Is "Saving the World" too Stressful to be a Comfort Game?
Article posted on 2/17/2023
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. A comfort activity could be rooted in sentiment or nostalgia, or could just be a fun activity that makes you happy that isn't that deep - all of these are valid! Everyone has different ideas of what is comforting to them during stressful times, and gamers are no different. I definitely have my “go to” games for situations like that.
It’s interesting 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 'cozy' or 'cottage core' games...and then there are games that are anything but calm, like a fast-paced match of Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation or a 'the stakes have never been higher' save the world(s) adventure like Star Control: Origins.
One of my favorite things about the Phamysht is how insidious they are amidst the humor.
They constantly change up nicknames when talking to the player, some of them very indicative of their desire to eat you.
This brings me to my main thought: can a game where millions of (imaginary) lives rest in your hands really be a de-stressor? Bearing in mind that in this game you also meet (meat?) a cannibalistic race called the Phamysht, a literal bio weapon called the Pinthi, and many other things that would be considered terrifying in most regards if not for the humor apparent in the game.
The answer is: yes! Like anything, it's in the eye of the beholder and for some people a game like this is as relaxing an experience as any other. I actually find aspects of Star Control: Origins relaxing in particular because of how funny it is. If my brain wants a boost of happiness, laughter is - at least in this case - the best remedy for that.
I remember the first time I ran out of fuel and needed a rescue. I had a good, long laugh about it - and I don't want to say why, because if you haven't played it for yourself you absolutely should. But there are plenty of unexpected moments of humor throughout the game even beyond this one! The Mowlings, for example - they are always funny to me.
The Mowlings - and their reluctant deity, Jeff - are always a dose of humor for me. They're not terribly unlike toddlers...both in the way that they speak, and in their complete inability to keep themselves alive without a great deal of assistance.
I find the game's overall vibe to be comforting when I want something fun to play. Even though all of humanity's existence is at stake, that problem is handled with a levity and a true sense of adventure that overrides that feeling of dread you might get from a game whose goal is to approach that with more gravitas (like Mass Effect, for example).
That's not to say that a game with a heavy, dark, or otherwise 'not happy' theme can't be a comfort game for some. I know plenty of people who enjoy horror games as a comfort, or like to die 500 times in Dark Souls - to each their own! I know my tastes are pretty varied in that regard, too.
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.
I love how full of sass she is! The dry sense of humor she has as she addresses your exploits - or your procrastination of them -
is always hilarious to me.
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?