Thought of the day: Games to play when you’re feeling down

I saw in a news story this week that researchers think playing casual games, such as Bejewelled,  can reduce symptoms of depression. Admittedly the research was underwritten by Popcap (makers of Bejewelled) but at the same time, these are the sorts of games I could imagine playing if I were to wake up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep.

One of the nice things about Bejewelled is that it’s very laid back and doesn’t put much time pressure on the player, unlike Plants v Zombies.

What games do you play if you’re feeling down that are guaranteed to either distract you or cheer you up? And what’s the appeal?

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21 thoughts on “Thought of the day: Games to play when you’re feeling down

  1. WoW. It serves me as the escape from everything and anything. Noticed that in Rift I’m too confined to the combat side just now. In WoW I can have Gnomore type toon who doesn’t kill at all, and still feel challenged.

    As if there was challenge in WoW, except to tolerate most of the population…

    C out

  2. It’s not so much depression as it is distraction, but I really like playing some Professor Layton (Nintendo DS puzzle game) if I just want to relax, as the puzzles are quite challenging and require my full attention. If I’ve just had a bad WoW pug or something, I forget all about it as soon as I’m puzzling away.

    • I’ll second this, though sometimes I even go further and just pop in Brain Age and tinker with that. Simple math, puzzles and Sudoku puzzles are my comfort food.

      …and Puzzle Pirates scratches many of the same itches, come to think of it.

  3. I wouldn’t take any notice at all of an unpublished paper funded by a games developer saying games are good until its released.
    It’s pretty impossible to make any conclusions without seeing the paper, but it sounds extremely dubious to me. It’s interesting that the control group activity consisted of surfing a mental health website aimed at those involved in research. An equally valid conclusion may be that surfing technical websites on mental health whilst depressed makes your depression worse. But, without seeing the paper its impossible to say.
    Later in the year, when (if?) the paper gets published and it’s shown that their methods or conclusions aren’t sound, it probably won’t even get a mention in any games news and be forgotten about. If that’s the case, Popcap or the researchers certainly aren’t going to be releasing any press releases about it. Not that Popcap will be too bothered either way – people are till going to remember reading about researchers showing games help against depression.

    • You’re right about the research (and if anyone reading this thinks they might have depression, go talk to a doctor!). And yet, it did make me think about the effect that some types of games do have on our moods, which I think is a real effect.

  4. Canabalt, Galcon Fusion, Scott Pilgrim, Beat Hazard, Audiosurf and Geometry Wars 2 come to mind. They have a difficulty curve that start off as really low and ramps up as I play. Those first easy successes distract me from the issues at hand and the rising difficulty level keeps me in the flow. After a half hour or so, I find myself looking at a new high score I didn’t think was possible.

    It isn’t 100% effective, though. Sometimes the underlying issue stays in the subconscious and thus you have to actively think about the game. Thinking is glacially slow when compared to muscle memory, so a seemingly trivial challenge might also be surprisingly difficult.

  5. Tony Hawk Pro Skater. Puzzle games are great, RPG’s replayed over and over are a lot of fun, but for some mindless park bench grinds and 19 trick combos I can sit for 2 hours or 15 minutes and it winds me right down. A comment was made about Muscle Memory and that’s what i like is some NON-thinking time. Guitar Hero Metallica also, but it is a bit strenuous…

    • Don’t worry, I’d let you know! Although I do think it’d be interesting.

      In particular I’m interested that people pick games like Farmville, and Puzzle Games which I think are often associated with a female audience. It just makes me think about the different reasons that men and women play games (well, excluding self-defined gamers who prolly have more in common with each other.)

  6. Farmville.

    Yeah yeah…I know. But I can get lost for a long time arranging and rearranging my little farm. I set my own goals (crop mastery, leveling the bakery, finishing collections) so it doesn’t frustrate me and I don’t ever get stuck.

  7. SimCity is an old favorite of mine for this reason. I always get a bit of a smile creating something from nothing and then tinkering to make the citizens’ lives easier.

  8. My wife uses Bejeweled to unwind almost every night. It helps her relax right before bed. Bejeweled is an awesome casual game with almost no stress involved.

  9. Big Zoo’s various ‘find hidden object’ puzzles (is there a name for that genre? where you have a really cluttered scene you need to find specific, often camouflaged, items). there’s something almost hypnotic about the half-focus needed to spot things quickly that I just find soothing. It takes my mind away from everything, and I can come back down feeling calm.

  10. I know it’s not a computer game, but I use Soduko (sp? I can never get it right.) puzzles to relax and unwind when I’m tired or depressed. I tried them on my iPod but I realized that just did nit cut it. Something about it being on a piece of paper with a pencil. I don’t know.

    Certainly not anything multiplayer. It can make thing better but it can also make them much much worse, a risk I’ve realized I should not take.

  11. When I’m depressed, I usually break out a shooter (especially one of the battlefield games) and kill people online for a while. Works for me.

  12. Of the games I currently play… Gratuitous Space Battles is good for when I’m feeling down. It’s enough of a mental challenge designing my ships and fleet tactics yo draw me out of myself, followed by the cathartic experience of watching stiff blow up.

    I’m more likely to feel pissed off than depressed though, especially after a day at work. A few battles in virtual Valhalla (I.e. Some battleground/warfront pvp) is good for working that out of my system. I don’t even have to win – taking some of the enemy down with me in a blaze of glory seems to work for cheering me up. It’s possible I have ‘issues’ :)

  13. I’ve found that games, especially multiplayer ones, aren’t helpful when I’m depressed. Playing tends to become a compulsive avoidance strategy. I usually need to go do something active by myself like swimming or riding my motorcycle. Both of those take me out of my head and make me focus on the world instead of how depressed I am. This is different than just relaxing after a hard day or having fun. For that, games are great.

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