Three years ago, I began a soul-searching journey involving my own mental wellness. As Quality of Life Program Manager with 343 Industries, I have the privilege to engage in work coordinating the Halo team’s cultural and philanthropic efforts as well as working with Team Xbox and Microsoft to develop diversity and inclusion initiatives. As much as I love my job, at the end of busy days filled with meetings and thoughtful conversations, I can find myself worn down. Depleted. At first, I thought I was just peopled-out because I am an introverted person, but when I started talking to a therapist about it, I discovered that I experience clinical depression.
For the first time in my life, I finally had the words to describe the wet, heavy blanket I had been carrying all this time. With this awareness, I’m working on how to better care for myself. I talk with my therapist about what triggers my depression and how I can deal with my day-to-day life. Depression is not an end-level boss to beat; it is a part of me that I work to accept and manage. I take medication as part of my treatment, now, and I’ve never felt more balanced in my life! Initially, I had a lot of apprehension about taking medication, but it’s a change I’m glad I talked through and eventually made. With medication, my brain started doing something that it seemed everyone else was able to do. So, now I take medicine for heartburn and heartache, what’s the difference?
Gaming is one of the main ways that I feed my soul or my spirit. I love all kinds of gaming: board games, card games, and party games. But especially video games. I have been Cloud Strife taking on Shinra. I have been an adventurer and taken an arrow to the knee. I have lived a thousand lives over and over again through the stories of video games. When I am really in the depths of my depression, I often turn to Katamari Damacy. That game makes no sense at all, but it’s such a delight. You are tasked with rolling up all the things in the world into a ball, everything from fruit to furniture to buildings to people, and somehow…make new stars out of it? I have no idea. But, when the world doesn’t make sense, I can just roll up all the junk into a ball and keep going.
Gaming can be such a great source of release. And, while I love competition as much as the next gamer, the times when gaming has helped me the most is when I am using it to relax and explore. As a Black man, spaces where I feel that security can be hard to find. Moreover, I know that that’s not something out of the ordinary, which is why I’m adamant about playing games that bring me joy and encouraging others to do the same. I have Minecraft caves and Stardew Valley farms that I have enjoyed as much as some of my plasma-scorched battlefields. Ultimately, I just like seeing people, myself included, play what makes them happy (minus any toxicity)!
Gaming is fun and, honestly, I just want to say to other men out there, and especially to other Black men, it’s okay to have fun with gaming and not take it so seriously. It’s okay for it to not be a competition and just have a relaxing time planting crops in a cozy game. You do you.
Games also have the potential to be this transformative experience that can connect us with other people and experiences. Spiritfarer, which is a management simulator that tells a story about grief through relationships, straight-up made me cry as I connected with my own experiences of grief. I once attended an in-game funeral for a real person I have never met because I felt so connected to them through the relationship we developed over gaming. I think it’s mind-blowing that games have the power to connect us like that. Because, really, it’s not what we are going through that is so difficult, but that we often try to go through it alone.
Life is not a single-player game. To anyone out there feeling alone, just know this: someone cares. Someone, most likely someone you know and love, is willing to hear you out. Whether or not you have the privilege to seek out therapy right now, finding someone to talk to about what you are going through is always a great first step.
If you need some support and aren’t sure where to turn, start with one of the resources below. Join the Team Xbox community as we embrace the power of play as one of many tools to encourage mental wellness throughout the year.
Xbox Ambassadors Feature Stories about How Video Games Helped Them through Stress and Burn Out
To promote Mental Health Awareness, Xbox Ambassadors shared how video games have helped them through times of stress and burn out.
v Amarie v
She/Her. United States.
“The Elder Scrolls Online has my heart when it comes to stress relief. The biggest reason for this is the music that the game offers and the amazing landscapes. Tamriel is the most beautiful place to escape too, and I can spend hours exploring. I am so grateful to this game and the community has been amazing. In a very strange way Tamriel feels like a 2nd home to most [of] us who really immerse ourselves. I am truly, truly grateful.”
She/Her. United States.
“My gaming was placed on back burner when I became a parent. However, as my child grew up and financial stresses lessened, I got back into gaming with playing with my son and convincing my husband to try also. Gaming was there to give me a special time to share with my family and provide an outlet for stress and stiff fingers and eye-hand coordination. From playing Fortnite, Halo, Call of Duty and Asphalt 9, they all seem to give me an outlet to put the stresses of the day away and enjoy gaming with friends and family.”
Read more stories on the XA Community Blog.
