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kottke.org posts about Lauren Larson

Playing video games as meditation

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2017

For GQ, Lauren Larson says that playing The Sims 2 is the closest thing she has to meditation.

Though I am a renowned fidgeter, I do not fidget. I am aware of the woke bikers who smoke below my window sharing their thoughts on “Cat Person,” but I feel no anger. I do not pause for snacks. I do not check my phone. I do not notice as day turns into night. My mind is clear. The Sims, agrees our photo editor Jared Schwartz, “is HELLA therapeutic.” It is the closest thing I have to meditation.

I’ve written before about how playing games on my iPhone, particularly Alto’s Adventure, has helped me through anxious times in my life.

I started playing the game when I was stressed or anxious. It became a form of meditation for me; playing cleared my mind and refocused my attention on the present. Even the seemingly stressful elements in the game became calming. The Elders, who spring up to give chase every few minutes, I don’t even notice anymore…which has become a metaphorical reminder for me to focus on my actions and what I can control and not worry about outside influences I can’t control.

I’ve also noticed this with Ski Safari, a game that came out more than 5 years ago that I still play when I want to relax. Which is funny because in the game, you control a skier trying to keep ahead of the constant avalanche following you, and if the avalanche catches you, you die. Sounds stressful, right? But as you get better at the game, the avalanche becomes less of a concern. You can’t do anything about it — as in life, the potentially crushing weight of something is always bearing down on you — so, you focus on being in the moment, controlling what you can control, and get on with your skiing.

For me, playing these games isn’t just meditative in the form of stress relief but also as a path to personal philosophical insight. The ideas of living in the present and emphasizing control over your reactions to external events (rather than to the events themselves) are found in ancient philosophies like Stoicism and Buddhism. It’s one thing to read about these things, but it was helpful to realize them on my own, in the simplified and sandboxed environment of video game play. And I keep going back to them because it reminds me to focus on practicing those things in the real world as well.