Xbox Game Pass saved my mental health – Reader’s Feature

There’s no doubting the value for money with Game Pass (pic: Microsoft)

A reader explains why Xbox Game Pass’ offer of cheap access to dozens of new games meant so much to him after losing his job.

There’s one thing that as a Brit we often don’t talk openly about, one of those things is money and the other is mental health. But I wanted to share this, both my story of my struggles through the pandemic, but also how gaming (and specific games) truly helped me through some of these difficult times. I am sure there are plenty of others who have had worse or similar experiences to myself, but I felt like writing something more personal to me and something where I genuinely praise gaming for all the good it can do.

In October 2019 I left a company I had worked at for six years, deciding to follow a new career path. I had just turned 30 and got engaged to my long-time partner, I felt it was the right time. I started a new job shortly after that I genuinely enjoyed, it was a new and exciting, but the money was poor – less than I was on in my previous job. But it was worth it and when starting afresh this can happen, plus I had a little side hustle to keep me ticking over.

Fast forward to April 2020 and Covid-19 is upon us, and we go into lockdown. The uncertainty at this time was scary for a multitude of reasons. How long would we stay this way? What would happen if we caught this virus? What do we do now?

I, like millions of others, was furloughed. My wage cut by 20% and my side hustle, that was keeping me financially afloat, was no longer viable under the strict lockdown rules. As the lockdown and restrictions continued month after month, my finances were dire. What made this more difficult, was I had never had more free time in my life, at first a welcome break, but it very quickly turned into horrible monotony.

Where some of my friends were buying anything and everything to keep them entertained, I didn’t have the same luxury. I tried filling my time with free online courses, cooking, Netflix, books, YouTube, started a gaming blog, and even tried to find some part time work. The best distraction of all though was gaming. I’ve never been so thankful for owning an Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and a Nintendo Switch, hours of entertainment in the palm of your hand.

My issue was money, I had no expendable income at all and games generally aren’t cheap – the second-hand market had always been my go-to, most of my physical games I would buy a year later from CeX and would trade games for credit to play more games. This wasn’t much of an option now.

Lockdown muddied my gaming buying habits, I literally couldn’t afford new games. What I did have was Game Pass. It was a service I had subscribed to just before lockdown and I was tempted to cancel it save money, but luckily I hadn’t made use of the three months for £1 deal, so I kept it. I am so glad I did.

That service helped me so much when I was struggling. My mental health had taken a tumble, my relationship was going through a bad patch and staying indoors constantly with the same distractions was making me feel down. Gaming gave me the escape I desperately needed, I honestly don’t know what I’d have done without it.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was the first game I played on the service. I had only really become aware of the game thanks to the Microsoft purchase of developer Ninja Theory. I was so happy I got to experience it, though some of the gameplay was a bit by-the-numbers the story, writing, and atmosphere gripped me almost immediately – as did the towering performance of Melina Jurgens. It was an unforgettable experience, one that I can’t wait to revisit in the sequel.

The Observation (my review) was another gem I found on the service during lockdown, a puzzle game set in space where you play as an AI assisting a young astronaut whose space station winds up on the outskirts of Saturn. A game I never would have played without Game Pass, made by a very small indie team, but again what a gripping story such a small team came up with: an unsettling mystery that unravels with perfect pacing. A brief four hour whirlwind, I loved it.

A Plague Tale: Innocence (my review) was another game similar to Hellblade, a game I was blissfully unaware of but played it after hearing some good things (thank you Digital Foundry). This story-driven stealth game had rat physics that were both impressive and kind of gross, but gave what would have been a fairly unimpressive stealth game a huge surge of uniqueness. Though the story veered into video game silliness in the final act, I couldn’t help but taken in by the setting and well-drawn characters.

Ori And The Will of the Wisps: my personal game of the year for 2020 (my review), the game that reintroduced me to side-scrolling games and one that took me on a rollercoaster of excitement and tears. One of the most beautiful games I have ever played. Ori made me try out other side=scrollers which I had abandoned playing for years. I played the following: Carrion (loved it), Hollow Knight (liked it), Super Meat Boy (brilliant), Limbo (amazing), and Guacamelee (not for me).

There were others; I dipped my toes into Dead By Daylight and really enjoyed it, another game I’d never have touched otherwise. Along with plenty of others and the ability to replay favourites such as Fable 2 and Halo 3.

But beyond the specific games, what Game Pass did was give me an affordable way to play and entertain myself at a time where I couldn’t afford it and a time when I desperately needed a distraction from what was going on both in my life and the depressing things that were happening in the world.

I often hear that Game Pass devalues games, but I couldn’t disagree more. Game Pass, if anything, broadened my gaming horizons and made me appreciate the medium. Plus, a good game is a good game no matter how you obtain it.

Despite being made redundant in July 2020, I managed to find a new job in August 2020, so my monetary difficulties have completely subsided. But I will still never forget how much gaming helped me and I’m so thankful I had Game Pass, so I genuinely am grateful to Xbox for creating this service, even if they didn’t make it for me or for any other reason than to gain back customers from PlayStation, I can honestly say it’s amazing and it saved me during lockdown.

By reader Jay

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