The best games to play at Christmas

There’s something about Christmas which gets everyone nostalgic. That’s usually the same feeling we want from video games this time of year: a sense of comfort and good memories to make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

And let’s face it, gaming with a glass of mulled wine and a mince pie or two is far more entertaining than watching the Queen’s speech (sorry, Your Majesty). In case you’re not sure what to play during this holiday season, I asked some of my blogger-friends to tell us all about the titles they find themselves picking up at Christmas. Whether you’re looking for something that reminds you of your childhood, a game to take you away from it all or a good story to get wrapped up in, we’ve got something here for you.

Lorraine from Geeky Galaxy

Stellaris, video game, space, stars, planetStellaris is the game for me during the holiday season for a few reasons. I get far more time to play since I take as much time as possible off work. That means I can get in a full game without blinking an eye and a full game in Stellaris is not a short thing. BUT, I can also create a galactic empire modelled on Father Christmas and his elves. A corporate empire, with a leader with a white beard and a subservient second species as elves? See, you can make any Christmassy if you try hard enough!”

Charles from Comfortably Adventurous

Civilization VI, video game“The holiday season traditionally involves a long drive to see my family and the limitations of my laptop to satisfy my gaming needs. With no great predication for discovering new niche titles, the mainstay of my gaming habits in recent years has been an old favourite, Civilization VI. It’s an easy game to get lost in, that allure of ‘one more turn’ just pulling at you until you realise everyone else has left the room and your are a millennia into the history of your culture. Few games have held my attention as strongly as this classic.”

DanamesX from Tales from the Backlog

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, video game“The holidays have always been a great time to catch up on gaming. I have two weeks off from work, so this is the perfect time for me to finish up any long RPGs that I’ve started throughout the year. Last year, I wrapped up The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, and this year I am working on finishing the third game in the saga. This is the perfect time to get it done since the game makes you explore and talk to everyone in every area that you visit. It is not required to get through the game, but if you want to complete it, you can’t leave any area unchecked. So for me, there is always a good chance that I am playing a long RPG to finish it up before more games enter the backlog.”

MagiWasTaken from Indicator

“The best game to play during the holidays? Well, obviously, it’s got to be Headbangers in Holiday Hell. It’s an action-roguelike that my laptop can run and since runs can be somewhat short (due to my lack of skills), I can get as festive as I want as often as I want and quit at any time if I need to spend some quality time with my family. After all, I don’t get to visit my family all too often, especially nowadays, so I don’t play too many games these days. Happy Holidays! Sincerely, Magi!”

Nathan from Gaming Omnivore

Animal Crossing: New Horizons, video game“When I think of video games I associate with a particular time of year, one of the very first that spring to mind is Animal Crossing. One of my favorite parts of Animal Crossing games has been the changing of seasons along with the different scenery and activities to go with it, especially once the autumn season begins and makes way into Halloween and before you know it, we’re already approaching Toy Day and New Year’s Eve in the winter. Some of my most vivid holiday memories have been spent strolling through my village (or island) and taking in the seasonal sites with the neighbors. I still remember the New Year’s Eves that were spent with the GameCube hooked up to the living room tv as we’d visit the other village denizens and gather in the town square to count down to the new year at midnight. Of course, you could make it whatever season you’d like by simply adjusting the clock on your console, but time travel was never really my thing (I’m not a Doctor).”

Ellen from Ace Asunder

World of Warcraft, video game, Christmas, tree, star, snow“I haven’t been able to say this for five years, but oh my gawd, I will definitely be playing World of Warcraft this holiday season. During my eight pre-20015 years in WoW, it was a Christmas day tradition to drag my characters to either Ironforge or Orgrimmar (I shamelessly play both sides) and collect gifts left under the Winter Veil tree by Greatfather Winter (yep! Blizzard’s version of Christmas). These gifts were limited time toys for your characters that could be used to interact with other players for extra fun. I’m so excited to resume my addiction tradition this year!”

