We’ve all been there. It’s the end of the day, or the week, or something, and you finally have some time to sit back and relax. You want to do some gaming, but the very thought of loading up your last save in Fallout 4, tackling another long quest in The Witcher 3, or fighting another grueling boss in Bloodborne makes you want to lie down on the floor and whimper.
A lot of days I’m so exhausted from all of the usual life stuff going on that I don’t have the mental energy to play a game that requires intense focus. I love difficult games, but I’m not always up for fighting my way through a particularly obstinate level or area over and over again. My friends struggle with this as well; they love playing games, but when they go to do so, nothing they find actually helps them unwind.
Another hurdle we face is that a lot of games take a decent amount of time per play session. If I only have an hour or so of downtime, there’s no way I want to start playing a game where I know I’m only going to get through part of a mission before I have to go do something else. Sometimes what we need is bite-sized gaming: games that we can pick up and put back down quickly and easily.
Since just finding suitable games can be the hardest part, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite chill-out games for you to peruse.
Have you always dreamed of messing around with a pond’s ecosystem while incurring zero real-world consequences? Eat Create Sleep’s game Among Ripples allows you to do this. Watching fish and other creatures swim around is a pretty good way to de-stress, and if it turns out creating healthy sustainable environments isn’t really your strong suit, you can always start over. Nothing is permanent, so you can happily sit back and watch the seasons slowly move by. You can acquire this game for free for Mac, Windows, and Linux.
I remember first playing this on a rainy evening, wrapped in a blanket with the lights off. The experience is one of the most peaceful moments I can recall having while playing a game. The Sailor’s Dream is not only full of beautiful art, but also has a soothing soundtrack and subtle, gentle sound design. You’re able to wander through the world at your leisure, discovering the story as you go. Developed by Simogo (who also made Year Walk, one of my favorite non-relaxing games), The Sailor’s Dream is available on iOS. To supplement this nautical tale, Simogo also released an equally relaxing free podcast series (called The Lighthouse Painting) set in the same world. It can be found on their site as well as on iTunes.
Oftentimes puzzle games are not what you want to play when you’re exhausted. Trying to force your drained brain to come up with solutions to sometimes nebulous problems is far from relaxing. Shadowmatic, however, lets you flex your puzzle-muscles while still allowing you to chill out. In each level you are presented with objects that you can rotate in any direction. The goal in this puzzler from Triada Studio Games is to rotate the object in such a way that the shadow it casts matches the picture that you see when you start the level. Shadowmatic is available on iOS.
I will start by saying that you should probably take this particular suggestion with at least one grain of salt, or perhaps even several grains. I find the repetitive nature of this game to be relaxing; you can restart levels so quickly that you are able to fall into a sort of meditate state as you attempt to navigate your way through the quickly spinning shapes. The gameplay is made even more relaxing by an amazing chiptune soundtrack by Chipzel, making Super Hexagon a fantastic game to play when you want to empty your mind and let go of whatever is stressing you out. This great title from VVVVVV creator Terry Cavanagh can be played on iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, and Linux.
In Viridi, you grow succulent plants in real time. You can water them, pull out weeds, and select different planters to put them in. Additionally, as suggested by the developers, you can leave the game open in a window so that the plants can keep you company while you work. This lovely potted-plant simulator from Ice Water Games is available for free on Mac, Windows, Linux. A release on iOS and Android will follow sometime in the future.