Self-Care Sunday Special: Video Games that Helped Me Mentally Survive 2020

This post is dedicated to non-gamers who have trouble understanding why video games are such a source of comfort for so many people out there. May this give you insight into the beauty of gaming and the solace it brings during times of great adversity.


Today I wanted to do a special write-up about the number two thing that helped me to survive 2020: video games. I feel like video games get a bad rep for an abundance of reasons, but uncommonly do people (usually non-gamers) celebrate the fact that it can be a humongous source of mental health positivity and coping. If I didn’t have video games last year, I doubt I would have been able to keep my head on straight, let alone find the inspiration to keep waking up and getting out of bed with the hopes of seeing 2021.

About a six or seven months ago, I did a small article on video games that helped me conquer the toughest depression days. Well, today I’m going to chat about something similar. Each title on this list facilitated my ability to cope through some heavy and difficult situations; situations where I had to step away from my own thoughts and stresses in order to fully process them so that I could find the best means of discovering a solution or other relative method for grappling them.

Each game listed herein assisted me in their very own ways and I’m feeling quite thrilled to talk about ‘em in a bit more detail. I won’t go into synopsis or things of the sort, so if something here catches your fancy, clicking their titles shall take you to their respective websites for more information.

Before I dive in, I would like to offer a brief word of caution that I shall be discussing episodes pertaining to depression and anxiety, so please proceed prudently if these are delicate subjects for you. Thank you.

Rogue Legacy 2

This rogue-lite action platformer is one I’ve talked quite animatedly about over the last six months or so in various articles and that’s because it is a truly exceptional game for stepping away from life, particularly if one doesn’t get a lot of free time for self-care. There is one main reason why Rogue Legacy 2 was pivotal in helping me maintain my mental health last year, aside from it being the sequel to an already very passionately adored gaming title.

As I mentioned above, it’s great when there’s only a handful of minutes available to relax. There have been many mornings where I’ve woken up prior to a doctor’s appointment or other engagement, feeling intensely weighed down by stress and finding myself in a desperate need to unwind. I start up RL2 and can play a few rounds in about fifteen to twenty minutes, depending on how well or terrible those runs go. For that brief period, I suspend everything that is bothering me and just focus on knocking out the baddies while searching for castle loot. When I’m done and have to step back into reality, I feel lighter and more able to tackle whatever is to come. Of course, this didn’t help me every single time, but it did make a big impact more often than not.

Being able to start my day by lessening the burdens of depression and anxiety can be significant precursors towards having a quality day ahead. It sets the tone and mood for how I shall confront everything else that happens, whether it’s something simple as being stuck in traffic or more intense like dealing with a bout of racism (very common in my daily activities). Having a positive kick-off means that I shall be more compassionate, patient, and calm during the rest of the day. If things start off negatively, then I am far more prone to anxiety and panic attacks, amongst other things. RL2 is one of the few elements in my life that can assist me in beginning a day with comfort and ease, more so if the day is going to be a busy one where I won’t get a chance at obtaining reprieve for who knows how long.

Final Fantasy XII: Zodiac Age

When the pandemic hit the States in March 2020, I was making my way through this JRPG re-make on the PS4. I was only about halfway through the main storyline and, at the time, I wanted to get through the main quests and do all of the side questing things later. But as I fell into quarantine with the rest of the world, I realised that I didn’t need to be so hasty, which did wonders for my ability to process stress.

The more that I thought about how terribly the world was being impacted by the coronavirus—the death tolls and folx being locked down in countries away from their homes for an unforeseen amount of time—the more I began to think of my family who are overseas and whether I’d be able to see them again or not. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and hyperventilating because I was so scared of never seeing my cousin or nephews again. I also have some close friends living in Western Asia I was super concerned about. It was around 2am and I decided I needed to distract myself. I put in FFXII:ZA and started working on Monster Hunts (side quest where you kill specific monsters for loot and notoriety).