Gaming Diaries

Monopoly, Fallout, board game“For games that are perfect for the holiday period I always come back to games you can play together. Quite often this combines with ones that reflect a more traditional board game or even a quiz show. For example, the various Monopoly or Risk style games, but also games like Knowledge is Power or Scene It. These give you so many fun moments as families and are great for the reluctant gamers in the family to get involved with easily and the tidy up at the end is far quicker. Anything that means coming together and having fun is perfect for this period and with a little extra time available to play and the opportunity for a lot of laughs these can be perfect.”

Athena from AmbiGaming

Journey, video game, mountain, stranger, dessert, sky, star, sand, clouds“December, and particularly Christmas, is a hard time of year for me, so I often find myself reaching for familiar games, like those in the Dragon Age or Mass Effect series, although I have a yearly tradition of playing Metal Gear Solid 2 on New Year’s Eve, as well. However, this year I might change it up and pull out Journey, a quiet, contemplative game that offers surprisingly close relationships with other (real) people on their own separate, but ultimately familiar, journeys, before gaining the understanding needed to become a light for someone else as they begin their own trek across the sands.”

William from WCRobinson

Pokémon, Platinum, video game, winter, snow“My pick is Pokémon Platinum. To start with, Diamond / Pearl / Platinum are my favourite games in the series for a multitude of reasons, and very special to me personally. So, why am I picking Platinum here? Well, to explain: Platinum was the third game, arriving in 2009 and bringing several changes to the formula. One of which is a newly wintery tone, with a snowfall and brisk chill covering the region, as shown with the addition of a scarf to each player outfit! This iteration of Pokémon has such a comforting feel, with soothingly melodic music (just listen to Route 209!), a beautiful 2D sprite-based art style, and endearing characters; add that snowy aesthetic and numerous other additions, such as animated Pokémon sprites, new story content, and map changes, and you get a warm blanket of a game that you can sink into. I associate Platinum with a sense of relaxation that matches this time of year so well, and I hope you can enjoy it too!”

Luke from Hundstrasse

Assassin's Creed IV, Black Flag, video game, sea, water, ship, island, pirates“There’s something about that lost week between Christmas and New Year, when I’m full of mince pies and Terry’s Chocolate Orange that makes me crave an open-world game. I can’t say that there is one specifically that I associate with the festive period, but over the years I’ve tackled many open-world adventures during the holiday season: Black Flag, Sunset Overdrive, and Dying Light all spring to mind from recent years, but there have been many more. I think it’s just that once-a-year combo of not having to get up early in the morning and not having anything else that really needs doing to beckon in hours of ‘just-one-more-sidequest’ and ‘Ooohhhh… I only need X $/£/points to unlock that fancy costume’.”

Kim from Later Levels

The Elder Scrolls Online, video game, tankard, inn, drink, woman, barman“I usually find myself returning to The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) at Christmas. The main reason is because I first discovered it at this time of year so it seems fitting, but it’s also because it’s so simple to get into. You can do a couple of quests before putting down the controller, step away to open presents and have dinner with the family, then dive straight back into it without having to try too hard to remember where you left off. It’s also easy to unwrap your next Quality Street while working your way through a conversation tree.”

What will you be playing this Christmas? And what will you be keeping an eye out for in the Steam winter sale? Let us know in the comments below, if you can put down your controller and mince pie to spare a moment.

We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
(*Not guaranteed.)


Sharing the gift of gaming

What better gift to give to someone special than gaming? Whether it’s introducing a loved-one who’s never played before to the world of video games or helping a gamer-friend through a genre that’s new to them, we enjoy sharing our love for our hobby.

Last month, DanamesX from Tales from the Backlog launched the EXP Share: a monthly community event designed to encourage us all to share our experiences around a particular subject connected to video games. The topic for December is: ‘A story where you shared the gift of gaming with someone, or someone shared it with you.’ It’s a lovely subject for this time of year and a nostalgic one perfect for Christmas, so here are some of my favourite gaming memories.

