Games can take us out of ourselves—entertain us, give us an escape. But in the end they’re just games, right? It’s not like you hear people talking constantly about the stress-relieving health properties of playing video games. Only maybe, for some games, they should.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf was released one year ago this month for the Nintendo 2/3DS handheld and has been described by fans and reviewers alike as strangely therapeutic, with good reason. The gameplay is deceptively simple but does in fact contain several elements proven to reduce stress and improve mood. Here are a few!
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Listen to Calming Music
The use of listening to music, playing music, or using music to accompany guided imagery to relieve stress, reduce anger, and improve short-term mood is a standard part of Music Therapy, and it's something that
New Leaf allows its players to explore as well. The town’s happy, calming soundtrack changes based on the season, time of day, and even the weather. You can listen to some of the game’s amazingly peaceful soundtrack here; it’s great for background music for studying as well as for watering your in-game plants.
Laugh a Lot
A good laugh will reduce the level of stress hormones in one’s body, and
New Leaf will definitely give you a good laugh, even if it does so with a bad pun. Your town’s villagers all have one of eight personality types (don’t worry, they all have individual hobbies and preferences outside of their base personality), giving you a wide range of adorable, sweet, funny, and surprising interactions. The business owners and special event characters’ dialogue can often leave you chuckling—or groaning with a smile, in the case of Club LOL’s retired comedian, Dr. Shrunk.
“Mindfulness” in meditation is the concept of being aware of your current existence in the present. With true mindfulness, you are aware of your emotions, your thoughts, and your body, but you don’t let them weigh your mind down with worry — you simply accept them as they are, and let them go.
New Leaf’s slow pace is a perfect garden for cultivating mindfulness. It offers multiple peaceful settings with limited distractions: among them the museum’s aquarium, watching the Northern Lights in the winter sky, and chasing fireflies along the river banks in summer.
Release Anger in a Healthy Way
Sometimes you don’t want peaceful. Sometimes the only way to get rid of your stress or anger is to wreck something, to get it all out. Luckily
New Leaf has a great arena for you to get out those destructive feelings in a healthy way — the Dream Suites. While the Dream Suites are nominally used to visit “dream” versions of other player’s towns, they also have another key quality that makes them perfect for this unusual use: damage done in a dream town resets itself once you leave the dream, meaning that you can run around and pull up their flowers, cut down their trees, run their grass to dirt, and replace all their town art with angry scribbles without actually harming anyone.
It’s true you won’t actually get much exercise playing the game, but the Nintendo 2/3DS has continued the company’s habit of adding rewards for physical exercise. When put into sleep mode, the 2/3DS turns on a pedometer and a local connection signal, allowing you to earn Play Coins you can use to buy specialty items (like Link’s tunic or a Yoshi egg) in the in-game stores. You can also StreetPass other
New Leaf players, which is when a fellow fan lets you visit a “model home” version of their house and even order pieces of their furniture you like. Since exercise is a proven way to improve mood and release physical stress, there’s really no reason not to do it.
Expressing your sadness, anger, or frustration creatively is a key component to reducing helplessness, resentfulness, and other negative emotions. Art, music, dance, writing, and other creative activities are great options for venting in a productive way. In
New Leaf you can draw pixel art on your town’s flag, create posters or signs, design your own clothes, compose a town tune, perfect your interior decorating techniques with your house and those of your villagers, plant and breed beautiful flower gardens, write letters to all your villagers, and more.
Alana is a freelance writer, editor, and word nerd with a particular love for helping out beginner or small press writers and artists. You can learn more about her work at alanamancuso.com or by contacting her via Twitter @AlanaMancuso.
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