Mind games: Totem's top 10 serious games for mental health and well-being
In 2000, the Mental Health Foundation started ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’. The first issue focused on was ‘Stigma’. Since then there’s been Exercise, Sleep, Anxiety and many more. This year the focus is on Mindfulness; a mind – body approach to wellbeing.
Did you know one in four of us will suffer from a mental illness every year, yet despite its prevalence in society there's still a stigma attached to it. The games featured aim to help understand mental illness better. There are also games featured for individual wellbeing and how to look after it.
This isn't a representation of all people who suffer from depression. Devised to grow awareness of depression and empathy for sufferers. Depression Quest has a received a mixed reception. The game is played as a story; the player reads text then chooses a given action. Future choices become blocked off depending on previous choices made.
Photographs feature at the top of the text. As the depression worsens static creeps into the photos. This grabbed my attention. A recent study observed that sufferers from depression experience fuzzy thinking. The static seems to reflect that. I’ve heard there are four endings, I'm confident I can predict at least one of them. One play through proved emotionally taxing enough for me though.
Worth noting: there’s a warning to those who suffer from depression or anxiety NOT to play the game. Serious stuff!
Similar in focus to ‘Depression Quest’ with gameplay closer to Doodle Jump. Elude aims to show users the highs and lows a sufferer of depression experiences. The protagonist is a teenage/young adult male, statistically the highest risk demographics for suicide. The goal is to climb the trees and soar into the sky. Falling can result in a hole too big to climb out of. A simple metaphor for a complicated illness. There is a summary of your journey that's a befitting addition to the game. How many times did you experience ‘happiness’?
Incorporating new technology Nevermind is the first on the list to use biofeedback. The gameplay reacts to the player's stress levels. In a stressful situation players must calm their emotions to continue moving forward. Like all great Serious Games, the lesson learned can applied to real life scenarios, resulting in reduced stress and promoting emotional wellbeing.
This adventure horror isn't for the faint hearted. A captivating gameplay mixing harsh realities and magical fairytales. Anyone who enjoyed Alice Madness Returns is sure to appreciate the graphics and story of Nevermind!
This is a social online game. It's designed to build up core strengths – mental, physical, emotional and social wellbeing. Players set their ‘Epic Win’, their ultimate goal which becomes the focus. Smaller activities are also set and once completed equate to ‘power ups’ to use against ‘bad guys’ – emotional stressing events. It’s an interesting game proven to boost a player’s wellbeing and personal growth. I’m a new user to Super Better but so far I have found it encouraging and engaging.
Developed by neuroscientists, a huge team is involved in monitoring the effectiveness of Lumosity. The aim is to “improve core brain abilities—and empower users to live better, brighter lives”. The mini-games are fun and challenging. I’m playing on a limited access version but I’ve already increased my attention levels. This can be played online or on your phone.
This immersive game uses therapeutic techniques to teach children to manage their emotions. The goal is to turn on all the lights in the mansion, overcoming fears and saving Granny. The player wears a neurofeedback device which monitors specific brain waves - relaxation and focused attention. Nominated on Games For Change for the Most Significant Impact award this is one to watch. I'm eagerly awaiting the release of this game. Mindlight's graphics are gorgeously cute too!
Using your iPhone or iPod touch, this game monitors and incorporates your heart rate. There are four modes to choose from - Zen, Balance, Spicy and Master! The goal is to teach how coffee, a stressful day at work, even posture effects heart rate. This gives the player an insight into their own mind, body and general wellbeing. This is an upcoming area in the games industry, expect to see a lot more health games and apps like this soon!
Not a game in itself but there are minigames! Happify trains your brain to be healthier. Depending on personality and goals the route differs. Players can focus on all different kinds of tasks. Small positives or re-connecting with an old friend, the aim is to grow self-esteem and wellbeing. There is a Beta App or you can ‘play’ online, the choice is yours.
This game is specifically for people with anxiety but I think anyone can benefit from playing it if they are stressed and need to relax. Tailored to the players own breathing patterns, the player must concentrate their breathing into regular smaller breaths while collecting items to complete levels. Flowy is still in the experimental stages but the developers have done their research. This game is going to help a lot of people!
A language learning game! Learning a second language has been proven to increase brain size. The benefits of a second language are plentiful! Obviously there is the added bonus of not ordering a lemon when you actually meant a Citroen at the car hire in a Paris airport. But learning a second language has shown to increase memory abilities, cognitive skills and individuals are generally better mentally flexible. Mindsnacks are a great way to start learning a second language. Whatever language you choose there are minigames which teach you vocabulary in an exciting and competitive way – challenging your brain and keeping it active!
Now is the perfect time to start learning that second language. Next week's blog will be focused on the best games out there for learning a new language, all in time for your holidays!
There are a couple of games that are worth mentioning but didn’t make the list due to either not being released yet or no longer playable.
Not so much a game, but it uses gaming technology and deserves a mention. This is a virtual reality application which is due for launch alongside the consumer Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. It enables the user to be transported to a beautiful relaxing environment. Because the virtual reality headset has 360 degree visuals it is completely immersive – the user can escape to meditate in their chosen environment, even in their lunch break at work! At the moment voting is open so you can vote on locations, meditation options and more, or make suggestions of your own.
Soar – currently in development by E-Learning Studios, the player is a bird in a world of grey. The object is to bring back colour to the world. The game will work with a heart monitoring device and aims to relieve stress through immersive escapism and breathing exercises.
Neuroracer – I just stumbled onto this game. It’s basically a driving game where the player has to mulit-task, working on the players cognitive, memory and multi-tasking skills. Research was undertaken with a group of individuals of all ages and there were some really positive results. The full study can be read on Gazzaley. I have trawled the site for recent news but short of a rumour on a mobile version being released, I haven’t been able to find anything.
Mental Illness is a real issue. A bit cliché, but if you don’t have your health, what have you got? These games deal with a variety of areas of mental health. Whether it's for creating awareness and empathy for sufferers or stimulating the brain, helping work towards a better, happier version of yourself. Appreciate life and be Mindful!
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