Gaming and Impact with Microsoft Rewards
Microsoft Rewards members can earn and donate points to organizations supporting mental wellness with Xbox. The organizations below will be featured on console:
- Crisis Text Line – Crisis Text Line provides free, 24/7, high-quality text-based mental health support and crisis intervention in English and Spanish by empowering a community of more than 55,000 trained volunteers to support people in their moments of need. Text PAUSE to 741741 to connect with a volunteer crisis counselor. (US)
- The Games and Online Harassment Hotline (Feminist Frequency) – The Games and Online Harassment Hotline is a free, text message-based, confidential emotional support hotline. This Hotline was created specifically for the gaming community. Whether you’re a player, a developer, a streamer, a competitor — any part of this community — they are here for you, whether that means offering emotional support or finding the referrals and resources that you need. (US)
- Take This – Take This is a mental health advocacy organization with a focus on the game industry and community. They provide resources, training, and support individuals and companies that help the gaming community improve its mental well-being and resilience. The organization addresses the underlying conditions that can create and perpetuate mental health challenges: stigma, harmful studio culture, harassment and toxicity, lack of diversity and accessibility, and problematic game and community design. Take This also runs the AFK Room Program at game conventions. (US)
- Lifeline – Lifeline is a national charity providing all Australians experiencing emotional distress with access to 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention services. They are committed to empowering Australians to be suicide-safe through connection, compassion and hope. (AUS) – Coming soon!
Xbox gamers can earn Microsoft Rewards points in various ways when they join, such as playing games and completing Game Pass Quests, completing offers in the Microsoft Rewards app on Xbox, and select purchases at the Microsoft Store (exclusions apply). Earn points and redeem them for real rewards. Join us today and donate through Xbox.
Take a Break and Recharge Your Way with Games Curated by Staff at Microsoft
Games allow us to immerse ourselves in fantasy realms and experience different perspectives in a powerful way. In a world where we could all benefit from additional ways to rest and reset regularly, more games are being designed with the opportunity to recharge in mind. As a common tool for relaxation, comfort, and cultivating positive feelings, games can help us create supportive communities in which we can relate to each other’s experiences and share stories of how games have impacted our lives.
We want to highlight a collection of games that provide an escape from the trials of life, give us ways to connect to our unique identities, and share stories that explore the significance and strength of mental health awareness. We understand that people play games for a variety of reasons, ranging from wanting to relax to wanting to dive deep into emotional stories they can empathize with. As part of our ongoing work to create more inclusive gaming ecosystems and elevate content that resonates with communities, we are including a diverse set of games, allowing people to engage with content that appeals to their personal gaming needs. This collection is available on Xbox, Windows, Mobile, and the Cloud year-round.
A few highlights from the full Game Pass Collection on Xbox and the full Game Pass Collection on Windows include:
- Persona 5 Royal (Available with Xbox Game Pass and Rated M) — Persona 5 Royal steps up an already incredible story that navigates the cross-section of mental health and heroism by introducing the character Dr. Takuto Maruki. As the guidance counselor of Shujin Academy, Dr. Maruki supports the Phantom Thieves’ by listening to their traumatic pasts, validating their emotions, and providing them with empathy and encouragement. Not only does this game elegantly portray the complex feelings that come with common human struggles like grief, trauma, dissociation, and depression, but now it also provides a prime example of the positive impact that therapy can have on our lives. Content warning: suicide.
- Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (Available with Xbox Game Pass and Rated M) — Senua, a Celtic warrior, embarks on a haunting vision quest into Viking Hell to save the soul of her dead lover. Developer Ninja Theory collaborated closely with neuroscientists and people with lived experiences of psychosis to bring Senua’s story to life with authenticity.
- Disney Dreamlight Valley (Available with Xbox Game Pass) — In this unique hybrid of adventure games and life-simulators, Disney Dreamlight Valley allows players to be a hero in a Disney-themed universe of their own creation. Filled with iconic Disney and Pixar characters, storylines in the form of quests, and seemingly endless customization options, this game provides a calming atmosphere for open exploration, free from any form of combat, while engaging fans in a captivating story that they can complete at their leisure.
- Unpacking (Available with Xbox Game Pass) — This zen puzzle game allows you to unweave the coming-of-age story of a queer woman moving through a variety of stages in life. Decorate and organize each new interior living space in a meditative way while contemplating what we hold on to and let go of through the sentimental meaning of our personal belongings.
