Chicken soup: When video games are like comfort food
Video games are many things. Challenging, fun, mind-blowing, frustrating, disappointing... But they can also be comforting. Whether it's the rosy glow of nostalgia or the escapism that only pixels can provide, almost everyone has at least one game that they turn to for a bit of time out.
Digital blankies for the soul
Writers at USgamer seem to focus on nostalgia for their comfort games (although their assertion that World of Warcraft was released in 1984 might be taking things a little too far). Over at The Guardian, they lean heavily toward the bright and generally-wholesome world of Nintendo for a pick-me-up. And YouTuber Pushing Up Roses says that The Sims 4 is her game of choice when she needs some perspective on life; a session of micro-managing bathroom visits leaves her feeling pretty chill with the world.
A comfort of my own
Until my recent bout of chronic illness. I would have agreed with most of the suggestions above for comfort games. But then, after a bleary-eyed session of Animal Crossing where I accidentally sold all my tools and then had to face the wrath of Resetti when I ragequit, I realized I needed something a little more low-key than tree shaking and fishing.
So what's my comfort game? I was surprised to find that it's Heroes of Might and Magic (HOMM).
... HOMM? Seriously?
Yeah, I know, right? HOMM is a turn-based strategy fantasy game. Knights, devils, orcs, dragons, angels, you name it. If it's cliche fantasy, HOMM's all over it. It's pretty standard stuff - build your army, smite your foes, get your grubby mits on every item, build a pile of gold before the AI does.
HOMM has a diverse range of campaigns and maps to play, but 90% of the time you can use one single strategy to win (kill everything that moves, capture everything that doesn't). I'm also not very good at the game. I'm an innate explorer and will often go wandering around the map checking out all the nooks and crannies (especially if there's water, I do love me some sailing) and get back to the actual story months later in game time, only to find that even the most innocuous neutral army now overpowers me and I am doomed to fail.
Why is this comforting?
I'm not really sure why I find Heroes of Might and Magic VI the digital equivalent of a doona and a cup of tea. But there's some thoughts:
I've been playing HOMM since the third edition, way back in the late 90s. It brings back memories of a time when I could sit and play games all day without feeling guilty.
These games are beautiful to both the eye and the ear, and they always have been. The soundtracks are stunning (I own most of them just for the joy of listening) and the graphics have always been lovingly representative of the HOMM world, even if they're not revolutionary. Together, the sound and visuals combine to make an engaging world even when the story falls into shambles and you keep running out of sulfur.
I love the utter repercussion-free nature of HOMM when I'm feeling under the weather. The game allows you to save at any point in your turn and automatically saves at the beginning of your last ten turns. Made a tactical error? Load a save! Your hero died a terrible, terrible death? Load a save! It's so easy to play when every decision you make has an undo option.
Engagement (or lack thereof)
I can play as absorbed or as distracted as I want. If I'm finally over the soundtrack, I can whack on a podcast and listen to that while I'm campaiging. Or I can get bored and go have a nap mid-battle. Both of these options are pretty disasterous when playing something like Minecraft, I have learned.
The combination of pretty, easy-to-play, and guilt-free combine into a vortex of relaxation and distraction that can get me through almost any unpleasant day. But HOMM 6 is itself not a very good game. But maybe that's part of the equation too? We can sit and revel in each other's genral rubbishness together.
What's your comfort game?
I'm interested to hear what other people's comfort games are. Is it something bright and happy like a Nintendo staple? Or a totally distracting finger-twitch FPS? Or is it something stupid and brain free like HOMM?