Playne Wants Players to Focus on Themselves
How an indie game uses tried and true mechanics to promote mental health
Ibegin each day with the same routine. A cup of coffee, a quick scroll through social media, and then I retreat to a small grove frozen in time, with a small campfire at its center, and a fox who acts as my guide to better understanding myself and the world around me.
This is Playne, a game designed around bringing life back to the world through meditation.
You can’t play this game with a controller. It can’t be played with others. There are no puzzles or boss fights. Each day, you are given one task— meditate. The game asks you to sit back, push away the keyboard, and focus on yourself. Only after you’ve accomplished that does it move forward, offering up more of its story and new ways to customize your experience.
Meditation has never come naturally to me. My mind is constantly on the move, going from thought to thought, sometimes getting stuck in a continuous loop and fixating on one thing for what feels like an eternity. The idea of calming my thoughts always felt like an impossible task. Even when trying on my own, either by using a phone app or a guided YouTube video, my mind would always wander off after only a few minutes.
Playne, though, helped with that. By including a story, levels of progression, and achievements into what would otherwise be another tool for meditation, the game offers a roadmap of incentives to someone who — like me — has always struggled with the practice. This makes the initial hurdle of trying out meditation much more accessible while adding incentives to come back and keep trying. This blend of external and internal progression is what makes the game so approachable. It takes mechanics that most gamers would be familiar with, and reframes them in a way to build up positive habits. Playne found a way to gamify mental health.
The core mechanic revolves around meditating each day, though for how long is completely up to the player. Only have five minutes? That’s enough time. Want to try for an hour? It’s completely up to you. The goal is consistency. Are you willing to come back, day after day, to meditate? The game keeps track of how many days in a row you’ve managed and challenges you to beat that record.
The bonfire at the center of Playne will grow bright and strong after multiple days of meditating, but can potentially go out if a day is skipped. But even this mechanic is used to reinforce meditation’s core idea of letting go. When the fire goes out, the fox will discuss the importance of letting go of things that we cannot control, and how we can always start again.
With each meditation, the Playne will grow, and time will progress one step further towards the next morning. After a set number of days it will level up, adding more options for your daily meditation, and the fox will tell you more about the world. If you stick with it and managed to complete all ten levels, then developer Krish Shrikumar will plant a tree in your honor.
If you manage to stick with the game long enough to see it through to the end, you are rewarded by being given full reign over the Playne. This allows you to travel and change the world as you see fit, as it has helped you change yourself. It’s a beautiful endcap to the game and a great transition point for those that were able to make meditation a part of their daily habit and wish to keep it as part of their routine.
A number of changes have been made to the game since its initial release. It now offers guided meditations for those that need a helping hand, different ways to focus or practice breathing, and even a sandbox mode. A lot of care has been put into this game in order to make meditation more accessible and interesting to a wider audience.
When I first started, the prospect of meditating each day felt like work. I didn’t know how I would turn my brain off and focus on my breathing. Sessions were short and would end with dozens of thoughts piling up. I thought that I was doing something wrong. Maybe meditation was just something I would never be able to do.
But Playne understood my frustrations and nudged me to try at a later time. Days passed before I mustered up the courage to open up the game again. The grove was unchanged, and the fox was still waiting next to the campfire with words of encouragement. So I tried again. And again. And again.
After a while, the time between meditation sessions shortened, and each one lasted longer. Thoughts weren’t as frequent, and I began to step away feeling calm and refreshed. It was actually working.
The implementation of thought pages, however, is what cemented the game in my daily routine. During the first thirty minutes of my day, I use this mode to write whatever thoughts are stuck in the recesses of my mind, getting them out of my head and onto the page. I find that I need this as a way to ease into a day of writing. Playne distorts the text enough so I can’t reread anything I’ve already written, cementing the idea to just let words flow while I focus on my breath. At the end of the session, I offer those words up to the campfire, causing it to roar to life as I leave behind past worries and focus on the day’s work.
This game has done a lot to bring peace into my life. I most likely wouldn’t even be writing this article right now without the habits this game has instilled in me. It was the push I needed to keep going when I didn’t know if I could.
So many videogames focus on bringing powerful emotions out in their players with large flashy scenes, dramatic stories, and intense action. In comparison, the calmness of Playne stands out, offering tranquility and personal growth in lieu of external validation.
It is a reflection of what a game can be, taking well-known mechanics and turning them back on the player, requesting that they look inside of themselves for a moment. This is a rare trait in a video game and one that should be explored more often.
If you’re curious to try out meditation or have struggled with it in the past, then Playne might be worth checking out.