I Tried It: I Played Xbox For Seven Nights in a Row. Now Gaming Is Essential to My Self-Care Routine.

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When I was three years old, I came wobbling into the playroom of my childhood home. My Dad was surrounded by my siblings and fighting Bowser on the final level of the O.G. Super Mario Bros. That’s when I—interested in the clicks of the joystick—tripped over the power cord. The entire game reset, and he was sent right back to Level 1. I spent a great deal of my childhood trying to get back to that final level, but never could. As *tragic* as it sounds, it’s been a running joke in my family for 20+ years now. I'm 23 now and still haven’t lived down the infamous cord incident, but somewhere along the way I did lose touch with gaming. Whether or not I was inflicted with the (false) ideation that “gaming is for boys”  as I grew up is up for debate. But when Team Xbox came to us asking if there was anyone interested in gaming on their newly launched Xbox One S All-Digital Edition Console, I jumped at the chance! It was time for me to get back to my gaming roots and see if there was a place for gaming in my (adult) life today. I gamed for seven nights in a row, and here’s what happened.  

Night One  

For the full sake of transparency, my first thought was ugh, I definitely do not feel like setting this up today. But the full timeline from unboxing to play time only took 15 minutes (!!!). The Xbox team sent me this truly stunning controller with the console, and it’s honestly prettier than me? ! As soon as I opened it, I couldn’t wait to get started. I’m all about design and keeping clutter out of my apartment, so I was thrilled to see that the Xbox One S All Digital Edition is...all digital! So you don’t need discs – you can just download the games you want directly to your console. I found the games I wanted to try using Xbox Game Pass – which is this super cool service that gives you access to over 100 games each month – so you can explore and discover what it is that speaks to you! 

For my first day, I decided to start with a game that an Xbox team member — Amanda Lui — kindly recommended to me: The Gardens Between. I started downloading it through Game Pass and before I could finish making my evening snack it was ready to play. First reaction? This game is STUNNING. Your avatar navigates through layers of dreamy landscapes—it's so relaxing and I just wanted to “walk around” so I could take in all of the breathtaking design. I played for a little under an hour but would’ve kept going if my roommate didn’t need the TV. 

​Night Two  

I spent 10 minutes going through Game Pass to see if there was anything else I wanted to try tonight (Game Pass’s algorithm pre-recommends games for each individual player, so even though there are hundreds of titles to choose from, your curated collection appears at the top), but couldn’t stop thinking about The Gardens Between and decided to play that title again to make sure I *really* loved it. This time, I played for a full 1.5 hours after dinnertime – a time when I would normally be checking and responding to emails, stressing myself out about the work that needs to be done tomorrow, and looking at hella memes on Twitter. Truthfully, it felt amazing to Zen out with content that’s actually engaging. Binge watching The Office means my eyes are glazing over and I’m scrolling through social feeds for half the episode, but playing The Gardens Between actually stimulates me without stressing me out. 

Night Three  

Remember how I told you gaming helped me feel less stressed? It’s like, so real you guys. Apparently, gaming isn’t just chilling me TF out at night, it’s inspiring me at work too. At the office today, I asked our design team to create a social graphic inspired by The Gardens Between’s dreamy color palette, and I wondered how else gaming might influence (and enhance) my professional life. After all, a more relaxed me is a more creative me, as the lesser anxiety definitely helps me feel a bit more ~free~ and in touch with my artistic side, and I’m really digging this new-and-improved Holly. I’m sure my coworkers also appreciate the additional brainstorming materials, too.  

Related: Xbox’s Amanda Lui Is Bringing Girl Power to Gaming – Here's How She Landed on the Brand’s Content Strategy Team

​Night Four  

By my fourth day, I was feeling confident enough to play live online. One of my best friends from college is an Xbox pro, and I knew for a fact that he had Xbox Game Pass, so I had him download The Gardens Between and we arranged for a time to get online at the same time. Between levels, we’d chat through our headsets about life, work, and everything in between (we’ve both moved far away from our college towns since graduating). While we were chatting, I’d apply the layers of my skincare routine, sip on tea, and light a candle or two so I could reach ~peak~ relaxation. During the actual playing time, we’d crack up when one of us messed up, race against each other to certain objects, and challenge each other to focus, and collaborate to beat each level. As weird as it sounds, it was actually a better BFF bonding session than any of the most recent times we’ve gotten together at a bar or something. And it was WAY better than just chatting on the phone – it gave us something to do together. 