1990: an Amiga 500 and The Secret of Monkey Island

genericI’m sure everybody already knows the story of how I originally got into gaming as a child. My dad’s Commodore 64 and the Usborne coding books made me curious about games with narratives more in depth than ‘save the princess’; and then an introduction to The Secret of Monkey Island after receiving an Amiga 500 kicked off a long-lasting love of the adventure genre and a crush on wannabe pirates. In fact, you can read all about those events it in my previous EXP Share post.

2013: the joy of video games

I first met the SpecialEffect team in 2013 after coming across their stand at the EGX event and have been volunteering for the charity since. They believe it’s everyone’s turn to play and experience the joy of video games. They put fun and inclusion back into the lives of people with physical disabilities by helping them to get involved, and use a range of technology such as modified controllers and eye-control software to find a way for individuals to play to the very best of their abilities.

2014: Cards Against Humanity

When Tim from Timlah’s Texts & Unity3D Tech and I realised we were both due to be in Birmingham at the same time, we immediately arranged to meet up for a drink in a pub at the NEC. It was still a bit of a surprise when he walked in dressed as Edward Elric and handed me a card saying something rude though – I had no idea what Cards Against Humanity was back then. We’ve been friends ever since, and my other-half and I have missed not being able to see him and his partner Jake this year.

2015: a PlayStation 4

Rezzed, video games, gaming, expo, EthanMy stepson’s reaction when he dived into his Christmas stocking and pulled out a box containing LittleBigPlanet 3 was a confused one: “I’ve always wanted to play this game, but it says it’s for PlayStation and we don’t have one.” It was at this point that I surprised Ethan and Pete with another box containing a PlayStation 4. We spent most of the holidays that year playing video games and letting the kid stream them on Twitch, so friends and family could stop by and say hello in chat.

2015: The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO)

The Elder Scrolls Online, video game, tankard, inn, drink, woman, barmanFriend-of-the-blog Phil kindly lent us a batch of titles including ESO so we were geared up and ready to play with our new PlayStation 4 – but then Pete came down with flu and passed out on the sofa for several days. That meant I was left to entertain myself in between fetching him tea and paracetamol, and it’s here that my on-off addiction. It’s a game I find myself returning to every few months and returning to Vvardenfell for some fishing has helped pass a few hours during the COVID-19 lockdown.

2016: Journey

Journey, video game, mountain, stranger, dessert, sky, star, sand, cloudsWe didn’t expect Ethan to be fascinated with Journey as soon as we handed the controller over to him. After climbing the snowy mountain and reaching the end, he said: “So I’m the star… and the next person playing right now will see me in the sky at the start of their game. That’s cool.” Getting the chance to show him that video games don’t always have to be about guns and explosions, and hearing him say that line inspired a post and went on to shape the content I wanted to write for Later Levels.

2018: the PlayStation VR

Ethan, Pete, Christmas, PlayStation VRAfter he fell in love with virtual reality (VR) at his first Rezzed expo in 2017, our families decided to club together to gift Ethan a PlayStation VR for Christmas. The look on his face as he unwrapped it was priceless and, unlike with the PlayStation 4 above, I had my camera ready this time. The headset now comes with us to family events so everyone can get involved and no doubt it will make an appearance again this Christmas – and my non-gaming sister-in-law can put us to shame with how great she is at VR Luge.

2020: game-swaps

When Luke from Hundstrasse and I had to cancel our plans to meet up at the London Gaming Market in March thanks to COVID-19, we decided to send each other the most bizarre PlayStation 2 games we could find. This is how I was introduced to Whiplash and the game-swap series started. Thanks to some lovely blogger-friends, I’ve played games and genres I’ve never experienced before: Metal Gear Solid 2, Final Fantasy XIII, Banjo Kazooie and most recently, VA11 Hall-A.

Thank you to DanamesX from Tales from the Backlog for another excellent topic this month. If you’re interested in joining in with December’s EXP Share, you have until the end of the month and can find all the details in this post.

We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
(*Not guaranteed.)


Five Game Challenge 2020: my picks

At the time of writing, 8,181 games have been released on Steam during 2020 so far. That’s an average of 27 new titles every day and an awful lot of choice. But which ones would you choose if you were made to pick only five to last you an entire year?

