I usually have one of three goals when it comes to my gaming sessions. Sometimes, I’m in the mood for some healthy competition with friends. Other times, I’m determined to beat that near-impossible game I’ve been at for weeks, hopefully without throwing my controller at a wall. Then there’s my third goal: relaxation and a good, old-fashioned fun time. I find that gaming is a great way to relieve stress, but it all depends on the games we’re playing. It’s hard to unwind when an enemy is trying to kill you every two minutes or you can’t get past a level to save your life. Talk about a blood pressure rise.
During the stressful times of the pandemic lockdowns, especially, cozy and chill video games were and still are all the rage. Here are five of the most relaxing video games that you can get your hands on right now.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons – Nintendo Switch
Is anyone surprised to see Animal Crossing: New Horizons on this list? Probably not. New Horizons arrived just in time for global lockdowns and kept many people, including myself, sane. The quirky life simulation game whisks you away to a bare island and gives you the freedom to build a beautiful beach town however you’d like. You’re the only human among an entire population of adorable anthropomorphic animals. You can pay off thousands of dollars of debt, become a billionaire, and never work a day in your life. Basically, New Horizons is a great way to distract us from the fact that our shit isn’t that together IRL. What’s more relaxing than that?
Stardew Valley – PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac, Mobile
Stardew Valley is pretty close in competition with Animal Crossing: New Horizons as the most relaxing life sim. This one takes place on a farm with crops to grow and animals to raise. You can use a variety of natural resources to craft items for your farm and your customizable home. There’s plenty of land to explore and people to befriend — and even date. Stardew Valley is another great “I wish I were here instead” distraction from the absolute chaos that is the world right now.
Abzû – PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Even five years after its release, Abzû is still one of the most relaxing video games you can get. The underwater adventure lets you explore a deep sea and its ancient caverns, using a special power to restore life. There’s no dialogue, but the absolutely gorgeous graphics and calming music tell a story of their own. You can solve puzzles to proceed or simply take in the ocean’s wildlife as if you were really there. Fans of 2012’s Journey will love Abzû, as the two games hail from some of the same creators.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Nintendo Switch, Wii U
Hand-holding does not exist in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but thankfully, there’s no single right way to play the game. This open world adventure has been lauded as one of the best games in the Zelda franchise because of its unique gameplay approach, breathtaking visuals, and serene music. The Kingdom of Hyrule is yours to explore after you, playing as Link, awaken from a long snooze with no memory. There is a story to follow in whatever direction you’d like, but ultimately, the journey is up to you. You can avoid enemies and boss battles in favor of exploring all that Hyrule has to offer, if you so choose. Breath of the Wild is as relaxing as you want to make it.
Gravity Ghost – PS4, PC, Mac
Gravity Ghost is a lesser known indie title by Ivy Games, but it’s one of my personal favorite relaxing video games. You play as a ghost girl named Iona in “space,” which is really just a pleasant form of purgatory. Each level contains physics-based puzzles where you launch yourself between planets to collect items and reach doorways. Beyond that, you just sit back and enjoy a touching story. When I reviewed Gravity Ghost a few years ago, my non-gamer mom even wanted to pick up a controller and play because it just looked so calming. Gravity Ghost is an awesome game to unwind with after a stressful day.