Are mindless games just a guilty pleasure?

When I first encountered Tetris I thought it was a complex, highly tactical game. I took it very seriously.

Years later, it’s my go-to pleasure when I need to unwind. It’s enough to keep my brain occupied without inducing a migraine. I can play it with such little thought, mindlessly slotting in blocks while simultaneously warbling along to music or contemplating my next snack.

tetris-mega-drive
Tetris (Mega Drive) (the best version – I mean, check out those backgrounds)

There are now a multitude of pocket games at our disposal – Bejeweled, Candy Crush, Zookeeper Battle – and consumers have lapped them up. So there’s no doubt about how popular they are – but why? Are we just that restless? Have we become so fidgety that instead of reading a book we need to constantly swipe colours on a screen? Are we hopeless 21st century addicts?

That’s probably part of it, but I like to think it runs deeper. It’s natural that our minds need to switch off after a hard day just as much as our bodies do. Even if it’s just a trashy mobile game, the immersion snatches me out of the daily grind and makes me relax. It’s a reassuring habit, letting my brain know we’re on the way home to warmth, food and comfort (and possibly more gaming).

And then there’s the sense of achievement when you beat your previous time trial or secure a level-up. Sure, it’s minimal and pretty superficial, but it’s cheap satisfaction. When I hear the ping of clearing four lines, it’s music to my ears and I am happy. I am one step closer to sinking into a deep slumber. And that’s important – it can be hard to shake off that wired feeling after work and truly detach, so filling the time with harmless, low-risk entertainment helps make that transition.

Beyond the therapeutic benefits, smart people even say these games go some way to improving brain function in the long term. You’re probably reading about the Tetris effect now, but don’t worry – that only means you’ve reached a higher plane of intelligence.

So no, you shouldn’t feel guilty for playing cheap binge games. Your brain needs them. And we can’t be playing epic, triple-A masterpieces all the time (or Monkey Island, in my case) – that’s what weekends are for.

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