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During the past 15 or so months, video games have emerged as a sanctuary for many people. Amidst the Covid-19 lockdowns—and in the absence of mental and emotional outlets like hanging out indoors with friends—games got people through a lot of stressful times. But now, in many parts of the world, vaccines are rolling out and the weather is changing, which means it might be time for a new reprieve: putting down the controller and going outside.

Make no mistake, this is not going to be some essay about how Covid is over and everyone should frolic mask-less out in the streets. Not everyone is vaccinated, and the world is still very much in the throes of a pandemic. But if you are amongst the growing number of people who feel ready to find some semblance of a pandemic-adjusted normal life, you should feel OK about stepping away from your PlayStation 5. (Or computer. Or Xbox Series X.)

Often in this column, I write about the many benefits of playing video games, from the calming effect of Stardew Valley to how nostalgia gaming can be fantastic for your mental health. If those benefits remain present and necessary for you, by all means continue. My goal is always to encourage people to play video games on their own terms, and there’s no need to walk away if you don’t want to. But if you feel the pull of the great outdoors, and button-mashing isn’t as fulfilling as it used to be, heed that call. The console will still be there when you’re ready to return.

Ultimately, and hear me out here, it all comes down to productivity. If you’re like me, then it’s likely you’re the kind of person who needs to feel productive even when it comes to your hobbies. Once you invest your time in something, you feel an obligation to it. Stop that. It’s not a “waste” to do something else with your time. (As a side note, if you identify with this mentality and you often find yourself burned out because you approach every hobby like it’s work, please read Laziness Does Not Exist, by Devon Price. It may just change your life.)

It might sound trite, but your relaxing time needs to be relaxing—that’s it. If you feel like playing video games, and if that’s what will chill you out, then do it. My call to disarm isn’t about shaming gamers for playing too much or saying it’s healthier to step back. There are plenty of essays out there to make people feel guilty about their screen time, and this won’t be one of them. If you’re not quite ready to go out—or the low vaccination rates in your area still make you feel uncomfortable doing so—by all means, stay in. If games are still relieving your stress, keep playing. It’s no one else’s business.

But if the thing that’s stopping you from putting down the controller and getting out of the house is some sort of warped mentality that evolved because you have been playing video games and feel the need to continue doing so, then I’m talking to you. It’s time to back away from the screen. It doesn’t matter where, it doesn’t matter how—just figure out what you really want to be doing and make it happen. If video games aren’t your thing for a while, that’s OK—you’re still a gamer, even if you don’t play every day. Or every week. Or even every month. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go run around outside with my toddler and forget Stardew Valley ever existed.


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