Games to Play When You’re Depressed: New Way to Fight Against Depression?

Video games don’t have the best reputation. So-called “baller games,” in particular, are often criticized because they are said to increase aggression. Also, they have a high potential for addiction. 

But even harmless games like Super Mario don’t go down well with everyone. Parents, in particular, worry about their children and want them to spend as little time as possible playing video games and instead occupy themselves elsewhere. 

But that is not always the case. In the case of mental health issues like depression, the role of a video game can be crucial sometimes. Because more and more researchers are assuming that video games can help children, young people, and even older people to cope with mental illness. 

In this article online, we are going to provide you with a list of the best video games to play when you’re depressed. 

Play Video Games: Does It Help to Deal with Mental Health Issues?

Conventional psychotherapies are not always effective for mental health issues like depression or similar disorders. Young people do not always want to get involved in therapy in the first place. While it is difficult for them to confide in other people, they like to process their feelings with the help of video games. 

Along with physical activity, video games can be a good initial experience with therapeutic methods. In Nevermind, which was conceived as a therapy game by developer Erin Reyonolds, the player is supposed to slip into the role of a traumatized patient. That is to process his past in a surreal dream world and undergo a healing process himself. 

Games without a specific healing intention, such as Tetris, can also help patients process events or improve skills. Several studies have shown that video games can have a positive effect on the brain and behaviour toward others. 

Compared with children who don’t play, those who spend about a third of their free time playing video games show more prosocial behaviour and life satisfaction. Also, fewer behavioural problems and problems dealing with others and emotional insecurity are shown in them. 

Playing games like Nevermind alone and without instruction is not always recommended. Reynolds warns that a game of this type could overwhelm some people, exacerbating existing problems.

Younger players, in particular, should also not play such games as a stand-alone therapy but as an accompaniment to inpatient therapy. One reason for this is that younger players often tend to click through games without reading everything. 

In addition, it is better if the children do not know that this is a therapy-accompanying measure. Without this indication, the children would receive the players far better, and thus the resulting successes would also be greater. However, it is important that the children can identify with the main character. 

Therapeutic Success of Video Game in Mental Illness

So far, however, there have been few studies on the positive effects of videogames on people with mental health issues. Evaluations are expensive, so developers often refrain from doing them. The chances are good that this could change soon. 

A survey reportedly found that 90 per cent of psychotherapists could already imagine using video games as a therapy method. Nor is this new therapeutic approach likely to fail because of patients’ enthusiasm for video games. Nearly a third of the world’s population is said to play video games regularly.

Games to Play When You’re Depressed

Games to Play When You're Depressed

In ‘Bound,’ you dance away the past, and in ‘SelfCare,’ you do relaxing tasks in a cosy bedroom. We talked to the developers and a therapist.

On the open sea, a girl fights for her life. Enraged, the waves crash against her boat. Then suddenly, a sea monster appears and insults the child: “You loser, you’re good for nothing! You’re a disappointment!” The video game Sea of Solitude is about self-doubt, hopelessness, and depression. But it doesn’t drag down the players, on the contrary.

The scene with the ranting monster is the prelude to an approximately five-hour treatment of stories of suffering. Sea of Solitude always has lessons in store. It not only confronts players with painful stories but also helps them find new perspectives.

It is just one of many new games that help with depression and mental health that tell stories of the most serious interpersonal conflicts. The games can provide emotional support, but they are not a substitute for therapy. They can temporarily increase well-being, but they can’t permanently solve problems.

We talked to developers and a therapist about games for depressed people that are supposed to make gamers feel better and in what context that works at all. We made sure that each title could also be played by people who rarely picked up the gamepad. So, let’s just go to the list of games that make you happy when you are sad.

‘SelfCare’: Relaxed tasks in a cosy bedroom

This is one of the best anti-depression games available on the internet. With SelfCare, Brie Code and Eve Thomas have developed an app that combines a variety of mini-games. Players can put away a virtual bookshelf, practice breathing exercises, light candles scattered around the room, or meditate. 

