Turn On And Tune Out / by Jefferson Geiger

This past week has been a struggle for millions of Americans, myself included. Depression and anxiety have rooted themselves in people's minds dragging them down a spiral of despair. It's difficult to be optimistic when the future looks so bleak.

That's why self-care is important. Wanting to improve our mental well-being isn't selfish. It is okay to unplug from stimuli that cause pain. Even though my job as a journalist is to be wired into the news cycle as much as possible, I shut it off occasionally too. We can only stare into the abyss for so long.

Video games, like many forms of entertainment, can be a crucial aspect of self-care. I'm not saying you should resign yourself to constant play, however. Everything in moderation.

For me, I’ve been playing the recently released "Titanfall 2." I got it for myself as a gift for covering Tuesday's election, but it turned into something more than that after the official results came in. The following games may be of use to you:

"Gone Home"—The reason I'm making this list is because Fullbright made their story game "Gone Home" free this past weekend. You play as a student returning to her family's new home after studying abroad the past year and you piece together events you missed. The game's central themes are hope and love and the developers wanted to have as many people play it as possible. If people paid for the game the money was automatically donated to the LGBTQ nonprofit Lambda Legal, raising just under $15,000 in two days.

"Proteus"—Imagine the hit game "Minecraft" but without the fort building and monster fighting and you've got "Proteus." You explore an idyllic island with pixel pastel foliage that has a unique, procedurally generated soundtrack. Without objectives or a means to score points, the game proves that doing nothing at all can sometimes be the best thing to do. 

"Journey"—Easily one of my favorite games of all time, Thatgamecompany's third release tells the tale of a robed figure trekking across a desert towards a mountain. If the console is connected to the internet, a random stranger may appear for a unique cooperative experience where the pair can only communicate with basic pings. Colorado's own Austin Wintory was nominated for a Grammy Award for the game's moving orchestral soundtrack. The roughly four-hour experience will be unlike any other game you'll play.

"Monument Valley"—This M.C. Escher-like puzzle game was made famous by fictional president Frank Underwood playing it in the third season of Netflix's "House of Cards." Impossible staircases rotate to solve puzzles that aren't so difficult you need a math degree nor too easy to be boring. A video game journalist becoming a speechwriter is unlikely but it is likely that the beautiful labyrinth will be a much-needed distraction.

"Broken Age"—Humorous writing, a stellar cast that includes Jack Black and Elijah Wood, and a hand painted landscape create a wonderful coming-of-age story that harkens back to the point-and-click adventure titles of yore. Protagonists Vella and Shay want to make the world better, though their societies have other plans in mind. It's a fitting moral for current events.

"Mountain"—Remember the pet rock fad? Now it has gone digital. Dubbed a "relax 'em up," (instead of the more common "shoot 'em up" genre) David O'Reilly's game is a mountain simulation. There's little more to do than watch a hunk of earth rotate peacefully in space as the cycle of nature progresses. Calming phrases such as "I'm deeply connected with this brilliant morning," randomly appear and each keystroke produces a note from a piano.

"Prune"—A bonsai tree slowly grows and you are its caretaker. Each swipe of the finger reshapes the plant so that it avoids obstacles while crafting a work of art. The meditative soundtrack feels like it belongs in a Zen temple. "Cultivate what matters. Cut away the rest," says the game's tagline. Those are good words to put into practice.

A nostalgic game—Just like eating comfort food in times of a stress, returning to a favorite game of your past is almost always a good idea. It takes you back to simpler times and you can zone out freely without worrying about missing details. Wander around the mountains of "Skyrim" or the city of "Grand Theft Auto." Mash buttons in a role-playing game like "Pokemon" or "Final Fantasy." Mash buttons in an action game like "God of War" or "Dynasty Warriors." Mashing buttons is cathartic.

Whatever game you play, realize that needing escapism is nothing to be ashamed of. Do what you can to be happy. Take care of yourself.

This column was originally published in the November 16, 2016 edition of the Valley Courier.