Life is Strange, video game, box art, female, girl, Max, photograph, polaroid, doodles, scribbles

Comfort gaming: for when you need a digital hug

Life is Strange has been on my radar ever since it was revealed at the EGX event in September 2013. It was exactly the kind of game that would usually appeal to me: a graphic adventure with a heavy focus on narrative and choices that actually matter, with a female protagonist who has the ability to rewind time at any moment.

It’s taken me several years to pick up the title though. Its episodic nature convinced me to wait until the final part was published in October 2015 (something I tend to do with all games released in this way). Then gearing up for a move took over my time before house renovations were the priority. Work, family and the usual adult commitments – along with Horizon Zero Dawn – meant Life is Strange was put on the back-burner, although not forgotten.

That was until three things happened. James from QTX published a post which suggested the title should be added to the school curriculum. Second, James from Excalibur Games pointed out a connection when I posted an image of Aloy on Twitter using Horizon’s excellent photo mode. And finally, the adventure formed part of the freebies that come with the PlayStation Plus subscription in June 2017. How could I withhold any longer?

So far I’ve made it halfway through the second episode. I’ve not entirely warmed to Max as a character just yet but as pointed out to me by Chris from OverThinker Y: “I don’t think she’s supposed to be totally likeable, to be honest. She makes choices that aren’t always great, she screws up and says stuff from time to time… but then, don’t we all?” He has a good point; maybe the reason why Max grates on me is because I was a teenage girl once and I can remember all the angst, uncertainty and insecurity that went along with it. It could be a little too close to home, if you ignore all the time-travelling stuff.

But that’s part of the problem, you see. I last played Life is Strange over four weeks ago and have had no desire to go back to it since. It’s not because I’ve been too busy for video games lately or because I think it isn’t a good title; it just isn’t calling to me right now. I can’t face having to step back into Max’s world, deal with all that teenage anxiety, and make decisions that will have long-lasting effects on other people.

As mentioned in an editorial earlier this month, I have a lot going on at work at the moment. I have the pleasure of managing a small team of great people who make me laugh every day; but recent business decisions have left me demotivated and anxious that I can’t give my group the opportunities they deserve. If I’m feeling like that during the day, why would I want to put myself through a similar experience during my free time at night?

This feeling was summed up perfectly in a recent comment by Athena from AmbiGaming: “I hear you about not playing a game because it doesn’t fit with what you need at that moment in time. Recently I had a similar experience with Andromeda… I’m always up for Mass Effect games, but I kept avoiding it in favor of games that weren’t open-world. As it turns out, I had a lot of ‘stuff’ going on where I really had to micromanage a lot of things with very little help. Who wants to do that in a video game after a full day of real-life side-quests, really?”

Rather than continuing with Life is Strange, I’ve been playing through the Blackwell series – short pixelated adventures by Wadjet Eye Games. They’re kind of what I need at a moment; something familiar which allows me to be in control of the situation, as described in this post by Teri Mae from Sheikah Plate. Luke from Hundstrasse came up with a great term for this situation: “Comfort gaming is totally a thing… like comfort film watching, or rewatching TV series that you’ve seen a hundred times already.”

I’m sure I’ll go back to Life is Strange at some point in the future but right now, I need something which is going to give me a warm digital hug. That’s the great thing about video games: there’s something out there to suit everyone at every point in their life. They can give us the ability to step into another’s shoes and experience life from their point of view; but they can also let us escape from our own for a few hours, until we’re ready to face the world again.

31 thoughts on “Comfort gaming: for when you need a digital hug

  1. I resonate so much with the need of comfort gaming! I still have specific games I go to in specific moods that will help cheer me up / change my direction of thought. Having a big digital hug from a video game is heaven! ❤
    Re Life is Strange, I’m a little bias because I’ve generally loved the series since it came out. Currently anticipating Ep 2 of BtS. The game really starts to truely become itself in the later episodes, four I sat and cried for the entire episode. So, when you’re feeling it, don’t forget about it! 😋

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    1. Oh, I think I’ll definitely go back to it at some point – it’s too much of the type of game that would usually appeal for me to ignore it completely! But I think I’ll enjoy it more when I’m in the right frame of mind and I don’t want to do it a disservice, so I’ll put it shelf for a little while. 🙂

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      1. Definitely!! Playing certain games when you’re not in the mood can spoil them 😞
        Stick with your go too mood changer games! I’m really feeling some Lollipop Chainsaw recently – generally just to kill zombies at mass and laugh at the ridiculousness! 😊

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        1. I mentioned to The Dragon’s Tea Party below that there’s something about autumn which always makes me want to play Skyrim. I think I might go back to The Elder Scrolls Online… if I can get my other-half of Destiny 2 so I can get to the PS4!

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  2. You beat me to a Life is Strange post! I’ve been playing it recently too and it gets a LOT more angsty and dramatic in the future, I’m really close to the end and one of the episodes made me feel so uncomfortable but while I really wanted to know what happened next I also felt like I’d been drained emotionally so I had to take a step back and play something different. Stardew Valley is usually my go-to comfort game, each day is 20 minutes so it’s a nice little period of time to relax and it’s just so nice, it calms me down a lot and makes me feel all cosy.
    I know what you mean about Max as well, I find her kind of annoying, the things she says sometimes when you just randomly look at items are a bit sarcastic and “I’m too cool for this” but then like you said, I was like that once too so I suppose it’s accurate. Also I don’t like that sometimes, for the sake of continuing the plot, the game will not give you a choice in key moments and the way she handles it on autopilot is not what I would have done. Again though like you said, we all make mistakes and screw up from time to time.

