How I Learned To Quit Video Games Hurting My Mental Health

Latonya Pennington4 minute read

According to the American Psychological Association, an anxiety disorder involves people who constantly have intrusive thoughts and may avoid certain situations. They may also be affected physically through sweating, increased heart rate, trembling, or dizziness. While it is true that playing video games can help you manage your mental health sometimes playing the wrong type of video game can worsen it.

In late February, for my birthday this year, I bought myself Stella Glow, a Nintendo 3DS strategy RPG from 2016 by Imagepooch. I had bought it because the premise interested me and I wanted to try a strategy RPG for the first time. I’d played plenty of turn-based and action JRPGs in the past and had been hoping for a similar experience with Stella Glow.

Given that I had played through, and enjoyed a demo of Stella Glow before I purchased the game, I had assumed that I would enjoy playing the rest of the game as well. Despite never having played a strategy RPG, this game showed potential in its interesting storyline, fun characters, and epic OST. These were features that I enjoyed in other JRPGs such as Chrono Trigger and The World Ends With You. 

To my unpleasant surprise, my anxiety spiked in chapter 2. I had spent two hours slowly moving my character units across narrow terrain in order to rescue and attempt to recruit another character, a cute wind witch named Popo. Since I was used to the fast pace of turn-based and action RPGs, the slow pace of this mission made me very frustrated. When enemy reinforcements showed up, causing the mission to take even longer to complete, I cursed at my 3DS.

One symptom of anxiety for me is anger, which can make me irritable during part of the day if I am sleep-deprived. Normally, playing video games would’ve alleviated my anxiety if I had been playing a game genre that I had been used to and enjoyed. As such, I would find my anxiety spiking in every chapter of Stella Glow from chapter 2 onwards. At one point, I got so frustrated at the game that I unintentionally snapped at my mom.

After two more months of mostly grueling gameplay, I finally decided to quit the game as a result of the following factors.

Learning It’s Okay To Quit Games

A major reason that I kept playing the game for so long is that I felt obligated to complete it. Not only did I buy the game at full price for $20, but I had already poured more than 30 hours of playtime into it. I felt that if I didn’t keep playing, then the time and money spent would be wasted.

However, I realized that it was okay to quit the game after reading Swapna Krishna’s essay on quitting a game that she had gotten bored of. After that, I realized that I wouldn’t face any consequences unless I gave myself a hard time or cared too much about others’ opinions. The worst thing I would receive is disappointment in the game before moving on to a better game for me.

Checking In With My Mental Health

By the time I finally decided to quit, my anxiety had spiked enough to make me too prickly to be around when I was playing the game. On top of that, my anxiety also affected me as a neurodivergent person, causing me to hyperfixate on the game before bed. In turn, it was harder to fall and stay asleep.

Overall, I didn’t like how my anxiety made me feel and how my anxiety made me treat other people. And so, I ended up quitting the game in order to preserve my mental health and make amends to my mother.

Playing relaxing video games

By quitting a stressful game like Stella Glow, I was able to make time to play video games that were more relaxing. I decided to start a new game in Pokemon Omega Ruby, giving myself a fresh start since I had trouble beating the game during my first play-through at an earlier time. It was also a way to give myself something to look forward to since I never felt that pressure to rush through the game and didn’t feel stressed out during Pokemon battles or contests.

If you don’t know what kind of relaxing games you may like, there are quite a few games out there that aim to relax you as you play. One such game I could recommend is the endless runner mobile game Alto’s Odyssey, which has a “Zen mode” allowing you to sandboard through beautiful landscapes and listen to atmospheric music without worrying about crashing or falling.

At the end of the day, video games should be a fun experience, not an anxiety inducing one. Video games are a form of entertainment that should make you feel comfortable. If a game isn’t doing that, then you shouldn’t feel obligated to push through or feel guilty for moving on.  With these tips, you can learn to monitor your gaming experience and keep having a good time.

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Latonya Pennington (they/them) is a Black Asian neurodivergent freelance pop culture critic. Their gaming-related writing can also be found on Fanbyte, Into The Spine, and Unwinnable.

See all articles by Latonya

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