Boring entertainment options for the moderately depressed

One of the more irritating unwanted deliveries from the mood disorder warehouse is the kind of depression where you’re not totally incapacitated, but every fucking thing about being alive is horrifyingly boring. All human appetites have fled from you, but you can still mostly put on clothes and go outside and do your job.

It can be tempting to look for a quick lift…usually by compulsively refreshing social media. Sadly, that’s boring too. And also vaguely stressful. Not helping.

So: your interior skull meats are not lining up as they should and all of your organs have been replaced by a vacuum, but you still need something to do other than reading the List of Hobbits on Wikipedia (on the toilet) (again). With that in mind, here are some not-better-but-different activities you can sit your brain down in front of until you’re capable of human thought and feeling again.

Games

This is a rich, full category when it comes to boring diversions. It’s important to be precise about the type of game that works during the dark times. Anything with too much gameplay, story, action, emotion etc. is out – those all punch too hard between don’t care and can’t handle. The games I’m talking about are extremely bland.

They’re nearly all mobile games, which is good because you can park your phone in front of your face at any time in any location. If sitting up in a chair at a desk is too onerous for your drooping bones, you can still entertain yourself in bed,  on the couch, on the bathroom floor and so on.

I’m also focusing on games that aren’t too heavily incentivised around waiting or microtransactions, because that much overt manipulation sucks enough even when you’re not depressed (looking at you, King).

Bingo Pop

Bingo Pop is a game that feels like it should be more irritating than it is. The developers have definitely gone dark UX on a few things (loading screen says “log into Facebook to save your progress!” even though the game saves your progress anyway; occasionally making the “please please please will you like us on Facebook?!” button on the main homepage jiggle and dance around [you absolute fucks, stop doing that]), but in spite of these defects I can’t bring myself to hate it.

It works for a number of reasons. It’s incentive-based, sure – you collect cherries and coins when you do various things; cherries are gameplay tokens, coins are powerup tokens; you spend both to play the game. However, the game drops huge amounts of resources on you, seemingly at random. “Hooray, you won [arbitrary number] games of bingo! Have some free shit to keep you playing!” This process keeps you sufficiently resource-rich that you can play a fair bit in one session and still have resources left, so there’s less of a failure/hunger cycle than with games like Candy Crush. I believe that microtransactions are available within Bingo Pop but I have never, ever felt urged or incited to spend money on it, and I appreciate that.

It’s also compelling in a super-slow-and-grindy-but-not-irritatingly-so sort of way. There’s a chance to do something that contributes to an overall feeling of achievement almost every time you make a move, from collecting powerups or arbitrary other resources (currently cute jungle animals) which you can then convert into more resources, to actually getting a bingo (or several bingos, or a MEGA BINGO which is a thing that exists). I cannot overestimate how soothing this game is.

Did I mention it’s bingo? The funnest and most dumbest way to gamble?

You got a bingo! That definitely counts as a life achievement and not just another reason to weep.

You got a bingo! That definitely counts as a life achievement and not just another reason to cry.

The best thing about Bingo Pop is that it literally passes the time for you. All you have to do is wait for a number to appear, see if you have that number on your bingo card (the balls are helpfully colour-coded for this very purpose), jab your finger at the screen if you do, and win entirely intangible prizes. It’s just diverting enough that thinking about anything else means you’ll inevitably miss some calls, which would be bad for bingo, so you haven’t really got time to get ruminating in between. You need pure bingo focus.

The hours melt away.

Also I went back to the Play store to have a look at the game while I was writing this and it turns out I left them a bizarre review back in 2014 when I was balls-out paranoid flailing levels of depressed about how I wasn’t sure the other players were real, so…that’s a thing.

2048

2048 is a simple game with a simple premise: swipey swipey match the numbers don’t let them get out of control. Try to make the amazing numbers without the shit ones getting stuck in the wrong places.

You can keep going past 2048; you can keep going forever.

You can keep going past 2048; you can keep going forever

This game is marginally riskier for the depressed mind, in that you can definitely fuck it up and it definitely is all your fault when you do and now you have to start again, but the app version makes it easier to string a game out indefinitely thanks to the all-important addition of an undo button. As long as you’re not swiping carelessly, any mistakes (or inept number-generation on the part of the game) can be instantly erased, allowing you to endlessly manipulate it towards numerical perfection.

