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Video Games And SAD: What To Play In Winter by Callum Self

When it comes to Winter, many rejoice as the cold weather makes for a warm home, hot beverages and fluffy socks. But for many, it’s a time where anxiety and depression is at its worst. SAD, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, is a depression linked to seasonal changes. While it can occur in the summer, it’s far more prevalent in the winter, giving it the nickname of “winter depression.”

I’ve found that something that helps myself during the winter months, or even when depression itself is heightened, that being social helps me. Whether it’s going out to see friends and family, or playing games which not only enable, but encourage social play. These can also be played solo, and they’re still helpful to myself when playing alone, as a few games offer endless creativity, allowing you to sink as little or as many hours as you’d want. 

 

Satisfactory

satisfac

Satisfactory was one of the first games that I sunk many hours into on my first PC, and there’s many reasons for that. It’s an open-ended factory simulation game which allows players to automate resources, explore a massive world and discover new materials and new products to craft which only extends your playtime.

I played this game with a friend of mine, and planning out how our factory would be laid out, how many different product lines we would have and where to get our energy to power our stations took up just as much time as actually playing the game. But that’s not a bad thing, it just makes you more proud of what you achieve. And trust me, you’ll be feeling a lot of pride. 

 

Minecraft (& Minecraft Dungeons)

I’m pretty certain you’ve heard of Minecraft. The sandbox of blocks and diamonds has been a household name for around a decade and has no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Similar to Satisfactory, there’s endless opportunities for creativity, and whether you want to build a mansion on top of a mountain, live self-sufficient from crops or explore a wide range of biomes, it’s hard to argue against Minecraft. 

However, many people pass over the spin-off, Minecraft Dungeons. This family-friendly Action-RPG allows players to team up with their friends to take on numerous levels. The constantly dropping loot, as well as the rise in challenge as you gain more gear, gives a fun time which you’re bound to sink hours into. Better yet, it’s free with Game Pass! 

 

Death Stranding

Whilst it’s a tangent from the rest of the list, Death Stranding really helped me personally. If you look close enough, the story and gameplay can be an interpretation of mental health, as you slowly creep across post-apocalyptic America.

Death Stranding’s main appeal isn’t the walking, but rather the connections that players form between other players, despite being a single player experience. Helping others with resources to build a bridge, which will speed up delivery times in future and make the journey safer is just one example of connecting with others.

Death Stranding is a great option for those who want to feel connected to others without actually socialising. It’s my Game of the Year for 2019, with good reason, and it’s fanbase is only growing.

 

Among Us

Among Us is a massive internet craze, and rightfully so. It’s the social deduction genre boiled down into colourful graphics, customisable player avatars and can run on pretty much any device. On top of that, it’s ridiculously cheap.

Among Us offers the ability to play with friends, family or join a server with other players, making it the perfect social / party game for anyone looking to figure out who the Imposter is. Or, save the spaceship. Either way, it’s a great game to hop into and there’s no better time! 

 

Bonus Single-Player: Marvel’s Spider-Man PS4/PS5

I like to talk about this game whenever I can, because it has impacted me on a very personal level, and they’ve helped me through some really tough times. Peter Parker is a candidate for most unfortunate character, but he perseveres, as he knows the city of New York relies on him. 

Nothing captures that essence like the Insomniac Games’ versions of this character. Marvel’s Spider-Man is one of the most emotionally involved games I’ve played. Seeing what Peter Parker goes through during the plot of the game is everything a human goes through on a super-powered level. Grief, heartache, fear, are all emotions he knows too well. But seeing him suit up and engage with the city proves that if he can persevere, well, so can you. 

For February, Safe In Our World have partnered up with Fanatical for the Winter Blues bundle, as a fundraiser! For those of you looking to show your support, find out more here and help raise awareness for mental health by supporting Safe In Our World. 

The winter can be a tough time for many, so we wanted everyone to see that there’s plenty of options out there for anyone. There’s plenty of different genres, worlds and stories to play! So grab a hot chocolate, boot up one of these (or some other) games, and experience a virtual world for a little while. Whatever that world you enter is, it’s lucky to have you. 

 


Callum Self
Callum is a passionate gamer and advocate for mental health awareness, using writing as a tool for both themself and the reader to understand mental health in video games.

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Sightseeing in Spider-Man: how ditching web-slinging for walking photography saved my mental health during lockdown by Joe Donnelly

I crane my neck and stare in awe at the art deco skyscraper before me, 102 stories of limestone and granite towering over the busy New York City streets below. I’ve passed this building countless times before, granted, but from this angle – at ground-level, rubbing shoulders with thousands of pre-occupied pedestrians – there’s something so humbling about basking in its shadow.

