Games to relax you

Earlier this month, psychiatry researchers at Oxford University published a study showing that playing a computer game such as Tetris can help to reduce the flashbacks common in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The researchers theorised that “visuo-spatial cognitive tasks” — such as rotating and fitting together coloured blocks — reduce the “resources required [by the brain] to generate mental images” of trauma. Put simplistically, playing a game, like watching TV or reading, can take your mind off what’s bothering you.

It is no surprise that this research has not made huge headlines. It does not fit the still-prevailing media story that games encourage violence, or at least indolence. But Tetris isn’t the only game with the potential to soothe.

Take Obechi and Boomshine, two games from creator Danny Miller. Over a calming soundtrack, the player tries to catch dots, or set off cascades of colour across the screen. These games are relaxing in the same way as any other intricate, absorbing task such as knitting or tuning an engine.

Or try Cloud, an award-winning downloadable game in which the player guides clouds across the sky to solve puzzles. The creator, Jenova Chen, has also made Flower, a larger game with a similar aesthetic, for the PS3.

Then there are the quirky Japanese Eyezmaze Grow games, where the player chooses in what order to add different elements to a scene — maybe decorations to a Christmas tree or buildings to an island. Different orders give different results, and while there is a winning combination, there is no penalty for failure and no ticking clock.

Each of these games is free to play online. All are enriching, enjoyable, and the kind of game you could play with a five-year-old or suggest to a technophobic relative. I’m not saying they’ll cure PTSD, but they might just be more therapeutic than channel-surfing. –

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