Mental health has not always been a mainstream topic. Fortunately, humans are always finding ways to expand our knowledge with new techniques to treat what ails us. Mobile games are a particularly interesting way to cope with mental illnesses and improve general mood.
The link between gambling and mental health
Some of the most commonly encountered and diagnosed mental health issues among the public include depression, general anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, and panic disorder. Globally, these conditions manifest in surprising numbers.
The World Health Organization estimates that 264 million people worldwide suffer from depression, plus 45 million from bipolar disorder and 20 million from various psychoses. In 2017, 13% of the world’s citizens had a diagnosis of a mental disorder or substance abuse.
Although an emerging field of study, some researchers are convinced that video games have a role to play in helping patients come to terms with their mental health issues. According to these medical professionals, video games can have a positive influence on people struggling with mental health issues, as long as certain limits are in place first.
How do video games improve mental health?
Stress relief is the first and most obvious positive effect. Players engaged in low-stakes problem solving can exercise their brains and distract their conscious mind from the factors causing them distress.
Finding solutions, solving problems, accumulating achievements, and thinking about cause and effect are essential for developing brains and for people struggling with mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
Ultimately, working towards a goal or desired outcome, even if it’s “just” on a cellphone or tablet screen, is an uplifting and mood-enhancing activity that can benefit your mental health and your state of mind. Even people in treatment for conditions like PTSD, ADHD, and trauma recovery have games available to help them on their recovery or wellness journey. Some games even help individuals develop or rebuild their social or caring skills – some of the first casualties during trying episodes of mental health.
Other mental health benefits of video games, depending on the game format, include emotional resilience – learning to fail gracefully – and learning to cooperate with others. The practice of sports and physical activities is often the first recommendation of experts in mental health care. But for those who find it difficult to move around, video games offer a world of possibilities.
The best simulation games for mental health
Simulation games provide enriching experiences emphasizing strategy, visual acuity, cause and effect relationships and spatial awareness. Other times they offer the satisfaction of observing or participating in a satisfying biological or mechanical process.
- Plum (iOS/Android): This visually stunning, multi-award winning game describes itself as a “love letter to trees”. It encourages users to take care of their tree, including shaping it and protecting it from damage. There are no microtransactions and everything you do syncs with your devices.
- Pokemon Go (iOS/Android): This game was hard to ignore when it was released in 2016. In particular, the app’s supporters noted its advantage in getting players on and off. Once there, they cruise to local landmarks and get as close to the thrill of capturing live Pokemon as possible.
- Pikmin Flower (iOS/Android): based on pikmine—the lovely Nintendo GameCube game—Pikmin Flower is a Pokémon Go alternative focused on locomotion, mindfulness, and memory. As you wander through your surroundings, you find Pikmin to add to your party, help flowers and trees grow, and even add photos to a keepsake journal of your travels.
- Minecraft (iOS/Android): Is there anyone who hasn’t played or at least heard of Minecraft? This beloved free-form simulation game lets players traverse soothing yet often challenging environments, manage resources, and build structures and mechanisms as they please.
Best Puzzle Games for Mental Health
While technology has taken us a long way from the days of puzzles, puzzle games never go out of style. If you own a tablet or smartphone, there’s a dizzying array of brilliant and beautiful puzzle games to calm your mind and flex your problem-solving muscles.
- Monument Valley (iOS/Android): players marveled Monument ValleyThe gorgeous art style of and the quiet but undeniably challenging puzzles for years. With just enough narration to keep players intrigued by the mysteries of the game world, they will meticulously traverse castles and fantastical landscapes by manipulating elements of the environment.
- wind threshold (iOS): wind threshold, developed by Vectorpark, is a memorable and challenging experience for gamers of all ages. In a dream world, individuals are tasked with using physics, well-timed taps, and object manipulation to guide their toy car through the screen. Each step rewards playfulness and thoughtful inquiry.