Two streets over, I sense an armed robbery in progress but I ignore it. It’s my day off, I think to myself, before leaving this one to the boys and girls in blue. What I do instead is pull out my camera, take a snapshot and the read the following message as it flashes across my screen:

LANDMARK DISCOVERED 100 XP
Empire State Building
Midtown

For me, the in-game photography suite in Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man is second to none, making full use of its gorgeous scaled-down slant on the Big Apple. Since its PlayStation 4 release on September 18, 2018, and its Remastered iteration on PlayStation 5 in November last year, players have wowed with amateur galleries of Marvel’s favourite web-slinger perched upon the lightning rod of the Chrysler Building, dangling from the apex of the Washington Square Arch, and zipping around the sun-kissed Manhattan skyline, to name but a few of the game’s most commonly snapped photo-ops.

Throw the superhero caper’s comic book combat and high-altitude traversal into the mix and you have something special – to the point where there are few things more satisfying than capturing one of the eye watering beauty spots outlined above. Or a perfect slow motion roundhouse kick just as your foot connects with the jaw a faceless Kingpin goon. Or ticking off another of the game’s extensive list of ‘Landmark’ locations – a mix of real-world and fantastical sights, alike such as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Wakanda Embassy and the Avengers Tower – before slapping on a hashtag and sharing the scene on social media.

With so much to see and do the scope for replayability in Spider-Man is huge, which is why it quickly became one of my favourite go-to games during the last year and-a-half of quarantine amid the ongoing global pandemic. Like so many people during the longest stretches of lockdown, my mental health suffered. On my darkest days, while struggling with the isolation of the “new normal”, I became seriously excited at the mere thought of visiting this virtual version of Manhattan as a break from an increasingly uncertain reality.

And it was during these process that I fell in love with a whole new way of playing. Equipped with only a camera, I set about completing the game’s ‘Landmark’ challenges exclusively on foot, taking snaps of the city’s most popular sights while soaking in its atmosphere at ground level – something often missed while traversing above.

Before unlocking fast-travel, swinging from building to building is the fastest way to get around in Spider-Man’s urban sandbox, so much so that it’s easy to forget the sprawling world below. During lockdown, at a time when holidays and real world exploration became impossible overnight, I delighted in exploring Spider-Man’s game world at a thoughtful pace, in essence guiding Peter Parker through an unorthodox, non-combative walking simulator, paying no mind to thwarting Doc Octopus in Story Mode or the dynamic crime set-pieces unfolding all around in Free Roam.

I’ve always loved the therapeutic elements of walking simulators – games such as Dear Esther, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and Firewatch – whose expertly-paced narratives promote mindfulness and calmness; and I’ve always enjoyed playing games in entirely different ways as primarily intended, such as the real-world-aping properties which underpin Grand Theft Auto 5’s role-play scene.

Playing Spider-Man as a walking photography simulator, then, is hardly how Insomniac intended its larger than life action adventure game to played, but I nevertheless found myself enjoying it most while wandering around the streets of a world so rich in atmosphere, character and life as I played tourist in a digital city that never sleeps.

On the evening of Sunday, March 22, 2020, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnston addressed the nation on the telly and told us the country would enter lockdown the following day. If you were able to work from home, you were advised to do so. We were told to limit contact with others, to avoid cuddling and to wash our hands thoroughly while singing Happy Birthday. We were told to steer clear of public transport, and we were told to limit outside exercise to just one hour per day.

It was rubbish. But I had New York. I had Peter Parker, a camera, the Chrysler, the Flat Iron, Central Park and St Patrick’s Cathedral. I had the Empire State Building and the huge shadow it cast deep into the hustle and bustle of this make believe Fifth Avenue. I had a world whose rules remained the same when the real world around us was thrown into chaos.

If your mental health has suffered in the last 18 months, I hope that you’ve found the strength to talk to someone – a friend, a relative, a mental health professional or maybe even all three. If you’re not quite there yet, or maybe just want to lose yourself in a video game for a little while, I can’t recommend grabbing a camera, stepping out in your favourite Spidey suit and hitting the road on foot enough. 


Joe Donnelly
Joe Donnelly is a Glaswegian writer, video games enthusiast and mental health advocate. He has written about both subjects for The Guardian, VICE, his narrative non-fiction book Checkpoint, and believes the interactive nature of games makes them uniquely placed to educate and inform.

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