The Best Games To Play During Mental Health Awareness Month

With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, this is a great time to dedicate focus to caring for and improving your mental wellbeing. It isn’t easy, especially when so much feels so uncertain with the economy, job security, a volatile world climate, and so many other unpleasant factors constantly at play. One of the most critical parts of caring for our mental health is engaging in self-care, whether that’s working out, taking time to rest, enjoying your favorite meal, or playing a video game. And when it comes to games, there are plenty out there that can be a great comfort or escape. So here are five games that I find myself going back to regularly, whether it’s to play myself or watch playthroughs by other streamers to live vicariously through them. 

Spiritfarer by Thunder Lotus Games

Step 1: Grow wheat. Step 2: Make flour. Step 3: Cry.

Spiritfarer is a beautiful, emotionally charged game that has been in a few of my lists so far. You play as Stella, a “Spiritfarer” who helps spirits transition to the afterlife by caring for them on your residential ship. The game focuses on exploration, crafting, and building relationships with the spirits you encounter. And boy, do you develop a lot of relationships.

Why It’s Great for Mental Health:

Spiritfarer emphasizes themes of empathy, acceptance, and closure. The calming gameplay and serene visuals create a soothing environment, while the narrative encourages players to reflect on life, loss, and relationships. The music is beautiful, and the entire collected experience provides a chance for reflection and emotional catharsis. It’s a perfect choice for those looking to find peace and emotional connection in their gaming experience. Just be prepared to cry.

Content Warning by Skog, Zorro, Wilnyl, Philip, and thePetHen

Content Warning
If this video of us getting eaten by a giant slug doesn’t go viral I will be SO upset.

The newest game on this list, Content Warning is a hysterically fun co-op game with friends with similar vibes to Lethal Company. You take on the role of up and coming social media influencers on a quest to catch a monster on camera and upload it to social media with the hope of going viral. Everyone needs to work together to make the video “engaging” enough to rake in views, and failure to get enough views within 3 days means you have to start over. 

Why It’s Great for Mental Health: 

One of the best things you can do for yourself is engage and cultivate your friendships. There are so many games out there where you can compete against your friends and those are great, but there’s nothing quite like those games that foster a sense of camaraderie and collaboration to get the job done. Every time I’ve played this one with friends has resulted in all of us devolving into fits of laughter at the ridiculous situations we find ourselves in. Sometimes laughing with friends is the best treatment for our weary brains, and Content Warning is a great way to get those laughs. 

Sun Haven by Pixel Sprout Studios

Sun Haven
Early in the game players will meet Elios, the benevolent dragon that guards over the people of Sun Haven.

Move over, Stardew Valley, because my favorite fantasy-driven RPG/farm management sim is here to shine. Sun Haven is a cozy farming simulation game set in the magical town of the same name, filled with diverse characters and enchanting environments. Sun Haven is protected by a benevolent dragon named Elios, and the town is full of unique folks with their own personalities and quirks, and of course, quests that only you can help them with. Players can farm, fish, mine, and build relationships with the inhabitants of Sun Haven, making it a deeply immersive and relaxing experience.

Why It’s Great for Mental Health:

Farming sims like Sun Haven offer a perfect escape from the stresses of daily life. The repetitive yet rewarding nature of the tasks can be incredibly soothing, providing a sense of accomplishment and control. I have spent countless hours mining ore for my various weapons and machine building projects, as well as wandering off into the mystical forests to find new materials and adventures. The whimsical setting and charming characters add to the game’s therapeutic qualities, making it a great choice for unwinding and reducing stress. Sun Haven remains my go-to for a quiet night of gaming and a focus on simple tasks.

Valheim by Iron Gate Studio

Nothing quite like fighting off a swarm of giant trolls to give your mental health a little boost.

Where Sun Haven is the cozy farming management sim of your dreams, Valheim is the wild, rebellious older brother. You awaken as a recently dead viking warrior in the land of Valheim, a mystical plane of existence where the deceased are taken to begin their afterlife anew. Players can explore the procedurally generated world, build settlements, farms, and fortresses, and sail across the seas to find new lands for exploring and pillaging for resources. Best of all, the game is even better with friends, with whom you can double your output of farming resources and increase your odds against the numerous foes that plague the landscape. 

Why It’s Great for Mental Health: 

Valheim combines the thrill of adventure with the calming aspects of exploration and creation. The freedom to build and shape your own world, coupled with the cooperative multiplayer mode, can foster a sense of community and collaboration. I’ve been running a server with a close friend of mine for about 2 years now, and even though we don’t play as regularly as we once did, it’s still a consistent comfort and source of happiness for both of us. No matter how long it’s been since our last time playing, it feels like no time has passed at all. Valheim is a great way to connect with friends and enjoy a shared, immersive experience that can boost your mood and provide a sense of achievement. I still love bragging to folks about how awesome our impenetrable mountain fortress is. 

Outer Wilds by Mobius Digital

It’s also been proven by science that music is super great for improving your mood. And Outer Wilds has plenty of that!

I’m sure by now most of you are sensing a theme with my lists. Besides the obvious, which is that everyone should play Outer Wilds at least once in their life, there are plenty of reasons as it relates to mental health why this game is worth playing. 

As always, it’s best to play this game knowing as little as possible, but the light synopsis is that it  is an exploration game where you as the player must unravel the mysteries of a small solar system stuck in a time loop. With a focus on discovery and curiosity, it’s up to you to discover the secrets of a long lost civilization and how it relates to your current predicament. 

Why It’s Great for Mental Health: 

The core of Outer Wilds is exploration and discovery, which encourages a mindful, reflective approach to the experience. The sense of discovery and the non-linear storytelling promote curiosity and problem-solving, offering a mentally stimulating yet relaxing experience. The game’s meditative pace and intriguing mysteries make it a perfect choice for those looking to escape into a thoughtfully crafted universe. While it may be frustrating at times, as any puzzle can be, the reward for curiosity and discovery make it well worth it. It is the type of game you can only truly play once, and it is the type of game you will miss so much when it’s over. Whether you find yourself a lover of all things puzzly and mystery, or whether Outer Wilds is your first foray into this genre of gaming, your experience is what you put into it, and is accessible to anyone and everyone with even the slightest spark of curiosity. 

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