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Minecraft and the healing power of the mundane

Minecraft and the healing power of the mundane

The power of the mundane

I first wrote about my mental health journey here in a piece that explored my diagnosis of PTSD and how games with comforting loops helped me make sense of that condition. I’ve since embarked on a course of treatment which I’m just under halfway through. It took a little time, but I was accepted on a medical trial for a new form of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for those with Complex PTSD.

I wanted to revisit this, many weeks later, once I found myself on the way to healing, and it seems that video games are, once again, aiding me in my journey.

A big part of my therapy requires me to relive certain painful memories, usually with incredible detail, unearthing parts of my recollection that I’d once thought lost. This memory is examined several times over the course of 90 minutes, constantly adding moments as they come back to me.

By the end of a session, the memory will be altered, usually by adding this present-day version of myself into the memory and grounding my original self with updated thoughts and imagery. It took a while to get used to and it became a challenge for me as, while awaiting the next session a week later, I’d have to, as homework, constantly retread that memory with the updated information in order to “rewrite” the trauma response.


After the first session using this technique, I spoke to my therapist about how I was struggling to focus. The imagery was leaving my brain as soon as I thought about it and she mentioned how I might need a healthy distraction, something with more repetition. I touched on this in my original article, but the games I’d usually reach for weren’t working, so I had to simplify things even further.

So, I started chopping down trees. In Minecraft, I should add.

If I had to simplify things and keep one facet of my mind busy, while the other parts of my brain were working overtime, I had to do something so mundane that I could heal at the same time. I probably could have used a colouring book, or something similar, but I know games, and so I chose games.

So I chopped trees. A lot of trees. It became a mini-game in its own right. I’d make a few iron axes, head out into a heavily wooded Birch Forest biome, and clear as much of the area as I could. It turned out pretty well. As I was chopping, doing nothing more than moving on to the next tree or swapping out a broken axe, I was rerunning the trauma memory over and over in my mind.

It became like reciting a well-known lyric. I could take myself back to the memory without the trauma because I was cognitively distracting myself - I was removing the pain through distraction while annotating the memory.

To give an example; there was a moment in my traumatic memories when I sat by myself with the weight of receiving the news that my daughter would never survive her ordeal. I was alone and isolated in the memory, feeling nothing and nobody around me. Through therapy, I learned to ‘time-travel’ myself now, back into that memory, and talk to me back then. I’m not going to tell you what I said, as that is part of my inner voice, but the repetition needed to ‘rewrite’ the memory is exhausting. And painful.


I’d soon chopped down hundreds of trees, all while thinking about one memory, refreshed. Then after the next session, when we’d moved onto another memory that makes up the whole, I went back to Minecraft and its mundane tasks. This time, I started mining. I wasn’t mining for diamonds or iron, I was just mining out blocks in a spiral from the top of a mountain, and down to as far as I felt I wanted to reach. Slowly this quarry grew around me as I went deeper and deeper into the earth and memory alike.

This has become routine for me now after we’ve done trauma therapy. Some weeks, we take a break and work on other things, but if I have to alter any moment from the past, I seek out a game that will help. Minecraft stuck around for a few sessions - one time I planted over 900 wheat seeds, just tilling the land, planting the seeds, and moving on.

Then I tried Powerwash Simulator, which helped in the same way. I kept meticulously washing away the grime, slowly revealing the vibrant colours or shiny metals of whatever I was cleaning. This got me thinking about how mundanity can be incredibly healing.

We often overlook the 'boring' moments in video games but they allow us the space to breathe, to take a moment. It’s similar to meditation - the act of focusing on your breathing to enter a state of mindfulness. Except, instead of breathing, I’m chopping down trees. I mean, I’m breathing also. Better than that, I’m healing.

Featured Image Credit: Microsoft

Topics: Minecraft, Microsoft, Xbox, Xbox Game Pass, PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation