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  • Writer's pictureBridie Daniels

5 Single-Player Video Games That Helped Me Feel Less Lonely

Video games have always played a big role in my life. When I was young with little desire to connect with my peers, they provided the wonder and stimulation I needed to have a rich life. As I got older, a shared love of gaming helped me find my people and make connections when I was ready. I started working in the games industry when I was 21 and it has been a challenging and rewarding career that has really opened my eyes to the endless variety of games out there and how they can help people.


As an adult, games can provide a sense of much-needed escapism. Sure, some games work best as distractions, but others can invoke unexpected feelings and help us process topics, issues, and life events that we might be experiencing.


Before I start talking about some of the single-player video games that helped me feel less lonely, I really want to encourage anybody who is experiencing mental health challenges to visit the Safe In Our World website. Safe In Our World is video-game mental health charity with the mission of fostering worldwide mental health awareness within the video games industry. Here you can find help, access support, and even take a look at some of their favourite mental health related games and apps.


Now, onto the list...


Life is Strange


Life is Strange is an episodic adventure game split into five parts. You play as a teenage girl called Max who is returning to her hometown after moving away at a young age. Max grapples with the unique challenges that come with being the "new kid" in a place that she's familiar with and with coming face-to-face with her childhood best friend who is strikingly different yet somehow also the same.

As the story unfolds, Max realises that she has a unique ability to pause and rewind time. She uses this power to investigate the mysterious disappearance of fellow student Rachel Amber and begins to discover a darker side to her hometown of Arcadia Bay. The story focuses on Max's interpersonal relationships with her classmates and her best friend Chloe Price and tackles themes of loneliness, family conflict, bullying and misogyny, and mental illness.


The story changes based on the choices you make, and it can go in a profoundly queer direction if you so choose. I really enjoyed Life Is Strange because of the rich story and characterisation. I felt deeply involved in the characters lives, and the amazing indie soundtrack and seaside town setting made me incredibly nostalgic for a time where I was much younger, had less responsibility, but felt like every little choice I made was the end of the world (and it very much is in Life Is Strange).


Trigger Warnings: Suicide, physical abuse, slurs, murder, drug use, violence, guns, eating disorders, child abuse, and sexual assault.


Outer Wilds


In Outer Wilds, you play as a fledgling astronaut leaving your small, sleepy home planet and setting off into a constantly changing solar system. In your one-man space ship, you travel from planet to planet searching for answers and uncovering messages from explorers gone by. Each planet is as unique and as mysterious as the last, and navigation looks very different from one planet to the next.

Outer Wilds transports you into a whole new universe that feels big and empty but quickly becomes familiar (and oftentimes cosy). The game definitely explores themes of loneliness and community, with your home planet being the only location in your universe that's still actively inhabited by people. The passage of plays a huge element in the Outer Wilds story and you never realise how impactful setting off and leaving your home planet behind is until you come towards the end of the game.


There are some challenging elements to Outer Wilds and plenty of puzzles to solve, but the story is incredibly immersive and will have you coming back time and time again as you delve ever deeper into finding out the truth about...well...everything! This game really made me think about things like family, friendship, and the legacies we leave behind.


Trigger Warnings: There are no major triggers in Outer Wilds, but people with specific phobias (such as closed spaces, fear of the dark, fear of deep oceans, etc.) might find this resource useful when deciding to play the game.


Firewatch


If you're feeling a little starved for conversation and connection, Firewatch might just be the game for you. You play as a man named Henry who has retreated from his messy life to work as a fire lookout, keeping the wilderness safe. When something strange draws you out of your lookout tower and intro the forest, your supervisor, Delilah, is your only lifeline. As you explore the stunning environment of this national park, you and Delilah swap stories and develop a deeper connection than either of you expected.

With secrets and discoveries around every corner, this is another game where your choices matter and you find yourself solving a mystery. I was absolutely blown away by the script for Firewatch, and the amazing voice acting that very much feels like you're witnessing conversations between two real people. You spend almost all of your time walking in Firewatch, which is something I actually enjoyed, as it allowed me to experience the astounding wilderness landscapes in the game and gave my character plenty of time to connect with Delilah.


I finished this game feeling less like an observer and more like someone who accompanied these two on their adventure and I would really recommend playing Firewatch in one sitting if you have the time.


Trigger Warnings: Death, violence, mild sex and nudity, mild alcohol/drug/cigarette references.


Stardew Valley


Have you ever wanted to give it all up and live a simple life in the country? Stardew Valley gets that. This sandbox RPG sees you give up your corporate job to work on your late grandpa's dilapidated farm in an adorable village filled with whimsy. There's lots to do, from growing crops and exploring the mines all the way to making friends and even finding love (if that's your jam).

Stardew Valley's eclectic cast of befriendable and romanceable NPCs make it the kind of game where you feel like your genuinely part of a community. With each character having their own backstory, daily routine, likes and dislikes, and personal development, it's easy to get lost in the game's story. You can choose to focus on a couple of characters or befriend them all if you'd prefer.


While the dialogue can get repetitive, and characters never bore of their favourites (so you can win someone's affections by handing them a duck feather twice a week for the rest of their lives), Stardew's gameplay loop is bolstered by its wholesome backdrop and the general sense of intrigue you get from exploring every nook and cranny of the map.


If you're looking for a gentle experience with some heart-warming moments and plenty to do, then Stardew Valley might just be your jam. There's even a multiplayer functionality so you can enjoy farm life with a friend.


Trigger Warnings: While you can generally avoid the following in Stardew Valley, you may encounter themes of war, mental health (PTSD, depression, suicide), loss, death, abuse, and alcoholism when delving deeper into the backstories of certain characters. This guide from The Gamer can tell you exactly where these occur (spoiler warnings).


UNDERTALE


UNDERTALE is a pixel-art game inspired by the classic 1994 role-playing game, EarthBound. In UNDERTALE, you play as a child who has accidentally fallen into an underground world filled with monsters. From the moment you arrive, you decide how you interact with this world and its weird and wonderful inhabitants. Will you fight, run, or show mercy as you enter some of the most unique combat and dialogue events I've ever seen in a video game?

Aside from it's amazing visuals (forget everything you think you know about the way pixel-art games can look) and gorgeous soundtrack, one of UNDERTALE's defining characteristics is its characterisation. Almost every monster in the underground is an interesting, cute, kooky, or downright wild individual, and I promise you'll never get tired of hearing what they have to say.


This is a game where your choices really matter, your actions have consequences, and you'll find lots of call-backs to the friends (or enemies) you made along the way. The world of UNDERTALE is truly one you can get lost in and, with tonnes of replayability value, you can do so time and time again. Oh, and when you're finished with UNDERTALE, make sure you check out the parallel story: DELTARUNE.


Trigger Warnings: Some flashing imagery and scary face / face distortions. There's an element of the game calling you out for your choices too, which is probably important to mention if that kind of simulated game sentience/awareness freaks you out.


And there you have it! I had such an amazing and enchanting experience playing every single one of these games, and I hope that this is something I can share with you all. These games might not be to everybody's taste, and that's okay. I'd love to hear about your favourite games or the games that make you feel less lonely in the comments.

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