Video games and mindfulness have a surprising history

March mindfulness is an annual Mashable series exploring the intersection of meditation practice and technology.

From an expansive perspective, the first video game to promote mindfulness was also the first successful home video game.

pong, developed in 1972, required its millions of players to focus their attention on a bouncing square crossing a screen. The ultimate casual game pong is so basic that brain cells were taught to play it in a lab. Its quietly captivating appeal is timeless. Really what is the difference between play pong and a meditation practice where you follow your breath? Just the fact that the game effectively counts when your attention drifts.

Similar, tetris – which launched in 1984 and will soon have its own movie – was praised for its ability to induce a zen-like flow state in players(Opens in a new tab). One study suggests that gaming is like mindfulness meditation when done right tetris can help people ease the effects of trauma(Opens in a new tab). And certainly, many gamers have their own stories of titles that get them in a state of flow, even amidst the on-screen chaos.

But it wasn’t until the 21st century that designers began creating video games that involved meditation or mindfulness Goal, at least in part, rather than a random by-product of gaming. Meditative offerings accelerated in the 2010s, and a playful new name was coined for the category: not a shoot ’em up, but a relax ’em up.

What follows is an overview of the games that fit into this category, and shows how forms of meditation in video games have evolved over the past two decades – to the point where some of the largest gaming franchises have emerged Elder Scrolls To Grand Theft AutoYou’ve jumped on the mindfulness trend.

Journey to the wild divine (2001)

Journey to the Wild Divine billed itself as “the first ‘inner-active’ computer adventure”. With a pretty but simple interface and an extremely new-age soundtrack, this PC game (and its sequel The passagestarring Deepak Chopra) didn’t garner much attention from gamers in an era dominated by shoot-’em-ups.

The game’s main innovation was Iom, or “Lightstone”, a piece of USB-connected biofeedback hardware that the player placed on three fingertips. The device measures your stress level via heart rate variability (HRV) and the amount of sweat on your skin. To complete each level – such as revealing a new feature in a room or bringing flying pigeons down to earth – you had to figure out how to relax yourself, usually by slowing your breathing.

The Wild Divine The game franchise didn’t last long, but the company did. It still sells the Iom device(Opens in a new tab)which now attaches to your earlobe for use alongside guided meditation “journeys”.

Flow (2006)

Was it art? was it a game Was it meditation? Did it matter? Floworiginally a Flash-based browser game by Chinese designer and then University of Southern California student Jenova Chen, it rose to become the most downloaded PlayStation game of 2007.

Described as a “life simulator”. Flow transformed players into tiny creatures; They could ascend to greater planes of existence or descend to lower ones by consuming other organisms. There was clearly a market for a soothing game that didn’t require too much effort and just entered a state of…flow.

flower (2009)

The “spiritual successor” too Flowby Chen and his studio playfully named Thatgamecompany, flower Put the player in the role of a petal floating in the wind. After that, there are discoveries, but the stakes are all very low. The beauty of nature is everything.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)

The Elder Scrolls series is one of the most successful fantasy franchises of all time, selling almost 60 million copies. And on its fifth appearance, the imagination turned a little cooler.

“The more I think about it, the more I discover that I just want to take everything… slower,” wrote a Polygon reviewer a full 12 years after the game’s release(Opens in a new tab). “When I play in this mindful state, I eschew fast travel and walk to the ground, letting the scenery take me to a place so breathtaking I can’t help but stop and enjoy the moment .”

These moments have included monks meditating beside strange sigils and contemplating the wonders of the natural world around them. For the first time, a popular video game created mindfully featured non-player characters behaving mindfully in the world.

Trip (2012)

Jenova Chen’s Thatgamecompany wasn’t finished yet. Flow And flower bloomed into Tripone of the most award-winning games of all time.

Instead of a petal floating through the environment, players became a person: a mysterious hooded figure who can magically drift through a wondrous desert. Nothing is explained, there is no dialogue, nothing to fight – just puzzles that remain in that state.Flow Zone just difficult enough.

