The GAMINGbible Team's Go-To Games For When Life Gets Too Much
Everyone gets overwhelmed sometimes, and that's okay. Maybe you've had a bad day at work. Maybe you've fallen out with someone important to you. Maybe you're living in the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic. Doesn't matter. What matters is knowing that we all let life get on top of us sometimes, and that we all have to find our own ways of dealing with it.
Would you believe that the team here at GAMINGbible tend to use video games as a means of unwinding? I know, shocking. Look, we're certainly not trying to suggest that games are a miracle cure for stress or anything like that... but if you're so inclined, allow us to take you through the games we like to play when life lets gets a little too much.
I tend to play Pokémon Gold once every couple of years, if not annually. For me, the sights and sounds of Johto are - and always will be - deeply comforting. Every time I start up a new game and leave New Bark Town with my Cyndaquil, it feels like walking back down the street I grew up on as a kid.
Obviously nostalgia is a comforting thing and of itself, and any game that reminds you of a simpler time will likely always be a favourite during times of stress. But Pokémon Gold goes a little deeper than that for me. It's not just because I'll always remember where I was when I finally beat Whitney's Miltank or discovered Kanto was in the game, it's because the game itself is so soothing.
Having played it this many times, it's not hard to be good at it. There's very little challenge for someone who knows the exact team he wants, where to go at all times, and how best to proceed constantly. But that's fine. That's why I play it when I'm stressed. Returning to Pokémon Gold is like going back to a well-thumbed book. I know what it's about, and I know what it wants from me. You can't underestimate the importance of that feeling when life gets overwhelming.
FIFA Career Mode (EA Sports)
There's a weird juxtaposition between football as a sport and football as a video game. As a sport, football is an unassailable amalgam of emotions. From crushing defeats to pulsating last-gasp winners, it's arguably the very embodiment of something that's overwhelming with outcomes known only by the footballing gods.
You, as a passive observer, can have no tangible influence on the game - despite whatever somebody wearing their lucky jersey might tell you. So no matter what you do, it will play out as destiny - or your deity of choice - has preordained.
Footballing video games, however, are very different. I am destiny, pulling the strings of fate that can make or break a team's entire digital season. This control gives me a level of comfort over match-day proceedings that would be otherwise impossible. Unless you have a certain amount of influence over Italian football referees, that is.
When real football matches stress me out with all their glorious unknowns, I turn to FIFA's career mode (other football games are also available) and set the difficulty below what I know I can handle, just to make extra sure I hammer the opposition.
Many will argue this negates the point of sports games, taking away any of the challenge. I, respectfully, don't care. I play them to live out my fantasies of creating an unbeatable dream team and utterly destroying the opposition. I am Pelé, I am Ferguson, I am Messi, I am Shankly. I am the footballing alpha and omega, and my greatest challenge is deciding which crisps to open while it all unfolds.
Forza Horizon 4 (2018, Playground Games)
Going for a drive IRL is a good way for me to focus my mind on something other than whatever chaos was clouding it prior to strapping in and turning the key in the ignition. Get some good music on, shift into first, drive down the coast a way. I'm lucky to have plenty of spots nearby where I live that are either pleasantly green or right-beside-the-sea but far from crowded. Driving to them is a little lazy, but it helps get the noggin off the nasty stuff to better appreciate the open spaces on the other end.
But when that's not an option, a Sunday Drive-style cruise around the bucolic map of Forza Horizon 4 kinda does the job - with the added bonus of being able to eat toast while I do it. I wish the game had the radio options of Grand Theft Auto V, as its music selection is pretty paltry; but these days I just listen to the engine rather than tune into its mediocre array of pop middle-weights. A little vroom in my front room, and the stress relief is palpable.
I might race, I might not - competition isn't the point. Sometimes I'll switch to the drone and just hover by a babbling brook for a bit. It's better than whatever nightmare's unfolding on Marr, that morning.
