As readers of this column knows there is no shame in a mobile game. Despite the fact that at some point in my not too distant past I had become embarrassed about my consumption of small phone games, Merge Mansion captured my soul and in the process transformed my relationship with mobile gaming and Social Media. Tunes in Merge Mansion made it possible for me to tune doomscrolling out.
Before we move on, a moment of honesty: This was not planned. I was not trying to avoid social media when I clicked on that Instagram ad for Merge (clear). Instead, by investing in a mobile game rather than a console game, I was able to train my lizard brain to open Merge– instead of Twitter, TikTok or Instagram – every time I reached for my phone. It turns out that this is much easier than getting into the habit of taking a controller instead of a phone.
How did this happy accident happen? Like (I assume) many of you, my nights in the last year’s time began to assume a toxic form that always ended with me absently taking my phone and just… rolling. I wouldn’t even realize I was doing it until my 22:00 alarm went off and reminded me to get ready to go to bed. I had become the reason journalist Karen K. Ho started dispatch of reminders to people on Twitter telling them to put their devices away. It was unhealthy; I never really got relaxed and woke up every morning and felt anything but rested.
Then I started playing Merge Mansion. The game works by letting you produce objects and then merge them together. To produce goods you have to use energy, and eventually it runs dry. It only takes 15 minutes or so to deplete your resources, so there are plenty of natural stopping points built-in. Unlike doomscrolling, which can evaporate hours of your life before you know it, Merge Mansion‘s energy mechanic makes it easy to keep track of the time you spend in the game. It is simply a much more manageable pastime.
The use of social media is not nearly as manageable. Believe me, I’ve tried. I have tried to hide certain apps far away from my home screen; I have set screen time limits. At one point, I even tried to remove them completely, but as someone who is addicted to social media professionally, it just wasn’t practical.
Mobile gaming became a loophole. Instead of deleting Twitter or TikTok, I just kept games on my home screen. When I now pull out my phone, they are the first thing I see. And it’s not only Merge Mansion, either. I play too Family farm adventure. It’s not that I’ve convinced myself not to open apps for social media – it’s that I do not will have for longer. I’d rather play games.
And you know what? I do not care if I spend the whole evening playing. It’s fun, it’s relaxing and it’s satisfying. I get a real sense of accomplishment when I upgrade a building or clean manure out of a fountain. And I usually end up playing for 15 or 30 minutes and then finding a book or turning on the television.
It even shows up in my mobile habits: Before I started playing Merge Mansion, I spent about two hours a day on Twitter. Now it’s an hour a day on mobile games and only half an hour – sometimes even less – on the Toxic Birds app. Mobile gaming really improves my quality of life and it did not even require any real work on my part.
While some people have been successful in replacing doomscrolling with handheld games, this is not the case for me. I absolutely love my Switch (and my new Steam Deck – more on that in the coming weeks), but the key for me is that the games are on my phone. I do not need to have another device within range to access the games. Because my doomscrolling is an automatic bad habit, I also had to do the solution automatically. For me, it meant mobile.
If you are not much of a mobile gamer but are interested in getting started, you can try downloading a few types of titles. I think fusion and improvement games are the most successful for me. I do not necessarily like free-to-play games where you end up having to defer money to succeed (although I have certainly bought some add-on packages in Merge Mansion without any fault – it protects my mental health, okay?). It’s worth experimenting to see what works and what looks good on a smaller screen (many iOS mobile games get better on an iPad).
Either way, if you want to break that habit of doomscrolling, it’s worth digging in. Speaking of digging, get ready to plant some flowers in Merge Mansion.