I became so invested in taking down one hunt after another that I forgot about the quarantine. I didn’t think about my loved ones or the worst-case scenarios surrounding the ocean that separated all of us. My only train of thought was on levelling up my characters and taking on one monster after another after another. When I ran out of hunts, I started to work on other side quests in the game. After those ran out, I began to concentrate on maxing out the levels for each character. During this whole process, not only did I almost max out the playing potential for the game, but I also found ways to calm down and think more rationally.

In one section, I was trying to map out the whole region (it was a very large area) and as I was running around filling out the empty spaces, my brain was able to think about the pandemic from a place that wasn’t fuelled by paranoia and stress. Rather, I broke everything down into chunks and processed every element on a very logical plane (I’m neuroatypical, so my brain processes are very different than able-minded folx). One evening, I spent ten hours playing this game and working through the minute details of every piece of stress that was bogging me down and exasperating my depression. When that gaming session finally ended (mostly because I realised I needed sustenance), my mood and functionality for the rest of the day were completely different than when I initially sat down to play. I was able to work on my manuscript for a few hours (an unheard-of feat at the time), I crafted blog posts, and even found the strength to support a friend who needed advice with life things.

Even now, I still start up Final Fantasy XII: Zodiac Age and Final Fantasy XV whenever I need to run around a large open world and just think. Nothing has helped me with problem resolution and coping with stress quite like these games.

Batman: Arkham City

I played this stealth action-adventure game for the very time last year in July. I had started it once a very long time ago with someone whom I like to pretend doesn’t exist, so returning to it created some complicated feelings within me. However, in July I was still reeling from a brand-new heart illness diagnosis and the reality that I had to  have open-heart surgery for treatment, and as a result my mental health was in such a shitty place. I’ve heard this game is quite lengthy and I was still riding the high from Arkham Asylum, so I decided to give it a go.

Arkham City gave me the complete escapist experience that I fiercely craved at the time. It had an incredible storyline, the fighting was more streamlined than its predecessor, the open-world was breath-takingly vast and immersive, the boss fights brilliantly engaging—there were very few things about this game that I didn’t revere. I would simply put my Legend of Zelda Astro headphones over my ears, completely shut out the world around me and just become Batman for however long I played.

Not being able to think about anything other than the game felt fantastic. My biggest stress during the game was trying to figure out the clues in time or trying to decipher how to take down a particularly tough bad guy. My brain was so wholly rivetted by Arkham City that nothing else existed, not my depression and anxiety, not my heart conditions, not the fucking pandemic. Nothing. It was just me, some fancy gadgets, and Solomon Grundy (one of my favourite boss fights from the game) trying to beat my arse into the concrete.

This helped me survive 2020 because it helped me to forget 2020 existed and sometimes that is such a vital aspect in trying to move forward. I’m not saying it’s important to forget about life being a challenge permanently, but that desire to escape and not worry about those hefty problems, can be the factor between coping and moving onwards or being stuck on a fast-forward loop that never ends. Plus, in the process I found a favourite game of all-time that I will probably revisit later this year and whenever else I feel the need to abandon my mental burdens for a short while.

Fallout 4

Similarly to Arkham City, Fallout 4 became an escapist’s dream come true for me, which is astounding because it took me fucking forever to get into this title. If it weren’t for Madame Gabs’ passion for the franchise, I may have never picked it up.

Fallout 4 was my very first Fallout gaming experience where I spent more than a couple hours playing it. I did try to play Fallout 3 once, but it kept glitching and crashing before I ever made it out of the vault that I never wanted to see or play another game from this franchise again. Then one morning around 3am when I couldn’t sleep (it seems that’s when all my discoveries tend to be made), I sat down at my computer and began to flip through my behemoth catalogue of Steam games. Nothing sounded good. On a total whim, I began the installation for Fallout 4 and went to make coffee. When I started the game, it was like trying to read Greek for me. I didn’t know or understand a goddamned thing about this game aside from what little I had watched Gabs play (she has it on the PS4).

