We’ve all been there. The sads. The long-term lonelies. The won’t-go-away weepies. Be it a bad break-up, a job loss, or the grief that comes with losing a loved one, there comes a time in all our lives when the rain clouds come and decide to set up shop for a while.
During these times, we often turn to video games to distract our troubled minds, and some games are going to be better at this than others. For instance, you might think that something mindless might be the answer. Hopping into some Call of Duty or Fortnite seems like a great way to let your mind turn off, but ah– there’s the rub. Playing a game that doesn’t force your brain to totally engage leaves it free to dwell on whatever it is that’s bumming you out, thereby completely undermining your purpose for playing in the first place.
If gaming is your coping mechanism of choice, what could actually be more helpful is a game that will force your brain out of its sad stupor. Puzzle games are particularly good at this. Despite its best efforts to stay sad, that gray lump inside your skull will be lured into thinking about the solution to the problem at hand, and not the problems in your life. Additionally, it probably wouldn’t hurt to play something that has uplifting content and music; a game that charms its way into your heart, melting the sadness frost little by little.
So if you’re in a funk and looking for a few games that just might be the antidote to your pathos poison, that dawn for your darkness, we’ve compiled a list of a few little gems to brighten even your dimmest shadows, if only for a little while.
Burly Men at Sea
This game released by Brain&Brain is a heartwarming little tale about finding your own path and writing your own stories. The artwork is utterly charming and as you sail around the map and stumble into adventures. In fact,you are literally writing the book on adventure (one of many books you’ll write in this game). As you tool around the sea encountering different scenarios, you will find that every situation has different creative avenues to take, all with adorable and unique disparate outcomes. Burly Men at Sea only takes a few hours to play through if you want to achieve all the different endings. It’s so fun to try and suss out your different options that the time feels well spent.
Assessment: Expect quite a few laughs, a couple of “awwww”s, and some toe-tapping along the way.
Platforms: Available on PC/Mac, PS4, Switch, and IOS/ Android
Developed by Zoink Games, Fe will tug on your heartstrings with a novelty that almost never gets old. Fe is an action-adventure platformer that lets you sing to creatures of the forest to gain new abilities and further explore the world around you. You play as a little fox-type creature who discovers that they can sing to various plants and animals of the forest in order to be able to speak their language. Once you have acquired the language of that lifeform you can call to them for aid, to charm them to follow you, and to unlock certain paths. The artwork is stylized and interesting, and the music is killer.
There is a mild story, but it certainly isn’t the main focus of the game. Running, gliding, and climbing your way around the open world as you rescue and befriend the beings within is just sweet enough to lighten your heavy heart, and the gameplay has enough puzzles and challenges to otherwise occupy your weary mind. Fe has a meditative quality that creates just the right amount of breathing room, in an otherwise preoccupied headspace.
Assessment: So many “awwww”s, some new tracks for Spotify, and a few tricky platforming sessions will keep you company.
Platforms: Available on PC, Switch, PS4, and Xbox One
This beautiful little game developed by Funomena has just the right balance of puzzle and play to give your cognition some much needed R&R. Luna can be played both in VR and out, and any version of the game will have something to offer even the most unsettled mind. The VR version has a fun feature that is equal parts adorable and ethereal. You have these little tulip petal hands (basically the most adorable thing ever) and with them, you move stars around to create constellations. Once you have solved all the constellations in a section, a little world appears that you can shape and grow however you like, changing textures and shapes and colors. Once it is where you like it, you are teleported to the little whimsical world you created, now populated with other wildlife as well.
Truly, this experience acts like a warm bubble bath for your brain, allowing worries to drift away and a sense of calm and peace to wash over you. After all– how can you not feel a little lighter in spirit when you look down at your three-petaled tulip hands making a lily pad garden for some turtles?
Assessment: Giddy laughs, sighs of contentment, and huge, silly grins plastered across your face await you inside Luna’s magical world.
