Something that comes up a lot when you ask gamers why they like gaming is the phrase “I do it to relax.” After a long day at work or school, it’s great to be able to rest your mind and pop in a game—it gives you something to keep you occupied while cooling down from real-life anxieties. But we know gaming doesn’t always look like relaxation: Your sullen teenage son aggressively plays Call of Duty to “relax.” Your niece puts hundreds of hours into a nerve-racking role playing game to “relax.” Your mother screams at Candy Crush to “relax.” What’s up with that?
There are a few things going on here, and one of them is that relaxation does look different in different people. What might seem nerve-racking to you might be an emotional investment into an exciting story for me, and what might look aggressive to me might be a fun way to work out tension for someone else. There’s also the strong possibility that a game that was initially relaxing has become frustrating and is no longer so.
Most importantly, a lot of games that are fun aren’t necessarily relaxing. They are meant to get your blood pumping and bring excitement to your life, after all. So what are some games that are built for calm?
Journey is a short, simple game that allows players to sand-surf their way through the ruins of an ancient civilization in the desert. The goal is to reach a distant mountain, and to find out what happened to your people along the way. The game has no talking; the characters speak only in chirps. It can be played online with a partner, but this partner is faceless, nameless, and cannot communicate except with the aforementioned chirps and jumps. The setting is incredibly gorgeous, the movement fluid, and the music evocative. It’s also very easy and can be played within a four-hour period. Journey is a good option for people looking for something sad and beautiful, with the added benefit of human contact without the more problematic aspects of human contact. (Like, you know, talking.)
ThatGameCompany’s older games, FlOw and Flower, are also excellent options for relaxation. They might be a bit tougher to find these days, though.
Tenacity is an app that actually aims to help players relax and literally take a deep breath. Players will count their breaths while exploring different environments, like Egyptian dunes and Greek ruins—even stairways into space. By tapping on the screen in rhythm with your breaths, you are forced to focus on this very simple and useful activity. As the game progresses, more distractions are added, like a flock of birds flying by. Although it might not sound entertaining in the same way a traditional video game is, Tenacity is a powerful tool for people who have trouble focusing or calming down in stressful situations.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a simulation game in which players live in a village with a bunch of anthropomorphic animal friends and acquaintances. You can decorate your house, collect bugs and fruit, give presents, and do other extremely adorable but largely inane things. Most of the game is taken up with talking to your animal villagers and upgrading your home from its origins as a tent. What makes the game unique is that players can visit each other’s villages and exchange messages. It’s also in real time, so if you abandon your town for a while your villagers might be a little sad you’ve left. This mechanic isn’t for everyone, but Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a great way for kids and parents to keep in touch in a fun, stressless way.
Drifting Afternoon and Other Orsinal Games
Drifting Afternoon is a free browser game that is simple and meditative, but still engaging. Players guide a small puppy across a peaceful landscape as it hops from balloon to balloon. If pastel colors, relaxing music, and cute animals are your thing, this game will be pretty great. It can go on basically forever if you manage to hit the “time” balloons, which add a few seconds to your meter. But if you run out, it’s no big loss. Simply begin again. There’s no horrifying death animations or even sad puppy eyes awaiting your failure—just a nice, cursive “try again.”
In fact, Orsinal has a huge selection of games along these lines on their website. There’s one where you have to direct giraffes to kiss each other, another where mice collect marshmallows, and many more. Most do have some timed element to the play, though, so folks who like being able to pause at will or spend a long time deliberating over their next move might not enjoy those games as much.
Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved
Disney Fantasia is a motion game that uses Xbox’s Kinect. Players use their arms to “conduct” the music—it isn’t quite dancing, but it can be if you get really into it. The difficulty level varies, but there’s no way to fail a song. Music has been shown to invoke calming and soothing reactions, and getting up and moving can help to relax stiff shoulders. The animation is mellow, and you don’t have to worry about encountering the same levels of stress that Mickey does with the enchanter in the original “Fantasia” film.
The Sailor’s Dream
The Sailor’s Dream is an elegant mobile game that is more poetry than puzzle. It sets you in a beautiful and peaceful ocean, surrounded by six small islands. You can explore each island in whatever order you like, scrolling through rooms and discovering items that each reveal a tiny piece of a larger story. There are dark elements to the tale; however, it’s neither intense nor frightening. The game moves at a dreamlike pace, encouraging you to take your time in this strange and wondrous world.
Tengami is a peaceful exploration game in the style of a pop-up book. The player wanders through paper-inspired puzzles in an effort to restore a beautiful cherry tree’s missing blossoms. The whole game is slow and thoughtful and emotionally evocative. There is light music playing, but no written or spoken dialogue. A few evocative Haikus are scattered throughout. While players might get stuck on some of the tougher puzzles, there’s no way to lose the game.
Minecraft (Creative Mode)
If you’re the type who likes building things, Minecraft‘s creative mode might be a great option. The possibilities are basically endless—some players make entire new worlds out of Minecraft blocks, or try to emulate existing ones (like this Spirited Away reproduction). There’s really no stress involved. Players can’t win or lose in this sandbox of a game; imagine kids playing with an unlimited supply of Legos.
What games do you play for relaxation purposes, and why? Let us know in the comments!