These last few weeks have been some of the hardest in modern history. Forced to retreat into our homes for the sake of social distancing, many are turning to games for some mental health relief. Ever since Animal Crossing: New Horizons released, my wife and I have poured hours into our shared island.
Part of that is because it’s the hot new game of the moment. But it’s also a fitting game for where we are from a mental standpoint. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the ultimate comfort game, considering the circumstances at hand.
This got me thinking about the greater concept of “comfort games”. Technically, any game can be comforting to someone. But what is it about a game that makes it more comfortable during times of high stress? I take a stab at defining the broadest parameters of what a “comfort game” is.
Comfort games act as a safe space
Comfort games are those that I turn to in order to get away from whatever is stressing me out in the real world. During these times, Animal Crossing: New Horizons uniquely stands as the perfect getaway. It resembles enough of everyday life without the threat of catching a potentially-deadly virus. At worst, you’re getting a swollen eye from a wasp sting or feinting from the touch of a spider. Whether your safe space is Animal Crossing or any other game, we turn to it because it’s safe from what’s stressing us out IRL.
Comfort games offer a strong incentive to come back
Whether it’s a game with no real ending to it or a set story that you love to play over-and-over, there’s something about that experience that will always pull you back. Animal Crossing works for me because it’s an experience that’s meant to be played in short bursts over the course of many months. On the other end of the spectrum, I play through Contra at least once a year because I have a blast every time, even though the game is only 30 minutes long. Every time I return, I just know I’m going to have a good time.
Comfort games offer some sort of stress relief
Unless you’re trying to maintain a 100-catch streak, the vast majority of tasks in Animal Crossing are fairly relaxing and lacking in external pressure. The burden is eased further due to the game’s lack of deadlines. Almost everything in the game can be completed at your own pace. It’s easy to get into a groove and zone out while playing New Horizons, especially now that the game has more to do thanks to its crafting system and Nook Miles program.
But the in-game activities don’t have to be inherently chill in order to provide stress relief. For instance, I often turn to fighting games to relax, even if it’s one of the most high-strung genres out there. I get a similar sensation from playing these types of games as some do when they exercise. Focusing all of my physical and mental energy towards one tough task, the stress dissipates through the activity itself rather than having it stew in my head. Whatever the game is, a comfort game should make you feel more comfortable after you’ve played it.
Reflecting on your own life, what games do you turn to for comfort? And what is it about these games that keeps you coming back? Let’s discuss in the comments, as your recommendations might be someone else’s next great comfort game!
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