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    1. Max kind of caught me off-guard… where Life is Strange is an narrative-driven title with a female protagonist, I wrongly assumed I’d love her from the start. Instead, she began to grate on me because I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to deal with all her angst.

      Sometimes a game is just a little too close to home, I guess! I’ll go back to it again at some point in the future but for the moment I just want to play something comforting. It’s weird: whenever it gets to autumn, I always want to return to Skyrim – I’m not sure why!

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  3. This is on my list of games to play, but if it’s as emotionally taxing as you say, I might stick with the game lineup I have now. I, too, was once a teenage girl and am not in any hurry to jump back into that life at the moment (haha)… I do want to play it, though!

    Until that point, I’m playing RiME, FF13, and hopefully Horizon: Zero Dawn before the end of the year, before I…. eep coming attractions but undertake a huge gaming project next year 😉

    Anyway, if you’re looking for a warm hug from a game, I suggest RiME! 😀

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    1. The teenage years… *shudders*

      I saw RiME at an expo earlier this year and it looked lovely! It’s been on my wishlist since its release but it’s another one I haven’t got around to playing yet… mainly because of Horizon. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Life is Strange is one of those games that really turned me into smaller indie games. I’m actually having a similar problem now with Life is Strange Before the Storm. I just can’t stick to playing it even if its only the first episode. But I really enjoyed the first game, even if it was emotionally taxing at times.

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    1. I’ve heard so many good things about it, and I’m sure I’ll really enjoy it once I get around to continuing with Life is Strange. I just need to be in the right frame of mind to attempt it!

      Looks like Before the Storm is getting positive reviews too… is it a case of ‘right game, wrong time’?

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  5. As someone who was bullied to the point of transferring high schools, Life is Strange was a tough game to *want* to play. I’m certainly glad I did, as I ended up loving it, but I completely understand not wanting to use a favorite method of escapism to relive something similar.

    I just finished up the first 3 Blackwell games around June and I’m really digging them as bite-sized adventure games. Syberia 1 & 2 also acted as perfect palate cleanser adventure titles that helped send my brain on a journey instead of playing something so true to life and relatable.

    Gaming comfort food is definitely a real thing. I always turn to WoW when I’m stressed out, depressed, and/or just need to pull away from reality for a while. It’s helped me cope with a divorce, the death of my father, and general depression.

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    1. Athena over at AmbiGaming published a collaborative post last month about how people use video games for coping. It’s a great read: https://ambigamingcorner.com/2017/08/02/low-batteries/

      When we’re going through difficult times, games give us an outlet for our emotions. Several years back I split from a very long-term relationship, had to move to a new town and was dealing with family-stuff in a short space of time; and gaming allowed me to hide from the world for a few hours when I needed a break. It also gave me a way to take out my anger – killing digital zombies is perfect for doing that.

      I just need to play the final Blackwell instalment and that’s the series done. I also need to do Syberia 2 some time – it’s one of those titles I’ve had in my library for a few years but haven’t actually played yet!

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      1. Doh! I read that last night and meant to include it, but when I went back through my bookmarks I must have forgotten to actually save it. Fuuuuuck. It was a great article, so thanks for the reminder. I’ll get it in there next time.

        I’m going through the Blackwell games myself, having just finished the 3rd in the series around mid-July. I just went through Syberia 1 & 2 around the same time and was taken aback by how good it was. I really love its nostalgic pre-rendered backdrops and memorable characters (reviewed both games here, actually). I’m going through Thimbleweed Park as we speak, which has a lot of Blackwell qualities it in.

        Thanks again!

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        1. I haven’t played Thimbleweed Park yet, although I watched a friend stream a bit of it when it was first released and it seemed pretty good. Another one that should be added to the list? 🙂

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          1. If you’re a fan of Ron Gilbert and his games (Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island 1 & 2), then definitely. It’s good so far. I remember hearing it derails at the end and it falls off a cliff, so we’ll see. I’m aiming to finish it up this weekend to get started on its review.

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            1. The Secret of Monkey Island was the first adventure game I played as a kid so yes, it rates pretty highly with me ha ha ha! I’ll look out for your review, I’ll be interested to read your opinion.

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  6. Lovely post!
    I think the idea of “comfort gaming” is so important! We play games to soothe our moods or to practice skills, and our moods and the skills we’re interested in sharpening change all the time depending on what’s happening in our lives. I always find that when I’m stressed I stick to only small, simple games – like Animal Crossing. But if life has been going smoothly and I feel really energetic I’ll tackle something like The Last of Us or Soma – I’ll enjoy pushing myself to play something emotional.

    Life is Strange definitely gives me some flashbacks to my own unpleasant teenage years, too. Sometimes I wonder if playing something like Life is Strange could help us process the emotional turmoil we still have from those years – kinda like exposure therapy. That’s the kinda stuff I’m trying to write about, but its tricky.

    Anyways, great post! Thanks for linking to other posts on the subject, too – gonna give them a look!

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    1. My work has been so busy over the past month and I’m finding I’m doing the same as you because of it: playing smaller games instead of those I need to sink hours into. I’ve been picking up a lot of little adventures like Blackwell – ones that can be completed in one or two sittings – and when I’m ready, I’m sure I’ll dive back into a huge RPG.

      It’s an interesting theory you put forward there, about video games acting as a kind of exposure therapy. I guess if we were once in an emotional situation where we felt we had no control, playing a title based on a similar subject where we’re able to be in control of our actions and decisions could help us to process it…

      I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with. You’ve got my follow. 🙂

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        1. I haven’t yet played the final game in the series (it’s next on the list) so I can’t say how the story ends, but if you’re looking for adventure games you can complete in a sitting or two then they’re ideal!

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