Right now, I’m guessing a whole bunch ofyou are putting a lot of time into Animal Crossing.
The talk I’ve seen surrounding New Horizonsseems to focus on the fact that there really couldn’t have been a better time for a gamelike this to release, given how utterly wild and unpredictable and, well, scary thingsare right now.
In tough times, here is a game that, whilefar from mindless, provides people with a comforting feeling of normalcy.
You can busy yourself with routine tasks duringa period of unexpected downtime; watch numbers go up without too much in the way of strenuouseffort.
Hell, you can talk to people and make friendswhile you yourself might be feeling quite lonely (which, look, I really hope you’reall doing OK out there, we’ll get through this weirdness, just stay at home for nowand keep washing those hands, thanks everyone).
Anyway, far be it from me to tell you thatthis is somehow not a valid way of coping during all of this—it absolutely is andanything that gives you even a small amount of comfort you should hold onto for all it’sworth.
I made a video earlier last year about racinggames and how the purity of that action, the lack of equivocation in start, go fast andfinish first provided a compelling escape from my own head during periods of extremestress—I often rely on video games for pure escapism, it’s a hugely valuable thing tome.
But lately, even with everything that’sbeen going on, I can’t help but notice it’s a couple of other recently released, big nametitles that have been demanding my attention over the more overtly relaxing stuff I’dnormally gravitate towards.
Games that are, shall we say, a little moreintense.
The original Nioh was a game I adored butnever got super far into it because the sheer fury of its incredible combat system, thespeed with which you would get cut down if you weren’t 100% on your shit at all timeswas legitimately panic-inducing for me.
But here we have a sequel that retains allof that speed, that same fury (that might actually be harder, up front at least) andsuddenly I can’t get enough of it.
Make no mistake, I am abysmal at this game, and yet for some reason, not only do I keep coming back to it, but I feel calmer comingaway from it, like a weight has been lifted.
Same with DOOM Eternal, which might not bethe most difficult game in the world, but certainly builds upon the framework set by2016’s entry with enough weapons and modifiers and techniques to turn every encounter intoa fraught, non-stop ballet of carnage; forcing me to constantly switch up my strategy onthe fly in a continual cycle of blasting through my resources and desperately seeking out more, trying to maintain momentum with a million enemies and projectiles on my tail, all amountingto me emerging from certain gunfights liiightly physically shaking.
And like with Nioh 2, I’ve found this tobe a weirdly therapeutic experience.
It’s inspired a spree of installing notoriouslydifficult games that might otherwise have been too daunting, or revisiting titles Ihaven’t played in years because of the battle scars they left me with.
I still plan on getting into Animal Crossingat some point, the racing games are always there if I need them but suddenly, it seems, I’m a glutton for video game punishment.
But the question is… why? Why add to my already heightened anxiety andexistential dread with media that arguably makes me feel more anxiety and dread? Why do I find myself craving that challengein this already challenging period? Well it’s not like there isn’t precedentfor this seemingly masochistic mindset in other media.
The appeal of horror films, for example, forthose suffering from some kind of stress or anxiety is long documented, with some researchersgoing as far as to posit the phenomenon as a form of exposure therapy; asserting thatthese films allow people to “vicariously experience negative emotion in a controlledenvironment”—your brain can focus on the bad stuff happening in front of your eyes, while very clearly recognising it as fictional.
You might experience a kind of catharsis asyou transfer your fear and tension onto this on-screen threat and, for lack of a betterterm, spend that negative, restless energy built up inside you.
For me, it feels like challenging games (ofwhatever genre, really) are in a unique spot to fulfil a similar purpose, but also maybeeven go further in the benefits they offer.
The speed of a game like DOOM Eternal offerme those same feelings of tension and release but in a far more concentrated, personalisedform.
Unlike a horror film, I am directly experiencingthese negative emotions of anxiety and fear—these creatures are coming for a character thatI inhabit rather than someone I merely watch—but I’m also in direct control of the dangerhere.
I choose to immerse myself in it.
It is the height of controlled exposure tonegative emotions and what’s more, in these intense experiences, these are negative emotionsthat I am incentivised to overcome.
See, the same way many people might use timelike this to pick up an instrument or learn a language, these games represent a projectof sorts—something I start off terrible at, but can sense myself actively making progressin over time.
I have spent legitimately hours in the earlygame of Nioh 2, getting absolutely bodied left and right by its unbelievably tough bosses, wondering in what possible reality I could ever progress past them.
But then I’ll return to previous areas, ones that had me stuck on even regular enemies for a not-insignificant amount of time, andsuddenly I’m the one doing the bodying.
No matter how glacial that progress may seem, no matter how frustrating it might often be to lose and lose and lose again, I am learningthis game the more I play it.
It may not be some massively transferrableskill like learning carpentry or something, but I can feel my reflexes getting fasterhere.
My brain is constantly engaged which, whenstuck inside for prolonged periods of time, can be as important as physical exercise.
These games might seem outright brutal attimes, but as a result, they become training exercises in calm, focused play.
Don’t become overwhelmed—this is all conquerableif you put your mind to it and if there was ever a more important message for where we’reall at, I don’t know what it is.
All in, you might not be able to cope withsuch stressful experiences right now and that is 100% fine—whatever gets you through.
The purpose of this piece isn’t to tellyou “hey, if you’re really anxious, try out this really stressful thing that willdefinitely help, ” but more to suggest that if you are finding that same kind of investmentin these tough games during this time, you’re not alone and there might be some legitimatepsychological benefits in that mindset.
In thinking about my own experience battlingmental health issues, it occurs to me that the video I made last year about racing gamesdiscussed two in particular that were so absurd as to allow me to confront my own weird anxietiesthat I couldn’t make sense of at the time.
Now though, it appears as if the whole worldis submerged in absurdity—feelings of powerlessness and inertia seem more universal than ever.
Like I say, escapism is valuable and distractionis a critical component of many people’s recoveries but for me, right now, I guessI’ve felt the need to directly combat those feelings that have so often led me into cripplingdepressive episodes.
When it comes to my own mental health issues, it seems that while every fibre of my being is screaming at me to hunker down in my comfortzone, more demanding games give me the opportunity to rip and tear myself out of it.
So I hope you all enjoyed this piece! I’d just like to reiterate that this isbased purely on my own experience and however you choose to get through this weird time(as long as it involves staying inside, staying safe and washing your hands) is A-OK by me.
I really hope you’re all doing OK.
I’d like to sincerely thank my patrons formaking videos like this possible.
I know these are incredibly weird times soI am even more grateful for your support than I normally am, if that’s even possible.
You absolutely allow me to keep doing thisand rest assured I will be doing my damndest to make it worth your while during this wholemess.
Other people’s content has helped me a greatdeal in times of stress and hopefully I can help ease that a little for some of you.
Needless to say, if you feel you can supportthe show on Patreon, you’ll be directly allowing me to continue and I’ll never beable to thank you enough for that.
You are the absolute best.
An extra special thank you to Mark B Writing, Artjom Vitsjuk, Lea Chinelo, Constantinos Tsikinis, Henry Milek, Edward Clayton Andrews, Hibiya Mori, Rob, Bryce Snyder, Tommy Carver-Chaplin, David Bjork, Lucas, Dallas Kean, William Fielder, my dad, Timothy Jones, TheNamlessGuy, Ham Migas, Samuel Pickens, Shardfire, Ana Pimentel, Jessie Rine, Justins Holderness and Charlie Yang.
And with that, this has been another episodeof Writing on Games.
Thank you so much for watching, stay safeand I will see you next time.