We all have tough days, tough weeks and even tough years. At our lowest points we need to find a way to get through the day and so we look at the hobby that normally just entertains us and we ask that hobby to also make us feel better about ourselves. There’s music, movies and even foods that make us happier, so I’m going to list the best games to brighten our moods and lift our spirits. When your world is starting to feel as dark as level 1-2 of Super Mario Brothers (budda budda budda……budda budda budda) load up one of these classics and you’ll feel better than an Italian plumber who just collected a shine.
1. Super Mario Galaxy (1+2)
Okay, it’s a way-obvious choice, but come on! It may seem like the brightness of the game and the yelps of joy are the main reasons to include this game, but really it’s about the gameplay and the soundtrack. Just watch (and listen) to the clip here and try to stay in a grumpy mood. Seriously, try it. Watch the clip and try to keep wearing your biggest frown. I’ll wait…
It’s impossible isn’t it? The sheer playful joy has cracked your bitter and apathetic exterior, and that’s just watching a clip. Once you play the game the genius of the level design will melt the ice around your heart. Go, explore Mario’s playground. He doesn’t even want thanked when you finish his game and go back to the real world. In fact he will thank you. “Thank you very much for to playing my game”. No, don’t thank us. Thank you Mario. Thank you.
A beautiful but bitter sweet experience, Ico may seem like a strange choice for a game to cheer you up. Like Mario, the level design is gorgeous and the game is enjoyable. It’s the enemies that are the real reason that playing this game is such a positive experience. Shadowy, moaning opponents, these creatures bubble up from the environment like smoky, snaking nightmares. Their lack of form and distinct shape makes them a cypher for the obstacles we face in everyday life, they manifest all our fears and our pains and in this game and you fight them off with a stick. Beyond that, you fight them to defend not only yourself, but someone who is helpless and defenceless. You are a young boy, terrified and physically weak, but you defend those that cannot defend themselves and you fight enemies who want you to give up or to run away. Nothing could be more heroic, no metaphor could be more appropriate. Don’t give up, because doing the right thing is almost always the same as doing the hard thing, but it’s also always worth it.
A game doesn’t have to include heroes, princesses and terrible foes to be uplifting. The simple joy of Minecraft will also raise the spirits of anyone who once sat and lost themselves in world’s made of lego, building blocks or drawings of magical kingdoms. Devoid of narrative, lacking in many of the basic elements of a game, Minecraft is a toy and a playground as much as a game. But Minecraft is also a means to express the imagination you have within you that’s been worn away by board meetings, reality TV and the Black Eyed Peas. The worlds you create are vast, they have an austere beauty and a life and it’s all shaped and moulded by you, the player. We all have a desire to create structure and order in our lives, and Minecraft lets us start small, with a whole new world.
4. Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect 2 is a gigantic space opera full of destroyed planets, aliens and immense laser-filled battles. It is also a game about talking, solving family problems, overcoming prejudice and learning to forgive. The majority of the missions throughout Mass Effct 2 revolve around meeting new crewmates and preparing them for what may be their last, suicidal but essential mission. To allow them to do so you fly around the galaxy helping them establish better relationships and tie off loose ends with their parents, siblings, mentors or their whole race. It’s like a gigantic space counselling session as you ask your alien crewmates questions like “when you’re mother said you were grown in a vat of di-phosphorous chemicals on Phobos, how did that make you FEEL?”. In the end, your squad mates who forgave their mothers, protected their sisters or tipped their babysitters were the ones who had the best chance of making it to the end of the game. I’m sure that provides a positive message. Perhaps it’s that you should leave each day as if you were about to go on a suicide mission to save the galaxy tomorrow. If not, at least you can have some freaky alien sex!