That morning I spent about three hours making it through the beginning portion and a decent chunk of tutorial sections. There was a lot of cursing and frustration and me yelling at myself for picking up something I “knew” I’d never enjoy. Then those three hours turned into five hours. Then five hours turned into eight hours. Before I knew what was happening, Gabs had returned home from work (she worked graveyard shifts at the time) and the sun was out. Through all of my vulgarities at trying to learn the game and to become decent at it, I had totally tuned out everything else, including time itself. Even when I played Arkham City, I never forgot my surroundings…much. I was floored with disbelief.

The next night when I couldn’t sleep, I returned to Fallout 4 and really took my time exploring every single thing I could, which is the brilliant beauty of this game. Now that I was knee-deep addicted to it, I finally understood why it was so beloved by gamers everywhere, yet for me, it was a cure for my insomnia. With all of the mental energy that I put into playing this game, working my arse off to get good at it (I loathe dying in video games), and to discover areas I knew I was too under-levelled to approach—by the time I finished, I would be utterly knackered. My head would hit the pillow as the sun would peak out into the world and I’d sleep for a good six to eight hours. It was the only thing in the world that helped me to get tired enough to finally sleep.

Fallout 4 not only introduced me to a new style of gaming I didn’t think I’d enjoy, but it also helped treat my insomnia. Even when I stopped playing the game, my body had gotten used to the routine that it unknowingly pushed me into, and I was able to get regular sleep again. Those small hours of decent snoozing then helped in my coping of anxiety and depression as well.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

The last game I’m going to talk about is one that almost everyone everywhere may be familiar with as it’s a game that helped tons of people to get through the last one-half to one-quarter of 2020. I received it as a birthday and Yay-You-Survived-Surgery-Now-Stay-In-Bed-and-Recover present from Madame Gabs in September-October and it truly did its job.

After I came home from the hospital in September, I had terrible Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) episodes from the time I spent there. It was the worst, most dehumanising experience I have ever had. It got to the point where I couldn’t sleep anymore. Every time I closed my eyes, I’d wake up screaming or hyperventilating from trauma-induced nightmares. I put in AC:NH one of those nights shortly after Gabs gave it to me and it helped me to not think about the hospital, the horrible nurses and environment, all of it. I pitched my tent, worked on getting those miles and set out on paying shite off. It was so calming to worry about catching fish and saying “Ew” on repeat whenever I caught a bug and overall just working on building my little town, Khebbia (named after Kheb, of course).

My stress shopping was starting to get out of hand during this period as well. Where I once had the library and the park to escape to whenever I felt these urges, between quarantine and bedrest for recovery I had nothing to keep me occupied. So, whenever I played AC:NH, I’d go on shopping sprees and it did wonders for my shopping urges. Whether I was paying off the rip-off loans from Mr Crook or if I was buying out flowers and tools to beautify the island, it felt great to spend that money. It tricked my brain into satiating the stress impulses that usually plague me. Because of that, my island and my house look supremely dope. When I had nothing left to buy, I started to save up my bells. Watching that bank account grow (even though it’d get wiped after I paid off a new loan) was like syrup for my mind. Sticky, sweet, and so, so comforting.

During November and December when my parents became sick and hospitalised, I didn’t sleep. I didn’t sleep or eat or anything. I was too sick to my stomach with stress. The only thing I’d do was sit in my room and pray for the best while trying to prepare for the worst. After not having played the game for a couple weeks, I picked it back up and played it almost nonstop. I must have made millions of bells during that time, catching horde after horde or sharks, red snappers, arowana, arapaima, and coelacanths (I visited a lot of rainy islands). AC:NH helped me to pass the time that had essentially stopped while I waited for my parents to come out of the Danger Zone (what the doctors called it). If I didn’t have this game, I’m not sure how those very long days and nights would have elapsed. My cousin believes I would have ended up in the hospital myself from heart complications induced by stress or worse and I’m inclined to agree with him. Playing lengthy, strenuous hours of AC:NH eventually allowed me to fall asleep on the couch where I was curled up during my gaming sessions. I’d only get catnaps of two or three hours, but it was much better than the zero hours of rest I was previously getting.

