Modern life is a constant source of stress. While it’d be a stretch to say that it’s more difficult to get by today than it was when you would have to pawn off your children for a slice of bread, 21st century living comes with its fair share of difficulties nonetheless.
Whether it’s a big stack of bills, heavy workloads, or that bastard Greg not liking the meme you tagged him in, it doesn’t take long for stuff to pile up and make you feel overloaded. Stress is a creeping problem, slowly bubbling beneath the surface often without you even realising it. It’s all too easy to push worries to the back of your mind and soldier on regardless of the mental weight you’re carrying.
At the start of the year, this site was having serious issues and it required me to work for a week straight to find a fix. Combine that with a part-time job, a dwindling bank balance, and the day-to-day running of Cultured Vultures and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I quickly became burnt out.
After deciding to step back for a short break, I focused on decompressing and winding down. Instead of finding a new hobby, I decided to lean on my oldest one: gaming.
But it wasn’t a twitchy match of Rainbow Six Siege or a grey matter intensive round of Overwatch I was after – I wanted to play some relaxing games and let my brain float out of my head. It worked, too: I returned to work eager to get on with things and kick the ass of rest of the year.
With that in mind, here are ten of the most relaxing video games (in no particular order) for when you just need to simmer down, kick up your feet, and let everything wash away, even if it’s just for a few hours.
“Serene” is probably the best way to describe Gris: a platformer in which you play as young woman who’s lost her voice and must go on a journey to get it back. It’s actually quite similar to another game you’ll find later on in this list, but there’s nothing quite like Gris.
If the beautiful watercolour aesthetic doesn’t immediately put you at ease, the simply perfect soundtrack certainly will. Gris is a game that wants you to sit back and think introspectively, while also just generally getting away from the hustle and bustle of your mind. A true late contender for one of the best games of 2018.
“Gris is an emotive work of art that offers a sense of peace and optimism in tumultuous times.”
12. Slime Rancher
Listen: life is a lot sometimes. It’s just a lot. Your hair is receding, your belly fat is starting to overlap in on itself, and you can’t quite get your beard to stop being curly and want to just shave it off. I am talking about myself here, so I should probably wander off and play Slime Rancher.
Believed to be the first farming game featuring guns, the objective of Slime Rancher is simple: ranch some slimes. They’re slippery little blobs of loveliness that can sometimes escape, but your handy gun can bring them back to the farm with little fuss. Sure, things can get a little stressful if you wander too far from the farm, but why would you want to if you have plenty of slimes to ogle at? Slimes are love, slimes are happiness.
Everything is about, well, everything. It’s an avant garde bit of interactive storytelling that sees you controlling almost every living thing around you, as well as the odd cigarette butt. If that sound bonkers, it’s because it is, which just makes it that much more charming.
Pay no heed to the wonky animations of animals as they roll around everywhere instead of walking normally. In fact, if you just stare at it for a long time while you listen to the well-spoken professor teaching you about the universe, it’s kind of hypnotising. And there isn’t a gun in sight.
10. Stardew Valley
I was late to board the Stardew Valley hype train, but as soon as I started raising chickens with the names of dead rappers, I immediately understood why this little indie game had been such a massive success.
Even its premise reflects the need to be distanced from modern life. A career-driven individual is constantly battered down by the 9-5 until they remember a letter from their grandfather. Opening what turns out to be the deeds to a farm in Stardew Valley, they leave the hustle and bustle of city living behind to start afresh and reconnect with simple pleasures.
Stardew itself is a quaint little town almost entirely disconnected from “normality”. You’ll meet new people (and painstakingly gift them berries every day until they become your friends) and even have plenty to explore, but Stardew’s real allure is taking the time to cultivate a living for yourself off the land, something that we all wish we could do when the going gets tough.
9. Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis
You might be confused by this one, seeing as how almost every theme park management game gets to a point where it seems like your second job. Operation Genesis can be played exactly like that, tasking you with overseeing the demanding day-to-day operations of dinosaur tourism.
But what’s this? You accidentally deleted the fence for the Spinosaurus enclosure? Oh no, whatever will you do? Why are you imagining the tourists are people you resent as they’re eaten by rampaging dinosaurs? The park is overrun, families are being stalked by packs of dangerous velociraptors; there’s no escape. You’re a monster.
You’re also feeling pretty relaxed right now.
8. Elite: Dangerous
If you aren’t already an Elite: Dangerous player, you should probably be warned that the first couple of hours of Frontier’s massive space exploration title are going to be the total of opposite of relaxing. It’s an incredibly dense game that require patience.
Once you’re able to successfully land your ship without shaming your family, however, it becomes utterly cathartic to travel the galaxy at your leisure. I’m only a few hours in, but I’ve already noticed how relaxing it is to warp between systems for delivery missions to contribute towards slowly but surely patching a ship together that would make Han Solo feel impotent.
You can also play Elite anyway you like; there’s an emphasis on roleplaying that the game subtly enforces to add much more to the experience. For the time being, I’m a neutral Commander who will do jobs for anyone and everyone, including criminals, but that doesn’t make me a bad person. I’m just trying to support my family because little Jimmy’s clarinet lessons won’t pay for themselves.
Roughly two years ago, I was feeling worn down and just about done with life for reasons that I won’t go into here. After deciding to pick up Thatgamecompany’s Journey, that soon changed – it provided clarity like no other game I’ve ever played and an emotion that I can’t quite put into words.
I will come back to Journey now and again when I feel fried or like I need to take a second for myself. My tense shoulders loosen up and my mind goes blank each and every time I watch the robed figure look to the distant horizon. It’s almost like therapy.