7 Games for Managing Distress and Regulating Emotions

If the question “How are you?” is enough to send you into a state of confusion and panic, you’re not alone. 2020 has been rough on a lot of us. For some, that means first-person shooters and fighting games may not be hitting the way they used to. Maybe you need something soft, with painterly graphics and a gentle soundtrack. Maybe you need a game that’s emotionally fortifying, rather than something action-packed. 

With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of games I’ve found helpful. Each one helps to regulate strong emotions and manage distress by providing soothing experiences, distracting you, or encouraging the development of emotional skills.

Viridi

1. Viridi – Nurture Something Small

Have you tried to be a plant parent but the thought of taking care of any living thing sounds exhausting and a little scary? Try Viridi, the game where you lovingly raise a potted plant from seedling to full-grown succulent. Love and patience are key here, as you leave the game window open with your growing plant inside for days at a time.

The game hits the right spots for invoking nurturing feelings, with its soothing soundtrack and muted green-tinged graphics. You can also add comforting cats into the game if you so choose, and pay to upgrade your plant if you want to take virtual plant care very seriously. 

mutazione garden

2. Mutazione – Learn Acceptance

Small town living, magical gardens and new friends all await you in the town of Mutazione. As you take care of your ailing grandpa, you also learn more about the people of the town, their unique brand of drama, and your place in the world. Prepare yourself for emotions ranging from despair to elation to calming acceptance as you care for someone you love while navigating a foreign town and getting to know strangers. 

When you need time to yourself, try spending moments tending to the gardens in the game. When you’re feeling lonely, catch up with the town gossip or call your mom on the payphone. You’re never really alone in Mutazione, and that can be a wonderful feeling.

kind words

3. Kind Words – Get Some Validation

Sometimes you just need to know someone out there is listening to you. You need to be seen, you need to be heard. You need some Kind Words, a game where you send and receive real letters from real strangers while listening to soothing lo-fi hip hop. 

There are real people on the other end of your messages, and there’s no telling what someone will confess when they can be anonymous. Kind Words is generally about boosting other people and gaining happiness from that act. You may start the game needing to get a few things off your chest, and end it helping someone else do the same.

Heaven's Vault Preview Interview

4. Heaven’s Vault – Distract Yourself With a Puzzle

If you’re feeling stuck, lost, and fuzzy-minded, Heaven’s Vault is the answer. Discover forgotten history in an ancient land, decode an ancient language, and just feel smart. Maybe you need a brain boost, or maybe you just need to get lost in a good story. Heaven’s Vault delivers on both fronts.

The graphics are lovely and the puzzles are just hard enough to stave off feelings of restlessness. It’s an engaging, interactive storytelling game that allows you to move through the tale at your own pace, making discoveries in ancient sites, and interacting with an interesting cast of characters. If you’re in need of intellectual stimulation, this game scratches that itch.  

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abzu

5. ABZU – Have a Relaxing Experience 

Anything can happen under the sea. Lucky for you, ABZU is a mostly relaxing journey with massive schools of fish. The fish will flit and flutter away from and around you like you’re really in the water with them. It’s an immersive experience.  

If you’re looking for excitement, dive a little deeper and you’ll find some danger in the form of forgotten ancient secrets and deadly predators. If you’re just looking for pretty visuals to allow yourself a moment of calm, stick to the shallow depths, pick up a controller and play this work of art.

Meadow

6. Meadow – Socialize in a Low-Stakes Setting

One of the most beautiful games on the list, Meadow allows you to form a band of animal companions and roam the forest. Enjoy virtual friendship and all the emotions that come with being one with nature. 

Meadow is a social game that you play by interacting only with emotes, sounds and signals. Use your animal avatar’s senses to track down other player’s animals and then agree to form a den together. It’s a unique experience that doesn’t have a lot of the pressure or trolling found in games where spoken or typed language is used.

Eastshade

7. Eastshade – Express Yourself

Try something light and airy in Eastshade, a game where you are a painter capturing the natural world on your canvas. It’s like Skyrim, if you were an artist instead of a Dragonborn. This open-world, single-player game involves a lot of pleasant crafting and quest-solving to distract your busy mind. 

Your paintings have an impact on the people and world around you, and you must cast around for Inspiration before you can paint, but those are truly your biggest problems in this game. Eastshade is about beauty and enjoying one’s talents, and it’s ultimately a joy to play.

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