This is the question posed by Naithin from Time to Loot. The first part of the Five Game Challenge community event involves writing a blog post about your choices, and those who were brave enough could test their selection by playing only those titles during November and writing about their experience for part two. I opted out of the latter as I had a bunch of half-finished games I really needed to complete this month – but I’ve been looking forward to joining in with the former and thinking about what my picks would be.

It’s a similar question to one asked by Kayleigh from Strange Girl Gaming all the way back in April 2018: you can only play one video game for the rest of your life, so which one is it? I found this pretty tough to answer because there’s so much choice available to us, but I eventually managed to narrow it down to two titles. It will be interesting to see whether these make an appearance in my selection this time around and what the other choices will be.

Coloring Pixels

I first tried Coloring Pixels towards the end of last year after it popped up in my Steam suggestions and two things happened after that initial session. First, I was surprised to find a game without a story had held my attention for as long as it did (I completed ten levels without being the slightest bit bored or even realising I’d done so many). And second, it turned out to be a great way to wind down after work because an hour or so of colourful clicking proved to be wonderfully therapeutic.

With 25 DLC packs now available and providing even more pixelated images to colour in, I think this could be a great choice for the Five Game Challenge. It’s perfect for those evenings when you want to do something but don’t have the energy to play an intense game, and there’s no risk of frustration because you aren’t penalised for filling in a pixel with the wrong colour. You can just zone out, click away, and eventually your masterpiece will appear in front of you.

Horizon Zero Dawn

One of the two games I chose for Kayleigh’s question in 2018 was Horizon Zero Dawn and there are a few reasons why it made the cut. If you’re going to spend an entire lifetime with a single protagonist, you’d better make sure it’s one you get along with – it’s incredibly difficult to hate Aloy. She tells men that her ‘eyes are up here’, questions the right of the matriarchs to take power simply because they’ve had children, and pulls apart any traditions that don’t make sense. You go girl.

With the main storyline, side-quests, errands, hunting grounds, Tallnecks and DLC, there’s plenty here to keep you going for quite some time. And you can always go exploring for the best scenic spots to make use of the Photo Mode when you need a break from fighting mechanical beasts and saving the world. I recently started playing this game again after being reminded of how much I enjoyed it three years ago so let’s see how many photographs I come away with this time.

The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO)

I’ve had an on-off affair with ESO since first playing it at Christmas in 2015 and found myself returning to it during the COVID-19 lockdown. The absence of a steep learning curve makes it so easy to get back into and there’s always something new to see: a villager who’ll reveal some local gossip, a hunter chasing a fox, a clifftop with a beautiful view. All simple things and events that don’t have any direct impact on your journey but ones which add more depth to this online land.

There’s plenty of exploring and action to get stuck into, but it’s not all about fighting long-dead draugers and killing giant spiders. This is a great game for simply hanging out online with friends. Some of the most memorable moments for me have been the evenings where we’ve left the dungeons behind and done something completely different – such as viewing everyone’s mansions in an ESO-version of MTV Cribs or seeing how many other players we can convince to dance with us. Good times.

The Long Dark

I became a Kickstarter backer for The Long Dark over seven years ago in September 2013 but haven’t yet tried it. At first, I was waiting for it to come out of early-access as I prefer to play titles once they’ve been fully released; and after that happened in August 2017, I’ve been delaying until all episodes of the first season of the story mode have been published. But if I’ve got to pick just five games to last me an entire year, I think this could be a very good choice because it contains a lot of content and looks beautiful.

Entries in the survival genre don’t usually appeal to me but the supernatural edge to the plot here made me pay attention. After mysterious lights are seen in the sky, the world is plunged into darkness and all our technology is knocked out in an instant. I think I’d end up getting wrapped up in getting to the bottom of what’s going on – but there is also a survival mode and standalone challenges alongside the story episodes. In fact, I think I might get this one installed and give it a go over the winter.

The Witness

The Witness is a title which frustrated me immensely when I played it in 2016. It was hard to accept that I’d sunk so many hours into completing hundreds of puzzles – some of which I’d had to bash my head against for hours – for so little pay-off in terms of a story, when all along it felt as though a mysterious secret was going to be revealed at the end. I think I would have gotten so much more out of it if I’d gone into it treating it as a pure puzzle game rather than a narrative one.

But this is knowledge gained with hindsight and the reason why it would be a really good entry for my selection. It’s similar to Coloring Pixels above in a sense because it provides a mental break: after a long day at work when I don’t have the energy to save the world, I can spend the evening mulling over a challenge or two and forgetting about everything else. There are also plenty of locations to take lovely-looking screenshots so my library won’t be full of Horizon Zero Dawn photographs only.

There you have it: the titles I’d choose to spend a year with as part of the Five Game Challenge. Would any of them make your list too? Thank you to Naithin for hosting the event, and good luck to everyone participating in part two this month!

Eel-ing better: fishing in ESO

I’ve had an on-off addiction to The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) since first trying it during the Christmas holidays in 2015. I’ll go through periods where I’ll play it at every possible moment at the expense of other games, then I won’t touch it for several months.

The last time I properly played was at the start of this year during our streams for GameBlast20. Finding video games to play every evening for 50 days proved to be rather difficult but ESO was our saviour: not only was it easy to dip back into it with the absence of a steep learning curve, we were able to regularly hook up with a few friends who were playing at the same time. You’d often find me joining my other-half, Phil, and Tim and Jake from Timlah’s Texts & Unity3D Tech for a dungeon or two in the evenings.

It wasn’t all just fighting long-dead draugers and killing giant spiders though. Sometimes we’d leave the dungeons behind and do something completely different instead. For example, there was an entire session spent in what was essentially an ESO-version of MTV Cribs: after Tim and Jake showed us around their sprawling mansion and we’d transformed ourselves into monkeys using their Fan of the False-Face, they guided Pete on a tour through the various abodes available to players and then helped him decorate once he’d chosen a home.

After our 50-day challenge for GameBlast20 had been completed in February, we put down our controllers and that was it for ESO. Pete had achieved what he’d set out to do and had finally levelled up a character enough to become a Champion; and I was eager to return to my beloved adventure genre, having not played many point-and-clicks over the past two months because they weren’t particularly great for streaming. Although the game was left installed on our laptops, we signed out and didn’t go back to it.

That was until earlier this month. As I wrote at the end of July, lockdown gaming was turning my hobby into a task that felt more like work and it was starting to feel like something I did more to just pass the time than enjoy. Add to this the fact that most of the upcoming releases I’d been looking forward to had been delayed thanks to COVID-19 and there was nothing I was absolutely itching to play; I was just going through the motions, because what sort of video game blogger doesn’t play video games?

A couple of weeks ago, Athena from AmbiGaming published a great post with the title Old Friends and New Adventures: COVID-19 and Comfort Gaming which talked about nostalgia and the exposure effect. She said: “We take comfort in the familiar. Our brains process a familiar event and recognise it as something that it has survived, and therefore it is not something that poses a mortal danger to us, compared to this Unknown Thing that, despite appearances, might not be as satisfying / benign / good for us.”

The Elder Scrolls Online, video game, tankard, inn, drink, woman, barman

I think this explains why I found myself opening ESO once again at the start of August and downloading the latest patches. With uncertainty about my work and concern for my family slowly gnawing away at my sense of stability, I felt as though I was floating and waiting for something to come down (to quote Athena again). I wanted to do something to take my mind off everything happening around me and all these things I couldn’t control, and I needed that thing to be something which felt safe and familiar.

But instead of returning to my old character, I decided to create a new one so I could ease myself in with the early quests. Surely it was just a coincidence that this new Wood Elf rather resembled by old one and even had the same alliance and class! This time was going to be different though, I told myself. This time around I’d complete the areas I’d already covered in my previous playthroughs, then explore new islands with a view to sticking with it and perhaps finally completing all the missions.

However, I found myself still in the starting location of Vvardenfell several days later and not having done much outside of the first few main quests. I was far too busy running around the countryside with the important task of collecting butterflies and netches for fishing bait. If I’d jumped back into ESO yet again, I was going to do it properly – and that meant making sure I had enough suitable bait to be able to catch every single rare fish in each location and earn myself those achievements.

