Therapeutic and Mental Health-Related Games

Therapeutic Games

Games that are either built on evidence-based therapeutic principles or are the subject of promising research.

DEEP | Owen Harris, Niki Smit | Our Coverage

“DEEP is a meditative and psychoactive VR game that is controlled by breathing. Players don the Oculus Rift and the custom DEEP controller to explore a beautiful and mysterious undersea world. Allow the game to sweep you into its relaxing embrace as it teaches you yogic breathing techniques that can relieve stress, anxiety and mild depression. Take a DEEP breath and soar beneath the waves to meet ancient gods and strange lifeforms.”

Flowy | PlayLab London | Our Coverage

“Flowy is breathing made playful! Use Flowy to breathe calmly whenever you want, wherever you are. Flowy is a mobile game being used by thousands of people to manage their panic attacks and anxiety.”

Habitica | OCDevel | Our Coverage

“Habitica is a video game to help you improve real life habits. It “gamifies” your life by turning all your tasks (habits, dailies, and to-dos) into little monsters you have to conquer. The better you are at this, the more you progress in the game. If you slip up in life, your character starts backsliding in the game.”

MindLight | Gain Play

“MindLight is a video game aimed at children 8 – 12 years of age and is based on evidence-based principles of intervention with anxiety-disordered children and adults. ”

Nevermind | Flying Mollusk | Our Coverage

“Nevermind ushers you into dark and surreal worlds within the minds of trauma patients. When played with biofeedback technology (either via a standard webcam or supported heart rate sensor), Nevermind picks up on indications of fear – lashing out if you allow your feelings of anxiety to get the better of you.”

Peak | Brainbow, Ltd. | Our Coverage

“Peak is brain training redesigned for the mobile you. Challenge your cognitive skills and build healthy training habits with fun but stimulating games, goals and workouts.”

[Note: Several of Peak’s Advance Training modules have been developed in cooperation with research teams.]

ReachOut Orb | ReachOut Australia

“ReachOut Orb is an innovative and engaging ‘serious’ game designed for use in Year 9 and 10 classrooms – mapped to the Australian HPE and NSW PDHPE Curriculums and General Capabilities – to improve students’ understanding of key factors and skills that contribute to improved mental fitness and wellbeing.”

SuperBetter | SuperBetter, LLC

“SuperBetter increases resilience – the ability to stay strong, motivated and optimistic even in the face of difficult obstacles. Playing SuperBetter makes you more capable of getting through any tough situation—and more likely to achieve the goals that matter most to you.”

Tetris | Alexey Pajitnov, Vladimir Pokhilko

“Tetris® is the addictive puzzle game that started it all, embracing our universal desire to create order out of chaos.”

[Note: Tetris has been shown to lessen PTSD and flashbacks.]

Relaxing Games

Games we’ve discussed that are relaxing or meditative but don’t claim any specific therapeutic benefits.

Alto’s Adventure | Snowman | Our Coverage

“An endless snowboarding odyssey”

Koi | Oasis Games | Our Coverage

“KOI reflects a tranquil and mesmerizing experience as you embark on an introspective journey through the lens of a lone koi fish separated from its owner and is the last hope for purifying waters polluted by mankind. It’s up to you to turn the tide and guide the koi through eight artfully rendered stages that will take you into the murky as well as enchanting waters, deep below the surface.”

Viridi | Ice Water Games | Our Coverage

“Nurture a small pot of succulents that grow in real time. Viridi is a safe haven, a place you can return to for a moment of peace and quiet whenever you need it.”

Thematic Games

Games that explore themes of mental health or related issues, often to build empathy in the player. Many contain disturbing or potentially triggering content.

