Mindfulness in Video Games [Podcast E05]

Hello and welcome to episode five of the Retro Break podcast. I think I’ve got a really interesting topic lined up today that I’ve never heard anyone actually talk about before, so I really hope I do this justice. The title of this podcast is “Mindfulness in Video Games” and I think that kind of sums up what I’m going to talk about today, but there’s a lot more to it as well. It’s kind of how I’ve found ways of using games to kind of replace things like meditation in a way. It really is a very interesting thing that I didn’t actually realise I was doing until quite recently actually, even though I’ve been doing this for many years now.

Basically, all throughout my life, every time there’s been a stressful situation or something else going on outside of my control like waiting for certain things to happen and I was getting a bit stressed and a bit anxious about them, I would always turn to games. And over the years, I’ve kind of found a range of games that helps me deal with these kind of situations. And that’s kind of what I wanted to talk about today and also ask everyone who’s watching and listening as well – have you ever found any games in particular that really actually help you out in life by overcoming some challenges that you’ve got in life or just giving you a chance to relax and clear your mind or to help you come up with new ideas as well? I’ve actually got examples of all of these different situations I’m going to share with you today.

So the first example here is one that kind of helped me de-stress before a stressful situation. So back while I was in college when I was 16 or 17 I think, I just started taking driving lessons and although I was quite good at driving, I didn’t really mind taking the lessons and stuff. The thing that always used to get to me was waiting for the instructor to turn up. He would always be late, no matter what. And I would always have the driving lessons on the day that I had off from college, so from about 12 o’clock till about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, I would always be pacing around the house, looking outside the window, going into my parents bedroom and looking out the window there to see whether he was coming down the driveway or not. So I was really getting myself really stressed about the fact that he was going to arrive and I didn’t really know when.

So after a while, what I decided to do rather than pacing around the house was to actually play racing games to try and get me in the mood for driving. I know this sounds really weird, but bear with me. So I got my Dreamcast steering wheel at the time and I booted up Metropolis Street Racer – let me know if you’ve heard of that game, it’s a fantastic kind of simulation style racing game that you could play with the steering wheel back in the day. And just playing that and going in first person mode with the pedals and the steering wheel sitting right in front of the TV, I kind of used it as a sort of getaway in my own head for waiting for the instructor to turn up by kind of doing something related to what I was about to do. And I kind of tricked myself into thinking if I played it on manual that I would actually be training for my driving lessons. But that’s not really where the game helped. The way the game helped me was the fact that you have to be so precise in the game that I actually spent more time focusing on trying to do that and trying to get these they were called “kudos points” in the game where you drift around corners or you do a really clean racing line, and you end up with these bonus points that you use to get further on in the career mode. And I was so focused on trying to complete these challenges in the game that I completely forgot that I was actually waiting for the instructor. So it really helped calm my nerves down and it really helped me enjoy the game a lot more as well because I knew that if I just focused on that, I wouldn’t be thinking about what else was going on at the time.

And another game that’s also helped me in similar situations that I always used to play to de-stress whenever I was waiting for someone – I always hate waiting for things, I don’t know why. And I think that’s why I’m getting so stressed about this house move because it’s just waiting for things that are outside my control. But a bit later on in this podcast I’ll cover some of the games that I’ve been playing these days to try and help with that as well. But back to back in my days at college, I used to play Dance Dance Revolution a lot as well. And I think the fact that I got up and moved around and also the fact that the game DDR is a game that’s really easy to grasp but it has a really high skill ceiling – that sort of game is perfect for just focusing on that because once you get to a certain proficiency in the game, you can kind of play it mindlessly but you still need to focus on improving just that little bit. And I think that’s what games like DDR do for me, so they’re the perfect balance between completely being in the zone, completely just being in a flow state and just playing the game without even thinking about it. And at the same time, it’s also blocking any of the thoughts out of my head, so that I can just focus on improving my score in the game. And I think playing Metropolis Street Racer and playing Dance Dance Revolution back then really helped me concentrate and focus on what really mattered at the time.