I have a long history with fishing in this game. I’d previously bagged the Morrowind Master Angler achievement during our 50-day challenge but failed to get the Grahtwood Angler title thanks to one lousy creature. I was struggling to get the Thrassian Eel and so, as you’re more likely to catch a rare fish when others join you, I enlisted the help of Phil. The only problem was that he ended up catching that flipping eel for himself every time we fished together while I walked away empty handed.

After a few weeks of hanging around the shores in ESO and wondering just how many insect parts one Wood Elf can carry, I think my time with the game may be drawing to a close once again. The situation right now may still be unsettling; redundancies loom at work although my position isn’t at risk for the time-being, the UK is officially in recession and the number of daily coronavirus cases is on the increase. But my brief break in Vvardenfell I feel a bit more able to deal with these things mentally now.

I’m also starting to feel that familiar itch of desire to play something again, to take on a new challenge and discover a new story. As Athena explained in her post: “…grabbing a new game, playing through it, and completing – or beating – it is a way for us to vanquish a fear of the unknown. After all, that’s exactly what we’ve done: willingly put ourselves into an unknown situation, and survived it, or, dare I say, even thrived in it, if we successfully made it to the end. And isn’t that a nice feeling?”

I recently downloaded Lighthouse: The Dark Being from GOG.com after hearing about it during the Ages Before Myst talk during Mysterium 2020 at the beginning of the month. I’m surprised I’ve never come across it before; this title was released in October 1996 as was Sierra Online’s response to the success of Myst and I think it might be just what I need right now. It has that comforting nostalgia I get from old adventure games, but it’s a whole new adventure I haven’t yet experienced.

I’m sure I’ll go back to ESO at some point in the future because I always do. And one day, I’m going to catch that damn eel.

Gamers’ Guide to Isolation: alone but together

Welcome back to the final part of the Gamers’ Guide to Isolation, a short series here at Later Levels put together to help you through the current time of social distancing. After three weeks being indoors, it’s important we continue to look out for each other.

On Monday we looked at releases to make you feel like you’re outside even though you’re indoors, ones which give you the chance to stretch your digital legs and take a long hike, gentle stroll or relaxing bike-ride. Then on Wednesday, we discussed games you can play even while you’re meant to be working from home – because let’s face it, we all need something to give us a few minutes’ break from looking at spreadsheets or listening in on conference calls that go on for far too long.

So what have we got lined up for the last day of the series? With the help of my awesome blogger-friends, we’ve put together a list of titles to make you feel as though you’re hanging out with friends even though we’ve all been told to stay at home. The isolation part of dealing with COVID-19 is perhaps the hardest part for a lot of people and there’s no need to go through it alone! If you fancy some company, grab one of the following games and let’s hang out.

Don’t Starve Together

Suggested by Dan from nowisgames.com

Don’t Starve Together is the multiplayer version of Klei Entertainment’s glorious and hugely irritating Don’t Starve. An unforgiving and incredibly rewarding experience of crafting, surviving, fighting off giant badgers while you harvest honey. The amount of content they’ve made available over the years is staggering. The game takes this joy a step further, allowing you to survive and gather resources with your friends. I’m not sure what the current player limit is, but it used to be six. There’s spelunking, mystery, danger and cries of ‘What the heck was that noise!?’ throughout.”

Insaniquarium Deluxe

Suggested by Quietschisto from RNG

“The objectively correct answer, of course, would be to go online and actually play with your friends! But I don’t have any friends like big multiplayer games, so we have to look for an alternative. Also, social gatherings are forbidden, for now, so let’s take a look at games I have played with friends – offline.

Insaniquarium Deluxe. Yes, it’s just a stupid little clicker game, but it’s a stupid little clicker game I hold dearly. At some point, both of my sisters played it (probably their only video game ever), and my brother-in-law (he was still one of my sisters’ boyfriend back then) played it too. The four of us would constantly race to unlock all the pets, grow our virtual fish tank (which was done in ‘real-time’ over a couple of weeks) and to find all the pets’ backstories.