Actual Sunlight | Will O’Neill | Our Coverage

“Take a walk on the thin line between hope and despair in Actual Sunlight: A short interactive story about love, depression and the corporation.”
Issues explored: Depression – Suicide

Asphyxia | ebi-hime

“Samantha and Lillian are best friends. At least, they were, until everything fell apart. Now, Samantha has a day to repair their relationship – but is it already too late?”
Issues explored: Depression

The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne | Lemonsucker Games | Our Coverage

“The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne is an interactive story about a painfully introverted college student who needs to make oatmeal in the communal kitchen of her dorm.”
Issues explored: Social Anxiety

Bad Corgi | Ian Cheng | Our Coverage

“a little mindfulness app about learning to exercise those bad-feeling feelings.”
Issues explored: Anxiety

The Cat Lady | Harvester Games

“The Cat Lady follows Susan Ashworth, a lonely 40-year old on the verge of suicide. She has no family, no friends and no hope for a better future. One day she discovers that five strangers will come along and change everything…”
Issues explored: Depression – Suicide

Dear Esther | The Chinese Room

“As you step forwards, a voice begins to read fragments of a letter: “Dear Esther…” – and so begins a journey through one of the most original first-person games of recent years. Abandoning traditional gameplay for a pure story-driven experience, Dear Esther fuses its beautiful environments with a breathtaking soundtrack to tell a powerful story of love, loss, guilt and redemption.”
Issues explored: Grief – General Mental Health

Depression Quest | Zoe Quinn | Our Coverage

“Depression Quest is an interactive fiction game where you play as someone living with depression. You are given a series of everyday life events and have to attempt to manage your illness, relationships, job, and possible treatment.”
Issues explored: Depression

Dys4ia | Anna Anthropy

“A journal game about the six months of my life when I made the decision to begin hormone replacement therapy.”
Issues explored: Gender Dysphoria

Elude | Gambit Game Lab

“Life is a never-ending struggle, full of rising and falling moods. Elude mirrors this struggle against the rising tide of depression, and the search for a path to happiness.”
Issues explored: Depression

Everything you swallow will one day come up like a stone | Porpentine Charity Heartscape

“Suicide is a social problem. Suicide is a social failure. This game will live through social means only. This game will not be around forever because the people you fail will not be around forever. They are never coming back.”
Issues explored: Suicide – Harassment – Sexual Abuse

Fragments of Him | Sassybot | Our Coverage

“After the death of Will, those left behind learn to cope with the loss. This interactive narrative is played in detached first-person view, as if you were the subconscious mind guiding the characters. Fragments of Him is a drama dealing with real emotions that all of us will have to face someday.”
Issues explored: Grief

I Keep Having This Dream | Fireflame Games | Our Coverage

“In this innovative puzzle RPG, build a path of tiles to escape each successive cycle of your dreamscape. A cycle gets more dangerous the longer you stay, so plan your route carefully, and make the most of the challenges and opportunities you meet along the way.”
Issues explored: General Mental Health – Therapy

Life is Strange | Dontnod Entertainment | Our Coverage

“You are Max, a photography senior who saves her old friend Chloe by discovering she can rewind time. The pair soon find themselves exposed to the darker side of Arcadia Bay as they uncover the disturbing truth behind the sudden disappearance of a fellow student. Meanwhile, Max begins to have premonitions as she struggles to understand the implications of her power. She must quickly learn that changing the past can sometimes lead to a devastating future.”
Issues explored: Bullying – Harassment – Depression – Grief – Suicide

MIND: Path to Thalamus | Carlos Coronado, Dani Navarro, Luka Nieto

“Wrapped in a mind-bending tale, the gameplay of “MIND” focuses on changing the very weather in order to solve puzzles: the player will cycle between day and night, modify the levels of fog and rain and even travel in time between seasons, changing the environment to advance the gameplay-driven story —indeed, the mechanics are directly related to who the protagonist is, what has happened to him and everything he is doing: a man trapped in his own mind, he must use all the tools at his disposition to escape to reality.”
Issues explored: General Mental Health

Neverending Nightmares | Infinitap Games | Our Coverage

“Experience true psychological horror as you explore nightmares inspired by the creator’s struggles with depression and OCD. The defenseless protagonist must avoid monstrous manifestations of what haunts his subconscious in his quest to wake up into reality.”
Issues explored: Depression – OCD

