I’ve been taking some time out from blogging over the last year or so to focus on my writing goals and wider priorities. I also had a baby in the spring of 2021, but more on that in another post. One of the things that I’ve been trying to prioritise in this strange new pandemic-level normal is my personal wellbeing.
I try not to discuss that side of things too much here nowadays, mainly because I don’t know if it’s something people care to read about. However, I decided that a good way to break back into my writing habit here would be to talk a bit about wellbeing. The last two years have been difficult for all of us. Myself included. A lot has changed, but one thing that has emerged out of being so isolated from the outside world is an engagement with gaming.
Like most of us during the lockdowns, I found that I really needed to find new ways of putting my wellbeing first. Not just for me, but for the new baby too. One of the best ways I actually managed to do that was through gaming. I’ve got loads to talk about on this topic, but in this post, I’m going to be looking specifically at puzzle games, and how they can really boost your wellbeing.
Why puzzle games?
I’ve talked before about the benefits of gaming as a transmedia format. During the very first lockdown, video games became a therapeutic outlet for millions more of us than ever before. For me, puzzle games are a more recent discovery, and yet there’s something comfortingly familiar about them too.
Puzzle games like solitaire and minesweeper have been around since the dawn of computer gaming. These days, puzzle, logic and word games have evolved quite a bit! However, there’s something remarkably comforting about the old classics. Before we look at some of the puzzle games I’ve found most engaging recently, let’s examine some of the benefits they have for wellbeing.
Health benefits of puzzle gaming
There are some surprisingly positive outcomes of puzzle gaming. When it comes to your cognitive function, in particular, puzzles and logic games can have many benefits. Some of these are as follows.
- Improved memory
- More developed attention to detail
- Lowered stress levels
- Better spatial awareness and visual reasoning
- Improved hand-eye coordination
- A boosted IQ (no, really!)
- Enhanced productivity post-game
- Improved problem-solving skills
- A boost to your mood
- Delaying the onset of cognitive decline
On a personal level, I have found that one of the most difficult and demoralising aspects of my permanently home-based lifestyle is what I feel to be the slowing down of my language skills. By this, I don’t mean that I’m forgetting how to speak; more that as time goes by, I often find myself searching for the words I need to use when I’m writing, or in conversation. That’s something that has never been an issue for me before, and it’s not something I want to get any worse!
Whether or not this is down to the decrease in real-time social interaction, I’m unsure. However, it’s something that I’ve found difficult and so I actively went in search of ways to combat it. One of the solutions was puzzle gaming.
By implementing a daily puzzle, such as Letter Scramble, for example, I’m enjoying flexing my vocabulary and memory to try and combat the nagging feeling of linguistic decline.
When should you take time to do a puzzle?
Any time you like! I enjoy browser-based puzzle games that I can pop up in a tab next to me while I’m writing. This is especially true for word and language-based games but also occasionally for more relaxation-based ‘match 3’ style puzzlers.
The popularity of puzzle games shows no signs of slowing down. I’m glad because I definitely feel a boost to my wellbeing from doing a daily puzzle of some kind. Making time every day to challenge my brain is an important part of my self-care strategy. Initially, I found it a hard habit to get into, especially as I struggled to spot patterns and words that my younger self would’ve identified immediately!
However, it’s important to be realistic with yourself and adjust your expectations. I’ve spent the last two years barely interacting with other people socially, and being at home with a new baby (and no sleep) is definitely a solid way to somewhat numb your brain’s capacity for intelligence. Starting small and making puzzle gaming a habit has helped bring me back to a point where I feel confident in my skills again. That’s why, if you’re struggling at all with post-lockdown/mid-pandemic mental fatigue, I’d suggest giving puzzle gaming a go.
Games to get started with
To get started with puzzle gaming, I thought it’d be helpful to look at some of the games I’ve got the most out of so far. Below are some of my favourite free online puzzle games that you can do on your desktop or mobile. There’s no need to download any of these, so you can jump straight in and start playing right away.
It can be hard to know where to begin or if a puzzle game is going to suit you, but this selection should help you get your neurons firing in no time!
Medieval Castle Hidden Numbers
A seemingly simple game, to begin with, Medieval Castle Hidden Numbers is a deceptively addictive and fun puzzle game. Your aim is to spot the numbers that are hidden within a given image before the timer runs out. Sounds easy, but the clock is definitely against you as you’re deducted five seconds of time for every misclick you make.
I actually really enjoy this game for sharpening my observational skills. Once you’ve mastered the levels of Medieval Castle, there are a number of other hidden object games you can explore. It’s definitely more challenging than it looks.
Sometimes, you can’t beat the classics. With a solid mix of vocabulary and general knowledge, crosswords are proven to boost your working memory and enhance your ability to focus. They take me a bit longer than they used to but they’re always really satisfying to complete. You just have to resist the temptation to Google the answers!
I mentioned this game earlier but it’s honestly one of my favourites for firing up my vocabulary. It might just be me but I get a real sense of satisfaction from word building. Taking some time to see what word combinations I can make on Letter Scramble helps me to sharpen my vocabulary before starting a writing task. The aim is to build as many words as you can using the letters given before the timer runs out.
Over three levels you must spell progressively more words, which increases the challenge given that you’re only able to work with the tiles provided. I really enjoy this game as it speaks to my love of vocabulary building, which is great for boosting your memory and language skills too.
Candy House Match 3
If you’re looking to boost your spatial and visual reasoning then this is the game for you. It’s a similar format to most match 3 games but has a range of differently laid out levels to test your reflexes and spatial awareness. Also, your levels are timed so you need to progress quickly to make it through each stage.
This is one that looks simple on the face of it but definitely increases the challenge level each time. What I like most about Candy House is that it saves your progress in the browser. This means if you’re interrupted or need to get on with something else, you can quickly pick up where you left off.
Do puzzle games improve your wellbeing?
Speaking from my own experience, I’d recommend taking up a puzzle game of some kind each day. It doesn’t have to be anything overly complicated, but the benefits that can be gained from puzzle gaming are vast. If you’re going to give one of these a try, I’d love to hear how you got on with it! I’m making it a personal goal this year to try and boost my vocabulary and rebuild my visual reasoning skills.
If you’ve got any other suggestions for great puzzle games, let me know! I’d be keen to give them a try.
Let me know in the comments below or as always, you can catch up with me over on Twitter. I’d be keen to hear your opinions on the popularity of puzzle games and how they give your wellbeing a boost, if they do so.