“I also played all three Dark Souls games for the first time alongside two friends, who were veterans. So I would struggle throughout the games, while they’d be in NG++, and sometimes watch via the Steam broadcast to mock me or give me some hints. But let’s be honest here, they usually mocked me.”

Mass Effect

Suggested by Solarayo from Ace Asunder

“You’re never alone with friends by your side and video game characters can absolutely feel like real friends. If you’re looking for some fine virtual friends I can say Commander Shepard and Pathfinder Ryder know how to attract the coolest companion life forms! BioWare’s Mass Effect series is the absolute pinnacle of perfection when it comes to companion character creation. You will get to know all the characters like family throughout the expansive space story. The beloved Mass Effect buddies will always stay by your side no matter what horrible fate is befalling the galaxy, all while cracking sarcastic jokes and probably flirting with you. If that’s not true friendship, I don’t know what is.”

Mass Effect (again)

Suggested by The Gaming Diaries

“There are plenty of times that you can play games with your friends through online multiplayer, however you can also make friends with the characters in game. The characters can become your friends and make you feel a part of something bigger, or just part of a family that you didn’t know you needed to find. A series of games that have made me feel like is Mass Effect. Throughout the trilogy and Andromeda, you meet fascinating characters who become a part of your crew and so much more than just teammates. You have the characters like Liam who try to keep the spirits up, Garrus who is your buddy, Joker who is always there to make you laugh, Mordin who brings the science and the songs, Tali who is a bit of a dreamer and wise beyond her years and so many more. Each of them becomes a member of the Shepard / Ryder crew but they start becoming their friends and yours along the way. I formed such attachments to these characters, gained a bit of understanding to the ones I didn’t like as much, but I wouldn’t want to be without them. Sometimes you don’t need real world people to make you feel like you are together. Sometimes the characters on screen can make us feel like we are hanging out together as well.”

Miencraft

Suggested by Dale from UnCapt

“The simplicity of being able to leave a realm up for your group to join and leave as they want to is a perfect remedy for the loneliness. Working on projects or simply surviving with friends is fun enough, but within my group, things go south quickly and everyone becomes pranksters. With how open and freeing Minecraft is, you can truly express your personality in what you do. Talking to and playing games with your friends is one thing, but watching them play something as they want to and work on what they enjoy is a reward in itself!”

No More Room in Hell

Suggested by Luke from Hundstrasse

“Heck, I could have picked out one of many online games that my friends and I have played over the years, but I think the community-made No More Room in Hell takes the prize here, not only because it’s a game that (despite its bugs and flaws) we keep coming back to, but also because it’s a game that makes me really feel as though I’m hanging out with friends. To survive you really have to work together as a strong team which means constant chat, planning, inventory swapping, and keeping an eye on everyone in the group. This isn’t a run-and-gun loose collection of people all kind of doing their own thing, in NMRiH players need to plan, cover each other, co-ordinate ammo types, and oh so slowly pick their way through a bleak zombie apocalypse. It’s this constant communication mixed up with general chat in the quiet moments that shrink the miles between us all sat in our respective homes. “

The Elder Scrolls Online

Suggested by Kim from Later Levels

“I started playing The Elder Scrolls Online on my own back in December 2015 but it wasn’t long before I realised it was much more fun with friends. First, I persuaded my other-half to play and we could be found adventuring through the wilds together most evenings; then we began to play with Tim and Jake from Timlah’s Texts & Unity3D Tech. We ended up meeting up online with these guys and Phil every Tuesday during our GameBlast20 streams and it was great hanging out with them online each week.”

And that’s the final part of our Gamers’ Guide to Isolation done! Thank you so much to all my blogger-friends who took part and helped put this series together. Please do take care of yourselves and your loved-ones, and let’s keep the conversation going.

Self-care ideas from video games

Pushing forward with the main quest and levelling up, while getting distracted by side-missions and non-player characters (NPCs) along the way. Am I talking about an RPG or real-life here? Things can get hectic in both worlds and it’s important to take time out for yourself.