Papa & Yo | Minority Media, Inc

“Quico’s best friend, Monster, is a huge beast with razor-sharp teeth, but that doesn’t scare Quico away from playing with him. That said, Monster does have a very dangerous problem: an addiction to poisonous frogs.”
Issues explored: Addiction – Abuse

Pry | Tender Claws

“A story revealed by opening a character’s eyes, pulling apart his memories and grasping his infinitely scrolling thoughts. Six years ago, James–a demolition expert–returned from the First Gulf War. Explore James’ mind as his vision fails and his past collides with his present. Pry delivers an iPad-based reading experience in the form of a book to watch and a film to touch.”
Issues explored: PTSD

Raik | Aitch Giles | Our Coverage

“A Scots fantasia about anxiety, featuring kelpies, lost keys, mysteriously-lit underground caverns, boring work, panic attacks and red hair.”
Issues explored: Anxiety – Panic Disorder

Say When | Kaitlin Tremblay

“Say When is a game that interrogates the ways we attempt to modify our bodies in an effort to make ourselves feel whole. The idea is to normalize the idea of “killer interfaces” i.e. things that may be external to us, by looking at how one can commodify and integrate interfaces as a manner of therapy and healing.”
Issues explored: Self-Harm, Body Dysmorphia

Seeking Ataraxia | Glass Rat Media

“Ataraxia | noun | 1. a state of freedom from emotional disturbance and anxiety; tranquility.”
Issues explored: OCD – Anxiety

Siren for Hire | Maddy Myers

“Siren For Hire is a free text-based game made in Twine that tells a story of magical girls living in a future Earth governed by a Dragon who doles out powered gemstones to the deserving. But who “deserves” super-powers? Meanwhile, hacker cults and protestors find their own ways to fight the gemstone supremacy … but no one seems to want to question the Dragon. The game’s protagonist, Lycaonia, must navigate the impossible balancing act of earning an ethical living as a heroine, protecting her friends, and above all, taking care of herself.”
Issues explored: Harassment – PTSD

Spec Ops: The Line | Yager Development, Darkside Game Studios

“A Third-Person modern military Shooter designed to challenge players’ morality by putting them in the middle of unspeakable situations.”
Issues explored: PTSD

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before | Kaitlin Tremblay

Elizabeth is falling apart and the only way to save her might be to take herself apart — literally.
Issues explored: Self-Harm – Eating Disorders

Sym | Atrax Games

“Sym is a puzzle-platformer that explores social anxiety disorder. Play as Josh, a teenage boy trying to reconcile a maze of two contrasting worlds that coexist within the blank spaces of each other – his perception of reality, and the world he created to avoid his fears.”
Issues explored: Social Anxiety

There Are Monsters Under Your Bed | Kaitlin Tremblay

“Trying to leave your bedroom isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially when you have to fight monsters (that may or may not be there) in order to even get up from your bed. Pick your weapon, and get ready to attack, defend, or run away — whatever it takes to survive.”
Issues explored: Depression

The Town of Light | Lka.it | Our Coverage

“12 March 1938, Renée, 16, was ripped out of her world, her only fault was that of not knowing her place in the world.”
Issues explored: PTSD – Abuse

Trauma | Krystian Majewski

“TRAUMA is a unique photographic experience by game designer Krystian Majewski. Dive into the mind of a traumatized young woman to learn and understand.”
Issues explored: Memory Impairment – Grief

Trigger | Patchwork Doll Games

“Wendy, a 30-something housewife, uncovers a mystery from her past that may undo her marriage—and her sanity. An interactive story with multiple endings that reveal different aspects of Wendy’s past.”
Issues explored: PTSD

The Walking Dead: Michonne | Telltale Games

“The Walking Dead: Michonne – A Telltale Miniseries stars the iconic, blade-wielding character made famous by Robert Kirkman’s best-selling comic books. The story explores the period in the comic book timeline where Michonne leaves Rick, their group, and her katana behind, in order to deal with emotional demons from her past.”
Issues explored: PTSD

Upcoming Games

Games we have looked at that fall into one of the above categories but haven’t yet been released.

