Video Games Can Make You Feel Calm

Here's how.

By Rebecca Deczynski

Published on September 2, 2017 on Snapchat Discover

Photo via @anicrossing on Twitter

Photo via @anicrossing on Twitter

Photo via @anicrossing on Twitter

Photo via @anicrossing on Twitter

I’ve learned a lot about myself by sitting on the couch, buried in a nest of blankets, laptop perched on my abdomen. For hours, I can lie unbothered, as a few simple swipes of my trackpad allow me to create my dream career, house, relationships, personality—all within the neat world of a video game.

Growing up, two of my favorite outlets for mentally cataloguing my hopes and wishes were theoretically simple games: Animal Crossing and The Sims. Both games allow users to live out a fantasy life with a few constraints (usually financial) that can be sidestepped with some handy cheat codes. Gameplay is hardly realistic, with few menial responsibilities of life (paperwork, long commutes, taking the time to pack a lunch) and more of an emphasis on major life milestones (reaching the top of a career track, buying a mansion, having kids). When you pick up one of these games, you receive a startling amount of freedom to create the life that you want to live—virtually, at least.

In Animal Crossing, the essential goal of the game is to earn money (usually by selling found objects and fruit) in order to pay off a house, and eventually to expand and decorate that house. Even if the game does have one singular objective, gameplay can foreseeably go on forever. It’s not a game that you play to win—it’s a game that you play to live and experience and enjoy.

Interacting with villagers and shaking trees to collect fruit do ultimately help players pay off their virtual house, but they aren’t done just for the sake of reaching an end point. When you check up on your hippo neighbor and pay your rent to a raccoon, you can’t help but delight and indulge in the absurdity of this game’s universe. It’s not a world to rush through, pursuing one singular end goal—it’s a world to enjoy, stay in for a while, and interact with for as long as you’d like.

If Animal Crossing is a safe, cute, controlled environment in which players can have a large, yet finite, measure of freedom to choose their outfits, home decor, friendships, and more, then The Sims presents a frontier of gameplay that it seems impossible to ever fully explore and excavate—and that’s a thrilling prospect.

Given a person’s actual life situation—their finances, age, location, or any number of variables about their life—not every single one of their desires may be actionable—but in The Sims, every single dream is achievable. Their Sim can get the hairstyle they want. Their Sim can live in the house (or mansion or apartment or castle) they want. Their Sim can have the job they want—whether that means becoming an evil villain, a hacker, an astronaut, a karaoke master, a poet, or pursuing virtually any other career path.

These achievements may seem empty when they occur in the vacuum of a game, but they’re not worthless. They give players an outlet to express their deepest desires and wishes for the kind of life they actually want to live. When I close these games and shut my laptop, the visions of my personal utopias don’t just go away. Crafting your own worlds in video games is a way of manifesting your goals in an approachable, accessible way. If you want to become more outgoing, you can practice approaching villagers in Animal Crossing. If you want to finally ask out your crush, you can try it with your Sims first. But more than that, these games plant in their players inspiration and gumption: If there is a goal you think you can achieve, chances are, you can—the thought counts.

Crafting a fantasy life through simulation games gives players a chance to relish in the banality of getting a new job or buying a small decorative object for a bedroom. It also gives them a chance to define and design a whole new plan for how they want to live their lives—and all it takes is a cute avatar, some catchy background music, and a few lazy hours to spare to put it all into motion.