Platforms: Available on PC, Oculus, and HTC Vive
Now on to…
Co-developed by Thatgamecompany and Santa Monica Studio, Journey might be one of the most legendary games you’ve never played. From the vast, sweeping landscapes, and the serene and poignant music, you are truly in another world. Journey has some mild puzzle aspects and a story that remains open to interpretation, but where it truly shines is the collaborative process. The world in which you travel is not empty. It has other beings that you interact with, but more importantly, Journey will match other players into your game. Some of these players you will never even encounter along the way. They are merely there, sharing your world. Some of these strange new friends you will see, even interact and cooperate with, but you can’t speak or communicate with them in any way save one: the musical trill that your character makes. That’s it.
Other players can offer aid and guidance, sometimes they just keep you company along part of the trek, but who they are, what age, what gender, you will never know. All you know is that they mean you well on this difficult passage, and with all of its successes and failures, all of its burdens and lessons, you are not making this journey alone. Upon completion of the game, you will be shown the player handles of the compatriots you endured the struggle with, some of whom you met, and maybe some you never even knew were there. Those names on the screen remind you of the ability we have to connect, to relate to one another, to create bonds with. And at times of great sorrow, not feeling alone– is truly a precious gift.
Assessment: Gazing in awe, gasps of excitement, feeling more excited to see a stranger than you ever have before, will accompany you on your pilgrimage.
Platforms: Available on PS4, PC, and IOS
With Spiritfarer, Thunder Lotus Games has created one of the most beautiful love letters to the process of letting go. You play as Stella, who has taken over for the previous ferryman as the spirit guide escorting souls from this world to the next. It might seem counterintuitive to recommend a game about death as part of a series designed to cheer you up, but Spiritfarer is as much about celebrating life as it is about memorializing death. In addition to this, it is so well crafted and endearing that you are reminded that you are able to grieve as part of a natural, human process. Those who have recently lost a loved one may find that even as the tears flow readily, a sense of peace and acceptance come more easily as well. The gameplay itself does a wonderful job of forcing you to pay attention. You have plants growing in your field, garden, and orchard. You have wood to cut and fabric to weave.You have spirit friends to feed (some quite often) and they all have different tastes, which means you’ll have to be cooking and learning new recipes all the time. You also have resources to scout for and new spirits to find, and the need for more space means you’ll need to upgrade your boat, so you’ll need to find ways to earn money as well.
At times, the game will keep you so busy, it’s almost to the point of overwhelm. You’re singing to plants, feeding and shearing your sheep, watering crops, catching lightning bolts in jars, and allllll of the other things that demand your attention. On days that always feel too short, you aren’t worrying about whatever it was that made you sad in the first place. And every so often, the game provides you with a lovingly crafted, story-driven reason to channel your sadness, to release your emotions as a part of a larger whole– little bits at a time, until you are ready to say goodbye.
Assessment: A plethora of “awww”s, all of the chuckles, a fair amount of sniffles, and so many hugs will ferry you through troubled waters and into calmer seas.
Platforms: PS4, Switch, Xbox, and PC
And now for a bonus game…
3 words. The Tetris Effect.
Yes. That Tetris. The one that’s been out for almost fifty years and has existed in some form on almost every major gaming platform.
You know that feeling you get after playing Tetris for a long time? Where you can almost see the blocks falling behind your eyelids long after you’ve stopped playing? That’s The Tetris Effect. It’s your brain’s way of continuing to work toward solving the puzzle even after there is no more puzzle to solve.
Turns out you can use this phenomenon to life hack your brain. If you’ve experienced a traumatic situation or even just had a really terrible day, playing Tetris for even just 5 to 10 minutes can help prevent those unwanted flashbacks reminding you of the incident. Essentially, it helps prevent getting stuck running over and over the bad experience in our minds. Instead of flashing back to the trauma or how we “coulda-shoulda-woulda” handled it, we’ll be more likely to flashback to those tricky blocks falling from the sky. Neat, huh?
So maybe bust out the Tetris next time you’re having a particularly stressful day, and you just might be amazed at how much better you’ll feel overall.
There. If you still feel sad, play two of these, and call me in the morning.
What do you play when you’re feeling bummed out? Has gaming ever helped you through a rough time? Let us know in the comments!