It’s hard to believe that it’s been over four whole months since lockdown began in Scotland. Back in mid-March I was knee-deep in graded unit work, deciding where to accept a place at university and continuing to work my job in retail. Those first few weeks before/after lockdown began were some of the most gruelling shifts I’ve ever had to work. It was a very stressful time. 

My mental health has also been in the gutter, what with being unable to see friends or visit my grandmother, whose health has been declining over the last few months, and until recently being stuck inside apart from my state-mandated daily walk.

I’ve adapted as well as I can to this new normal. Sometimes, however, you need a distraction to get through the days that really end up taking a toll. Sometimes you need something familiar and dependable to turn to.

That’s why, over the last few months, I’ve once again turned to my age old love of video games to transport me to worlds that help me forget my worries, for at least a few hours. There are three games that have occupied most of my time since March, and I’d like to take a moment to explain why they’ve helped keep me grounded on the days when I felt like a lump.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Nintendo Switch)

If there was ever a game that couldn’t have had more impeccable timing going into lockdown, it’s the latest in Nintendo’s Animal Crossing series. The game released a mere three days before the country shut down and has been my “no stress, no worries” go to option at all times.

I’d imagine a lot of you might know a bit about Animal Crossing, but for those of you not in the loop let me explain why it’s an anxiety ridden introvert’s best friend. You move onto a deserted island with a handful of other cute animal villagers and you shape and build it over a series of days and weeks into whatever form you desire. You can catch bugs and fish or dig up fossils and donate them to the museum curated by the enigmatic owl, Blathers. Or you can sell your findings to Timmy and Tommy at Nook’s Cranny in exchange for bells (the in-game currency) and purchase furnishings for your home/island paradise.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons helped keep me in a routine when it was very hard to have one in reality. I’d come back every day to talk to my town residents, build new projects (which take a full day in real time to complete unless you cheat by fast forwarding your console clock), dig up my daily fossils, see what new offerings were available in the shop or – on Sundays – buy a hoard of turnips and check their selling prices, which fluctuate during the week. (I got in way too deep playing the “stalk market” about a month into Animal Crossing’s release).

The best thing is that Animal Crossing is on the Switch, and that means you can play it anywhere that suits you (in bed, lounging on the sofa, on break at work, etc). It’s the ultimate game to play if you’re simply looking to unwind and de-stress, with a cup of tea in hand and one of those lo-fi beats YouTube playlists playing in the background.

If you’ve got a Nintendo Switch, you should have Animal Crossing: New Horizons in your library.

Destiny 2 (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC)

It’s an oldie, but a goodie. Originally released back in 2017, Destiny 2 is a game that I continually return to and has been the main game I’ve played with friends over the last four months. With a world that is continually evolving and a story that is slowly moving towards an impending conflict with an ancient – but up until now, unseen – foe, Destiny 2 is also a surprisingly chill experience to unwind with after a long day.

The game can be as low or high intensity as you want it to be. Need to unwind? You can head out on patrols and take part in public events with other players across the European Dead Zone, Mars, Mercury, the Dreaming City and many other locations. The world of Destiny is beautiful and sometimes you can just sit and get lost in the brilliant ambiance that developer Bungie has created. Or you can throw down in the Crucible against other players, if you’re feeling slightly more adventurous.

If you’ve got a couple of buddies together your options are varied as well. You can head out on strike missions to take down a boss if you’re in a chill mindset or you can take on one of three challenging – but rewarding – dungeons filled with puzzles and high end loot. And, if you’ve got a group of six together, you could always jump into the pièce de résistance of Destiny 2 – the raids. There are seven of them and they vary wildly in theme (from a world devouring spaceship, to a corrupted city to an ancient garden on Mars), but are all extremely challenging activities that can take at least an hour to finish (if you’re good at the game, which I am not).

Destiny 2 has something for you no matter what mood or mindset you’re in. It’s a great way to socialise with friends over voice chat when you’re unable to see them in person  and can be played for as little or as long as you like.

The base game is also free on Xbox One, PS4 and PC, and I would definitely recommend it.

Pokémon Sword/Shield (Nintendo Switch)

Another game I’ve put a lot of time into over the last few months just so happens to also be on the Nintendo Switch. I’d already put over 100 hours into the latest Pokémon games before lockdown started but I honestly found a great deal of comfort revisiting it after the fact.

Pokémon has been a massive part of my life since I was a child – and still continues to be to this day. It is the one constant in my life that I can return to, knowing that it is pure and a force for good. Perhaps that’s the nostalgia talking more than anything? The yearning and longing for simpler days when the world didn’t feel like it was burning down around us?

The simple fact is, Pokémon makes me – and countless others in their twenties – happy. 

There have been more than a few days where I’ve sat grinding out max raid battles for hours with other players in order to level up my Pokémon team, a lot of whom are from previous generations dating all the way back to 2003 with Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire (which is bonkers!). As that one guy in Pallet Town in Pokémon Red/Blue once said: “The power of science is incredible!”.

Everyone has their own ways of dealing with their off days, and these three games have kept me sane during these turbulent times. What games or pastimes have you been turning to over these last few months?

Let us know!