Despite already having written before about how games can have a positive influence on mental health, I didn’t grasp the full effects of this until recently. It’s been clear for a while that a whole host of games can be beneficial, especially for people who struggle with anxiety. Stardew Valley, Animal Crossing, and The Sims are only a couple examples of games that many will point to and describe as overwhelmingly calming. I was in this camp too, but I didn’t realize exactly why playing Stardew Valley at night before I’d go to sleep was so helpful until I stopped playing the game for several weeks.
If you’ve struggled with mental health issues, I’m sure you understand the feeling of everything—and I mean everything—becoming too exhausting. Even if its something as simple as playing a relaxing video game that you know you love. Suddenly, it starts feeling like a “task,” instead of a helpful tool or something fun. This was my experience in recent weeks, and given the fact that I already needed to play other games for my job, keeping up with Stardew Valley at night just felt like too much. This had me questioning a previous article I’d written about the benefits of video games for anxiety. How helpful could they really be if, just like everything else, they started to feel like a chore?
But as the weeks passed and I did not re-open my Stardew Valley game, I noticed that I hated nights more and more. It took longer and longer for me to fall asleep, and I couldn’t piece together why that was the case for the longest time. It was only today that I realized that Stardew Valley had more influence on my mental state than I had originally given it credit for. While I had obviously assumed that the benefits of playing the game were “nice relaxing music” and “peaceful farming and conversing with neighbors,” which would help me chill out or drift off to sleep, I actually realized that the biggest benefit I was getting from Stardew Valley is that it was a chore, in a way.
How is that a benefit? I’m not sure if you’ve ever reached the point before where you feel like you’re going nowhere and accomplishing nothing with your life, but I’ve hit that point quite a few times, and I don’t doubt I’ll experience it again in the future. When this happens, small accomplishments are everything. Though Stardew Valley is calming and is a definite aid with anxiety, it actually served as a countermeasure to depression issues for me. See, I may not have been able to accomplish much during given days in real life, but if I could at the very least water my crops before going to sleep at night, that was something to feel good about. Instead of thinking, “wow, look at all the nothing I did today” as I laid in bed trying to sleep, I’d be thinking, “just a couple more days until this produce can be harvested” or “alright, I managed to get Shane another gift today, so pretty soon he’ll actually like me.”
It’s not to say that video games should replace real life accomplishments, but I realized that Stardew Valley was a reliable crutch to prevent the downward spiral that would happen in my mind at night without it. And though Stardew Valley is the example I’m using here, I’m positive that this experience is not limited to this game in particular. Playing and then temporarily leaving behind Stardew Valley showed me that even when life was going well, this game has acted as an aid to prevent my mindset from wandering into a darker place. If people have told you that video games cannot help with mental health, they are wrong.
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Stephanie is an Editor at TheGamer, solidly aligned chaotic neutral. Though her favorite game is Fire Emblem: Three Houses, she vows to do everything in her power to one day see a Legend of Dragoon remake. Absolutely nothing can top her immense love for The Lord of the Rings.
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