self-expression.
In addition, the game encourages virtual social interaction. Players can visit each other’s towns, exchange items, and write letters to in-game characters. This can be an excellent way for those with social anxiety to practice social interaction in a low-pressure environment.
7. The Sims
The Sims, a series of life simulation video games developed by Maxis and published by Electronic Arts, provides players with a platform to simulate and control virtual people’s daily activities. The game offers a wide array of activities—players can design their own houses, form relationships, pursue careers, and fulfill their Sims’ needs and desires.
The game’s sandbox nature, combined with the vast amount of customization options, allows players to create unique narratives and experiences.
The Sims can be a powerful therapeutic tool, allowing players to simulate and process real-life situations in a safe environment. It can help individuals dealing with anxiety or stress disorders to explore various outcomes of a situation, easing their fears and anxieties about the unknown.
Additionally, the game’s focus on life simulation can help players develop problem-solving skills and understand the consequences of actions in a controlled environment. It can also encourage creativity and self-expression, particularly in designing homes and characters.
Chess, one of the world’s oldest strategy games, also offers many mental health benefits. This two-player game, with its carefully calculated moves and high-level strategy, engages the mind in a unique way. Chess is not only about winning; it’s about thinking, planning, and adapting.
It involves strategic and tactical thinking, patience, and a great deal of concentration. Each player begins with 16 pieces, and the goal is to checkmate the opponent’s king. The beauty of chess lies in its simplicity, yet it can take a lifetime to master.
Chess is a mentally challenging game that encourages players to think strategically and tactically. It fosters critical thinking, improves memory, and helps develop problem-solving skills, which can be beneficial for mental health patients, particularly those dealing with conditions that affect cognitive functions, like ADHD and dementia.
Additionally, playing chess can instill patience and discipline, helping individuals with impulsivity issues. It can also boost self-esteem and confidence as players see their skills improving over time.
9. Flow Free
Flow Free is a simple yet addictive puzzle game available on mobile devices. Developed by Big Duck Games, it requires players to connect matching colors with pipes on a grid. The goal is to cover the entire board with pipes without them overlapping.
The game starts with easy levels and progressively gets more challenging, keeping players engaged and motivated to solve the puzzles.
Flow free can act as a form of cognitive therapy, stimulating the brain and encouraging mental flexibility. It can help improve problem-solving skills, spatial reasoning, and attention to detail, which can be particularly beneficial for those dealing with ADHD or cognitive impairment.
Moreover, the game can help reduce stress and anxiety. The process of solving the puzzles can be quite meditative, providing a form of digital mindfulness that can help distract from anxious thoughts and promote relaxation.
10. Breath of Light
Last on our list is the beautiful puzzle game Breath of Light. Developed by Many Monkeys, it is a hypnotic mix of light and sound with simple mechanics. The game requires players to manipulate a stream of light, directing it through various objects to bring a garden to life.
The game’s unique combination of mesmerizing visuals, soothing sounds, and simple puzzles creates a relaxing atmosphere, making it a great choice for those dealing with stress or anxiety.
Breath of Light is much more than a puzzle game. Its serene environment can act as a digital form of mindfulness, helping to promote relaxation and reduce stress. The game’s simple, engaging puzzles can help distract from negative or anxious thoughts, promoting mental well-being.
Furthermore, the game’s focus on spatial reasoning and problem-solving can act as a cognitive exercise, stimulating the mind and keeping it active. This can be particularly beneficial for those dealing with cognitive impairment or ADHD.
How can video games benefit mental health patients?
They can provide numerous benefits for mental health patients. They offer mental stimulation, promote feelings of accomplishment, aid in mental health recovery, and facilitate social interaction. They can help improve development and critical thinking skills, provide a sense of achievement, act as distractions from pain and psychological trauma, and offer a platform for virtual social interaction.
How can video games facilitate conversation in therapy sessions?
Therapists often use games to break the ice and build rapport with their patients. Many individuals find it easier to engage in conversation while playing a casual game. Video games work in a similar way, providing a mindless activity that facilitates discussions. This approach can make patients more comfortable and open to sharing their thoughts and feelings.
How can video games be used to practice therapeutic skills?
They can be used as a tool to help patients practice skills such as managing adversity, expressing frustration calmly, and recognizing when they need to slow down or take a break. Therapists can monitor patients’ reactions during play time and recommend strategies like breathing exercises and mindfulness techniques to help them stay regulated.
Can video games help with frustration tolerance?
Yes, certain titles can help improve frustration tolerance. Games that are challenging or require the player to start over each time they fail can help patients learn to cope with frustration and adversity.
Can video games help build social connections?
Yes, especially in group therapy settings. Many titles, especially multiplayer ones, require cooperation and communication between players, which can foster social interaction and friendship.
Can video games help patients express their emotions?
Yes, they can provide a safe space for patients to express and manage their emotions. They can help patients recognize and understand their emotional responses, which is a crucial step in emotional regulation.
Can video games be used in trauma recovery?
Yes, they can act as a form of distraction therapy, helping to divert patients’ attention away from traumatic experiences. They can also provide a sense of control and accomplishment, which can be beneficial in the recovery process.
Can video games help patients with anxiety and depression?
Yes, they can provide a form of escapism for patients dealing with anxiety and depression, offering them a break from their worries. They can also help improve mood and provide a sense of achievement.
Are there any potential drawbacks to using video games in therapy?
While they can be beneficial, it’s essential to use them responsibly. Excessive gaming can lead to negative outcomes, such as addiction or social isolation. It’s also important to choose titles that are appropriate and beneficial for the patient’s specific needs and therapeutic goals.
Games are not just a form of entertainment. When chosen wisely, they can provide numerous therapeutic benefits, especially for mental health patients. Whether it’s stimulating the mind, reducing stress, encouraging social interaction, or providing a safe environment for self-expression, they can be a powerful addition to traditional forms of treatment.
So, if you or someone you know is dealing with mental health challenges, consider adding some of these games to your toolkit. Remember, everyone is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. So, take the time to explore different games and find the ones that resonate most with you. After all, the most important thing is that you enjoy playing them.