How video games help me cope with the winter blues

How video games help me cope with the winter blues

Who among us is willing to leave home in the dead of winter? If you can, I applaud you. But for many of us who live closer to the Arctic Circle than the Tropic of Cancer, late fall through early spring is considered the “inner part of the year.”

Not only is it dark and cold, but it also often makes us miserable. I live in Edinburgh and I love this creepy gothic city, but winters in Scotland are not for the faint hearted.

At the end of December, there are less than seven hours of sunlight a day, and even then it is often so dreary that I eat my lunch by lamplight. As winter creeps into the murky months of January and February, I feel the cold seeping into my bones and settling in. It takes all my energy to resist the fatigue and listlessness I may feel coaxing me into shutting down my body and mind, persuading me that I can afford to operate on standby until April.

The older I get, the more sensitive I become to every seasonal fluctuation in my environment. I do everything in my power to combat this: I exercise, take the strongest vitamin D supplements I can get my hands on, fine-tune my diet, and turn my face to the sun at every opportunity. It’s enough to keep me going, if not exactly thriving.

But this year, I have a new weapon at my disposal: the realization that the aesthetic experience of playing cozy games really does help ease my winter blues. This increasingly popular sub-genre of games mostly combines likeable characters with aesthetically pleasing open-world environments and various tasks of gathering, growing, caring, exploring or creating to create a utopian gaming experience that is perfect for pacifists.

Like millions of others in lockdown during the pandemic, I first discovered the comfort of cozy gaming in 2020. I spent all of my non-work hours playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons on Nintendo Switch.

I’m not the only one who finds serenity in the placid, danger-free worlds of cozy games, but it took me longer than I might have expected to realize that I was using them as what the Internet (and probably a therapist) might call a device. coping. During lockdown they were a convenient substitute for socializing and being outside. Now when lockdown is over but SAD season is upon us, it replaces daylight and… being outside.

There is no sweeter gaming experience than A Short Hike.

a short walk

I only understood the full extent of Cozy Games’ impact on my mental well-being after immersing myself for several months in late 2022 in Disney’s Dreamlight Valley, a life-simulator, which despite endless quests, frequent bugs, lack of updates and uncanny similarities to Animal Crossing – I keep playing.

My misgivings about the game and the way I’m choosing to spend my precious few hours left on this Earth aside, the time spent in sunny and joyous Dreamlight Valley really lifts my mood. And I’m not even a “Disney adult”. However, I have noticed that whenever the weather changes in the game and the sky darkens, I immediately become outraged and sulky.

“Because it is raining?” I complained to my husband on more than one occasion. “I play this game to get out of the rain, not to put up with more.”

As the Christmas holidays approached, I felt an overwhelming desire to spend my free time playing the game Lake, which I first played last summer on Xbox Game Pass. I’m familiar with the seasonal pull toward specific cultural phenomena, mostly from my annual Gilmore Girls fall review, but this one was new to me.

In Lake, you play a young woman who returns from her big city corporate job to her small hometown in the Pacific Northwest for a couple of weeks to cover her father’s mail delivery job while her parents go on a road trip. . Every day, you get up, pick up your mail from the post office, and drive around the lake where the town is located to make sure people get their letters and packages.

A mail van passing a lake.

What a beautiful day to deliver some mail.

WhiteThorn Games

At the end of the two weeks, when you’ve begun to connect (or in some cases reconnect) with the townspeople, you must decide between staying at your father’s job or getting back in the rat race, effectively giving yourself the choice to join. the great resignation in the form of a game. A romantic subplot can influence your decision as well, as well as giving it the feel of a Netflix Christmas rom-com.

This oh-so-smooth gameplay experience isn’t for everyone, but the way the game forced me to slow down and spend time driving my truck through the woods, watching the changing light over the lake of the same name, made me feel deeply meditative. In fact, it reflected the feelings of contentment and ease I get when I’m out in the woods and glens of Scotland most weekends.

As winter approaches, these wilderness expeditions tend to stay on the trail in favor of staying indoors under a blanket. But the pull of the emotions I experience while standing quietly under a big sky doesn’t fade. In this sense, it makes a lot of sense to me that while I was curled up on my couch feeling gloomy about the weather, the thing I wanted to do the most was fall back into the world of the lake.

Unfortunately, since I had left Gamepass, I felt compelled to turn to other options. I settled on A Short Hike, a lovely open-world exploration game for Nintendo Switch where you play as a little bird that climbs up a mountain before flying back into the wind. I played it over a weekend in early January, soaking up the sweetness of the story and the joy of exploring the landscape, before feeling like I was transported into the following week.

Since then, I have been immersed in the world of Stardew Valley. Although I was rather annoyed to find myself equipped with a bug-smashing sword, not exactly in the spirit of cozy games, I’ve been carried away by watching the seasons change throughout my bucolic farming life.

I know that as the seasons truly change and I emerge from the winter fog, these games will probably fall by the wayside in favor of genuine outdoor activities. But it also comforts me to know that they will be waiting for me the next time the clocks turn back in October. When the world seems dreary and bleak, they’ll be there to bring me a little comfort, making those cold, dark months feel a little less scary and a little more bearable.

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