I’ve gotten used to having brain fog—it comes with the territory when you have ADHD. But since starting quarantine a couple months ago, I’ve noticed it creeping into more facets of my life, and making getting through tasks feel more tedious and frustrating than before. As that’s started to sink in, it’s been hard to end some days with a sense of accomplishment.
I’m not usually big on games—the only one I got really into last year was Untitled Goose Game—but in quarantine, they’ve provided a necessary escape from the monotony of days that have all started to blend together. As Katie Heaney points out in this piece from The Cut, video games also provide a low-stakes way to get through a to-do list, and that’s helped me fill that void where accomplishment typically rests. It’s not a long-term fix, but things aren’t great right now, and anything that makes you feel a little better is worth giving some space in your life, even if it’s just running around as a goose stealing an old man’s slippers for a few hours.
If you’ve been fortunate enough to get your hands on a Nintendo Switch lately, you’ve probably been enjoying an escape to your respective islands in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, but stock is still pretty limited. The good news is that you don’t need a Switch to find a game that’ll give you some relief; if you’ve got an iPhone or iPad, a few downloads and the right gadgets can give you a makeshift console with a library of games that’ll keep you entertained until you can finally order a Switch—or long enough to forget you even wanted one.
Gathering your gear
As long as you’ve already got an iOS device handy, the first thing you’ll need to get is a good stand. There’s lots of tablet stands to choose from, some that imitate a desktop setup with an adjustable neck, and others that just give you a quick place to plop your phone or tablet and get on with it. If you’re mostly just looking to do some casual gaming on your iPad, a stand like this one from UGREEN will do. It has adjustable viewing angles, but you’ll still have to look down at it while you’re playing, which isn’t great for anything more than quick sessions.
For a little more versatility, and less strain on your neck, you’ll want something like this stand from Viozon. It lets you rotate between landscape and portrait mode, which comes in handy since most games will lock you into one orientation. Stock seems to be pretty hit-or-miss with iPad stands right now, though, so just be on the lookout for any stands that have adjustable viewing angles and let you rotate the device, and you’ll be fine.
Stands are great for giving you a better view of your screen, but they can make it a bit tougher to interact with and touch without things wobbling around. For games that support them, controllers are way more comfortable for longer play sessions, and they can make things a bit easier, too. If you already have a PS4 or Xbox One controller, then one of those will do, and you can save yourself a bit of money. If not, they’re both available on Amazon, though stock may be limited for a while.
If you’d rather get your gaming done on your iPhone, you could also grab this controller from Gamevice, which is powered by your phone via Lightning, so there’s no need to charge it or connect via Bluetooth, and it sort of gives your phone a Switch-like vibe that‘s solid enough for long gaming sessions.
Getting things just right
Once you’ve gotten together all your gear, you’ll need to make a few adjustments before tossing all responsibilities aside and spending a few hours finding your new favorite time sinker. After you’ve found a good spot to set everything up without getting in anyone’s way, you’ll need to pair your controller to your iPad. It’s a pretty quick process, but isn’t super straightforward, so here’s a quick rundown.
For PS4 controllers, press and hold the PS and Share buttons at the same time until you see the light bar begin to flash. If you have an Xbox controller, press the Xbox button to turn it on, then press and hold the connect button until the Xbox logo starts flashing. After that, hop into your Bluetooth settings on your iPad, and you’ll see a device listed as either “DUALSHOCK4 Wireless Controller” or “Xbox Wireless Controller,” depending on your controller. Just tap to connect, and you’re good to go.
Quick tip: it can be tricky figuring out how to turn off your controller once you’re done for the day to avoid draining the battery. The quickest way I’ve found is to swipe down from the top of my iPad’s screen (it’ll be the same on your iPhone if you have any device with the notch design) to bring down Control Center, and hold down on the Bluetooth button. You’ll see an icon that shows your controller’s device name; tap on that, and it’ll disconnect, immediately turning off your controller until your next session.
Play along at home
Once you’ve gotten all that taken care of, you’re ready to start playing. If this is your first dive into iOS gaming, though, there’s a lot to choose from and it’s not always easy to pick something you’ll enjoy among all the games out there.
Your first option, and the one that’ll probably save you the most money if you like trying out a bunch of games, is to just get a subscription to Apple Arcade. It’s $5 per month after a one-month free trial, which might seem a bit pricey, but it’s cheaper than a lot of premium iOS games, but there’s no in-app purchases or subscriptions tied to individual games. The nice thing about Apple Arcade is that new games get added over time, and you can try and play as many as you want, so you’re unlikely to run out of options.
The biggest downside is that some of the games are pretty short, so you may not get a ton of replay value out of every game you end up loving. There are some really great games there, though, that make a subscription worthwhile, and plenty of them are controller-friendly.
I really enjoy Sneaky Sasquatch, which has a fun, charming design, lovable characters, and a task-oriented system that’ll help you feel accomplished, even on your toughest days. For music lovers, there’s Sayonara Wild Hearts, which is as fun to look at as it is to listen to, so you should definitely put on a good pair of headphones for this one.
There’s also Grindstone, a battle/puzzle game that screams with color, Mini Motorways, where you take on the increasingly challenging role of traffic controller, and Butter Royale, which is basically a cuter, family-friendly version of Fortnite without the loot boxes—it’s great!
If none of the games on Arcade seem appealing to you, or the subscription model just isn’t your jam, don’t fret! There’s still a huge library of games on the App Store to choose from.
Switch users may have exclusive rights to Animal Crossing for escapism, but you don’t have to succumb to FOMO just yet. Stardew Valley is one of my favorite games of all time, it’ll give you plenty of replay value, and it’s right at home on a portable console. Jump out of the news cycle for a few hours and gather your crops, dive into the mines to see what you can find, or just make a few pals in your new town.
If you were into Dark Souls or Bloodborne, think of Hyper Light Drifter like their long-lost, pixel art-inspired sibling. The game is light on story, but its art design is some of the best eye candy you’ll find in a game, and it’s challenging enough to keep you engaged and occupied for more than a few hours.
For something a little different, The Deer God blends RPG elements into an endless-runner-style game that will draw you into its world right away. Dandara Trials of Fear is another thoughtfully-designed platformer with lots of twists and turns that’ll keep you guessing, even as the game progresses.
If you need a little more guidance, or just want to find something more your style, this site also has a list of all the games that support controllers, so you don’t have to hunt them down one-by-one.
Gaming may not be the first thing you think of when you pick up your iPhone or iPad, but if you take the time to find the right games, and a few pieces of gear to liven up the experience, you might find yourself okay with the FOMO of not having a Switch—the water’s pretty nice over here.