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Finding Your Own (Virtual) Happy Place by Ian Collen

It’s no big secret that video games can be great for offering a virtual retreat within which to interact and connect with others, and you’ll often find some familiar titles listed. However, there are also plenty of hugely rewarding experiences to be found outside the mainstream.

When it comes to those more popular examples, Animal Crossing: New Horizons may be 2020’s prime candidate, combining online friendship and cooperation in both single- and multiplayer modes. We could also point to the ever-popular open world creativity in Minecraft, setting up online fireteams in Call of Duty or to tackle Destiny 2’s latest raid, finding a like-minded community in the likes of FIFA or just having fun in cult hits such as Fall Guys or Among Us (and their respective Twitch feeds!).

However, in a year that has seen a lot more people finding themselves socially distanced from the outside world, many have sought solace with a few rather more unusual pet gaming projects – not only for simple entertainment or to answer that ‘what do I do now?’ question that often rears its head when you’re on your own and with lots of spare time, but also for an almost motivational sense of structure and purpose; albeit a largely flexible and personal one.

For example, while there are plenty of iOS and Android titles for your phone and tablet of choice there’s a lot to be said for those in the mould of The Simpsons: Tapped Out or SimCity BuildIt – games that involve setting objectives into motion that can take hours to complete, with other variants including the likes Township and Last Shelter: Survival. Once you’ve cleared the basics in these games you can find a nice routine in dipping in first thing in the morning and then later in the evening to gather up the rewards and set the next sequence of missions into motion – where both personal and community-driven goals help to combine for a series of ongoing small successes from one day to the next.

When it comes to finding a happy place for slightly longer experiences, that obviously falls down to personal preference and how much time you have on your hands. For example, sports fans could look to the likes of F1 2020, which can not only fill the hours if you commit to a full racing weekend set-up or shaving tenths off your lap times, but can also provide a great multiplayer community if you find a lobby of fierce-but-fair rivals to test yourself against.

Following the references to SimCity and finding comfort in those small victories from self-governed gaming, another such title that springs to mind is Cities Skylines. For those unfamiliar with the game, it’s a city-building title in a similar vein to SimCity and its ilk, which may be a few years old now but can still be an absorbing way to while away more an afternoon or ten.

Perhaps the main difference is that once you’ve got to grips with the basics (not putting water pumps downstream from sewage works etc) it essentially boils down to a traffic management game as you try to find the most efficient way to combine your residential, industrial and commercial demands. It’s not too complicated once you’ve clocked the fundamentals, nor is it overly punishing if you make any mistakes (there are few pitfalls that can’t be fixed!), and so you’re mostly free to play around with building some fun and potentially creative cityscape solutions.

It is a single-player game but, as is so often the case, the internet can be an invaluable community-driven resource to find working answers to your ongoing problems (be warned: you might find yourself watching way too many YouTube videos on road interchanges!) – but finding your own solutions, sometimes more through luck than judgement, can be a hugely rewarding way to keep your mind active and your brain in gear.

It might be a hard sell to an unknowing audience, but there’s a heart-warming joy to be found in hooking up both a passenger train and cargo transport network through a series of raised roundabouts that somehow flow seamlessly around the city (your own ‘Isolation Station’ as Bob Mortimer’s Train Guy might call it). Or maybe you just throw down a crazy one-way street that runs over two bridges and underneath a highway as a last-gasp ‘why not?’ solution to a gridlock that’s stagnating your city’s development – and it changes everything. Who knew traffic management could feel so good?!!

In the absence of a more conventional sense of structure or routine which may otherwise come from a direct connection to the outside world, finding one or two games that scratch your own individual itches in these difficult times can add a small sense of purpose or control over your day-to-day life – even if trying to justify to someone else that you’ve had a busy and productive day might be a stretch! Regardless, simply finding that happy gaming place and letting it play out on your own terms can be as satisfying as it can be rewarding for your self-esteem.

Who knows? Maybe each morning you’ll crack your head off the pillow to dig out your phone and harvest a few crops, kill some zombies and then set a few things in motion to catch-up on later in the day (adding a few ‘to do’ items to your diary based on when their respective timers end). And then the answer to that ‘what do I do now?’ question could well be: ‘oh yeah, I was going to build a bridge across to that island, which I can then turn it into a tourist resort and hook up a passenger station to the train line like this and then run a connecting road to the distant highway like that…’.

Of course, the seemingly mundane world of traffic management in Cities Skylines isn’t going to float everyone’s boat. Perhaps you’re more of a survival fan looking to face off against dinosaurs in Ark: Survival Evolved, or happier simply playing Scrabble with a few strangers on your laptop, or maybe shooting them in Fortnite… The point is that there’s a place in the gaming world for everyone to find a second home (and a third, fourth…) to escape into and unwind in on their own terms.

It needn’t be in the same ‘cool’ or popular titles that you’ll see splashed all over your social media feed (Cyberpunk 2077 anyone?), or even in a dedicated online or multiplayer game that provides an obvious connection to others. Sometimes it can be found in a very personal and often unique world, but one that can be grown and expressed through shared ideas and experiences – and one you’ll be rewarded by with every small victory that you’ll encounter along the way.


Ian Collen is a writer and editor with more than 20 years experience – with well over half of that spent working in videogames. He’s worked on the likes of XBM, 360 Gamer (later known as One Gamer), and the innovative digital publication, Gamer Interactive. He also learned more about drones than he thought possible as editor of the self-explanatory Drone Magazine and is currently working as a freelancer.



Skills utilised:
Covid 19, News

My Isolation Story – By Jack Mullen

Things are tough for the world right now, that’s for sure. I’m no more knowledgeable about what is going to happen than anyone else. But I do have some experience of social isolation for reasons that were out of my control. I’d like to share this story, with the hope that some people may feel some resonance with it in this tricky time.

A number of years ago, I started to have health complications. Over a very short period of time, they resulted in some very nasty things happening to me physically. To make things worse, it was accompanied with an underlying crippling fear of the unknown. 

The time from initial symptoms to diagnosis was around a month, but it felt like years. Each day I would learn something new, like I had found the answer to what was going on – but it always felt just out of my grasp. I couldn’t feel safe until I really knew what was happening. Once I finally found out what my condition was, and that it was something I had a fighting chance of living with, I began to relax. 

This current situation we are all dealing with feels very similar to me. Like we are all at war with an invisible foe who keeps moving the finish line. There seems to be an overwhelming need for people to feel a sense of solidarity and shared determination. This can be a positive thing, but it can also be frustrating whilst we must all stay put in our different locations. 

After my health became something I could live with, it didn’t stop being hard. Due in part to the pain, and the physical and mental limitations my condition put me under, I ended up living a somewhat ‘socially isolated’ existence. This was a period of a few months where I rarely left the house, and I had a very limited routine.

While this way of living has its benefits in this current moment of crisis, it’s important to acknowledge that these isolating factors can have a very tough mental impact upon people in the long term. But there is hope.

During my times of isolation, I allowed myself to drift and become almost out of phase with a lot of other people around me. However, I eventually tapped into YouTube and played a lot of games to pass the time. I learnt just how powerful the medium could be. How it could bring a single, frightened and lonely soul like myself back from a bottomless pit of isolation. This wasn’t just some nostalgic thing from my childhood, it was a way of life.

During this time I played a diverse range of games. I remember playing a lot of Call of Duty: Survival in Modern Warfare 3. Many years on, I can still give you a tour of the ‘Resistance’ map, which I made my home for what felt like weeks at a time. I even managed to cheat and jump to get the red gem early in Crash Bandicoot 2, which takes hours to perfect. I also explored every single pixel of Dracula’s Castle in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Games that offer you a large place to explore, and an abundance of things to do, really helped me focus my mind. I can see this same level of excitement and exploration being felt by many people making Animal Crossing: New Horizons their world at the moment.

I firmly believe gaming can work for anyone. Whilst this pesky virus is threatening to do its worst to us, we can really take it down a peg if we use all of these fantastic tools to connect with each other. We can help prop up the vulnerable people in our community. 

