I live with children (who are not related to me by blood, but who are the children of my housemates). This means that, as an adult, I am occasionally suddenly thrown back into the world of Kid Sickness. In fact, my whole block is full of children, and they all get sick, one by one. I can see the sickness careening down the block before it gets to me. Like fast zombies. But in slow motion?
All this is to say that I've been under the weather recently.
Maybe you, too, are feeling like you could use a little oasis of comfort or moment of self-care. Or, maybe you're too fever-addled to interact with the real world or construct actual human sentences, and it would be nice to spend time doing something more abstract. Or maybe you've just been lying in bed, refreshing the NYTimes homepage on a near-constant basis for the past 36 hours, and you just need a moment Away. From All That.
With that in mind, here's a shot list of a few video games I like to play when I am feeling sick in body and/or soul:
When did Cookie Clicker come on the internet? In my head, I feel like it's always been here, hanging out the outskirts of the internet with the The End of the World Flash animation and Badger Dance.
Cookie Clicker is the ur-click game. You click the cookie a bunch. After a while, you get enough cookies from clicking to buy upgrades that do the clicking for you. Soon, you can just let things run and watch your cookie empire grow into the millions (and billions) (and trillions). You can even just leave it running as you watch Netflix or go about your Internet Day, and it'll just keep accumulating.
Sure, it's basically, "You too can be a capitalist," but with imaginary cookies.
When I'm sick and lying in bed, feeling utterly useless and too tired to do much of anything, watching the cookies roll in is strangely satisfying. "There it is," I whisper to myself while chewing on ibuprofen, "my glorious empire."
David OReilly is no stranger to making games that piss people off. His games annoy some folks not because of the game itself, but because of the way these games push against the conventional definition of "video game."
OReilly's games are usually meandering and rely on the player to find moments of meaning, rather than handing them a narrative They also often take away conventional gaming mechanics, replacing them with gameplay that lives in a video game uncanny valley: simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar. His work is, as a result, sometimes classified as "interactive art." While that may be true, I'd argue that they are absolutely still video games, and they're beautiful ones at that.
Everything makes a grand promise: in the game, the player can become anything in the world. The game starts with the player inhabiting a quadrupedal creature in the world (in my case: an elephant). From there, the player can phase in and out of other nearby plants, animals, inanimate objects, galaxies, and atoms.
I particularly enjoyed being a cloud for an afternoon.
There are a handful of other mechanics introduced later in the game (such as the ability to multiply the creature that you currently inhabit, or to make the creature very large or very small), but the game is--at its core--about the nature of being.
Interspersed throughout are little audio clips by Alan Watts, the British philosopher with an astoundingly sonorous voice and penchant for discussing the ~*~nature of being~*~
Everything is calming and centering. If your brain is full of fuzz (either from the world or from a sinus infection), it's a clear bell, ringing at just the right frequency to cut through the static.
Much like Cookie Clicker, I return to Stardew Valley in times of illness because of the inflated sense of accomplishment it provides. When I'm not feeling well, I'm happy to take feelings of success and self-satisfaction wherever I can find it, and Stardew Valley is in part so popular because it knows exactly how to press on that little part of your brain that gets all dopamine-happy with completed tasks.
Sure, I might be spewing snot everywhere, but on my little virtual farm, I can watch my starfruit harvest come in, check my fishing traps, get on the good side of some villagers, and still have time to spend the in-game evening exploring the Skull Cavern.
Suddenly, my farm is making more money than I know what to do with (see above), and I'm feeling Very Proud of Myself, Indeed.
Sometimes, when you're sick and tired, it's just really nice to yell at something that can serve as a scapegoat for the frustration that you feel with yourself/the world/humanity.
And there's nothing better to yell at than slither.io
.io games are a whole online thing. They're usually simple multiplayer games that can accommodate large numbers of players. Most don't have a in-game chat element; it's all gameplay, no talk. There are a handful of hyper-popular .io games, but something about the little wormy snakes with their googly-eyed looks in slither.io appeals to me most.
In slither.io, each player controls a little snake. As a snake, you can die by running into a wall or another snake. While you avoid dying, you also move your snake around the game arena, eating up little glowing orbs of light to become larger. The larger the glowing orb, the more it helps you grow. There are little ambient lights around the space, but no orb glows bigger and brighter than the orbs let off by freshly-dead snake. Therefore, there's an incentive to take out competitors to nom on their light.
Most of the time, I don't make it very far at all; it's easy to be taken out early by a larger, more aggressive snake. But sometimes I get on a roll and have one of the bigger snakes in the arena. And the bigger my snake gets, the more other players are trying to get me to accidentally crash my snake into something. It's just enough adrenaline to make me feel peppy enough to (occasionally) jolt me out of illness catatonia.
And when I do inevitably crash my snake, it's a nice bit of catharsis to yell (or: hoarsely whisper-scream) a long string of insults at the probably-teenage players who caused my snake's downfall.
I finally played through Islands after seeing it recommended by Cardboard Computer. It's a very short, very ambient little game.
In it, the player encounters a series of hazy, nearly monochromatic scenes. Most are familiar geometric structures. However, after a few moments, little oddities reveal themselves, and the scene opens and unfolds in surprising and strange ways.
It feels wholly immersive: the sound design and striking colors enticed me to to play with headphones on and in a pitch dark room, where it could be experienced without distraction or outside interference.
It felt like a dream, which was exactly what I needed when my fever made it impossible for me to find a comfortable position to sleep in. If I was tossing and turning, unable to dig a couple of fingers into sleep, this felt like an adequate substitute.
Literally any dress-up doll game
If you've read this far, I have a secret to tell you. It's something I've literally only told a few people, usually after a couple of drinks:
I love playing online doll dress-up games.
If you've never seen them, they're basically the digital equivalent of paper dress-up dolls. Sometimes there are mermaid ones, or witch ones, or period piece ones. Whatever: it doesn't make a lick of difference to me. I love it. I love how mindless it is. I love how much control it gives me, especially as someone who has a weird relationship with her body (or any bodies) (what are bodies?). I rejoice in its pointlessness. I cherish the fact that it's 100% just for me: not for anyone else, not for sharing, and certainly not for "real gamer" points.
It's dumb. It's not trying to be anything other than what it is.
When I do share it with people, I also love how everyone approaches it in a way that is intuitive for them, but utterly unique from anyone else. When my partner and I each made our own gem (a la Steven Universe) on DollDivine, I looked at what he made and said, "THAT'S SO UTTERLY YOU." And I meant it. I put his next to mine, and even though they were on opposite ends of the doll-creation spectrum, there were each Very Us.
There are fewer games that allow you such pure extensions of how you prefer to create an image of yourself, when given the chance.
I play it when I'm sick. Honestly, I play it when I'm not, too.