Video games can get a bad rap when it comes to our well-being. We often see claims that “too much screen time” is bad for our health. But there’s contrary evidence to suggest that gaming is actually good for your mental health and can even give you a happiness boost.
If you’re looking to lift your spirits, picking up your favorite game console and trying one of these games will improve your mood when you’re feeling down.
How video games can benefit your mental health
Many of us are familiar with the buzz that comes from playing video games, the feel-good rush of dopamine when we complete a virtual challenge. On top of that, there’s research evidence to suggest that gaming can help our mental health.
According to a 2021 research article by JMIR publications, playing video games can help benefit your mental health as an inexpensive, easily accessible and effective therapeutic resource. It can be especially helpful for those who may suffer from depression and anxiety.
The study goes on to highlight the mental health benefits of playing video games, including socialization, cognition, and emotion regulation.
For anyone looking to improve their mental health without leaving home, these four engaging video games could be the answer.
1. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Animal Crossing: New Horizons hit our shelves at a much-needed time in 2020, when its charming and heartwarming gameplay was just the tonic we were looking for.
You’d be hard-pressed to find another social simulation game that’s as charming and sociable as Animal Crossing. The cartoonish design of the Nintendo Switch exclusive game adds to the charming nature of it all, including anthropomorphic animal characters that help and encourage you to build the island of your dreams.
As a game that runs in real time, Animal Crossing offers a truly relaxing (virtual) pace of life, where your day revolves around making friends, obtaining materials, and building and designing the perfect habitable island. There is little risk to your life on the island (other than the occasional wasp sting!), and time pressure is extremely rare, making for a relaxing game.
Perfect for creative minds, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is also great for those looking for a social boost. The non-playable characters are engaging enough to interact with, but if you want true human socialization in the game, then you can visit other players’ real-life islands and invite them to yours (Nintendo Switch Online membership required). .
If you have trouble sleeping, playing Animal Crossing at night can help you calm down and relax. Nighttime activities include stargazing, catching nocturnal creatures, interacting with the nocturnal character Wisp, or simply continuing to design your island while the other characters sleep. If you’re thinking of diving in, don’t miss these essential Animal Crossing: New Horizons tips and tricks.
2. Stardew Valley
Another creative game that’s built around supporting a community, Stardew Valley has been popular ever since its one-man creator, “ConcernedApe,” released it in 2016.
Available for Nintendo Switch, desktop, Xbox, PS4, mobile, and now as a board game, Stardew Valley is an open-ended country life RPG designed in a charming 2D pixelated style. After becoming disillusioned with city life, you move to your late grandfather’s old farm in Stardew Valley. Here, you build your farm, develop friendships with the locals, mine, fish, and generally participate in community life.
The game is engaging, thanks to a variety of tasks, customizations, and stories to follow, and the satisfaction you can get as a player is sure to lift your spirits. There’s nothing overwhelming about Stardew Valley – it’s a really calm and stress-free game which also makes it so replayable.
Each character in the game has their own story arc, another lovely feature of the premise, and you can choose to boycott or support the JoJoMart company that threatens local businesses.
There are also multiplayer options so you can team up with a friend to complete tasks together, either locally via split-screen or via remote online play.
3. LEGO® Harry Potter™ Collection
Let’s be honest, any LEGO game will make you laugh, but if you’re a fan of Harry Potter, this is possibly one of the best LEGO video games out there. Set to the classic soundtrack from the movies, the LEGO® Harry Potter™ Collection is sure to lift your mood.
LEGO’s classic comic take on a family-favorite franchise provides players of virtually all consoles and devices with a completely engaging experience. LEGO Harry Potter™ provides a healthy dose of nostalgia (an emotion that, according to a 2013 article by SAGE Magazines suggests, increases optimism) and leaves nothing out for fans of popular movies. You play through all seven years of Hogwarts school, following the plots of the books and unlocking your favorite characters as you go.
Whether you’re a Harry Potter fan or not, it’s hard to deny the alluring qualities of LEGO Harry Potter™. There is also a multiplayer option, which allows players to share the joy of the game with other players. As with all LEGO games, this one is packed with fun and humor to make your day.
If you’re looking for a fun, relaxing and endorphin-stimulating game with a touch of nostalgic charm, then LEGO Harry Potter™ is perfect. Plus, who doesn’t want to revisit Hogwarts over and over again?
4. Just dance
Dancing is not only good for your physical health, it also supports mental well-being. It’s a fun activity that releases dopamine (the “happy hormone”) that can help lift your mood. Learning dance steps can also boost your self-confidence while giving you other benefits of physical activity, like reduced stress, a healthier heart, and better sleep.
If you’ve got the energy, Nintendo Switch’s Just Dance games are a surefire way to get your dopamine skyrocketing and you smiling. Nintendo releases a new version of this game every year so you can dance to the biggest hits of the year. You can also upgrade any of the Just Dance games with a Nintendo Switch Online membership to expand the range of songs available. Alternatively you can play just dance now on your mobile if you don’t have a Switch.
There is a wide variety of songs, dance routines, and difficulties designed to suit all ages and dance abilities. Even if you’re the most uncoordinated gamer out there, you’ll have fun running to the beat of the Ghostbusters song or trying to keep up with the faster songs.
Each dance routine is led by an on-screen character, who can range from 80s-style humans to more bizarre animal characters, like the bejeweled panda who gives it his all at the Paca Dance.
Whether you’re dancing alone or with friends, Just Dance is a fun game that’s guaranteed to improve your mental health.
Playing video games can help improve your mood
From dopamine boosts to providing a feeling of fullness, playing video games can improve your mood when you’re feeling down.
If you’re struggling to find some happiness, playing any of the above games could just be the tonic you need to improve your mental well-being.