Grand Theft Auto V (2013)

The violent and satirical GTA Franchise might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about mindful activity. But in its record-breakingly popular fifth appearance, the narrative took a detour into… yoga. The character Michael, a former bank robber, has to achieve three positions in the practice to complete a mission.

Mountain (2014)

“Relax-’em-up” was Irish designer David O’Reilly’s description of this oddly perceptive little game. It doesn’t start out as relaxing with a series of personal questions – but your answers help shape the mountain that will float in space for the rest of the game.

O’Reilly considered a mountain to be “an iconic Zen thing” well beyond human control – so in this game, for the most part, you can’t. It’s about letting go, he said, about seeing things grow and living on their slopes, and accepting a state of “visual stillness.” (But not the acoustic kind, since the mountain will occasionally talk to you.)

And maybe you can look at the ego better if you look at a huge thing that it spawned that just sits there waiting for annihilation at the end of the game. Aren’t we all?

deduction (2016)

Some of the designers behind it Trip worked on deduction, which is a kind of underwater version of the desert game. The difference here: Unlike the mysterious hooded human swimming, your diver can actually literally stop and meditate on herself, sit in the lotus position and watch the fish.

Also, look for a number of meditation statues; Collect them all and you will get the title “Zen Master”. Mindfulness play content has never been so eye-catching.

Everything (2017)

Not content with conjuring something as grand, timeless, and utterly Zen as a mountain in game form, David O’Reilly now sought to…conjure up the entire universe. He did this by allowing players to inhabit a bizarrely wondrous mix of creatures on different planes of existence, from the unicellular organism to the self-aware solar system.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of this deeply strange meditative game, clicking on thought bubbles plays quotes from the philosopher Alan Watts, speaking of the oneness of all life and the nature of the “Game of Existence”.

When you’re done with the game Everythingyou may have the ultimate mindful realization: We, as part of life’s continuum, are never done playing everything.

playne (2020)

Games with meditative aspects are all well and good – but what about a game that focuses on regular meditation practice itself and doesn’t require biofeedback?

That is playne, whose goal is to get you into a habit of meditating for 10 minutes a day. There’s a friendly fox to help guide you, a crackling virtual campfire in the woods to sit around, and the option to click your mouse whenever your mind wanders.

The more days you continue your streak, the more the world around the campfire develops. And because social responsibility is one of the best factors in habit building, an active Discord server is full of playne Players are there to give feedback and encouragement.

sound self (2020)

The line between meditation play and mindful musical experience began to blur sound selfa title that works well on most devices and even better in VR(Opens in a new tab). You play by breathing deeply, then sighing deeply, and then humming on the exhale. (The game uses your device’s microphone to make sure you’re not just pretending to hum.)

The more you contribute, the more the environment around you moves and changes – from earthbound trees to abstract colors. So does the sound, meaning your mindful breaths literally make music. Can there be a more playful way to meditate?

Finch/Amaru, the self-care pet (2021)

Yes there may Be a more playful (and habit-forming) way to meditate: a virtual pet you take care of by taking care of yourself. Tamagotchi, but watch out. The finch And amaru Apps are both variations on a theme: they reward or feed the pet by doing things like meditating for two minutes, practicing gratitude, or hanging up your phone 30 minutes before bed.

Finch (whom you can call whatever you like) is a generally happy bird who looks like he can get by on his own. You are encouraged to help him grow and have more adventures. However, Amaru is an anxious little feline, and the thought of calming that fear by trying to calm your own anxiety can potentially induce more anxiety in those already anxious.

Inner (2023)

The history of meditation games is just beginning. Next: Innerfrom the same developer that brought us playne. How does this advance the whole genre? We’ll find out later this year when it releases in full, and will continue to update this story as new meditation games are released. Because the game of life goes on. Video games and mindfulness have a surprising history

Zack Zwiezen

Zack Zwiezen is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Zack Zwiezen joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

Related Articles

Back to top button