Stress Relief in Video Games: Animal Crossing, Abzu, & More

 In my most recent video and companion article I briefly discussed how video games such as Animal Crossing and Abzu can be rather relaxing experiences and I would like to take some time to elaborate on the topic a bit more.
Video Games & the Suggested Antidotes to Stress

     Chronic stress has been defined as: “the response to emotional pressure suffered for a prolonged period over which an individual perceives he or she has no control.” Because chronic stress causes us to feel like we have no control over everything that is going around us, one antidote suggested by author Jane McGonigal in her book, Reality is Broken, is to find a place where we do feel like we have control. One place that plenty of people feel they have control is in video games, which can be connected to McGonigal’s three other suggested antidotes to stress as well.

The first, connecting with and helping others, is something that comes up much more in modern gaming than it had in the past, due to the readily available internet access that all modern consoles have. Many games have an online co-op option, where players can help each other conquer the more difficult parts of a game. Whether they need help fighting a monster to gain material in games like Monster Hunter & God Eater, or if they need assistance with a difficult boss or area in games like Bloodborne and Dark Souls, players all over the world are now helping each other reach their goals. This can and has led to players helping each other in real life and can provide a good boost for our mental health. This boost is due to the social presence of others, or rather, the degree to which a player is perceived as a ‘real person’ in mediated communication. Too often many think of online communication between gamers as aggressive and unhealthy competition, but it highly depends on the game being played, as well as the people themselves. For example, there was a story about a female gamer who had sworn off gaming online due to her anxiety and always being kicked out back in the early days of Xbox live. Since the world of gaming has changed quite a bit since then, she has actually been really touched by the strangers who played co-op with her in games like Journey and Dark Souls. Stories like this help show that empathy between players is an important resource and that even just one stranger can help give a boost to another’s confidence.
AnimalCrossing_wallpaper_1920x1200-C.jpg     The second of the three suggested antidotes, paying attention to our working and living conditions, which are absolutely vital to our health; is a bit harder to connect to video games. However, life simulation games, such as Animal Crossing, could help us pay attention to and improve those conditions in real life.

     As I mentioned in my video, Animal Crossing (Specifically the Nintendo 3DS entry, Animal Crossing: New Leaf), really is a game where players do whatever they feel like, as long as it’s within the game’s limitations of course. Animal Crossing is a game where players aren’t obligated to do anything, which is kind of hilarious in New Leaf since the player character has been appointed as the mayor of the town. Players don’t have to go save the world from evil or go on a big epic quest, they just have to make sure they finish their house payment, which they can do whenever they want (If only real life worked that way). Being the mayor, players can even add new buildings & decorations to their town.  Players can also do all kinds of activities that others may find to be relaxing in real life, such as gardening, bug catching, or fishing. The appeal of this is that players may not have the money, time, or live in the right environment for those hobbies in their real life, yet still may have some amount of interest in them. This could even lead players to start new hobbies that they think or know that they will enjoy, which can be even more beneficial to their health. Animal Crossing provides a simpler way of life that we can observe in order to make our real lives a little less stressful.

     Animal Crossing: New Leaf will got a big update not too long ago, and with the announcement of free weed removal for those who haven’t played in awhile, I’m sure plenty of Animal Crossing fans went back to revisit their towns, especially since 2016 has proved to be a rather stressful year for many of us in the real world.

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The third and final additional antidote of the suggested three is getting more involvement, and more reward, for effort in work. Well designed games, such as those both previously and about to be mentioned , give us the right amount of involvement and reward when we play them, and have the potential to help us improve our real lives in the same way.

Some Video Games That Help Me Relax

     These are just a couple of video games that I find relaxing. I recommend trying them if you can, as they are all great games.

Disclaimer: In my video I mentioned the Endless Ocean games, I have never actually played either of them myself, but they have always intrigued me. If you want to see some entertaining playthroughs, then I suggest the ones that the Game Grumps did of both games.

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     First, I’d  like to go more in depth about the game Abzu (pun most definitely intended). This game just amazed me ever since the first trailer was released, and I’m not usually one to play the more artistic games. This game came out at the perfect time for me too. I had been stressed out about life in general and was dog/apartment sitting for a relative at the time. Abzu helped provide a satisfying getaway from the stress I had been feeling. I thought just the visuals would be nice to look at and thought that would be all, but this game ended up being quite the experience due to everything encompassing it. Abzu is a delight to our senses, having the visuals mixed with the beautifully composed soundtrack as well as simple yet interesting gameplay. The fact that the game even has a meditate option both on the title screen and within the game itself helps show that it knows what kind of game it is. When I first played it, I was actually afraid it would make me fall asleep, and don’t get me wrong it was relaxing enough to make me feel sleepy at times, but I was enjoying it so much that I didn’t want to miss anything.  A relaxing game, is one we can play to settle down and de-stress, still playing the game and enjoying it, but going at a slow & smooth pace.

original.jpg     You also may have noticed The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker HD in my video. While I don’t find this game to be as relaxing as the others mentioned, this game still has some nice relaxing parts within it, in part due to its lighthearted nature. It’s interesting that at first it was criticized for being too cartoon-y, but I think it’s a good contrast in between two of the darker entries in the series (Majora’s Mask & Twilight Princess, respectively). A lot of people seem to think that the sailing in Windwaker  is tedious and boring, but I find it relaxing and it’s actually one of my favorite parts of the game. As long as I don’t run into a giant kraken or an enemy ship, it’s fun to just relax, sail, and look for treasure and new islands. I also find the beginning of the game to be quite relaxing, just running around across an island observing the people, animals, and environment. The game does a great job of setting up its more lighthearted tone even at the start.

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    One game I find relaxing that I haven’t mentioned at all yet is Gravity Rush Remastered. This game was not in the video because it doesn’t feature the ocean and doesn’t have a similar nature to Animal Crossing, so I didn’t think it would have been a good fit. However, in between story missions, the game allows players to go at their own pace, and there’s no rush unless you’re trying to beat the game as fast as possible. What I find relaxing about it is the ability to use your gravity shifting powers to explore and collect gems, something that I often found myself doing between story missions and even long after I had finished the game. Something about free flying, or in this case free falling, in games just seems to have a relaxing quality to it and with the sequel coming out soon, I’m quite excited to float around and explore an even larger world.

Overall, many different games are found to be relaxing by many different people, from hack & slash action games like Dynasty Warriors to turn based games like Pokémon and the older entries in the Final Fantasy series. That being said, there and plenty of other people may not find any video games to be relaxing at all. In the end, it all depends on personal preference, but any game that someone finds to be relaxing & fun has the potential to improve their life by helping to decrease their stress.

    What are some video games that help you relax?

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