Recently, I haven’t had a lot of time to game. I don’t mean that I haven’t thumbed around on a phone game or two, because we all know I’m obsessed with certain brightly colored addictive interactives, but I mean really game. There’s just been too much going on, what with the US election, my dissolving health, and my multiple current jobs. There just hasn’t been any downtime, let alone the time to visit my favorite worlds.

What do I mean by “game?” “Gaming” is a sacred activity that I’ve been practicing since I was just a wee child. It requires the setting aside of time (potentially many hours), the construction of a gaming space to hold my body, the selection of accompanying snacks, and the release of everything else I need to do. That last part is the hardest for me and the most essential. If I don’t manage to allow myself to let go of the planner filled with ongoing and cyclical obligations, I’ll be distracted during the session. I might come out of it feeling guilty that I just spent all of that time staring at a screen. My body might even feel bad that I let fantasy overtake reality.

In this way I’ve found gaming more effective than traditional meditation for clearing my thoughts and settling my mind. I took a Zen meditation course, but each sitting trial left me sweating and panicking, terrified of the things my mind will do when left to its own devices. A good gaming session though? My mind empties of everything but the goal of the level, my thoughts are a forward-rushing river, not the macrame laundry bag it typically is. I exit the time calmer than before, ready to face my life once more.

Yet, recently that has been outside of my reach. After work I go to my other job, on weekends I’m at my weekend job, or one of the two internships I’m using to boost my resume. My only time alone is for sleep. My gaming console is dusty and lonesome. I’m not sure where I left my handheld console. My thoughts are a ragged heap, and my anxiety is at an all time high. I need to run my digital legs through some fields, I need to hack my simulated ax through fake monsters, I need to escape.

In the moments when I can feel my mind tilting toward the dark funnel of my worst thoughts I try to redirect to games. They’re a simple recall for me. It might be difficult to remember moments that I felt good and safe when my heart is thudding against my chest cavity, but it’s easy to think of my characters standing brave and strong in the face of terrors. It’s an exercise that is often taught in meditation and therapy sessions. Think of your happy place. That phrase has always seemed idiotic to me; there is no place that is always happy for me. Then I started doing it, I started picturing the Hyrulian fields in Zelda. My thoughts slowed, my muscles released their grip, my mind steered away from the sucking funnel.

I’m not gaming right now. I miss it. Thankfully, I can see a time soon when I’ll have a few moments to jump right back in. For now I am simply thinking of those games that have held me safe over the years, and that is something important too.