Games usually have a goal. Get to the highest level, beat the boss monster, become the strongest player, complete these missions, get to the finish line. Different games have different objectives, and the game is structured around completing these objectives. Some are more restrictive, while others may be more open-ended, but are all fun nevertheless. But the key word here is “usually.” Because some games aren’t built around accomplishing some great feat. They are built around just being. And as counterintuitive as it may seem, those games that don’t really have a set goal might just be the games that are best for your mental wellbeing.
That is certainly not to say that goal-oriented games are not fun. It’s that games that technically have no specific point to them put the player in a certain calming mindset. And then, suddenly, playing the game becomes some sort of daily therapy. This phenomenon has been discussed recently on major social media platforms, prominently Twitter. With the release of the newest version of the popular “social simulation video game” Animal Crossing (AC), many new players have started exploring its cute world, and consequently wondering what the point of the game is. The general discussion among Twitter users verifies the fact that the many versions of Animal Crossing (which is available on gaming consoles, Android and iOS) have no point. As one Reddit user puts it “the whole point [of AC] is that there is NO point.”
It is no understatement to say that there are loads of games out there which, like Animal Crossing, technically have no point. But the way these games are structured are so fundamentally different that they all fall under different genres. Prime example: Minecraft. There is no rule in Minecraft that says you have to do things a certain way. Well, that was before the Ender Dragon. But it doesn’t say anywhere that you have to fight and defeat it. Minecraft can be best described as a game where you can be creative the way you want to be creative. You can build, explore or adventure with friends — whatever suits your fancy.
Another exploration-type game that is available on most gaming consoles and PC is No Man’s Sky. It has goals which, like in Minecraft, do not have to be accomplished. In fact, most players don’t play the game to reach its central goal — which just so happens to be to find the center of the galaxy. They roam around the aesthetically-pleasing universe, visiting and exploring different planets they come across. There are different modes based on how you want to play the game as well.
But how exactly does the pointlessness of games like Minecraft or No Man’s Sky become therapy? The answer, like these games, is simple at first, but very complicated once you dive into it.
A good way to start understanding their effect is to consider this comment by a Reddit user: “The point of Animal Crossing: New Leaf is to have a place to go when the real world sucks.” When you play these seemingly pointless games, you just do your own thing. You don’t owe anyone anything. You are free from all responsibilities. You can just relax and go at your own pace. That added onto the stress-free environment the game universes create just enhances the whole experience. Some of these games, like the audio-video exploration game Proteus, include soothing music and visuals that are designed to have a calming effect on the player. No Man’s Sky has stunning and artistic visuals of space and fantastical planets that provides an escape from the drudgery of daily life.
Another reason these games pleasure the mind is the freedom of play. There are different worlds and paths to choose in games like Minecraft or No Man’s Sky. Games like Goat Simulator, where you are a goat and just go around destroying stuff or playing mini-games, allow the player to just do as they please — something they can’t really do in real life. Creative games also allow players to explore their interests from other forms of entertainment. Like someone making a giant Gyarados (a Pokémon) in Minecraft.
The fact that these games don’t have a major goal means you can get rewarded for the smallest things. Animal Crossing, for example, has a list of tasks that seem to go on forever. And they detail the simplest things you could do. Simply picking up an item would mean you accomplished something. Walking around and exploring a new area — another box checked.
So, imagine you sit down to play one of these games after a long day. The music is calming, the visuals are pleasing and all you have to do is just exist and have fun. If that isn’t the essence of escapism through gaming, I don’t know what is.
These kinds of games provide much needed mental support in today’s fast paced and stressful world. You can be a casual gamer or a hardcore one, it doesn’t matter. Even those who enjoy spending brain power on more complicated games will enjoy the R&R these “pointless” games provide.
So next time you find yourself questioning why you enjoy the unproductive game you are playing and start having an existential crisis, remember this: Your mind is probably on cloud nine, just because the game has no point.