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Can Video Games Be a Form of Meditation?



I used to think meditation was a religious thing. You cross your legs, sit on a mat and hum in front of a statue of your preferred god. My mum pushed me to try it for a long time, since I tend to be fairly high strung due to work, and she thought it would help me feel more balanced. I laughed it off for a while, but then Tim Ferriss (a man I greatly admire) recommended a meditation app called, Head Space. He discussed on his podcast how he and many other successful individuals use tools like it. I was curious.

There are so many different ways to meditate using the app. You can meditate to manage anxiety, sleep better, be more productive, deal with anger and improve self-esteem. Each focus area has around 10 episodes that you can listen to every day. It’s not meditation in the traditional sense, I just lay on my bed, put my headphones in and listen. Nothing happened at first, other than feeling sleepy, but over time they started having an effect. I began feeling more confident, more productive and less anxious.

So I’ve become interested in meditation in the last few months, and I’ve wondered, can games be a form of meditation? My first thought is to go to Proteus.

Proteus is the most surreal experience I’ve ever had while gaming. Much like meditation, there is no immediate purpose, there are no obvious visuals guides, like arrows or maps. As you arrive on the island there is nothing to interact with. All you can do is walk through the fields, listen to the relaxing melodies and chase small creatures, like frogs. As you wander you see a frog, you follow it, listening to it ribbit as it disappears, then out the corner of your eye you catch a glimpse of something else and head that way.

This is the exact process of meditation. It might seem alien at first, but you slowly relax, you take yourself back to older and happier memories, letting your mind wander from thought to thought carefree. The fact that the game is procedurally generated is also symbolic of meditation. Each time you meditate, the experience will differ slightly, each session slightly unique for different people.

Head Space uses mediation to help the mind deal with a variety of things, not just relaxation. There is a series on the app designed to help people cope with grief. In Rime, you’re a little boy who awakens on an island. The island is stunning and mysterious and you’re not quite sure why you’re there. Without even realizing it, the game takes you through the five stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and then acceptance. Rime is a metaphoric, curious and soft way of coming to terms with death. Both the boy you play as, and the player, only truly understand what they’re going through during the final stages of the game. Then the boy lets go, and we see his father grieving for a son that was lost at sea. It’s hauntingly sad, but at the same time it’s ok.

I would genuinely recommend playing Rime to anyone who has recently lost someone, and I would do it without telling them what the game is about. Meditation isn’t just about relaxation or becoming closer to god. It’s a mental journey which you take for a few minutes every day. It’s a process for dealing with mental and emotional issues in your life. Proteus is a surreal stroll down memory lane, Rime is a way of experiencing and then coming to terms with loss. I played Persona 5 last year, around the same time as a break up. The camaraderie I felt in that game was almost a substitute for the relationships lost in my real life.

Games aren’t just about killing and action. They can teach us things about our own lives, and provide us with an outlet to deal with our internal issues.

Feature Writer/ Reviewer for Goombastomp and founder of Quiet Stories For more info on upcoming books, podcasts, articles and video games follow me @OurQuietStories on Twitter. On a more personal note i'm a beard fanatic, calamari connoisseur and professional fat guy.