October is Mental Health Awareness month in Australia, and with it coming to a close soon I implore you, dear reader, to find new and novel ways to help manage such an important part of your lives, your mental well-being.

As a gamer and game developer I try to regularly re-evaluate my position on games. What they mean to me, where they sit in the social landscape and how they shape our daily lives. I’ve been playing games now for most of my life, closing in on two decades. Having such a long standing passion means I can draw on an extremely deep pool of knowledge and that has been useful for my hobby. But it also comes with lots of prejudices as well.

#SelfCare by TRU LUV falls into a category where I tend to bring in a lot of prejudice. For me, games require challenge, they have defined goals and often include elements of reward or mastery. #SelfCare doesn’t really do any of that and I don’t know how that makes me feel, even the creators call it “game-like”. So why am I so bothered about whether or not this experience is a game at all? After all I’ve made my own games with no loss state, Fun With Feelings, a game aimed at adults with intellectual disabilities, was my first award winning product. But there was something about this game that made me want to dig deeper.

If you haven’t had a chance to check the link above #SelfCare is described as

…a free, simple, and beautiful relaxation companion. It’s a safer space to take care of you. Let’s cuddle with our cat, light a candle, consult our Tarot cards, collect things for our altar. Let’s stay in bed.

If you can’t tell from the title image the first thing that hits you when you open #SelfCare is the gorgeous art, the simplicity of the product really lets you focus on the beautifully crafted and extremely human aesthetic. It really is nice to just sit and look at, however being an interactive product means we have lots of other things we can try. So with that thought I quickly jumped into all the calming activities that the game offered.

After trying each of the activities I was mostly satisfied. They all felt mechanically solid which is important in focused activities that can’t (and don’t) distract you with fancy animations or other window dressing. I liked the idea of the product overall and I think the execution is top notch but I was left a little wanting.

That’s okay though, I might not be the target audience for this game. After all as a 30 year old dog loving male who is going through a pretty good point in his life maybe the game just isn’t for me. My wife definitely loved petting the cat and it was eerily calming but is it a game?

After a few nights of play I decide to go out to the community and ask for feedback. Surely if I don’t know they must. I wanted answers to the following:

  1. Is #SelfCare a game?
  2. Is that good / bad?
  3. Why does / doesn’t it feel like a game?
  4. How would you describe it to your gaming friends?

Despite an extremely generous retweet from the developers spreading my request for help from the community I was disappointed when I came back to check and find the answers so divisive! Almost all of them split 50/50 down the middle. My quest for knowledge thwarted again. I mulled over the responses for hours trying to get my head around whether or not I would call this product a game, whether it mattered and why the crowd seemed so divided on what this experience was.

Having had time to reflect on that idea I feel that one of the strongest elements of #SelfCare is that it’s not really a game and it’s not really an app.

It is an experience.

Games that choose to toe the lines of convention won’t please everyone, I expect that may very well be the creators intention. Some users of #SelfCare loved that it wasn’t a game because they didn’t want it to be while others loved the rewards for making the sun rise whenever they used the app, thus making it feel like a game. (The sun rising signifies an appropriate amount of self care within the game.) By not drawing its line in the sand too distinctly #SelfCare can be whatever you want it to be and that is what makes it so good. It definitely isn’t something I would have considered if it weren’t for indie games journalism pointing it out to me, but I’m glad they did, and it is definitely something I will come back to on my phone.

If you haven’t thought about taking out time for yourself in your daily routine I urge you to try #SelfCare. Use it for a few minutes on your commute, on your lunch break, or dare I say it in the bathroom. If this product isn’t for you that’s OK use it as a gateway to find other tools or products that do work for you. In Australia we have a number of services if you are struggling. Consider checking out Lifeline Australia, Beyond Blue or Headspace.

Thank you TRU LUV for helping me continue to redefine what gaming means to me.