When we think of mindfulness, we often picture meditation, breathing exercises, grounding, walking through nature, or enjoying a meal. We don’t often include video games in that list. After all, it sounds counterintuitive. Surely technology and screens keep us distanced from mindfulness?
The difference between whether or not playing video games is an effective part of living mindfully is in what we do with our screen time. If we’re using it as a distraction, it distances us from being fully connected to the present moment and accepting all the thoughts, emotions, and circumstances of that moment. But we can also use video games as a way to reconnect with the present moment, explore our emotions, and learn more about who we are and what drives us.
How? As I mulled the idea over, I came up with two specific ways video games help us live more mindfully.
First, depending on the game you play and the attitude with which you approach it, the game can produce a very relaxing experience that helps you enjoy the little things. The game that has most poignantly done that for me is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The beautiful graphics, soothing music, and the ability to walk or ride through spacious woodlands has a very calming and re-energizing effect on me (especially because I live in an area where natural beauty is difficult to find). It reminds me to stay calm, enjoy the little things (both in the game and in real life), and reconnect to what refreshes and energizes me.
Similarly, a game like Minecraft allows me to be creative by building and adventuring or raising animals. I focus on the little tasks and find myself enjoying them when in real life, I often forget to take pleasure in the journey.
The key is to approach the game with an attitude of savoring the little moments and being fully present vs. using the game as a distraction.
Second, video games reconnect us to mindfulness because they are a form of play. Sometimes, as adults, we forget how to play, and we especially forget the importance of imagination. Video games are like playing make-believe with toys—but for adults and kids alike. And I wonder if that’s partly why so many people are drawn to video games. They allow us to be childlike, act silly with friends, reconnect to what makes us happy, and entertain our creative and imaginative sides. Roleplaying, for example, in such games as World of Warcraft, is an excellent way to stimulate the imagination and reconnect with your creativity.
You may argue that mindfulness in a game is different than mindfulness in real life, and that’s where the work comes in. We must take the mindfulness we learn in games and apply it to the world around us. For me, that’s meant allowing myself to enjoy the beauty of the world around me just as I do when playing Zelda or challenging myself to enjoy the journey instead of only the destination, as when I try to “get through” today to arrive at whatever I’m excited about tomorrow.
Challenge!: If you enjoy video games and find yourself more in tune with mindfulness or with your creativity when you play, what are some ways you can transfer that insight to the world around you? Make a list of ways gaming helps you be mindful, then choose one of them and focus this week on applying that to life outside the game. If you don’t play video games, are there any unexpected areas in your life where you find yourself being more mindful? How can you apply what you learn from those activities to other aspects of your life?
What about you? Are there any other ways video gaming can contribute to mindfulness? Are there other surprising areas we may be practicing mindfulness without even realizing it?