Night Five  

After my friend and I had such a fun live gaming session the night before, we both decided to log on again after a stressful day at work. Within 15 minutes of picking up the controller, I was cracking up and had completely forgotten about all things email-related. We played a few rounds together, when my friend asked if he could have a few of his friends—avid The Gardens Between players—join us. They hopped on and we chatted for a few minutes about the new Xbox One S All Digital Edition console, and how lucky I was to have the opportunity to be one of the first people to try it out! (Lucky indeed, because by night five, this chic little console was starting to become part of my regular self-care routine). When it came to playing time, these guys were immediately better than me, and I was prepared to start hearing comments like “you play like a girl.” (I even armed myself with a factoid from Xbox’s Amanda Lui that she told me during our interview: “48% of women are gamers, but only 6% identify as ‘gamers.’”) 

Instead, I learned that I was repeating a mistake I’ve made many times before—I was taking myself too seriously. If I messed up, everyone just laughed and moved on, because gaming is just like any other new thing you try with your friends. Some people are better because they’ve done it before, and others need practice because they’re brand spankin’ new. Yes, there are competitive, professional gamers out there. But most players online just want a fun opponent. The experience was a much-needed reminder that not taking yourself so seriously is a great way to beat stress, and I found that the less I focused on being competitive, the more fun I had. It might seem obvious, but it was def a good lesson for me! 

Related: She Came to Play 

​Night Six  

By now, playing The Gardens Between has completely replaced my nightly Netflix binge-watch (even though you can still stream Netflix, HBO, YouTube, and basically all of the apps of your dreams on the Xbox One S All Digital — hellooo entertainment goals). I had the luxury of having the TV to myself for nights three through five, but on night six my roommate came back to the apartment after being out of town. He walked in on me doing a face mask while playing The Gardens Between and said, “It’s weird to see someone doing a face mask and playing Xbox at the same time.” I laughed at first, but then asked, “Wait, why?”  

“I guess because face masks are kind of girly,” he replied. It’s true that skincare is typically perceived (and marketed) as for women, while gaming is typically perceived and marketed as for men. But why can’t I care about my skin and enjoy playing The Gardens Between? Why should I limit myself to just one of these two forms of relaxation just because of my sex? The answer is that I shouldn’t. So, my solution? I forced my guy roommate to throw on a face mask and play with me.  

Night Seven  

If you’re wondering how my roommate handled the whole face mask & game (the new “Netflix & Chill”) evening last night, let’s just say I came home to him using my moisturizer and playing Call of Duty on night seven. I grabbed our spare controller and played with him for a while, but quickly realized that combat games are just not something I enjoy. But, that’s the beauty of Game Pass,!  We just hopped out of Call of Duty and pulled up The Gardens Between.  

While I’d definitely found a game I knew and loved, one of the best parts of this amazing system is that you can try so. many. games. My gaming adventures didn’t stop at night seven, but continued on basically forever as I tried my hand at all types of genres--puzzle games, fantasy games, create/explore adventure games (trust me, the Minecraft hype is *real*) and found new and exciting ways to step up my gaming hang outs, with myself or with others. 

Before I started this gaming diary, my *adult* understanding of gaming consisted of the loud, violent games I’ve seen some of my friends play over the years. But, my assumption that these types of games were the only ones out there was just as thick (and misinformed) of an assumption as when people go around assuming gaming is an activity exclusively for boys. Not true! I’ve found a game (okay, games, I’m unstoppable now) that I love and can’t wait to share with my girlfriends. Most importantly, I’m so excited to have a reason to invest time in myself nightly. Burnout from work and school is so real, and I just can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have a go-to for destressing. You might be surprised by just how AMAZING you feel when you integrate the Xbox One S All Digital Edition into your life. I feel creatively inspired, calmer, and maybe even a little bit smarter, and I’m excited to be the one who has the apartment with the ~cool~ gaming system. Rosé and Xbox, anyone? 

My last step? Keep my Dad away from my power cord now that he has an outlet to finally seek his revenge.