Videogames can do so much more than entertain — they can open players’ minds to new ideas, establish new positive habits, and even help us heal. Recent studies have shown that games can also bolster brain power. Scientists have found that a specialized racing game can revitalize an 80-year-old’s brain to act like its 20 years old, and that strategy game StarCraft can boost mental flexibility.
Want more resilience-building, life-lengthening games after watching Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk? In addition to McGonigal’s own SuperBetter, here’s four games to put a smile on your face and help you push your personal limits further than you imagined.
What games have helped you become happier or healthier? Share your game suggestions, stories, and thoughts in the comments!
Developer: Kanoti | Platforms: iOS, Android
Has anyone ever told you that you don’t focus enough on the good things in life? Uplifted is the antidote. Through tasking players with restoring happiness to the fictional land of the Happ, it also encourages them to reflect on what brightens their own world. After players navigate the platforms in each level, Uplifted asks the player three questions about happiness (i.e., “Who is the most important person in your life?” or “What made you smile today?”) and stores these answers for later recall. Uplifted highlights the positive aspects of players’ lives and rewards them for each challenge they overcome.
Developer: Preloaded | Platforms: iOS, Android, online (web)
Overcome your fears and anxieties in this fast-paced, point-and-click fighting game that teaches problem-solving strategies. The in-game mentor, the Wise-Guy, trains players in techniques for battling the waves of enemies, which represent different kinds of problems, on Mount Wrong. For example, when facing a pack of Fearlines, the Wise-Guy suggests the player take out the pack leader first and then attack its underlines next. Players can then take this problem-solving approach—handling the biggest problems first—into the real world and be better equipped to deal with issues they might otherwise find overwhelming and paralyzing.
Developer: thatgamecompany | Platforms: PlayStation 3
As McGonigal showed in her TED Talk, small, spontaneous, positive interactions—even with strangers—can greatly boost our happiness and appreciation for others. No game captures this quite like Journey, an adventure game that is best enjoyed as an online, two-player experience. Many online games focus on allowing players to customize nearly every aspect of their avatars’ appearance, attach a plethora of information to them in profiles, and then communicate through these avatars in in-game text or voice chat. Journey takes another tack—avatars look identical at the game’s start and the only method of communication is a single musical call. With similar appearances and limited methods of communication, players have had incredibly meaningful interactions with each other in Journey, whether it was sharing a secret location, guiding another lost traveler, or simply toughing out the game’s trials together. By the game’s end, many players said they felt a very close bond with their anonymous travel companion.
Developer: Six to Start | Platforms: iOS, Android
We all know exercise is good for us but sometimes we need a little extra encouragement. Zombies, Run! does just that, challenging players to outrun zombie hoards as they exercise while tracking their pace via their device’s GPS or accelerometer. The game’s missions alternate between the player’s own music, and short radio broadcasts from Abel Township, which guide the player through several missions as they embark on runs to help society survive post-zombie outbreak.
Zombies, Run! blends the relentless encouragement and can-do positivity of a personal trainer with the terrifying, adrenaline-fueled chase scenes from a gritty zombie horror movie. The exciting missions, endorphins from exercising, and using collected items to fortify Abel Township’s base help keep motivation to play — and run — more strong.