Video games have always been comforting for me. When I was growing up, they helped me avoid the social isolation that’s present for so many autistic people like me, and they helped me find a place of acceptance to explore new hobbies.
My biggest issue with games is specific to my autism: I’m time-blind. Unaware of how much time has passed, I can easily sink hours upon hours into games that trigger a “just one more round” response, like, say, Slay the Spire can do. Autistics and ADHD-ers are more at risk of exhibiting traits and behaviors associated with video game addiction. But instead of limiting my screen time, I adapt my play strategy.
At this point in my life, I divide games into two categories: “time sinks” and “brain breaks.” The time sinks that require hours of devotion and focus are things I have to set aside for weekends or evenings. For brain breaks, on the other hand, I choose games that have a definitive ending, minimal postgame, and levels and objectives that take only a few minutes. I can casually pick them up in between meetings or over lunch to stimulate my mind and feel a sense of focus and welcome distraction. These breaks help my executive function, improving my focus and attention throughout the rest of the day. I also feel a sense of renewed motivation by playing games as a reward for accomplishing work-related tasks.
Whether you’re interested in improving your executive function like me or looking for a new way to spend your five-minute Pomodoro Technique break, here are three Nintendo Switch games I recommend to give your brain a boost.
WarioWare: Get It Together
“Perfect for fidgety brains,” Get it Together offers a great way to pull some focus together in quick bursts.
The premise of WarioWare: Get It Together is pretty straightforward. The story mode features 20 characters, and it introduces you to one at a time so you can learn their individual abilities by playing minigames (with food or sports themes, for example) tailored to them. You have up to 200 minigames to choose from, each only a few seconds long.
If you add on Get it Together’s online-play capabilities, WarioWare updates with a Wario Cup challenge. The challenges help my brain’s need for sensory and visual stimulation but also help my need for routine. The Wario Cup challenges typically take me a few minutes total.
This New York Times article says something I’ve thought while playing any WarioWare game: They’re “perfect for fidgety brains.” The very quick pace keeps me focused for a few seconds, and then I’m refreshed and ready to jump back into doing something else.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land
The simplicity of the Kirby games’ formula has always drawn me in: You control a pink puffball, inhale enemies, copy their abilities, and defeat the same enemies to save Planet Popstar. For me, Kirby games are all about low-stakes: They aren’t inherently frustrating and stressful, the environments are beautifully designed, and each installment has the same premise, which is predictable for me.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land is the series’ latest installment for the Nintendo Switch. What makes it so special isn’t the 3D graphics or the new Mouthful Mode that allows Kirby to transform into everyday objects like cars and vending machines. Instead, it’s that the levels—which each take under 10 minutes to complete—have a novel replay factor. You have plenty of room to explore each level your first time through, but you’re unlikely to unlock everything on your first clear. Instead, you can return to complete side quests within them, such as eating a certain amount of food, not taking damage during a boss fight, or finding a secret path. There are also Treasure Road levels to unlock, which are challenging time trials that typically take under three minutes to complete.
Sonic Colors: Ultimate
Sonic Colors Ultimate presents beautiful bite-sized levels with new spins on classic Sonic gameplay.
Sonic was my first true love in gaming, beginning when I was a little kid and my dad had the original games for the Sega Genesis. Somehow, I missed the original Sonic Colors on the Wii, but the remastered edition for the Switch is an unexpected delight. As in most other Sonic games, you control the blue hedgehog to save the world from Dr. Eggman, try to collect the seven Chaos Emeralds in between, and zoom through levels collecting gold rings.
The original Sonic levels were 2D masterpieces that never took more than five to seven minutes to complete. Colors has that linear-like component but with a 3D twist. The colors and the detail level of the graphics make the game so visually stimulating that it somehow feels like it was made for a sensory-seeking person like me.
Like the Kirby title, Sonic Colors: Ultimate has a revisit factor. I find myself exploring earlier levels hoping to collect the red rings I missed, seeking out objects that give Sonic new power, or enjoying the graphics as I zoom past them with a colorful Sonic dash. Then I zoom back into my work or personal tasks, feeling a renewed sense of accomplishment and focus.
This article was edited by Signe Brewster and Arthur Gies.
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