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10 Therapeutic Games You Can Play Online

April 5, 2024

Did you know playing games can help you support your mental health? The right games help you fill your toolbox with additional coping skills, which can help you boost your confidence, connect with others, and much more. You can even do some impactful therapy activities within the virtual world of an online game — more on that later.

We’ll introduce you to our 10 favorite therapeutic games and fill you in on some of the biggest reasons to include one or more of them in your life. Whether you’re into RPGs, love classic board games, or want a virtual sandbox to explore and create in, we’ve got something you’ll love on this list.

What Is the Therapeutic Use of Games?

A unique, fun game — online or in-person — can help you unwind, practice some mindfulness, and start or continue your mental health journey. Let’s take a look at how games help you grow and work on yourself in a constructive, fun way.

Promotes a Safe Community

A healthy online environment gives you a safe place to be who you are. Whether you’re into role-playing games, puzzle games, or a nice, peaceful farm simulator, connecting with others online is one of the best parts of the gaming experience. 

Some games are specially designed to be calming, therapeutic, and social — Stardew Valley, Minecraft, and Animal Crossing are classic examples of these. In games like these, you can play alongside a supportive group of friends, collaborate on problem-solving, build your communication skills, and find peace and grounding. You can even work through areas for growth in an online gaming support group like Hero Journey Club as you play!

Improves Executive Functions and Decision-Making

Research shows that playing video games can have benefits that impact your day to day, including boosting your executive functioning, which is your ability to plan ahead, make smart decisions, and practice self-control. As you play certain games, you’re practicing these skills constantly. 

For example, maintaining your Stardew Valley Farm well means deciding when to fish, sell crops, or work on your social skills in town by talking with your favorite characters. In this way, games like Stardew can boost your confidence by helping you make tricky decisions in a safe, low-risk environment. 

Relieves Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression 

The connection between gaming and depression or mental health effects is nuanced, as not all games are the same. Some have the potential to make you feel on edge, and that’s never what you want when you’re feeling anxious or depressed. 

On the other hand, though, some games have been found to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. For example, spending time in a co-op Minecraft world can help you flex your creative muscles, reconnect with yourself, and find joy in something sweet and simple. 

Develops Emotional Regulation Skills

Feeling frustrated and uneasy is a part of life for everyone, and games can sometimes help you build the self-awareness and self-control you need to grow. 

Games like Stardew Valley, Animal Crossing, and Final Fantasy XIV all require patience for progress. Trusting the process and giving the time and energy required to thrive in your in-game world is a valuable form of social-emotional learning. These games help you work alongside others, potentially helping you stay resilient and calm in stressful situations — online and in the “real world.”

Assists in Navigating Relationships

Some games can help you increase your emotional intelligence, giving you stronger conflict resolution and communication skills. As you play in a cooperative setting, you have plenty of opportunities to work through issues with the others on your server, find a balance between your and others’ wants, and keep everyone happy, valued, and respected. These skills can carry over IRL, too!

What Are Qualities of a Therapeutic Game?

We like to think of therapeutic games as safe environments for receiving emotional and social support. The games we love at Hero Journey Club center around cooperation and friendly competition, bringing out the best in the players. These games also provide the ideal setting for life-changing group activities, including an innovative form of play therapy. 

10 Online Therapeutic Video Games 

With the qualities of a therapeutic game in mind, let’s explore some options that might just give you some peace of mind after a tough day.

1. Power Wash Simulator

Relaxing, rewarding, and low-stakes, this peaceful game is exactly what it sounds like: A realistic depiction of what it’s like to run your own ultra-powerful power washer! No matter how your day has been, hardly anything can cheer you up as quickly as getting grime and gunk off a virtual barn wall or dirty van.

2. Journey

Journey is a PlayStation exclusive, and we think it’s worth owning one of Sony’s consoles just to play it. Short, beautiful, and one-of-a-kind, this collaborative game has no words, but its emotional impact can’t be overstated.

