Hello darkness, my old friend
It’s been one year since I moved out of my parents’ place and started living with my now wife out in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve had five jobs in the past year, and sometimes, it’s hard to get out of bed without thinking dark thoughts like does anyone even really want me or can I really find a satisfying career in this day and age? I think it’s no secret or shame that we game for some kind of escapism from our terrible, terrible lives stuck in this mortal coil.
But what do you play when you’re feeling sad? Do you cheer yourself up with some kind of head-to-head multiplayer, depriving another person’s happiness for your own? Or maybe you grind away at something mentally involving like a survival-crafting game to take your mind off things? What do you play when you’re feeling down? Here are just a few of the games I play after I’ve sunken particularly low.
My selection of games is limited to Steam titles that can run on a work-oriented laptop, the Wii U, and the New 3DS. Believe me, if I had a newer console, games like Guilty Gear Xrd or Doom would be on this list. But this list is also more than just really, really, really good games. For me, these games, which lifted my spirits when times were bad, had something special to them that could specifically be escapism. Some were so engrossing that I lost myself in the world, and other were so charming that I became emotionally invested in the characters instead of staying rooted in my own personal problems.
Whatever the reasons are, these are the games I played in the past year that cheered my up whenever I went to a dark place emotionally. These aren’t necessarily the best games ever or even games that were new releases at the time. But the escapism was enough to really get me through the day.
Super Mario Maker
I had a few games in mind to bring up for this list but Super Mario Maker is arguably one of the more involving titles that were important to me. Think about how many hours you can spend planning, designing, and constructing levels and it’s no wonder how I got through any particular day just dropping down blocks and pieces to make a level that I thought was both creative and fun. This was definitely a game that sucks up time like nothing other and leaves little left for you to focus on anything other than building. Just keep building and enjoy the fruits of your labor I say, compared to reality where hours of job hunting can and will result in nothing.
During the time I was especially into Mario Maker, I was knee deep in a particularly draining job. Not enough hours, not enough pay, and an expensive commute via train from the east bay to San Francisco. By the time I had run my well of ideas dry on Mario Maker, the game was just starting to receive its free expansions and I had decided enough was enough of my San Francisco job. I quit before the November rush could escalate and worked at a Target closer to me.
Made back when Double Fine was known as critical darling that could net itself a blank check pass at development, Psychonauts‘ atmosphere, and world-building can be easily summed up with one mechanic: clairvoyance. Everyone and everything has an opinion on Raz that’s just waiting to be revealed through the power of clairvoyance. Almost everyone in the game, even cannon-fodder enemies, view Raz as something unique pertaining to their own personal bias. Lili, who has a crush on Raz, sees him as a dashing hero, while even monstrous creatures and enemies will view Raz as an appropriately threatening concept (such as a vicious predator for hostile animals, or a lawnmower for strangely aggressive flowers). It’s this kind of heavy world-building that sucked me in and even begs for me to replay it every now and then to really soak up instead of real life.
I suppose it was easy to get sucked into such a disarming world of psychics, crammed with special powers and identities. It was Raz’s dream to become a Psychonaut, a sort of psychic super spy/warrior, and he was eager to prove himself to his heroes. Like the clairvoyance power in the game, it’s an eternal mystery to me how potential employers viewed me and my résumé unless I could just see the world through their eyes and see how they interpret things like a four-year degree and several writing gigs that I cling to as a part of my portfolio.
Rather than leading with an obvious selection, I wanted to throw you all off the trail before getting into something that some might say would be a clear choice when it comes to being inspirational. Undertale was certainly the inspiration for this list. I mean, save points are glowing orbs that describe how the scene of something mundane and uninteresting is filling you with determination. Undertale got me through 2015 thanks to that word alone: you have to stay determined. I made friends with skeletons, helped a robot realize the importance of his presence with his friends, and repaired a person’s shattered self-confidence. Not to mention the true ending sequence was a show of teeth-gritting determination to say nothing else.
Determination is such a big theme. At the time when I played Undertale, it really encouraged me to think positively when I had self-doubt about my ability to get a good job. Just pushing through against all odds and making friends along the way was a great experience for someone who felt every crushing blow life could deal you. It helped me to look at how I could just climb my way to a better life, inch by inch, struggling for every grasp, knowing that where I was now was ahead of where I was before. I certainly still make a little over minimum wage but at least I’m cashiering electronics and games at decent hours of the day. When I first started looking for work, I’d be waking up at 5:00am for the bare minimum of pay. I’m not at my goal but I’ve certainly come a far way from where I started.
I’m a big fan of character-action games, particularly from Platinum. And a game as driven by skill and reaction speed as Bayonetta 2 can really boost one’s own ego. I just like drilling away at certain missions, trying for better and better combos while aiming for the coveted Platinum trophy. I guess there’s still something to be said for my confidence when I think I’m not good enough to set my sights on Pure Platinum. But even though you’d think I’d shirk away from being judged for my ability, I have every bit of confidence in my ability to succeed in performing combos at 60 frames per second compared to my ability to land a decent job.
With my long journey of terrible jobs, some days I just wake up thinking about if I’m really that great of a human being if this thing I call a life is all I can manage. I once wrote before on Destructoid that I find it relaxing to practice combos, and Bayonetta is the epitome of drilling and executing something that just makes sense to me when nothing else does. I know some days that if I’m feeling down about whether or not I really have what it takes, I can put my mind at ease by just whittling the hours away drilling through tough chapters in Bayo 2 with different weapons and different combos, all in the pursuit of the Platinum trophy.
Ah Monster Hunter, my greatest time sink. I sunk nearly 500 hours into Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, farming quests dealing with targets like sand whales, dragons covered in oil, and hawk-like knife wyverns in order to collect their body parts to make everything from full sets of armor to giant swords. And getting really good at the game meant a solid five to ten minutes of decidedly white-knuckle brawls that can run differently every time.
It helps that Monster Hunter can still be quite the challenging time sink even when playing in a full party of four hunters. Tackling giant beasts in a cooperative hunt can be just the refreshing take on humanity I need after hours of submitting CVs and cover letters. In my frame of mind, maybe the man on the other side of this résumé might not give me a chance, but this hunter who’s throwing himself at a raging elder dragon is worth following into the maelstrom with.
The majority of the games I play to get through some heavy days involve micromanaging, execution, atmosphere, and themes of confidence or inspiration. So what games do you guys play whenever you’re feeling down? Share them in the comments below! Are they solitary affairs? Multiplayer experiences? Do you enjoy a game with a comfortable seat of predictability after mastery or a game that constantly changes in response to your decisions?