Echoes | Thermo-Dynamic Games | Our Coverage

“Echoes is an episodic game which explores psychology and mental health, it ties exploration gameplay with puzzles and features two distinctive visual styles based on the core narrative themes. The Narrative follows a patient’s journey through counselling and overcoming their mental issues. The story, unique blend of visuals and challenging gameplay will come together to create an unforgettable experience.”
Issues explored: Therapy – General Mental Health

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice | Ninja Theory | Our Coverage

“Ninja Theory is defined by three things: ninja-class melee gameplay, strong character stories and a unique art vision. On Hellblade, we will double down on what we do best to give you a deeper character in a twisted world with brutal, uncompromising, combat.”
Issues explored: Psychosis – Anxiety – Depression

Please Knock on My Door | Levall Games | Our Coverage

“Please Knock on My Door is a game about depression, loneliness and phobia. You will get to walk in the shoes of a person suffering from these issues while trying to get through one in-game week in the main character’s life. You will be tasked with upholding your everyday routine, including tasks such as going to work, interacting with colleagues, preparing dinner and keeping a good sleep schedule.”
Issues explored: Depression – Phobias

Project: Evo | Akili

“The science behind our first platform, “Project: EVO™”, was developed at the University of California, San Francisco by Dr. Adam Gazzaley, Founding Director of the UCSF Neuroscience Imaging Center and Akili’s Chief Science Advisor. Dr. Gazzaley’s research has led to a patent-pending new software-based method to measure and improve a key system of executive function known as ‘interference processing.’ We’ve deployed these mechanics from the ground up in a consumer videogame engine that runs on mobile phones and tablets, and meets all requirements for rigorous clinical studies.”
Issues explored: Therapy

Other Games

Games we’ve discussed that may loosely touch on themes of mental health, or may simply have been a part of someone’s mental health journey.

Tabletop Games | Various | Our Coverage

LARP | Various | Our Coverage

Animal Crossing | Nintendo | Our Coverage

BioShock | Irrational Games | Our Coverage

Brigador | Stellar Jockeys | Our Coverage

Crashlands | Butterscotch Shenanigans | Our Coverage

Darkest Dungeon | Red Hook Studios | Our Coverage

Dark Souls | FromSoftware | Our Coverage

Desert Golfing | Captain Games | Our Coverage

Dragon Age | BioWare | Our Coverage

EarthBound | Ape Inc., HAL Laboratory | Our Coverage

Final Fantasy | Square Enix | Our Coverage

Firewatch | Campo Santo | Our Coverage

Gears of War | Epic Games | Our Coverage

HackyZack| Zack Bell Games | Our Coverage

Hearthstone | Blizzard Entertainment | Our Coverage

Inside | Playdead | Our Coverage

Journey | thatgamecompany | Our Coverage

Karambola | Holy Pangolin | Our Coverage

Kentucky Route Zero | Cardboard Computer | Our Coverage

Kill Box | Biome Collective | Our Coverage

Kingdom Hearts | Square Enix | Our Coverage

League of Legends | Riot Games | Our Coverage

Lieve Oma | Florian Veltman | Our Coverage

Minecraft | Mojang | Our Coverage

No Man’s Sky | Hello Games | Our Coverage

Persona | Atlus | Our Coverage

Pokemon Go | Niantic, Inc. | Our Coverage

Proteus | Twisted Tree Games | Our Coverage

Overwatch | Blizzard Entertainment | Our Coverage

The Shadows That Run Alongside Our Car | Lox Rain | Our Coverage

Stardew Valley | ConcernedApe | Our Coverage

Thumper | Drool | Our Coverage

Uncharted | Naughty Dog | Our Coverage

Unravel | Coldwood Interactive | Our Coverage

Until Dawn | Supermassive Games | Our Coverage

The Witness | Thekla Inc | Our Coverage

 


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