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Stressed Out? Play Your Comfort Game

Article posted on 5/27/2021

We’re all familiar with the idea of “comfort food,” right?

For some people, that means a heaping plate full of homemade southern fried chicken, while for others it might be something as simple as tomato soup out of a can with some grilled cheese. Alternatively, some might not find food to be a comfort at all and may find some peace in other things.

I think “comfort activities” covers the concept fairly well as a blanket term. In general, a comfort activity is something that holds a sentimental or nostalgic value for you. The connection could be to a specific person or even a culture. Of course, this may not apply to everyone - some people may have go-to comfort activities that don’t have the same deep emotional value - and that’s okay!  

Everyone has different ideas of what is comforting to them during times of turbulence, and I think gamers are no different. I definitely have my “go to” games that I play during times of stress or when I just want the comfort of something familiar. 

It’s interesting, to me, to consider everyone’s idea of comfort when it comes to games. There are a lot of games out there designed to create a calm, soothing experience - games like Flower, or Stardew Valley, or other types of simulations... and then there are games that decidedly not calm, like a fast-paced match of Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation or a 6v6 team game of Overwatch. Yet, different people can find aspects of comfort in all of these.

RTS games like Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation are stressful for me, but I
know plenty of people who love a good RTS when they're feeling down!

For me, a “comfort” game needs to tick a few specific boxes:

  • A sense of familiarity
  • Nostalgia
  • A feeling of satisfaction or happiness

Obviously, these criteria are fairly broad and can be applied to literally any game - and that’s the point! Any game can evoke these feelings for people, depending entirely on what your life experience has been and what your personal preferences are.

I think that mood strongly influences what’s comforting to us at that particular time, too. When I’m feeling especially anxious, something repetitive and calming with no stakes whatsoever - like, say, Stardew Valley - is perfect for me. If I’m just having a general bad day, a game that makes me think of fun times with friends or family will do the trick, even if it requires a lot of brain power or stressful situations. Starcraft, for example, is far from calming for me, but it evokes a sense of nostalgia that I enjoy. 

Sometimes you just need to grow a bunch of crops, pet a few cows, and maybe marry somebody. 

There are lots of variables. Heck, sometimes a game is comforting to me based on where I am able to play it. For example, I might be tired of sitting at my PC, so the idea of playing anything from my living room chair - like on my Switch or PS4 (no I'm not cool enough to have a PS5!) is where more of the appeal is.

Sometimes, going back to a game where you know the outcome is also, in and of itself, a soothing experience. I have played the Monkey Island games more times than I can even begin to tell you - so much so, in fact, that I have every puzzle solution memorized and can blitz through the first game in a matter of a few hours. So, why play this if I’ve already played it to death and the outcome will always be the same?

Because it’s comforting. 

Monkey Island makes me think of being in my grandpa’s study, sitting in the chair next to him while we scratched our heads and pondered for hours at the solutions to some of those puzzles. It reminds me of the excitement we’d experience together any time we’d figure something out; I can still remember his handwriting and the smell of his cologne as we’d lean over the same piece of paper together and take notes so we wouldn’t forget anything.

This game defines so much of my childhood and is a large source of where I developed my sense of humor.
My friends can blame my grandfather for this one!

I admit, sometimes I look at my Steam library full of games that I’ve had for years and haven’t touched, and I scold myself. “Sheesh, Kristy, why are you playing this game again when you have five thousand other games you haven’t even cracked the tutorial on yet?” Sometimes, my brain just wants a dose of serotonin, and rather than play something new where I don’t know whether or not it’ll give me that, I’d rather play something familiar, because I know it will give me the feelings I’m looking for.

Obviously, this idea applies outside of games as well. It stretches to books (why do we have a favorite book? How many times have you re-read yours?), television shows, movies, and so much more. I don’t see why games are any different.

What are some of your “comfort” games, and what is it that makes them comforting for you? I’d like to hear about it!