3. Spiritfarer

Ever wanted to shuttle spirits into the afterlife? No? It’s a more peaceful experience than you might think. Spiritfarer has gorgeous art and infinite potential for creativity. Described by the developer as “a cozy management game about dying,” there’s no other entry on our list quite like it.

4. The Sims

The Sims is a classic game series that gives you the task of managing a group of virtual people (Sims) as they live their lives. The first game came out in 2000, and online play has become one of the key features of the experience for some versions of the game. Enjoying the world of The Sims online takes the game to a new level.

5. Dungeons & Dragons

Dungeons and Dragons is a classic role-playing game that works in-person or online. As you and your party are led through a story by a dungeon master (DM), you’ll encounter monsters, talk your way out of tricky situations, and work together to advance through the narrative. It’s a blast and a fun way to get to know people and boost your problem-solving skills.

6. Minecraft

Minecraft is one of our favorite games of all time because of the way it brings out the creative spark in every player. Even if you struggle to assemble an IKEA bookshelf in real life, you can build a gorgeous house in Minecraft and surround it with gardens, stables, and anything else you want to build using the game’s wide variety of blocks. 

7. Animal Crossing

This Nintendo Series has millions of fans, and it’s easy to see why! Adorable characters, soothing music, and open-ended gameplay make this game as relaxing to play as possible. You don’t have any set goals in Animal Crossing — you just enjoy spending time in the world and connecting with the characters and other players. It’s the perfect way to unwind when you’re feeling overwhelmed while building a community around you.

8. Final Fantasy XIV

Final Fantasy is one of the oldest game series on our list, and FFXIV is one of the longest-running games listed here, too. This MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) gives you an ultra-customizable character to play as in a sprawling fantasy world. You can earn experience, build up your equipment, and work together with other players to fight monsters and complete quests.

9. Palia

Palia came to life in August of 2023, and it’s since become a super popular MMO (massively multiplayer online game). With a vibrant color scheme and iconic art style, this cozy, relaxing fantasy game connects you with new and current friends to cook, fish, farm, craft, and explore the vast world.

10. Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley might look like a low-key farming simulator on the service, but there’s more going on here. We love this game because of its rich, quirky world, which is full of people to meet, locations to explore, and fun items to buy, sell, and give as gifts. You can either play solo or with friends!

Fostering Community and Individual Support With Hero Journey Club

You’re not alone. No matter what you’re going through, there’s help out there for you! Hero Journey Club can help you grow, heal, and thrive with 80-minute weekly support sessions led by experts within personalized groups. 

Our groups meet within your game of choice and are tailored to your stage of life, mental health focus areas, gender identity, autism spectrum alignment, and more.

The Research

We take a science-backed approach to our in-game therapy sessions. While the first decade of video-game-related mental health research focused on the negative, recent studies point to a measurable connection between video games and lower levels of loneliness.

Gaming can help folks everywhere who struggle with anxiety, depression, and social isolation, which is why we conduct all of our therapy sessions in-game.

The Results

Hero Journey Club makes a big impact — countless members tell us they feel relieved and connected after just one session, and 96 percent report feeling better after a subsequent session. 

94 percent of our group members tell us they’ve made some of the deepest connections in their lives through HJC, and 70 percent reported clinically measurable improvement using scientifically-valued measures. Those results speak for themselves!

The Takeaway

If you need help and support on your mental health journey, there’s no better place to start than within your favorite game. Grounded in research and led by compassionate, caring therapists, Hero Journey Club can help you take the next step forward. Start your journey today by joining a group within a game of your choice!

Sources:

Commercial Off-The-Shelf Video Games for Reducing Stress and Anxiety: Systematic Review | NCBI

Does video game playing improve executive functioning? | American Psychological Association

Can Videogames Be Used to Promote Emotional Intelligence in Teenagers? Results from EmotivaMente, a School Program | NCBI

Massively multiplayer online role-playing games: the past, present, and future | Association for Computing Machinery