Players can enjoy life virtually in this game. The main menu is a cosy bedroom, from where the mini-games can be launched with a finger. The mini-games are simple and short. They can also be played at the bus stop or on the toilet.

Hundreds of thousands of players have given the app the highest rating since its release. In the comments, many tell of how Self Care has helped them. “The app helped me through the tough weeks after my last breakup. I didn’t feel so alone anymore,” writes one gamer. While another person suggested with a review, “I just love this app. It’s fun to unlock a new feature every day and have your own little space.”

The mini-games could provide lasting relief from symptoms of psychological ailments such as anxiety disorders or depression. Unlike Sea of Solitude, #SelfCare doesn’t address specific problems but helps players distract themselves from difficult situations. But is distraction really a good idea? 

The experts say yes. It’s healthy human behavior to temporarily escape bad thoughts and worries. Displacement or even distraction are defence mechanisms of the psyche that serve a protective function.

But we should warn against distracting ourselves with games alone in a difficult life situation. If your well-being is completely dependent on a mobile game, then it becomes problematic because the so-called self-efficacy experience is restricted. 

Self-efficacy is the feeling of having influence over one’s own life and being able to trust one’s own competencies even in the face of difficult situations. Without self-efficacy, we feel helpless. Temporary distractions are perfectly OK as long as other coping strategies exist alongside them to help you overcome problems.

‘Florence’: Loving the others

Loving the others

One of the most helpful games for depression, Florence is not about distraction but about drama. The players experience the story of two people who fall in love, move in together and finally break up. They feel the worries and fears, but also the beautiful moments of the relationship.

Together with the couple, the players brush their teeth together in the evening in front of the virtual mirror using wiping motions and help formulate loving chat messages. Confronting love and grief can be a source of support, especially for people with heartache.

We constantly form hypotheses about the inner processes of others. That’s a primal human trait. That’s why we like to watch other people’s lives. We instinctively put ourselves in other people’s situations and compare their behaviour with our own experiences. That’s why witnessing the conflicts of characters like in Florence can be relieving. We then have the feeling that we are not alone with our problems.

But the therapists also see limits here. Even if games with their stories noticeably increase one’s own sense of well-being, the virtual world should not be the only place where people look for exchange. Contact with real people is unbeatable in its healing potential and its complexity. Communication with a virtual character is simply significantly less nuanced.

Games like these can help and support, but they can never replace therapy. Also, they shouldn’t take over the whole of everyday life either. There are definitely warning signs that should be taken seriously. If a game becomes an obsession, a fixation, then you should pause. In this case, the experts recommend comparing one’s own gaming behaviour with the typical symptoms of addiction.

Warning signals are, for example, when gamblers neglect hobbies, jobs, friends, and family members and can no longer control when and how long they play. But if all that works out, video games can provide comfort and hope. It can make difficult life situations at least a little more bearable.

‘Gris’: The eternal search for the way out

This one is certainly not a one-sitting game. Gris is the name of a girl trapped in a dream world: the world of her own grief. Jump by jump. Players explore new ways out of depression feels in this platformer. As players progress from level to level, they lead Gris to new realizations about how to deal with her past. 

At the same time, more and more paths become visible that were previously blocked. Gris walks across giant, stone hands to the next level, balances on the forehead of a giantess, and shimmies through a jungle of larger-than-life fantasy plants.

Gris’ message is clear: It pays to gather courage and bite your way through difficult moments. The journey makes you stronger and opens up new perspectives.

Gris is one of the best games for depression patients. There are over 8,000 positive reviews for Steam, although the game’s difficulty is comparatively high. Players have to solve puzzles, skillfully overcome chasms and glide through the levels on air currents. Therein, too, lies a message: the path of Gris is not easy. But is a depression quest game with a high degree of difficulty even a good idea if the players are not doing well at the moment?