5. Dead Rising 2
Some days you feel like humanity is a sea of unthinking, unfeeling monsters who would happily rip your throat out if they thought it would help them get ahead. In the Dead Rising games, this is literally true. The shuffling monotony and soullessness of shopping malls which was echoed so artfully by Romero with the literal shuffling and literal soullessness of zombies is present in the Dead Rising games, but with the added bonus of funny hats and cross-dressing. Everyone daydreams about the joy of running amok in a mall and taking whatever we want, but going a stage further and dreaming of chopping up other people with a sword, meat cleaver or wolverine claws is something many of us would be ashamed to admit. Doing so in Dead Rising 2 is an enjoyably guilt-free experience. There’s also the underlying positivity of saving people and looking out for those close to you, but the real reason to play Dead Rising 2 is to take a little revenge on the world when it’s done you wrong.
Ok, it’s old and ok, it’s badly overdue an xbox live or PSN release and the new one looks rubbish, but Goldeneye remains the greatest James Bond game of all time. Some would argue it’s more than that and the greatest FPS, but it certainly nailed the spirit and tone of the best Bond movies, and it was certainly a better experience than the movie itself. When the world is tough, it’s nice to role play a little and whether you’re not good with the ladies, getting bullied at work or school or just struggling to sneak into a party filled with drug lords and oil barons, James Bond can fix it for you. The suave secret agent can get in to a facility, plant bombs, defeat a hat-throwing-man and get the girl before you’ve poured him a drink, and in Goldeneye you can to. Sure, you’ll have to do it with textures so blurry you’ll feel like you’re looking at the world through cataracts, but who cares when you’re jumping off a dam that’s been covered in paintballs and have big head mode enabled!
7. Rock Band
Music has always been a form of therapy for musicians and song writers as much as it has helped those that listen to the songs and sing them in the shower. Rock Band offers a way to experience that music in a more interactive way, to play along with and to the music and to even influence how it sounds. Whether your unions been on strike or your down on your luck, Rock Band has the power to make you feel better by banging on rubber pads, fingering a plastic nubbin or shouting into a microphone at the top of your lungs. It wasn’t easy for Tommy and Gina either, but they gave it a shot!
8. Desert Bus
Created by magicians and sceptics Penn and Teller, this game is a joke/experiment that is intended to be the most boring game ever made. The objective of the game is to drive a bus from Tucson, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada in real time at a maximum speed of 45mph. You drive for days. Not days in the game world, regular, real world days that have 24 hours in them. Nothing happens on the way. No crashes, no ramps, nothing. The bus drifts slowly to one side due to a bad wheel so you cannot simply leave it to play itself, you must steer constantly. This game has been played for charity, for a dare and for a joke but never for fun. If you are depressed you will get two things out of this game. Firstly, you will get a chance to think about your problems and come up with some solutions. Secondly, you will realise that you’re life isn’t so bad. This game is some guy’s real job!
9. Robot Unicorn Attack
Ok, so you may have read this list and you’re not in a place to play these games. Maybe you’re at work so there’s no consoles around or you’re poor so can’t afford to buy any (depressed AND poor? Damn!!!). Anyway, Robot Unicorn attack is perfect. It’s got a soundtrack by Erasure (and stop laughing its awesome) and a surreal sense of humour. Gameplay is classic Canabalt with an extra charge button. While we’re at it, let’s link to Canabalt and a few other games you can play right now. While the last one (Don’t Look Back) may start a little gloomy, it is beautiful and I believe might honestly help someone who is feeling bad right now.
10. World of Warcraft/Eve Online/anything with other people
Sure, playing games can make you feel a little better. Slashing zombies or collecting shines will brighten your day. If you really are low though, you need to talk to people. Go to your Corp in Eve or your Guild in WOW and say “hey guys, I’m having a shitty day/week/year and I think I’m depressed”. You WILL get support. When your friends know that you are sincere and you really are feeling low, they will offer that one thing that can make things better for you. They will have time for you. True friends, whether online or IRL will always be there when you need them. In the world today the media and our elders don’t understand that online friends are not something to be mocked, feared or dismissed. They are important and real connections we have in our lives and they will help you more than any game can. Let someone know how you feel, we gamers have to look out for each other.