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“Animal Crossing” and Mental Health

The video Game, “Animal Crossing” is taking world by storm. Nintendo has sold 13 million copies since March (probably more now)! And of course, during lockdown it became a perfect “little escape” from worries and boredom for many people.

So, I wondered how we can use this game to improve our mental health which is being impacted by the pandemic and lockdown?

Here are some of the ways that people can use the game to help themselves during these trying times.

1. Stress, uncertainty and feeling overwhelmed.

Playing the game can take your mind off worries and stress. (This is one of the most obvious)

From research we know that prolonged stress seriously impacts our immune system and overall health. A big contributing factor to stress is our own thinking. When we think about the future, possibly being infected with the virus, losing a loved one, personal finances, the global economy, etc., it pushes our reptilian brain into a state of fear and panic. And when we are in a state of panic our minds start racing, and those fearful thoughts become obsessive which in turn fuels more fear and panic. And a vicious cycle is born.

Yes, it’s possible to quiet the mind, to switch its focus to something else, more positive. But it works mostly for people who have been practicing meditation and mindfulness. For the rest of us, this task is not that simple.

In cases like this, one useful strategy is to occupy your mind with something else. Games can work quite well here, especially if it’s relaxing game with a carefree life on some wonderful, peaceful exotic island.

Neuroscientists tell us that the brain doesn’t know the difference between reality and fantasy, so we can use this fact to our advantage. Not everyone can simply IMAGINE a peaceful island – especially while in grips of anxiety. In this case, immersive games that provide pictures of a “perfect life” can be a real nice supplement. It gives our nervous system a welcome break and an opportunity to unwind, to become calm and restore our stressed-out body.

2. Social distancing.

With lockdowns and “sheltering in place,” many people struggle with a feeling of isolation and loneliness.

The social nature of the video game gives you the simulated ability to “mingle” with friends, visit each other on their respective islands and provides a nice respite from feelings of loneliness. Just bumping into island’s native inhabitants can feel comfortable and pleasant.

3. Low self-esteem and feeling “I am no good.”

A lot of people who come to therapy struggle with those feelings of “I am no good.”

There are whole books written on the topic of how to raise your self-esteem. Basically, we have to overwrite negative messages that are “set in stone” in our brains early in life with new, positive ones.

If you’ve ever done this work, you know how difficult it is to continually and consistently replace negative self-talk with positive. The game provides a lot of positive reinforcement – from island inhabitants praising “your character” and wanting to be your friend to more senior characters (“authority figures”) who may shower you with praise and gratitude. If we approach this consciously and mindfully, we can use this praise and positive feedback to reinforce the messages we record in our brains.

4. Boredom.

Use the game as an opportunity to be creative!

The island can be arranged and decorated in multiple ways. Create beauty and harmony in your own small, even if artificial world. Who knows, maybe you can then apply it to your real world?

These are just a few ideas. But I should also offer some words of caution. We know from research that games can be addictive. I feel that it’s very important to use them mindfully, not as a permanent escape from life, but as a tool to temporarily manage stress and connect with other people.

Like everything else in life, the key to happiness is MINDFULNESS. If you use anything to become more conscious and more mindful then ANYTHING can be used to promote healing and wellbeing.

This Post Has One Comment
  1. This really resonated with me! I’ve been playing animal crossing during this crisis, and it’s really helped me cope. Great game, and great post!

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