Game developer Leonie Wolf is researching the therapeutic potential of depression quest games at the Cologne Game Lab. According to her research, so-called “meaningful task-fulfilment” has an important role in therapy games. This means that players are given a set of tasks that keep them engaged and whose completion gives them a sense of accomplishment. The tasks should make sense in the context of the game and be appropriate in terms of difficulty. 

‘Bound’: Dancing away from the past

Dancing away from the past

This is one of the best games to play when you’re depressed. Bound takes an even more abstract approach to grief and depression, appealing to our imagination. Gamers control a ballet dancer through a surreal dream world that constantly changes its appearance. The developer sees the colourful, geometric landscapes as a tribute to early 20th century modern art. The dancer is accompanied sometimes by classical strings, sometimes by fast-paced electronic sounds.

If you want, you can simply see your way through the real world of Bound as a dream journey. With a little imagination, however, the embodiments of traumas, fears, and bad childhood memories can be recognized in the monsters of the game world. The players can’t fight against the monsters, but they can easily dance around them and do a lot more fun activities. Therefore it is a favorite game for depressed people to fight depression.

Both Bound and Gris are platformers that challenge games primarily with skill exercises. Developer Mel Taylor is currently working on a game about trauma and depression herself. She thinks platformers are a particularly appropriate genre for telling personal stories. 

Most players here instinctively know what to do and don’t have to learn game mechanics. That leaves room for more stories. In the challenges of platformers, Taylor sees the dramaturgy of emotional self-discovery. Climb mountains, leap chasms. This is where the game world and the emotional world fit together.

Sea of Solitude

Sea of Solitude

Sea of Solitude is an action-adventure game from the German developer Jo-Mei. Chief developer Cornelia Geppert processes her own inner demons here and lets the player take part in this journey.

In this good game, we slip into the role of Kay, a young woman who is drifting all alone on her boat through a flooded city. Like everyone in the city, she gradually turns into a monster. We have to get to the bottom of this and learn more about Kay and her family. They together try to overcome painful memories of separations, rejection, or bullying.

Sea of Solitude in review: Too much to say

Sea of Solitude combines simple platformer game mechanics with visually stunning symbolism. The game focuses on feelings and their effects on us, for better or worse.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

Senua's Sacrifice

This game is just the thing you need to overcome your tough days. Well, that is a metaphor. But the game is actually helpful. The action-adventure Hellblade from Ninja Theory deals with the story of Senua, who descends into the Celtic hell to save her slain lover. The young woman is plagued by hallucinations; she hears voices and sees things that aren’t there.

On her way through the realm of the dead, Senua must face not only enemies and riddles but also her fears and feelings. Can she survive alone in this world? Live on with her pain?

Hellblade in review: Duel against the underworld

In terms of gameplay, you will be spending time with sword fights against different enemies and also boss opponents in Hellblade. There are also environmental puzzles where you have to find runes in the landscape to open doors.

Child of Light

Child of Light

In the turn-based 2D role-playing game Child of Light, we control the young princess Aurora through a picturesque fairytale world full of monsters, myths, and magic. If this alliteration already raises your eyebrows, you should be prepared for something in Child of Light. The adventure is told completely in rhyme, like a poem.

However, the fantastic world is a kind of metaphor. Aurora tries to deal with her feelings after her mother dies and her father remarries. In the fairy tale realm, she learns to believe in herself and overcome her grief.

Gameplay-wise, as Aurora, you can interact with NPCs, recruit party members, and use different attacks against nasty monsters in battles. There is also a co-op mode where a fellow player can control our useful firefly helper.

Final Thoughts

Games are often seen as something which distracts the children from reading. Parents feel worried when they see their children playing video games for hours. Yes, too much is dangerous, just like everything else in the world. But Depressed people can actually take help from video games. 

Sometimes, people with mental health issues do not feel comfortable with therapies. In those cases, games are quite helpful. But games to play when you’re depressed are never a replacement for the therapeutic process. This article explained the use of games in a general overview. For severe depression, professional help is recommended.

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