Video games are such a diverse and multi-faceted source of comfort and companionship for many people out there, especially those of us who may not have the resources or the social structure to seek solace in other ways. I don’t have a lot of money. Gabs and I tend to live paycheque to paycheque for most of the year. Not because of poor financial planning or handling, but because living in a capitalist environment is fucking hard and making $20 per hour barely covers the minimum needed to survive. So, when we do have some free cash we can spend without feeling guilty, we invest it in video games.

If I didn’t have video games like the ones mentioned here, along with a vast plethora of others, I can guarantee that my mental health illnesses would be much, much worse. There’s even a chance that I would not be alive today or that I could be institutionalised for not being able to cope or accept treatment. We play games like the ones on this list and games like Resident Evil, Little Nightmares, Octopath Traveller, Bioshock, and tons of others for hours on end because for most of us that is the only way we know how to live to face another day. I wish more people took the time to understand why folx like us are willing to give so much of ourselves over to this medium rather than make assumptions about it corrupting our lives and minds because that is completely not true at all. Life and society corrupts my heart and soul, not gaming. Gaming is the salve that soothes the poison life instils within me. Let’s respect it and honour it for that.

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3 thoughts on “Self-Care Sunday Special: Video Games that Helped Me Mentally Survive 2020

  1. Gaming, in fact, is our new job, our new career. The human soul wants a “job”. Something to do that has progression, growth, advancement and rewards for work done. Most of us don’t have a job that actually offers that anymore. Most of us have learned that you can bust your ass doing all the right things and still get absolutely fucked over and crushed. The mind craves a situation, a life, it can control when the outside world is spiraling towards the drain and there’s nothing we can do about it. It is no mystery why games appeal to those of us with emotional and mental problems dealing with this world. Not only does it help us stay healthy, I suspect it makes us in some ways healthier than those around us who are too whatever to play games.

    I’ve gone from someone who had zero interest in games to someone who just spent all the “spare” change of the stimulus check on games without an ounce of regret. As the idiots around me persist in business as usual in spite of the over 20% COVID infection rate, hubby and I have retreated to a world the size of a Class C RV. Yet it seems much larger, because we have plenty of places to explore. Our time is largely bound by the rhythms of RAID: Shadow Legend. For total immersion, you’ll find me playing one of the text Choice Of adventure games I’ve recently become really addicted to. And if I just need something pretty to look at, fun and cute, I’ll be over at Castle Cats, thanks. And I’ve even blogged about going fishing with Fishing Clash. I’m especially fond of Loch Ness. It’s grey and quiet and now and then you’ll see Nessie pop up. If I crave company, there’s always Nekopara!

    Thanks to all the wonderful artists, writers, and game developers who have made our cyber-life possible. You have done more good in the world than you know. Blessedbe.

    And thank you for this insightful and honest post. I hope, like you, that it opens the eyes of a few people who might otherwise be a bit judgmental of gamers. It might make a few gamers feel like they are not alone. And it might get a few people to consider gaming for their mental health!

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    • I hope it really does open the eyes of the more judgemental folx with regard to video games. I’ve seen so many parents and adults and other non-gamers talk so negatively about games and how it “rots the brain,” yet that is simply not true, especially for people who have social anxiety and disorders, mental health illnesses, and more. It can be the line between surviving and giving up.

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      • I have to admit, back in the day I simply did not get it at all about gaming. Part of it had to do with being into tabletop gaming. To begin with the RPG games on computer, then console, really didn’t come close to the experience tabletop gaming gave me. That has improved a LOT however and then there’s the pretty graphics now. Especially since I’ve had to retire from anything remotely like working I find myself gaming all the time. I get it now. LOL. And I just don’t see how it’s a bad thing, as long as it is in it’s place like anything else. As in – spend as much time as you want on it as long as you still manage to eat, clean house, do your job or school – you know. 😀

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