- Stardew Valley (Available with Xbox Game Pass) — Winner of the Dr. Mark Award from Take This for excellent portrayal of mental health, healing, and hope, Stardew Valley is a calming game full of farming, building relationships, and task completion that provides a satisfying feeling of accomplishment. Complete with a relaxing soundtrack, this game is all about slowing down.
View this collection on the Microsoft Store on Xbox and the Microsoft Store on Windows in all Xbox regions. Visitors can find this collection at any time by searching within the Stores for “Mental Health” and related terms.
Find a Save Point
Perhaps you enjoy cozy games with cartoon graphics and chill play options? Or perhaps you prefer an RPG with retro graphics and an engaging story? Whatever way you choose to recharge, we wanted to share this beautiful nighttime camping scene, which is reminiscent of save points in many games which you can use as your profile theme or gamerpic as a reminder to take a pause, breathe, and rest on your journey.
Never Fight Alone with Gears of War
Gears of War has always told stories about belonging and brotherhood. The rapidly rising rates of suicide, depression, and loneliness concern us deeply and we believe in the opportunity to come together to reduce and prevent further suffering.
The Coalition has made a multi-year commitment to donate 1% of net revenue from all Gears of War games and merchandise to organizations working to prevent suicide and combat loneliness. This year, all proceeds benefit Crisis Text Line.
New Gamerpics, Profile Theme, and Avatar Items
In honor of mental health awareness, we’re introducing a new gamerpic, profile themes, and avatar items featuring Xbox logos inspired by relaxing, cozy games! We hope you will be inspired to take a break and relax in the world of your favorite cozy game, perhaps by crafting, decorating, building relationships, or enjoying the view of a star-filled sky. These gamerpics and profile themes will be available on console and the Xbox PC app. Get your avatar items here. Content is subject to availability by country.
Xbox Plays Celebrates Mental Health Awareness
In December, the Xbox Plays team will feature some great guest streamers who will take over the Xbox Twitch channel and share their favorite feel-good games, stress relief tips, and more! Follow us on Xbox Twitch and don’t miss any of these cozy streams!
- Monday, December 5 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. PT – Phedran playing Minecraft
- Monday, December 5 from 3 p.m.-6 p.m. PT – sheilur playing Disney Dreamlight Valley
- Wednesday, December 14 from 3 p.m.-6 p.m. PT – emme playing Stardew Valley
Xbox Partners with Calm
The holidays can be a time of joy and connection, but for many, they can negatively affect mental health. One place people are turning to destress and re-energize is through gaming, according to a recent survey conducted in six countries by YouGov, and commissioned by Xbox. Of the survey respondents who play video games, 54% turn to video games to relieve stress.
Now, players everywhere will have a new tool to improve their general wellness, all within two video game universes. Calm, the #1 app for sleep, meditation and relaxation is partnering with Xbox to bring the first-ever video game-themed soundscapes to the platform. Officially available on December 7, players can immerse themselves and enjoy the meditative sounds of whirling waves and chattering birds from the ocean expanse of Sea of Thieves and the ambient alien sounds of Zeta Halo from Halo Infinite both available through Calm Premium. To ensure players can listen to the new soundscapes with ease, we’re also announcing a new Xbox Game Pass Ultimate Perk. Starting today, Ultimate members can receive three months of Calm Premium for free, and then 50% off their first year subscription, when they sign up (new Calm Premium members only). Calm also offers a 7-day free trial to Calm Premium subscription content via www.calm.com/freetrial.
The partnership with Calm is part of Xbox’s ongoing commitment to supporting players’ mental health and connecting them with resources to support their well-being. According to Calm, 81% of people who use Calm 5 or more times per week reported an improvement in their stress levels, as did 68% of people who engaged with the app only once or twice per week.
Check out the new Sea of Thieves and Halo Infinite soundscapes through Calm Premium by taking advantage of the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate Perk today.
Calm is the leading mental health brand, on a mission to support everyone on every step of their mental health journey. With the #1 app for sleep, meditation and relaxation, Calm’s transformational content supports users across seven languages in more than 190 countries. Calm Business, Calm’s enterprise-level solution, helps employees improve their mental health to stay productive in the workplace. Over 3,000 organizations around the world trust and choose Calm Business as their mental health partner. Calm Health, Calm’s mental health care solution for payers, providers and self-insured employers, connects mental and physical healthcare to drive positive patient outcomes through clinical, condition-specific mental health programs, caregiver communication tools and more. Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies of 2020 and Time100’s Most Influential Companies of 2022. For more information, please visit www.calm.com.