Brain Game – How video games help me think

Have you ever been working on something and been so stuck you can’t think your way out of the situation? Have you then tried to force yourself to come up with a solution? Has it worked for you or do you find yourself still stuck just more frustrated?

How about when dealing with something personal and internal, some long overdue and difficult introspection, have you ever found yourself growing more and more upset, close to the breaking point and nowhere near that sweet epiphany your hope is at the end?

What do you do in those cases? For me, when I’m in those situations, I turn to gaming. Here’s why.

I’m good at what I do for a living. Once upon a time I didn’t have the confidence to say that but with years of experience I can say it without it being a boast. I’m good at what I do and yet there are times when I’m so helplessly stuck that even bouncing ideas with colleagues and friends doesn’t help me in solving the situation. These are the times when I’ve tried everything I know, come up empty and somehow end in a cycle of retrying what I already know is futile.

It can be something as simple as figuring out how to implement a process in a bit of C# code, or figuring out the best set of policies and standards to make something work as smoothly as possible, though lately it’s all been about data, how to get it, how to process it, how to push it where it needs to go or how to shove it down people’s throats…that last one is just what I wish I could do.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is my primary game right now, and it’s been so useful!

Fortunately, I learned long ago that my mind often works wonders when not actively tasked with solving a problem. If I can find a way to distract myself, my subconscious will often do the work for me and I’ll have a veritable “Eureka!” moment where everything falls into place and I can just implement this miraculous solution.

The best way for me to do so is with gaming. Video games in particular though I’ve had success with board games as well. The reason is that games have multiple mechanics and challenges I often need to focus on, to the point where nothing else matter, nothing else in my mind is of importance, only the correct execution of whatever it is I’m doing in the video game. If the game has some form of action, from combat inputs to platforming, even better.

Good music can soothe the soul and make me think clearer.

As I immerse myself in the game, slowly the thoughts of work and my frustrations evaporate and soon my mind is set to the task of solving the problem as a “subprocess” of some sort. Often, within a matter of minutes, less than an hour, I’ll have the solution to the problem and can return to work to solve it and move on to the next issue, which hopefully won’t make me reach the same level of frustration.

Lately the game that’s been best for me to process things I need to work through is Xenoblade Chronicles 2. It has the perfect combination of busywork, storytelling and fast-paced action to instantly whisk me away from the world of mundane troubles and work frustrations to a magical land where I can enjoy myself and hopefully find resolution to the issue at hand without experiencing the thinking equivalent of bashing my head against a wall. The fact the game has some outstanding music only helps, as I often find myself lost in the melodies.

Quern is a game I played recently and it was the right experience at the right time!

Point & Click adventure games also do this for me, but in a different way. It’s all about the puzzles. Puzzles are all about applied logic, even if it’s moon-logic—the product of a game designer coming up with puzzle solution as he’s smoking peyote while having an ayahuasca trip—and somehow the process of solving these brainteasers makes it easier for my mind to solve the thing that’s causing me problems.

The more puzzle-focused the adventure game, the better it’ll be for me, so titles like Lake Ridden, Myst, Obduction or Quern will definitely do it, as there’s very little in the way of cutscenes or voice acting, even if there is some great storytelling. Mostly it’s just you, the environment and the endless supply of riddles. If there’s some great music, relaxing, then even better.

Lake Ridden
Between the exploration, the strange spectral characters and the logic puzzles, Lake Ridden was a great game to think with.

Strangely, mindless games—such as Diablo for example, where you just endlessly click on the screen to kill and collect—don’t do it for me, they don’t take me out of myself and my situation, so any title that falls in the mindless category Is out of the question.

But it’s not just in the professional sense or when I need to solve something creatively that I turn to games for inspiration—for lack of a more appropriate term—but also when dealing with personal things, when the introspection leads to such emotional and psychological tension that I begin down the path of a toxic misery spiral.

Lost Horizon
I have many an issue with Lost Horizon, but it was a fun adventuring romp for a troubled mind.

Recently I had two very intense weeks of anxiety and stress from one such process of inner conflict. I had things to work through, demons to vanquish, prejudices to let go to accept something about myself. It’s incredible how deeply ingrained some prejudices born from my environment and the society I lived in were, and how much they made me feel guilt and anxiety over my views, feelings and desires. It’s even stranger that I never held those prejudices towards others, only myself, only to my actions.

It wasn’t a fun time, and though I’m on the other end and stronger for it, happier too, there were days where I was despondent, where I couldn’t see past the stress and anger I felt, often at myself and the thoughts going through my mind. When things became desperate, when I couldn’t think through things anymore because I felt I would lose my mind if I kept going down the spiral, I turned to gaming once more, to bring a bit of joy to the cloud of gloom and doom that hung over me.

Lost Horizon 2
Lost Horizon 2 took the ludicrousness a step forward and yet played it straight, I was laughing at it way too much to worry about other issues.

And it definitely helped, though unlike the above cases, it’s the games with the deep storylines and emotional sequences that worked for me. In a way, I had to lose myself in other people’s stories, their drama and the resolution to find the courage to keep seeking my own inner peace and come to terms with whatever I was struggling with.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is once again the clear winner, giving me everything I need to put my mind and heart at ease and feel some genuine joy to push back the darker feelings I had at the time.

Secret Files Tunguska
Secret Files Tunguska took me to a version of our world where even in Ireland and Cuba everyone has a Midwestern American accent!

Having said so, point & clickers still had their place, but more because of the stories and fortunately for me, I had some oldies to go through, the Lost Horizon games and the first of the Secret Files series, games with silly plots and worse voice acting that take themselves extremely seriously, so that it ends up feeling like a cheesy 80s B movie, which anyone born in the 80s will tell you, it’s the way to go for losing yourself in a story.

I’ve been playing games for most of my life, finding joy in the experience and plenty of entertainment. But it’s good to know that no matter the situation, I can always count on a good video game to help me out, be it bringing a bit of joy to a cloudy day, help me relax after a long one or as I’ve mentioned now, to help me process and be creative when focusing on the problem is likely to drive me insane.

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I love everything readable, writeable, playable and of course, edible! I search for happiness, or Pizza, because it's pretty much the same thing! I write and ramble on The Mental Attic and broadcast on my Twitch channel, TheLawfulGeek

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