Self-care is any activity done to take care of your mental, emotional and physical health. Many people confuse it with being ‘selfish’ but it’s far from it; looking after ourselves in all aspects of our lives means we have more energy and spirit to give to others. It’s about making purposeful efforts and doing so can cut back on stress and worry. Video games can be a great source of inspiration when it comes self-care activities, and here are six ideas I’ve picked up.

The Elder Scrolls Online: read a book

video game, The Elder Scrolls Online, Argonian, female, lizard, woman, book, reading, libraryReading isn’t only a good way to expand your horizons and increase your understanding, it’s also a relaxing activity that allows you to stop for a moment and take some time out for yourself. Even the most serious adventures realise how important it is to take a break from hard questing every once in a while to leaf through a few pages of an ancient tome. If you’re not a ‘book’ kind of person, why not try a visual novel instead? Grab your book or laptop, a warm drink, and curl up for an hour to get lost in a good story.

Eastshade: be creative

Eastshade, video game, countryside, mountains, hot-air balloon, easel, canvas, paintingEastshade has to be the loveliest game I’ve experienced so far this year, perhaps ever. Playing it may be a form of self-care in itself but it also teaches players about the simple pleasure of making something. Be it cooking, sculpting, painting like the protagonist here or anything else creative, giving yourself such an outlet can provide the space needed to take a mental break as well as producing something that makes others think, feel or smile. My own creative channel is blogging and I’m thankful for the opportunities it has provided.

Proteus: go for a walk

Proteus, video game, countryside, seaside, trees, sky, grass, waterAs my stepson told me recently after returning from a visit to the local woods with my parents: “Walking through the forest really de-stresses me.” You never know what wildlife you’re going to come across as you enter the trees, and you’re never sure which creatures you’re going to see in the procedurally-generated Proteus. Being outside in the fresh-air and surrounded by nature has a way of calming your mind; there’s something meditative about focusing on the rhythm of your footsteps and the birdsong around you.

Kind Words: write it down

Kind Words, video game, bedroom, letter, writing, desk, bed, windowWhen I have too much going on in my head and in beginning to feel overwhelmed, I pick up my diary and write everything down in a list. It feels as though I can breathe again afterwards and focus on what’s important. Other people keep journals, others write poems, others send letters. Although the basis of Kind Words is sending those letters on to a stranger and possibly receiving words of encouragement or advice in return, that’s not always the important aspect: sometimes just getting it out and on paper can be enough.

Night in the Woods: hang out with your friends

Night in the Woods, video game, Mae, cat, Bea, crocodile, Gregg, fox, Angus, bear, living room, sofa, hanging outOne of the things I liked most about Night in the Woods was its depiction of friendship. It’s not always smooth-sailing and there are bumps in the road with any relationship; but good friends will always be there for you. Sometimes forgetting about what’s happening and just being silly together for an hour or two – squirting people with water at the shopping mall, eating bad pizza at the local diner or hanging out at a mate’s house for example – can be the best medicine in the world. A close friend can help with the following activity too.

Mass Effect: talk about it

Mass Effect, video game, conversation, FemShep, woman, Commander Shepard, Garrus, alienIf there’s something on your mind – like a powerful mechanical race trying to take over the universe, for example – one of the best things you can do is head down into the cargo bay and share it with your crew. They’ll be a source of valuable support and advice, and show that you don’t have to go through anything alone. Talking isn’t only a great self-care activity in times of trouble. It can also help you develop your character, as well as find out more about the thoughts and feelings of those individuals who have your back.

And that list brings us to our final self-care activity suggestion: play video games. Certain titles have been developed to help players manage stress and anxiety, but even playing other games can have beneficial effects. As Teri Mae from Sheikah Plate wrote: “[Playing a game] allows me to be in control of my entire situation. If I want to explore in that direction, I can. I get to control where I go, when I accomplish tasks, how long it’ll take, and how to approach an enemy. This, for someone who feels like their life is spiralling, is a positive experience and helps me feel a little more inner peace and calm.”

What self-care lessons have you picked up from video games, and which titles do you turn to when you need some time out?