Here we are, almost off the tail end of the dreaded year 2020. Even so, tensions are still rising within all aspects of our daily lives, and that sun-lit horizon we all wish for hasn’t yet decided to arrive. That doesn’t mean it’ll never come, just that we’ll still have to hold out for now… Hopefully only for another month or two. Hopefully. (I know, I want to rip my hair out, too.) Still, I believe one of the best ways to keep a calm, quiet head on my shoulders is to plop myself down in front of some wholesome video games and ignore the screams of chaos for a while. With that said, turn off the news, grab some blankets, and curl up on the couch with one of these 5 games to help you relax while this year is still breathing.
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, iOS and Android
Being one of the most well-known and popular games, with sales still well into the 200 millions every month, Minecraft is undoubtedly qualified to be the first item on this list. Personally, I’ve been a fan of this game since I first discovered the pocket edition back in 2011. Even almost 10 years later, Minecraft still holds a high place in my game library simply because of how flexible it is (and how calming and nostalgic the music is). This blocky game is simple: mine, build, fight, or do none of that at all. Minecraft is purely a sandbox, which means you can do whatever you please with no set quests you must fulfill. Build aesthetically pleasing houses, build functioning machines, kill monsters (or turn them off completely with settings), dig holes into mountains, blow holes into mountains, fly around like a superhero- really, the choice is completely yours. Enjoy a few virtual sunsets and sunrises while you’re at it- even in a game, there’s something so beautiful about watching the world continue to turn.
- Stardew Valley
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation Vita, iOS, and Android
Stardew Valley is, in my personal opinion, a master at calming the nerves. This farming simulation was made by lone developer Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone over the span of four years, and the love and dedication truly shows. In a simple, pixelated world, you play as a character of your creation that moves out to their grandfather’s old farm. As you might expect, they’re now a farmer. However, the beauty of this game is that while you may get some quests and hints for things you could be doing, there is absolutely nothing that you should be doing- and that includes farming. You can plant a few things if you want, raise a few animals, or just let the land grow wild. Make friends with the villagers, learn their backstories, and even get married, or ignore them completely in favor of fishing or going to the mines. There’s no penalty for any path you decide. Plus, you’ll always have some soothing music playing in the background to back you up.
- Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
While I’ve never played any other game in the Animal Crossing series, I certainly didn’t regret picking up New Horizons on a whim. The calm and gentle atmosphere coupled with adorable talking animal friends was all I needed for it to keep me playing for hours on end. Plus, you get to build up an entire town full of them from the ground up! The town is completely under your control- style to your taste, and that includes the inhabitants. Discovering bugs, fossils, and fish, visiting friends islands, and planting copious amounts of flowers are some of my favorite relaxing afternoon activities.
- A Short Hike
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch
I first watched some part of this game being played on a Twitch stream, but I quickly decided I wanted to get my hands on this game myself before I merely watched everything it had to offer. I don’t regret it one bit. Like Animal Crossing, the characters within the game are all talking animals, but other than the stress-free environment, the similarities end there. Made by two people, this game is shorter and more overtly story-driven than the games above, carrying a surprisingly gentle and bittersweet narrative center that is guaranteed to worm its way into your heart. Claire, the playable character of this game, has a goal to reach the top of a mountain called Hawk’s Peak, but there’s no rush to complete it. You are, in fact, encouraged to go off the direct path and explore anything that you find. You can play it at entirely your own pace by interacting with NPC’s, discovering secrets, or just flying around on Claire’s bluebird wings. It’s as cozy and low-key an adventure as you can get.
- Monument Valley
Platforms: iOS, Android
Monument Valley is a mind-bending puzzle game that I spent a good bit of my time completing when it first came out, and the sequel was absolutely no different. They’re very simple, with no extra bells or whistles- solve the puzzle, and Ida will be allowed passage to the end. The game’s visuals and soundtrack feel like pieces of art, and solving the strange perspective puzzle optical illusions is almost meditative. It might have been something I’ve fallen peacefully asleep to a few times…
- Bonus: Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
With Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity having been recently released, it seems relevant to bring up the original as a bonus to this list! I’ll admit, this isn’t a traditionally relaxing game. In fact, there’re quite a few quests, characters, monsters, mini-bosses, and bosses that stress me out just by thinking about them. (Unfortunately, there is no avoiding or turning them off.) Nonetheless, there is a lot of meditative value in the quiet moments, times when there’s nothing to fight, only a beautiful landscape stretched out before you and a faint piano dropping in and out of your hearing. There are such beautiful instants when you stop at a stable, breathe, and feed your horse or an adorable, friendly dog; times when you want only want to take the time to explore and find secrets. While most of the time this game can be something extremely chaotic, there are simply many times where you can just sit around and enjoy another sunrise. (Plus, when you get better gear, there is something extremely cathartic about knocking a monster out of existence without getting a single scratch in return.)
I hope these suggestions bring you peace of mind for hours!