So those were two games that I used to play at home while waiting for things and for clearing my mind on that sort of thing. But that just got me thinking to what I played outside the house for the same sort of reasons. So at college, there used to sometimes be a big gap between classes, but the gap just wasn’t quite big enough to go back home. So I would spend a lot of time just sitting in the student area or sitting in the canteen. And I would have my own laptop at the time, and on that laptop I had all of the Touhou games. And if you don’t know what Touhou is, they’re basically a bullet hell shoot em up, and I’m actually quite good at shoot em ups. So kind of like DDR, I got to that point where I didn’t need to think too much, I could just really zone in on just looking at the character and kind of blocking everything else out. And the hours would pass like minutes, honestly, when I played Touhou. I got so good at perfecting my way through those games that I could actually finish Touhou 10 on a single credit. And it’s games like that at college that really helped me get over the stress of waiting for things and you know, not really knowing what to do with myself. I would always just sit myself down with the laptop. I would either watch anime, which was good, but you really have to focus on anime because obviously you have to read the subtitles and you have to take in the story.

But with a game like Touhou, you don’t really need to focus that much, and I didn’t have the translated versions either, so I wasn’t really trying to take in any of the story. I was literally just playing it for that sort of flow state that you can get into, and there are very few games that can actually do that to me, but Touhou is one of them. And I’ve actually found that playing games like that where you don’t need to actually think that hard about what you’re doing, it actually frees up the rest of my brain to actually come up with new ideas and to solve puzzles that maybe I’ve been sitting on for a while. So I would kind of play games like that as well to try and help me just think about things I’ve been thinking about in my head. And sometimes I would come up with really good ideas – I would end up pausing the game, opening up a notepad, and just jotting things down that just come to me because I managed to free my mind up.

I get the same kind of feeling whenever I go on walks and don’t listen to music or anything – it’s the same kind of thing where you’re just really freeing yourself up to think about whatever’s on your mind at the time. And it really is good to be able to distance yourself from daily life and experience these sorts of times where you can just come up with ideas out of the blue that’s kind of how I’ve come up with a lot of ideas over the years as well. And as well as Metropolis Street Racer, there was another racing game that I used to play a lot after college, and that was Ridge Racer 5. That is another game where you can really get into the flow state with that game – the driving lines, the way the controls work, the way the smooth frame rate just blurs into your mind as you’re racing through these tracks. That’s another game that I could just play for hours and get completely engrossed in without really realizing that I’m playing and freeing my mind up for other things.

So I think for me, racing games, really low barrier to entry and high skill ceiling games like Touhou or Dance Dance Revolution, puzzle games like Tetris, which I’ll come back to a bit later on – you can kind of see where I’m going with this hopefully. I know this is kind of a weird topic that’s kind of hard to address, especially just in audio format. But I hope you’re kind of getting an idea of what I’m trying to say here.

Another game that kind of blends the puzzle and music genres together is Project Diva, and that is the game that I would play a lot of on my PSP at uni between classes, kind of like what I did with Touhou at college. And I would love to do a full video on the Project Diva games at some point in the future as well – that is one of my favorite series of all time and just the fact that the music and the gameplay and everything goes together so perfectly and along with my love of vocaloids as well, which I was completely obsessed with at uni, I would love to talk about those games in more detail in the future.

The only reason I haven’t actually done a Project Diva video is because I’m a little bit worried about getting a copyright claim for using the music, and it’s kind of hard to do a video on a music game without actually including any music. So I’ll see what I can do about that – so maybe there’ll be a Project Diva video in the future on my main channel. So let me know if you’d be interested in seeing that.

And I was just trying to think – have there been any games while I was at work that kind of filmed the same void for me? And there’s definitely one that springs to mind, and I kind of don’t want to admit that I was playing this, but there was a game on my phone that I would play whenever I could escape after a bad meeting or something to try and de-stress a bit. And that was a game that you could get on the iPhone called Alto’s Adventure. I’m sure some of you have played this game – if you haven’t, it’s an incredibly simple but incredibly engrossing game with really nice graphics and audio. It’s basically a snowboarding game where you constantly go downhill, and you have to tap the screen at a certain time to jump, and then you can tap it again to do a backflip. And that is literally the entire game.

I know it sounds really simple and boring, but I promise you it’s definitely worth checking out, and there is a lot more depth to it than you’d probably first think. And it really helped me de-stress after some really stressful meetings at times. At work. So sometimes after work as well, if I’d had a particularly bad day, I would actually sit in the car in the car park before I went home and actually just play a round or two of Alto’s Adventure just to clear my mind and prepare myself for an evening of not thinking about work. Luckily, work’s got a lot better over the years, and I don’t really have to rely on playing games to kind of forget about what’s going on there because I do actually enjoy my job now thankfully.

