“One in 5 Australians experience a mental health condition in a given year and almost one in 2 will experience a mental health condition at some point in their lifetime.”
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 2007 (4326.0). Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
This is a statistic that is quoted time and time again around this time of year with R U OK day just around the corner.
While R U OK Day can be divisive amongst those that suffer from mental health conditions – it can seem to trivialise the conversation around checking in on those that need it most, WHEN they need it most, instead of just waiting for the designated day – personally I see any method to start the conversation is a good method.
What does this have to do with gaming? WELL – throughout September I am asking if you are OK and giving you my tips on how my experience with video games has helped me get through the rough times and how they might help you on a journey to wellness!
To premise this article I am not an expert in the treatment of mental health, I am sharing my personal experiences and my methods that have helped me along the way with my mental health. For my health, self awareness was the key to breaking through my frequent anxiety attacks and the panic that comes from not knowing what is happening within your own mind and body.
As a teen I would frequently have episodes of shortness of breath, my hearing would be affected and sometimes I would straight up faint and on top of that I also had regular terrible nightmares. It was a terrfying experience to not know what it was or why it was happening to me, after a number of tests and appointments it was diagnosed as panic attacks. But what was there to panic about? I was fine? I played state rep level sport, loved the beach, had a great friend group an amazing family home and a pretty happy go lucky attitude. The reality was I had no control over the reasons I was not ok, as an adult and after years of working on it, I can look back and see my anxiety was very environmental and sensory triggered.
SO – background out of the way lets cut to the important stuff – How did video games help?
To put together your list of games to help your own situation, you need to understand your own triggers. For me I know I don’t cope well with violence, horror and supernatural themes and find great comfort in strategic thinking, repetition & predictable play structure, logic, puzzles and anything that involves a steady routine like a realistic day night cycle. These help me ground myself during times of great stress at work or at home, and allow me to settle my internal clocks when I have a larger than normal schedule or disruptions to my routine.
For anyone that has ever received treatment for a mental health condition there are a few key exercises that you may recognise here and I have done my best to line them up with my top games so anyone that has not had experience with the methods maybe you can pick up some tips.
1 ) Breathing regulation exercises
Bejeweled – I can hear the collective groans from the gaming community but this game has saved my sanity on more than one occasion, checking my steam account I have clocked over 350 hours on this simple gem twisting colourfest. I have the Bejeweled 3 deluxe edition that has a Zen mode, this is where I have spent a majority of the time as Zen mode has a regulated breathing exercises. With a no pressure simple progression through the various levels of the game the screen has a subtle white wash overlay and soundtrack that prompts a slow and regular breathing exercise that slowly moves you into a “zen” state (see what they did there) this was a great gentle way to calm my thoughts, breathing and lower my overall stress levels that didn’t feel like I was under pressure to sit and meditate to try and get back to calm.
Plants V’s Zombies – for the immediate relief of the need to be somewhere else and concentrating on something else this game offered me a platform to be in control of something else in a world that was not real in any location I found myself needing. The key feature for this to helping me is it was available everywhere and on all devices to help me when and where I needed it. While distraction is an effective short term tactic is it definitely not a long term solution but can give effective relief in times of great need.
Zelda – any version on any platform this game has the perfect formula for me to become a completely different person in a world that does not exist with a key focus on saving the realm whilst also having the ability to just do what you feel like for as long as you like. Puzzles and intellectual engagement are a key method for me when removing myself from the causes of my anxiety and the puzzles offered in all the Zelda games are second to none for me. Even now I am in the midst of completing every shrine in Zelda Breath of the Wild and from the moment the switch powers up I am taken away from the now and thrust into my new mission to follow the Sheikah slate to my next puzzle quest with no fear or stress over how long that basket of washing has been staring at me from the dining table. The same for this method as distraction, it is a good method to calm the initial storm but is not always a long term solution, it works perfectly for me being environmentally triggered escaping for an hour at a time can solve the largest part of my problem while it may magnify the issue for others. Checkpoint also has an amazing grounding exercise using Zelda. Click the below image to visit their article on grounding exercises during escape gaming.
The Sims, Insaniquarium, Stardew Valley
This last one is not a game I have personally played but people close to me highly recommend for another version of escape and to find comfort in a routine Stardew Valley offers no other pressures than making sure your plants are watered and where you will plant the next crop. With a consistent and predictable timeline these games all give the perfect grounding for coping with the out of the ordinary moments that disrupt a normal routine and to help to bring back a calm when things are thrown out of control in the real world.
Hopefully this gives you a starting point to finding your own way to wellness with gaming and this is just the beginning, I will follow up later this month with the key games I avoid and other methods for including gaming in your self care routine. If you would like to join the conversation and let us know how games have helped you or any advice for others jump into the GameOnAus – God mode facebook group and let us know.
If this has raised any concerns for you there are a number of services available – and remember it is Ok to not be OK.
Checkpoint is an amazing service set up for gamers with their own discord and supportive community as well as trained professionals there to assist the community.
other support can be found via the below organisations too: