It’s no secret that I adore all forms of adventure: hiking and camping, reading sff books, and playing video games all help me to forget the world for awhile. And with it, my anxiety. I don’t talk about my struggles with anxiety and depression much on Reader Voracious, but they’re part of my everyday existence and shape who I am as a person. The same anxiety that cripples me with fear also inspires me to work hard and take pride in my work.
As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to an end, I wanted to open up a little bit about my anxiety to maybe help others out there. I knew this was the perfect time to write about my love of video games and how they help manage my anxiety.
How I Cope with my Anxiety
I love reading and books more than I love air (okay that’s untrue hyperbole, but you get the point), but I’ve spent the last two years in and out of the worst reading slump of my life. It’s frustrating to mentally need to escape into a good book but be physically incapable of reading. I’ll often have a pile of books on my bed, and I will go through them one by one to see if any of them grab my attention and silence the noise inside my head to no avail.
If the last couple of years have taught me anything, it’s that the best way to overcome anxiety and reading slumps is to do something else. As long as I held onto the guilt and feelings of “I should be reading X or Y,” the longer my reading slumps lasted. But succumbing to the anxiousness and despair of staring into space and mindlessly watching fourteen cycles of America’s Next Top Model (sadly a true story) doesn’t do me any favors, either.
Reading and Games Offer an Escape
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy, but truth be told it’s often a tough genre to get into when The Slump or Anxiety are looming over your head. I adore immersing myself in completely new realities where my problems don’t exist, but it also requires a lot of brain power to appreciate worldbuilding. Audiobooks don’t work for me in the best of times – in order to focus I have to read along with a copy of the book – but games give me the escapism I need without needing the same level of focus.
Chances are when I’m in a reading slump, I’m playing games. Whether it’s a story-based video game or idle mobile game trying to get me to spend money, I try to fill my time and empty my mind with games because I’m doing something and it’s fun so it doesn’t feel like work. As a Type A overachiever, I’m able to accomplish tasks and get that serotonin hit from an achievement unlock without feeling guilty if I miss out. In short: games help force me out of my anxiety fueled funk.
My Favorite Video Games
I have a huge adoration for Roleplaying Games (RPGs) and story-based games, and am the type of gamer who likes to snoop for all secrets and read all lore. Given my love for sff, I’m sure this comes as no surprise. Give me a game where I can adventure and I’m a happy lady.
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
This game is a freaking masterpiece. An amazing story (that tries to fix the bizarre timeline issue), beautiful scenery, soothing music all come together for a gaming experience which I can lose hours to.
This is the first “modern” game that I played beyond NES and SNES games, and it changed everything. Fable came out and changed everything with a game where your actions change how the world interacts with you and the ending you experience. It’s fully responsible for my XBOX loyalty for 20 years.
Assassin’s Creed II
Ezio will always hold a special place in my heart; ACII and ACII: Brotherhood both being among my favorite games to play. I fell out of love with the franchise for awhile as it got weird, but I’ve been playing Origins lately and am enjoying it thoroughly
The Curse of Monkey Island
The Monkey Island video games from LucasArts are iconic and no one can tell me otherwise. This series and the King’s Quest series are responsible for both my love of puns and point-and-click adventure games.
This game is one of the most atmospheric and fun games I’ve ever played. It’s story-based and non-linear… and you die a lot, so it’s always a different experience. It’s based in the same world as the free browser-based Fallen London, which I also recommend.
If you’d like to purchase any of these games, check the Humble Store to see if you can get it there and support charity in addition to the developers. This is my partner affiliate link for Humble Bundle, and purchases made will give me a small commission at not additional cost to you.
Free Online Games to Try
Not everyone has the means or equipment to play AAA title video games like Resident Evil or Assassin’s Creed. If you find yourself without a gaming console or computer with specifications to run games through Steam, there are still many opportunities for you to lose yourself a bit… at no cost to you!
The Oregon Trail
You have died of dysentery is one of the most iconic parts of my childhood (what a weird thing to say). I vividly remember first grade computer lab playing this game, and I love that you can play the game in all its glory online for free with this emulator. Learn about the life of a 19th century American pioneer and the move west. Can you make it all the way to Oregon?
Inspired by the old school Super Mario games, this browser-based side-scroll platform is a ton of fun (I lost three hours of my life, oops)! Use keyboard arrow keys to collect coins, stomp on enemies, and reach the end of the level within 2 minutes. The music is incredibly relaxing and I think that’s partially why I’m so addicted to the game.
🎮 Check out Plays.org for free, browser-based games! There’s something for everyone: from platformers to strategy to arcade games, whatever your mood there’s likely a game there to occupy some time and release some anxiety / endorphins.
Have some friends online and want to play a game of Pictionary? Skribble.io allows you to host games with friends and take your terrible artistic skills to the next level by trying to draw clues with a mouse or trackpad. Bonus for being on a voicecall while playing.
A survival horror board game that you can play solo or with other people that’s strangely addictive. It may run a little laggy depending on your computer’s specifications but it is browser-based.
🎮 Check out Tabletopia for a free, online sandbox arena for boardgame fans!
An indie party game that took the world by storm last year during lockdown, Among Us is a fun game of trickery and deceit. The game is free to play on Android and Apple devices, but there is also a PC version of the game that’s usually $4.99. Through June 3, 2021 you can get Among Us for free from Epic Games.
Game Resources for Newbies
Want to dip your toes into video games without breaking the bank? Here are some of my go-tos to get you started.
- Humble Bundle offers deep discounts to video games through their store and in bundles, with the proceeds supporting charity. Sign up for their newsletter to be notified when free games are available for redemption.
- Steam and Epic Games allow you to build digital library of PC games and often have deep discounts or free games.
- Are you a fan of Settlers of Catan? Well there’s a free online version called Catan Universe and you can play online with friends.
- Join the Nerd Voraciously Discord Server for regular game nights with other book lovers!
- and of course, Plays.org!
Resources for Anxiety
Anxiety is something that we all experience at various points in our lives, and the COVID-19 pandemic and the stress relating to job insecurity, health risks, uncertainty, and isolation is at an all-time high. There’s no reason to be ashamed and I want you to know that it’s perfectly normal.
Here are a list of free resources which may help you manage stress and anxiety for yourself.
- The CDC has a list of stress management tips, which include unplugging from the news cycle and social media, allowing time to unwind, and trying to eat well and exercise. Hear that? “Other activities.” The CDC basically says play video games.
- The Centre for Clinical Interventions in Western Australia has a number of incredibly useful and free anxiety worksheets.
- Relaxation Skills for Anxiety and 3 Anxiety Breathing Techniques you can use anywhere.
There you have it – a look inside my life when I’m most certainly not reading and how I cope with anxiety until the reading slump passes.
Truth be told, video games have been a part of my life since I was a child when my dad and I would play Space Invaders on Atari together. Growing up alongside the technology boom and growth of the internet has me inexorably linked with Super Mario Bros and Zelda, with Neopets and snake games, with idle mobile games and indie gems that light up my life. It’s a natural way for me to escape the world for awhile from the comfort of my sofa, an active activity that doesn’t require the same kind of attention span as reading.
Let’s Chat in the Comments – I’d love to hear your thoughts!
💬 Do you struggle with anxiety? If so, what are some strategies you use to cope with it?
💬 What are some of your favorite video games?
💬 Do you have any free online game recommendations?
This post is so damn wonderful and important!
So many people in my life think video games are just a way to “waste time” but they offer so much more than that! I love how much I can immerse myself in the world of video game and feel better afterwards
My favourite videos games include Portals and Portals 2 it is an escape based, puzzle game with a super intriguing story and wonderful songs at the end
I adore playing Hollow Knight with a great story line and adorable animation it’s just amazing 🤩
Plus in this pandemic with nothing to do, it is nice to find adventure via some video game characters 😊
Hollow Knight is SO WONDERFUL ❤❤❤
It is! I cannot wait for the next game to be released
IT IS!!! I can’t believe I forgot to include it!
Thank you so much for your comment, and I agree that games are more than “wasting time”. They are no more a waste than watching tv or reading books! I forgot about Hollow Knight, that game is strangely soothing.
It is! I think it’s the music of the game that makes it so lovely
Amazing post!! Video games help me so much when I’m feeling too anxious to read, too. There’s just something so soothing in escaping in another world! I love that you mentioned AC2, Fable and The Curse of Monkey Island, they’re definitely old favorites of mines! My most recent favorites are Hollow Knight, Ori and the Blind Forest and the Dark Souls franchise.
Thank you so much, and I’m really glad to not be the only one who turns to games when I can’t read. Oh my gosh, I played Ori and the Wisps last year… what a beautiful freaking game.
Kate @ Your Tita Kate says
I’m not a gamer in the *slightest* but I really enjoyed having a peek into the non-bookish parts of your life Kal!
Thanks so much for taking the time to check out my post even though you don’t game, it means so much! xoxo
Awesome post, Kal!
Gaming usually pass before reading often- and especially as i’m in a “crisis” because I can’t concentrate in a panic attack, videogames just distract my mind so easily.
Breath of the wild, aswell as any zelda, is a big favorite of mine! Sims also played a big role whenever I needed to distract from pain.
Thank you, Kristina! I agree – games like BOTW especially help me to focus when my panic is high. xoxo
Breath of the Wild is one of the most beautiful games I have ever played. I am totally rubbish at it, but I still enjoy it immensely. I have also watched husband play it through a couple of times, and it’s one that I will probably never get tired of.
Love this post, Kal!!
There’s something about BOTW that’s just uniquely soothing and (re)playable, even if you aren’t a big gamer or good. Like I haven’t even bothered to beat the end of the game yet haha
Caro @ bookcheshirecat says
Thank you for sharing your experiences and some resources with us, Kal ❤ I mostly use books to escape and cope with tough times. However, sometimes I need something different and that’s why I love my Nintendo DS! Zelda games have been my favorite ever since I was a kid and I hope to someday get a Switch so I can play Breath of the Wild 🥰
Oh man I wish I still had a DS! I hope you’re able to get a Switch and experience Breath of the Wild yourself, it is honestly such a special game.
Nicole @ Thoughts Stained With Ink says
Ahh Kat, I loved this post and connected with it very much. I have pretty high functioning anxiety and various levels of reading slumpage over the past few years, and gaming is one of the few ways I can escape and survive it all. I really enjoy the Assassin’s Creed games, as well! Plus, as a fellow RPGer, I’m a pretty big fan of BioWare and Bethesda (Dragon Age and Mass Effect own my soul). I’ve also gotten into Dishonored recently, which was really fun! And Hoirzon: Zero Dawn is one of my favorites of all time!
Wishing you some awesome games in the near future!
I’m glad you were able to connect with my post and thank you for sharing as well. I think high functioning anxiety is the worst because it feels like you just push to beyond burnout stages. I CANNOT BELIEVE I FORGOT ABOUT DRAGON AGE! I freaking love those games so much, I think DA is tied with Fable for my fave game.
And no worries about the typo, Nicole!
Nicole @ Thoughts Stained With Ink says
Don’t you love it when you hit a typo on your computer and it’s on the person’s NAME. I’m so sorry, Kal. *facepalm*
Lois @ My Midnight Musing says
When I was a kid I was a massive gamer and it was only last year that I dipped back into the gaming world and it has been the best distraction from books slumps and general life stuff. I finished Zelda: Breath of the Wild a couple of months ago and I was taken away by just how breathtaking the landscape of the game was. Definitely one of my favourites. I love story based games or atmospheric ones and, Hollow Knight was a game that I found ticked all the right boxes for me. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and the resources.
I feel like 2020 brought so many childhood gamers back into the fold, and I love that for everyone. I loved Hollow Knight as well, I should actually finish that game sometime soon. Thanks so much for your comment, Lois!
Cristina @ Girl in the Pages says
I love this post! I definitely have been a bit burned out with reading this year despite blogging for almost 8 years, and I”m trying not to force myself and enjoy other hobbies instead and trust that the urge to read will pop up again naturally! My favorite video games lately are Animal Crossing and Pokemon Shield and Let’s Go Eevee. I also LOVE to play my old school Nancy Drew mystery PC games!
Thank you so much Cristina! Sorry to hear about your burnout but I think you’re doing the right thing — pushing it definitely would make things worse. Animal Crossing is such a nice game to pass the time, and I haven’t played those Nancy Drew games in YEARS!
Great post thanks for sharing! I’ve just bought breath of the wild and I hope as you suggest it will help me with some of the struggles I’m dealing with at the moment! I’d also recommend Minecraft for an escape from anxiety. Mining, crafting and building houses and getting creative is a great distraction and the game can be as simple or as complex as you want it.
I hope that Breath of the Wild is as calming and enjoyable for you as it is for me! I haven’t ever tried minecraft but I think I have a copy on my xbox, so maybe I should. I like farming sims so…
Caitlin G. says
I definitely use video games as anxiety/stress relief. As you pointed out, they’re engaging, but don’t require the same kind of focus that book reading does. My reading in 2020 dropped pretty dramatically, but inversely, my game playing time went up. I credit the game CONTROL with helping me get through early pandemic, especially when I was laid off; It was great to just run around a paranormal office building hurling furniture at monsters and restoring order to the universe. I’ve currently sunk over 90 hours into AC Valhalla, which I haven’t done with a game in YEARS, but it is perfect for just switching the brain off and running around doing random things. Great post!
Goodness, Animal Crossing and Breath of the Wild got me through the first several months of the pandemic. And wait a minute, CONTROL sounds cool as heck I am going to look it up. I want to play AC Valhalla so badly because VIKINGS but have been waiting because of the cost. I figure if I ever finish AC Origins, I will buy it hahaha. Thanks for reading & chiming in, Caitlin!
Molly @ Molly's Book Nook says
Video games are a perfect escape. I always tell people it’s just a “live” book. You get to play the story! I think it’s awesome – especially if you play games with really great stories.
BOTW is such a fun game! I haven’t completed it yet. In fact, I kind of want to restart it because it’s been a while since I’ve played. Fable is a good game too! I loved the evil & good options with the townsfolk responding to that haha. AC has a lot of good games but oh man is there a lot! My favorite is Black Flag – but I’m a sucker for pirates.
“A live book” is honestly such a cool way to look at it, Molly! I think that’s why I am so drawn to story-driven games, it’s a different medium that I kind of get an active participation in.
I actually haven’t finished BOTW either — I got close and then let it sit too long, so I think I am going to restart and go for a completionist game. The townsfolk in Fable crack me up! I haven’t played Black Flag yet but as a pirate lover, it is on my list.
Anxiety!guiltstorm fistbump. For me, it’s often twinned with being stressed about things in other parts of my life, which should make books the perfect escape… but I just can’t settle to read or concentrate on what I’m reading. Through the pandemic I’ve rediscovered games as an alternate way to mentally unwind, and YAAAAS shout out to Sunless Sea, which is a huge favourite of mine for being exploration-based, story-based and low-peril / low-stress (you want to avoid combat? It’s pretty easy to do) that sort of forces a leisurely pace given the trade-off between engines / fuel / hold size / blowing yourself up. Stir in trading and I’m such a happy bunny. I’ve also finally been bitten by the Stardew Valley bug, which lets me be distracted by a long-ass To Do list with zero time pressure so I can sort of feel like I’m achieving something without having specific deadlines to make it stressful.
Thanks for post this – it’s good to know I’m in good company
It’s such a frustrating dichotomy to be stressed and want to escape but just not be able to read! Even when I take out the arc-stress and decide to mood read for myself, it usually doesn’t work and I just have to ride it out. I AM SO EXCITED YOU KNOW SUNLESS SEA! Such a fun game and you really can just make it your own kind of game depending on your mood. I went through my Stardew phase and really enjoyed feeling like I was accomplishing something. Thanks for stopping by and sharing!