While there are events being cancelled, games being delayed and a lot of immediate changes to the way the industry is running, there are human beings at both ends of these decisions. Many artists, writers, developers, event organisers, musicians, YouTubers and fellow gamers are feeling the financial and mental strain this situation has placed upon them. Although it’s not always possible to help someone financially, emotional support can go a long way. A written word of sympathy or telling someone how happy something they did made you feel can help us all feel a little less isolated from one another. 

We’re all human, and we’re all gamers. Whilst we’re all frightened, it’s how we face this fear with a smile that really stops us being isolated at all from each other. 

Skills utilised:

Gaming In Isolation: Community Top Picks

Is isolation boredom hitting you hard? Miss hanging out with friends, family and partners? We understand how challenging isolation can be for mental health. So we asked our community to share their top picks of games that you can get stuck into alone or with others online…

Animal Crossing: New Horizons 

Animal Crossing: New Horizons lets you pack up your troubles and relocate to the paradise island of your dreams.

What’s the appeal?

1Animal Crossing is the perfect getaway package for the mind, allowing you to create and explore in a low-stress environment. Animal Crossing features user-friendly systems that help you set small daily goals.

2 – You can abide by social distancing rules and still have that much-needed social interaction with online and local play. Recently, people have reportedly celebrated birthdays, weddings, and more in-game!

3 Animal Crossing: New Horizons is another title that features on our list of related games and apps and has provided solace for thousands of players during the outbreak.

The Last Guardian

The Last Guardian is an action-adventure game which follows the journey of an isolated young boy who befriends a winged mythical creature named Trico.

What’s the appeal?

1 – There’s no dialogue in The Last Guardian – you form a strong bond with Trico that is non-verbal and based on emotional exchanges.

2 – The pacing is perfectly suited to anyone who wants to invest time in one particular story experience.

3 – Stunning meditative soundtrack and soothing atmosphere.

Persona 5 Royal

Persona 5 Royal is an extended version of the popular social-simulation RPG, Persona 5, which follows the enigmatic Phantom Thieves on their quest to right society’s wrongs. 

What’s the appeal?

1- You play as the silent protagonist, whose choices and personality depend on you and how you choose to spend your time – providing over 70 hours of narrative content.

2 – Relatable characters, including a strong portrayal of severe depression and social anxiety.

3 – Persona 5 is already on our list of recommended apps and games, so an extended visit to the world of the Phantom Thieves is a must!

The Last Of Us

In The Last Of Us, players take on the role of a survivor named Joel as he makes his way across post-apocalyptic America following the Cordyceps outbreak.

What’s the appeal?

1 – The Last of Us is a thrilling adventure that keeps you on your toes and requires a level of focus that will draw you away from the real-world.

2 – Perfect for fans of a strong, cinematic narrative (think Uncharted, but with zombies!).

3 – The Last of Us has a stunning soundtrack that doesn’t miss a beat. 

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt 

Toss a coin to your Witcher! Become Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher who hunts monsters for money. Most of the time.

What’s the appeal?

1- The Witcher 3’s world is vast and beautiful. While living in a confined space, the world of the Witcher opens the doors wide to a land of plenty. 

2 – Incredible depth of narrative design that spans far beyond the main quest. From side-quests that can last anything from a few minutes to a few hours and discoveries that are steeped in lore, you have many fantastic hours ahead of you.

3 –  Fancy a casual ride on horseback? You can spend hours simply riding across the realm and soaking up some rays in stunning vistas.

No Man’s Sky 

No Man’s Sky gives you the freedom to explore 18 Quintillion procedurally generated planets! Discover vast ecosystems and learn how to adapt and survive as ‘the traveller’.

What’s the appeal?

1 – No Man’s Sky gives you the choice of playing on your own or with others, it also lets you freely take on the role you enjoy the most. Be it farming, space piracy, base building, exploration, and much more. 

2 – No Man’s Sky has so much to see and do and a great addition to the title was its VR feature. If you have a VR headset the game provides total absorption in stunning, alien worlds. 

3 – Transitioning from planet to planet enables the player to feel a sense of immediate escapism.

Stardew Valley 

Stardew Valley lets players run their own farm in the small town of ‘Stardew Valley’. You can attend events, make friends with townsfolk, maintain relationships, and take part in a whole bunch of time-consuming activities. 

What’s the appeal?