These days, the way I use games for mindfulness is to try and clear my mind and come up with ideas for YouTube. And the main way that I’ve been relaxing with games these days is through VR. There is a really good reason for that. Number one, I just absolutely love a few games in VR and I’ve got completely obsessed with some of them, which I’ll share a bit later on. But the main reason is, and this is something that’s become more of a problem in the past few years, is the fact that when you’re in VR, you don’t get notifications on your phone.

And because my YouTube channel’s taken off, because I’m a bit more popular on Twitter and stuff now and I’ve got a lot of friends that talk to me on Discord and stuff, my phone is constantly, constantly buzzing. And whenever I’m even at the laptop now, I have notifications coming up on the side of the screen. And sometimes it’s just a little bit overwhelming. And the main way for me to escape from all of that is to just put on a VR headset and just forget about anything else in the outside world.

And recently as well, being in VR has actually really helped me forget about all of the trouble that I’m going through with this house move. And with all the solicitors and the bills we’re having to pay and all of the different people that we’ve got going to the new house and just building everything there. And it’s just been so overwhelming for me. But whenever I put on the VR headset, whenever I boot up a game of Beat Saber or Tetris Effect, I can just lose myself for an hour or two. And it’s just such a freeing experience to go on to Beat Saber, load up a custom playlist, and just play for an hour, get completely lost in the music, completely just entranced with the movement and the muscle memory of playing the game for so many hundreds of hours at this point.

It really is something that I can just switch my brain off, play through Beat Saber for a few hours, and just think about whatever else I want to think about. Sometimes it’s kind of – it really is kind of like meditation. Like the blocks are just flying towards me, I haven’t got a single other thought in my head. And I’ve played it so much that I don’t even really need to worry about whether I’m going to hit the right blocks in the right order or not, because it’s just muscle memory. I just see them flying towards me, I don’t even need to think about it. My arms are just moving on their own, and that frees me up.

That is where I’ve come up with a lot of ideas for YouTube, a lot of the best ideas that I’ve ever thought about in that state. Sometimes I’m just not thinking about anything else at all, and it kind of feels like I’m hallucinating with these crazy 3D visuals flying backwards and forwards. I don’t know if anyone else has experienced this, but I think it is such a unique and profound feeling that I just had to bring it up.

And I thought a podcast would be the best way to try and get these thoughts across. And Tetris Effect in general is such an incredible game. It is so much more than the sum of its parts – just the way they’ve designed the levels, some of them just really hit me in the feels. They really do. There is no better way of putting it. So there’s at least I think four different stages in that one that almost bring me to tears every time I play it. And it is such an amazing experience.

So if you’ve never experienced that, whether you like Tetris or not, I 100% recommend it if you just want to try and experience something completely new or maybe, like this podcast is suggesting, use it as a way of escaping from daily life, use it as a way of mindfulness or meditation in games. And I think I’ve ended up repeating myself a bit on this one. I kind of went off on a few tangents, so I really hope that was an interesting episode. I really hope that I managed to get my thoughts across, because I didn’t have any notes written down for this one like I normally do.

I just thought I would come here and try and explain this weird sensation that games sometimes give me, and the way they’ve actually helped me through life as well. So I would be really interested to hear your thoughts on this one. And if you’re listening to this on the audio side of things, check the link in the description, and there’s actually a link in there where you can submit an audio response. And I would love to hear some of you guys and girls thoughts on this topic because I think it’s really interesting, and it’s not really something I’ve ever seen talked about or written about online at all.

So hopefully this brought a little bit of a new perspective to some of you that were listening. I really hope you look forward to the next 80-something episodes I’ve got planned, thanks to this. That’s kind of why I wanted to make this episode as well, because I’ve been thinking about video game mindfulness for so long but never really had a way to get these thoughts across.

A podcast really seemed like the perfect format. And it’s been really cool sharing some personal experiences of how certain games have helped me throughout different parts of my life as well. I find it really fascinating the impact that games can have beyond just being entertainment. So thank you so much for listening if you’ve made it this far. Please let me know any thoughts you have on this topic in the comments or by submitting an audio response.

I’d love to hear if any of you have similar experiences with using games for mindfulness or stress relief. It’s definitely something I want to explore more both through future podcast episodes and potentially some dedicated YouTube videos someday as well. I’ve still got so many game-related topics I want to discuss too, so stay tuned for more Retro Break podcast episodes coming up soon.

And of course, thank you as always for your support – it means a lot and it really inspires me to keep exploring different angles like this that aren’t necessarily about reviews or collections. I hope you all have a great rest of your day, and I’ll talk to you again next time. Thanks for listening, and game on!

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