Sayonara Wild Hearts (2019, Simogo)
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We humans are rhythmic creatures. From the beating of our hearts to the way we breathe, music is in our nature. So when life wears me down, there's one game which soothes me like no other.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is more than just a pretty game with a gorgeous soundtrack. It blends its music and its gameplay perfectly, combining familiar rhythm action with a deeper, more philosophical weight. As your character rides, fights, and flies through levels, each piece of music sets the tone for why you're there. Tracks like 'Begin Again' prepare you for a new adventure. 'Wild Hearts Never Die' pushes you to overcome your mistakes, and 'A Place I Don't Know' soothes you as you reflect on beating the game.
This pairing of relentlessly fun gameplay and perfectly suited music produces an infinitely re-playable experience that puts your emotions at ease. While you focus on keeping the beat and overcoming enemies, Sayonara Wild Hearts handles your emotions for you. It pumps you up for hectic confrontations, it chills you out during slower sequences, and it does everything else in between.
Honestly, there's no better game for when life is just too much.
Minecraft (2011, Mojang)
This was quite a difficult one for me to choose, because when I'm stressed, sad or feeling lost, my enjoyment of playing video games is much less than if I were to play when I'm feeling okay. So I don't play anything. I don't really have a 'go-to' game that helps me relax. However, we find ourselves in a rather unprecedented time where gaming is absolutely a brilliant escape from real-world problems.
At the start of lockdown, a couple of friends and I started a Minecraft Bedrock world so we could all play together cross-platform. We joked around a lot by basically ruining each other's experience of the game for a while. My personal favourite thing to do is get a bell from a nearby village and follow my friends around 'bing bonging' as I go. It's incredibly loud. However, when we all calmed down and were building our 'Isolation Island' home, everyone was relatively quiet. Placing block after block to create the most majestic houses possible with the tranquil Minecraft music subtly echoing in my headphones - I was in a trance. I had forgotten about every other worry in life.
This was really noticeable, as for me getting truly lost in another world is rare. I've never been much of a builder in Minecraft, partly because I like adventuring more and (mostly) because I'm terrible at it. Though, with the extra hours I now have in the evenings, I carefully took my time, enjoying each calming minute.
Z: Steel Soldiers (2001, The Bitmap Brothers)
For me, it has to be some form of strategy title. The ever-growing genre boasts many popular titles such as those in the Civilization and Age of Empires series. But I keep coming back to one game: the Bitmap Brothers' classic Z: Steel Soldiers. The strategy genre is a firm favourite of mine, as it allows for a change of pace and mindset, both of which come in handy when you need some time out.
Z: Steel Soldiers introduced me to the RTS genre, and I have spent countless hours playing it over the years. The game makes me feel so nostalgic when playing - which is never a bad thing. It's such an easy game to get stuck into when times are tough, it can also really help you feel in control of the situation at hand. It's easy to get lost in this robot-filled world and forget about any troubles.
I think we all have those games that help you escape, and allow you to completely lose track of time. In games like this, there's nothing better than perfectly executing a strategy you had in mind and launching counter attacks as and when your presence feels threatened by the AI or an enemy player. Building out your red robot army and base is truly satisfying, making sure you are impenetrable from land, sea or air.
Annihilating the pesky TransGlobal Empires from the face of the planet is the ultimate goal throughout. However, the game has plenty of objectives and environments that help keep you on your toes and escape the real world.
Call Of Duty: Warzone (2020, Infinity Ward/Raven Software)
Normally my go-to games when I'm stressed and needing an escape are management games. As I've written about before, I find games like Anno 1800 and Satisfactory require so much attention that they push whatever is getting me down straight out of my head. So, for a few hours at least, I can deep clean my head and turn it into a machine that calculates the best way to maximise the resources I need to build a colony.
That's not what's happened during the lockdown, though. I've fallen hard for Warzone. I've never been hooked by a battle royale before, but it's not really the game I've been playing it for - it's the easy socialising. I'm not a fan of Zoom and the awkwardness of video conferencing with friends. There's too much talking over each other, and I can't get away from it being a poor substitute for actually being in the room with people.
But, dropping into a room in Discord and talking with friends while doing something else is so much more comfortable. We're not talking about the lockdown, or even getting deeply into how we're doing - we're just playing a game and having completely surface-level conversations. It's something I didn't realise how much I was missing in the first weeks of the lockdown, and I'm so glad to have it back.
Featured Image Credit: Simogo/Nintendo/Activision/Microsoft