- 2048 (iOS/Android): a strategy game and a puzzle, 2048 should prove interesting to anyone who loves numbers. Players move numbered tiles on a 4×4 grid, combining tiles while searching for the magic number 2048. It’s deceptively simple: expect to be challenged and feel the rush of impending achievement as your maneuvers approach the desired sum.
- Stack (iOS/Android): Stack is a brilliantly simple game that punches above its weight in relaxation and satisfaction. Everything is meticulously crafted, from the visuals to the delicious melodies that reward success. Players must stack simple shapes as high as possible and attempt to knock down other players around the world.
Virtual Mental Health Caregiver Games
Virtual pet sitter games are nearly limitless in their variation, though they all involve players cultivating environments and developing care routines for digital pets. This kind of stewardship can stimulate the parts of the brain concerned with regulating relationships and developing care skills, whether for oneself or for others.
- Rakko Ukabe (iOS/Android): Have you ever wanted to take care of a group of sea otters? This is your chance! Use a combination of pieces, furniture, and irresistible toys to encourage new otters to join your community. They will gather or disperse again, depending on your level of healing.
- Neko Atsume: Kitten Collector (iOS/Android): Don’t you like sea otters? With Neko Atsume, you can become the guardian of many kittens, each with their own personality and quirks. Try new combinations of treats and play toys in various environments to encourage more cats to join and interact with your surroundings.
- Bullfinch (iOS/Android): Bullfinch is so much more than your typical goalie game. After naming your digital pet and decorating it with cool outfits and accessories, your care routine doubles as a self-care reflective journal. Bullet journaling is a popular way to record and process thoughts and feelings. The care you give your pet can reflect your daily mood and actively encourage you to get in touch with the root of your moods and headspace.
- Viridi (iOS/Android): Developed by Ice Water Games, Viridi is an environment and plant growth simulator that puts your green thumb to the test. Your menagerie will constantly grow while you’re away, and you’ll be able to prune, care for, and add selections every Friday as the developers add new free plants to choose from.
Best Endless Runner Games for Mental Health
Sometimes all you need to improve your mood or reconnect with your inner dialogue or physical abilities is to engage in some focused training or playtime. The following games provide endless canvases to exercise your mental toughness and reaction time.
- Alto’s adventure (iOS/Android): You can’t chat with more than 10 million downloads and counting. Alto’s adventure sees players traversing beautifully rendered wilderness and wintry landscapes atop their snowboard. Rewarding, challenging gameplay and musings on the sweet passage of time give this game real staying power. In 2016, the developers even added a zen mode, where players can resume immediately after a fall rather than starting over to make the game even more serene.
- cross road (iOS/Android): Do you always have the best score on the Frog machine in your local pizzeria? If you like this kind of archetypal gameplay, then cross road is definitely for you. Each addictive stage offers new showcases and challenges as you navigate different characters ranging from Dinosaur Chicken to Emo Goose through each visually rich environment.
- doodle jump (iOS/Android): doodle jump is a perennial genre favorite. With a distinctive art style and jolt-based yet deeply satisfying gameplay, players will quickly be hooked on the challenge of jumping ever higher.
The best mindfulness games for mental health
Some games aim more explicitly at cultivating a healthier mental space than others. If you experience anxiety about the present or worries about the future, this might be the genre for you.
- My Oasis (iOS/Android): There’s no pay-to-win here, nor any jittery or time-sensitive gameplay. My Oasis is about one thing: cultivating a more peaceful state of mind while enjoying beautiful scenery, animals that sing affirmation, and atmospheric music that lifts your spirits. You will quickly lose yourself in this game, along with your distracting anxieties.
- Uzu, an interactive light show (iOS): award-winning and at one time the best-selling app on the App Store, Uzu is unique among mindfulness and mood enhancement games. It is highly visual in nature, with players using various tools and taps to create dazzling, physical light shows in real time. You can even export the footage and stills you like as videos or wallpapers.
- Breath of Light (iOS): This game gives players deceptively simple space and motion-based environmental problems to solve while doubling as a guided meditation experience. Distinctive visuals and melodious melodies complete the game, which reviewers regularly hail as the “gold standard” for sanity-enhancing gameplay.