1 – Stardew Valley is a more structured version of the ideas presented in Animal Crossing. It features an ongoing narrative, neighbourly intrigue, and days are more like ‘turns’ rather than real-time days.

2 – As a simulation RPG with social elements, there are In-game seasonal events and activities to take part in that provide a feeling of community spirit.

3 –  Chucklefish recently released an online mode so you can do all of the above with your friends and watch minutes turn into hours together. 

Crash Team Racing

Beenox Productions made Crash Team Racing their own with this thrilling Kart Racer that’s fun for all the family. Players get to choose from over 50+ characters, 40 tracks, and 760 million different combinations!

What’s the appeal?

1 – With so much to unlock, Crash Team Racing is a highly rewarding experience and provides a challenge for those wanting to push themselves. 

2 – It’s hard not to smile as you’re engulfed by the colourful, fun, and peppy atmosphere!

3 – You can play in single-player, online multiplayer or local multiplayer, which provides a social link to people that you are isolated with or online.


Minecraft is a game in which people can express their true creativity with blocks. Whether you want a survival experience, a creative experience, or even an educational one – the possibilities are endless. 

What’s the appeal?

1 – Minecraft has worked its way into many people’s lives as an educational tool for those who may have kids off school and gives people a creative outlet. It also provides a social outlet to those who want an online experience with friends. 

2 – Minecraft is a time-consuming game if you want it to be, with so much to do you’ll soon wonder why it’s time for bed when you thought you’d only just popped on after lunch. 

3 – The community is huge and very engaging, there are also servers out there for people with mental health issues and other illnesses to express themselves and be safe while they play.

Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 

The Division 2 takes place in Washington D.C. in a time where a terrorist threat has taken over most of the city and spread a virus that threatens the World. Team up with friends to take back the city or go it alone and be the character you want to be. 

What’s the appeal?

1 – The wide-open spaces in The Division 2 have helped members of the community with feelings of claustrophobia.

2 – Explore a diverse cityscape that feels lived-in and full of activities.

3 – The game encourages you to play with friends during some of the most intense missions or raids in the game. This is a great aid in helping to cover social needs.

You can also check out our list of Mental Health Related Games & Apps.

Skills utilised:
Covid 19

Gaming Industry and World Health Organisation unite to launch #PlayApartTogether

The games industry is uniting together, along with the World Health Organisation, to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many gaming leaders including Activision Blizzard, Amazon Appstore, Big Fish Games, Riot Games, Twitch, Unity, Zynga and more, are all jumping on board to provide positive ideas and activities during the spread. They aim to help assist the WHO’s directions in hygiene, respiratory etiquette and physical distancing. 

Through helping to launch the #PlayApartTogether campaign, WHO has clearly seen the benefits that games can provide to people during this uncertain time. And while a lockdown is in place in many countries, the games industry is working to prevent a complete social lockdown for many. The companies behind the initiative have set up in-game events, rewards, exclusive activities and inspiration through the medium of video gaming, to help convince people to stay home and follow the guidelines. 

President of publishing at Zynga, Bernard Kim, said of the cause:

“Our company’s mission of connecting the world through games has taken on a new dimension during the global crisis.” Expressing the honour in supporting WHO’s work, he said the aim is to provide “our players with a support system during this period of physical distancing. The #PlayApartTogether initiative activates positivity and community that can help us commit to the urgent task at hand.”

Ray Chambers, United States Ambassador for WHO, said he applauds the “ingenuity of partners from all sectors who are stepping up to assist in efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.” He thanked the games industry for playing their part, sharing his hope that the #PlayApartTogether campaign “encourages even more people to stay safe and healthy while they help flatten the curve and save lives.”

You can get involved in #PlayApartTogether too. Ubisoft are currently offering Rayman Legends for free on PC for a limited time, while OverwatchLeague are calling for gamers to share their gaming setup and favourite moments. Check out the hashtag on Twitter and see what games publishers and developers are offering. 

Like the many games companies involved in #PlayApartTogether, we fully encourage all players to follow health and safety guidelines for COVID-19. Stay home and play safe. You can read our tips on COVID-19 Isolation here.

For health and safety advice from WHO, you can read more here.

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