Video Games Which Aid Mental Health

24/05/2021

Author: Jo Robertson


As May is Health Awareness Month we wanted to look at video games through this lens. There is a lot of focus in the media about cutting our screen time to improve our mental health but with so much of our lives functioning via our phones, computers and tablets this isn’t always easy.

I often put my phone down vowing not to look at it again for at least an hour. But minutes (sometimes seconds) later I have inadvertently picked it up to check the weather, or reply to that notification to order our kids’ school meals. If it’s not that, I find myself instinctively checking for messages before I realise it.

That’s the point when I need to give myself a metaphorical slap and do something proactive. Maybe find something good to read on my phone, an article, or start a podcast playing. Or put on some music, or maybe find a yoga workout on YouTube.

Something that has really helped me is Forest. It’s a light touch game which incentivises screen-free time by growing little trees. If you start using your phone by mistake, you end up with a sad dead tree in your forest. It’s a game you win by not playing!

Screens can often be seen as the culprit to our poor mental health rather than part of what can make it better. Of course getting space from digital input is incredibly important. I love the hours I am out on my bike. My phone is in my pocket and it stays there for the whole ride bar a few photo opps.

My experience with Forest started a journey for me to discover games that offer a positive contribution to mental health. What I hadn’t anticipated was how wide ranging this is. I had expected to find games that offered escapism (like Fortnite) or control (like Civilisation) in an uncertain world. Along with games offering this, I found experiences that offered calm (Abzu), hope (Journey), resilience (Celeste) and perseverance (Hades). As well as space to reflect on loneliness (The Longing), grief (Sea of Solitude), or to walk in someone else’s shoes (Hellblade).

The sheer variety on offer reminded me of Jocelyn Brewer’s phrase ‘Digital Nutrition’ that introduces a way of thinking about technology that goes beyond screen time worries, drug analogies and detoxes. Instead, she encourages us to think about the variety, context and patterns of digital consumption.

“Digital Nutrition is a guilt-free philosophy that guides you towards healthful technology habits and improving your digital literacy and wellbeing. Rather than digital detoxing and unplugging, Digital Nutrition is about intentional and intelligent use of devices and the conscious consumption of news, media and information.”

We worked with Jocelyn to create a list of Digitally Nutritious games. They come from a range of different genres and play-styles and are all good games if you want to broaden your gaming diet. We also worked with Take This, an organisation who supports mental health awareness in the gaming community and industry, to create this list of games that build resilience.

By the end of my journey this week I’ve learned that managing screen time and content isn’t the only aspect of digital mental health. Video games can offer an often untapped and varied way to be kind to our mental health.

If you want to learn more about mental health and video games, on the Family Video Game Database we have more ideas for games which can help boost your mental health and offer support in difficult times.
You can also search the database using filters. eg: Build Personal Resilience, Adventure and games with a PEGI 12+ rating


Image of the cover of the hardback edition of the Taming Gaming book  by Andy Robertson List of logos of the supporters of the Family Video Game Database  Playability Initiative  AskAboutGames  Parent Zone  Game Well Thank you for using our resource, supported by AskAboutGames, ParentZone and PlayAbility Initiative. We are editorially independent, written by parents for parents, but welcome sponsorship, partnership and suggestions. Email our editor for details on these opportunities.

The information on this database is designed to support and complement the in-depth discussion and advice about video game "addiction", violence, spending and online safety in the Taming Gaming book. If you have any concerns or questions in these areas, email our editor who is quick to respond or can arrange for a one-to-one conversation.

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