There are a million variations on combine-some-stuff-to-make-some-other-stuff as a game type, including Triple Town (but if you’re depressed enough to be reading this you know you don’t deserve cute things like floating castles and bears), as well as a zillion 2048 clones on the market (Doge 2048 is a personal favourite), but what makes plain vanilla 2048 perfect for the moderately depressed is how dull the UI is. A bland, wheaten colour palette and nothing else going on. Splendid.

I tend to favour 2048 (no ads) as my 2048 app of choice because the ads in the original version were often animated, and that level of visual distraction at the bottom of the game board was more than my fragile mind could handle.

Chip Chain

Chip Chain is a game where you match poker chips of different values to form chains to make the game go good. It is an extremely good game to play in the ICU waiting room while you are trying to ignore all of the people who are capable of openly displaying human emotion, and also inexplicably having a picnic and playing travel Monopoly at the same time, what the fuck you guys.

Make a chain / From the chips / That’s all you do / That’s the game

Make a chain/From the chips/That’s all you do /That’s the game

Cross-Stitch World

Cross stitch is a phrase that seems to be hyphenated more or less arbitrarily, so I’m not going to even though the app does. Cross-Stitch World is a game you can play on your phone or on Facebook where you select colours and swipe your finger over areas of that colour on the grid and it covers them in tiny imaginary stitches and at the end you get an image file that looks vaguely like a finished piece of cross stitch.

They have a ton of default images you can choose from (I’ve done “some roses”, “somewhere in Italy” and “a sad little kitten”), and you can also upload your own images, have them automatically turned into a cross stitch pattern somehow, and then swipe away to your own delight.

Which is how I ended up doing an imaginary cross stitch of Frank Zappa.

He looks bored of being alive and that’s perfect for this article.

I feel like he would have gone for “imaginary cross stitch” as a concept

Be warned that the app UI hasn’t been scaled down very well in the mobile version – it expects you to interact with microscopic toolbar and interface buttons, though the actual zoom for the cross stitches themselves is pretty good. I find it slightly more satisfying to make imaginary crosses happen with my finger than with a mouse. The Facebook version is easier to see but you have to make the crosses with a mouse. It just isn’t quite as relaxing.

Sporcle/Free Rice

Sporcle and Free Rice are browser-based and boring as fuck, ideal for our purposes here. Sporcle is endless online quizzes and trivia about all manner of things, and it’s great for vaguely-interesting diversions like learning all the US state capitals and how to recognise the world’s countries by their outlines. The kind of thing that is never going to be important for you to know, but if your brain is capable of learning that shit right now you should absolutely take advantage of it as a way to pass the time.

Free Rice is similar except it’s specifically a vocabulary builder, so you will learn a lot of obscure and pointless words. It also donates food to orphans every time you play, which I’m sure you’d find charming as an idea if you were capable of feeling anything about anything.

Not-games

DuoLingo

Ok so this one’s on the borderline between the categories, in that it’s sort of a game but it’s also sort of not. It uses a lot of the same incentivisation patterns as games, except the aim is make you learn languages.

“Arrrgh fuck off don’t tell me to learn a language, I can’t handle that shit,” you cry. “Languages are for talking to other people and I never want to do that again.”

I hear you! I totally do. And I want to be 100% clear that the aim here is categorically not to help you build communication skills. The aim is to slosh away your time as painlessly as possible until death. And here is the amazing secret about learning stuff: small quantities of it can be surprisingly engaging even when your brain is otherwise in the shitter.

You can choose to dress the little owl up, but that feels too much like caring.

You can choose to dress the little owl up, but that feels too much like caring

Learn Welsh! Learn Ukrainian! Learn Esperanto! Doesn’t fucking matter!

Wikipedia

With its unemotional house style and incredible breadth of subject matter, you can learn a lot by accident just by reading Wikipedia. And you’re not a kid and this is not a school project, so you don’t have to stick to lofty, worthy topics. Human history is a grimy armpit and Wikipedia has no-nonsense information about every pore and sweat gland.

Here are some of my favourite areas of study on gloomier days: