4 Engaging Video Games to Play When You Need a Happiness Boost

Video games can get a bad rep when it comes to our wellbeing. We often see claims of “too much screen time” being bad for our health. But there is counter-evidence suggesting that gaming is actually good for your mental health and can even give you a happiness boost.

If you’re looking to lift your spirits, then picking up your favorite gaming console and trying out one of these games will boost your mood when you’re feeling low.

How Video Games Can Benefit Your Mental Health

Many of us are familiar with the buzz that playing video games gives us—the dopamine rush that makes us feel good when we complete a virtual challenge. Further to that, there is research evidence that suggests gaming can support our mental health.

According to a 2021 research paper from JMIR Publications, playing video games can help benefit your mental health as an inexpensive, readily accessible, and effective therapeutic resource. It can be especially helpful for those who may suffer from depression and anxiety.

The study continues to highlight the mental health benefits of playing video games, which include providing socialization, cognition, and emotion regulation.

For anyone looking to boost their mental health without leaving the house, then these four engaging video games might just be the answer.

1. Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Animal Crossing: New Horizons graced our shelves at a much-needed time during 2020, when its delightful and heartwarming gameplay was just the tonic we were after.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find another social simulation game that’s as charming and sociable as Animal Crossing. The cartoonish design of the Nintendo Switch-exclusive game adds to the delightful nature of it all, including the anthropomorphic animal characters who help and encourage you to build your dream island.

As a game that runs in real-time, Animal Crossing provides a truly calming pace of (virtual) life, where your day revolves around making friends, sourcing materials, and building and designing the perfect inhabitable island. There is little risk to your island life (aside from occasionally being stung by wasps!), and time pressure is extremely rare, making for relaxing gameplay.

Perfect for creative minds, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is also ideal for those craving a social boost. The non-playable characters are endearing enough to engage with, but if you want real in-game human socializing, then you can visit other real-life players’ islands and invite them to yours (a Nintendo Switch Online subscription is required).

If you struggle with sleep, then playing Animal Crossing at night can help calm and relax you. Nighttime activities include stargazing, catching night-only critters, engaging with the nocturnal Wisp character, or simply continuing to design your island while the other characters sleep. If you’re thinking of diving in, don’t miss out these essential Animal Crossing: New Horizons tips and tricks.

2. Stardew Valley

Another creative game that’s based around supporting a community, Stardew Valley has been popular since its single-person creator, “ConcernedApe”, released it in 2016.

Available on Nintendo Switch, desktop, Xbox, PS4, mobile, and now as a board game, Stardew Valley is an open-ended country-life RPG, designed in a charming pixelated 2D style. After becoming disillusioned with city life, you move to your late Grandfather’s old farm plot in Stardew Valley. Here, you build your farm, develop friendships with the locals, mine, fish, and generally take part in community life.

The game is compelling, thanks to a range of tasks, customizations, and storylines to follow, and the fulfillment you can gain as a player is sure to give you a mood boost. There’s nothing overwhelming about Stardew Valley—it’s a truly stress-free and calming game that also makes it so replayable.

Each character in the game has their own story arc—another charming feature of the premise—and you can choose to boycott or support the corporate JoJoMart that threatens the local businesses.

There are also multiplayer options so you can team up with a friend to complete tasks together, either locally via split-screen or by online remote play.

If you want to try the game for a lower price than is available on desktop or console, you can check out the mobile app version on Android or iOS.

3. LEGO® Harry Potter™ Collection

Let’s be honest, any LEGO game is going to make you chuckle, but if you’re a Harry Potter fan this is arguably one of the best LEGO video games around. Featuring the classic soundtrack from the movies, the LEGO® Harry Potter™ Collection is sure to boost your mood.

LEGO’s classic comedic take on a family favorite franchise provides gamers of practically every console and device with a fully captivating experience. LEGO Harry Potter™ provides a good dose of nostalgia (an emotion which, a 2013 paper from SAGE journals suggests, boosts optimism) and leaves nothing out for fans of the popular movies. You play through all seven Hogwarts school years, following the plot lines from the books and unlocking your favorite characters as you go.

Whether you’re a Harry Potter fan or not, it’s hard to deny the engaging qualities of LEGO Harry Potter™. There is also a multiplayer option, allowing gamers to share the joy of the game with other players. As with all LEGO games, this one is packed full of fun and humor, which is guaranteed to brighten your day.

If you’re looking for a low-stress, comedic, and endorphin-boosting game with a touch of nostalgic charm, then LEGO Harry Potter™ fits the bill. Plus, who doesn’t want to revisit Hogwarts again and again?

4. Just Dance

Dancing isn’t just good for your physical health, it also supports mental wellbeing. It’s a fun activity that releases dopamine (the “happy hormone”) which can help lift your mood. Learning dance moves can also boost your self-confidence whilst also providing other physical activity benefits, such as reduced stress, a healthier heart, and better sleep.

If you have the energy, Nintendo Switch’s Just Dance games are a surefire way to get your dopamine soaring and you smiling. Nintendo releases a new version of this game annually so that you can dance along to the top hits of the year. You can also expand any of the Just Dance games with a Nintendo Switch Online subscription to extend your reach of available songs. Alternatively, you can play Just Dance Now on your mobile if you don’t own a Switch.

There’s a wide variety of songs, dance routines, and difficulties designed to suit all ages and dancing abilities. Even if you’re the most uncoordinated gamer out there, you’re still going to get a laugh out of running around to the Ghostbusters theme song or trying to keep up with the faster-paced songs.

Each dance routine is led by an onscreen character, which can range from 80s-style humans to the more bizarre animal characters, such as the bejeweled Panda giving its all to the Paca Dance.

Whether you dance solo or shake it with friends, Just Dance is a fun game guaranteed to boost your mental health.

Playing Video Games Can Help Lift Your Mood

From dopamine boosts to providing a sense of completion, playing video games can lift your mood when you’re feeling down.

If you’re struggling to find some happiness, playing any of the above games might just be the tonic you need to boost your mental wellbeing.

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