Like movies, video games can evoke a variety of emotions. Games like Resident Evil or Silent Hill can instill fear, arguably better than most horror movies. The Last of Us and Metal Gear Solid franchises are superb at generating an intense sense of edginess. And games like Call of Duty or Fortnite stir up excitement and stress with frantic multiplayer battles.
But sometimes we just want to chillax with a game. Few things are better after a hard day than plopping down on the couch for a couple of hours to explore other worlds in a relaxed environment that lets you unwind.
There is a multitude of games that can serve this purpose. Even the titles mentioned above can be relaxing for some, however certain games are better suited to reducing stress levels. We've compiled a list of 10 of our favorite games that are great for those times you just want to chill out.
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Flow (stylized flOw) is a single-player game where you control a strange alien organism. It is shaped like a multisegmented snake swimming around in an aquatic habitat. The gameplay is like a complex version of Snake in that the object is to eat other, smaller creatures, which add more segments to the snake. You can move deeper or shallower in the habitat by eating organisms with unique markings. Reaching specific depths causes the player's entity to evolve into something else. Nothing will ever kill you, but some enemies can knock you up to the previous level.
Other than its easy-to-play mechanics, Flow features a dynamic soundtrack and audio effects that are very soothing. It has an echoing, aquatic feel that certainly lends to the game's chill nature. In fact, the audio is one of the most relaxing parts of the game.
Flow was designed as a browser game in 2006 by Jenova Chen as part of his master's thesis at the University of California. Sony picked up Chen and his game in 2007 and formed Thatgamecompany porting the title exclusively to the PlayStation platform. However, you can still play or download the original Flash version on the USC website.
If a relaxing multiplayer experience is what you crave, Journey is another creation by Jenova Chen that might be up your alley. In this game, you control a robed character on a sandy desert planet. Your goal is to reach a large mountain in the distance. You mainly travel by foot, but you gain the ability to fly/glide with a magic cape that grows longer as you find upgrades. The longer the cape is, the farther you can fly.
Side note: If you find you like Flow and Journey, "Flower, Cloud, and Sky: Children of the Light" (Journey's spiritual successor) are other Jenova Chen games worthy of a relaxing gaming session.
At the beginning of the game, it seems like you are alone, but after a while, you encounter other beings that look similar to your character. Going into it blind, one might think these are NPCs, but they are actually other players. There is no way to communicate with them other than using body language and a tone generated with a button press. While you do not have to travel with these other players, it does make the game more interesting as you journey to the mountain.
Journey also has a relaxing soundtrack composed by Austin Wintory, the composer of Flow's musical score. Even though it is a Sony production created for the PlayStation 3 in 2012, Journey was ported to PC and iOS last year. You can find it on Steam or the App Store.
Abzû takes you on an underwater adventure as a diver exploring oceanic caverns and ancient ruins. Much of the gameplay is puzzle-based, with the player flipping switches and moving objects to open up new areas. There are no time limits, you never have to worry about running out of oxygen, and nothing will kill you, so the gameplay is very relaxed.
There is no dialog, but there is a story that plays out through cutscenes, similar to Journey. In fact, the game shares many characteristics with Jenova Chen's other work, especially the music, but this is not a coincidence. 505 Games hired several designers that worked on Journey, including composer Austin Wintory, to develop Abzû. Abzû is available on PC, PS4, XB1, and Nintendo Switch.
Firewatch is a departure from simulators and no-goal open-world games. The game takes place in the Shoshone National Forest one year after the real-life Yellowstone fires of 1988. You play as a fire lookout named Henry, whose emotionally charged past is revealed through text dialogs. Delilah is your supervisor and the only human connection in an otherwise lonely world.
The game is more like an old-school adventure game for the modern era with stylized graphics that are cartoonish, yet beautiful. There is no combat and no other NPCs to interact with physically, other than Delilah, whom you only speak with via radio. Most of your time will be spent exploring, enjoying the scenery, and unraveling a mystery. You will never feel any pressure to complete a task, but you will feel compelled to push the story along.
The game is short. Even taking your time, you will have it finished in around six hours, but this is not a bad thing. The story it has to tell could become cumbersome were it any longer. It's a perfectly chill play for a rainy weekend. Firewatch is available on PC, macOS, Linux, PS4, XB1, and Nintendo Switch.
In February 2020, The Sims franchise celebrated its 20th anniversary. In those two decades, the series has had four iterations, not including spin off games like The Sims Online, The Sims Stories, and others. There have also been countless DLC and expansions. The franchise has sold more than 200 million units worldwide since its inception.
The popularity of The Sims 4 is not surprising. The do-anything-you-want people simulator puts you in a god-like role with virtually full control over the virtual people. You can be benevolent and attend to your creations' every need and desire, or you can leave them be with little or no intervention and watch them suffer. This freedom-of-play mechanic is what makes the game so popular and so relaxing. Simulation games that give users the freedom to play how they want are some of the most chill games out there, which is why The Sims is not the only one on our list. The Sims 4 is available on consoles, PC and macOS.
House Flipper is a game where you play as, well, a house flipper. You start with a small bankroll to buy a fixer-upper. After a new coat of paint and perhaps some interior design changes, you sell it for a profit, which you can invest in more expensive houses to make more money. As you progress, you will gain access to more tools, enabling better renovations leading to higher resale value.
You get new leads on properties through virtual emails. These emails also have tasks that you can perform to increase the value of each house.
It sounds simplistic, and it is, but this is precisely what makes it a relaxing game. It is also surprisingly satisfying to knock down a wall to make a living room more spacious or successfully hang new lighting. House Flipper is available for PC, macOS, PS4, XB1, and Switch.
PC Building Simulator is very similar to House Flipper, except, in this case, you run a computer repair shop. Clients send you emails asking you to fix or upgrade their PCs. Sometimes they already know what needs to be done. Other times, you have to diagnose the problem yourself.
A portion of the game is spent on your shop computer browsing for parts, checking your emails, paying your bills, and monitoring your company's social media scores. The more satisfied your clients are, the better your score on social media. This ranking system, in turn, leads to higher-paying jobs.
I found myself trying to be a perfectionist in this game, but it is more challenging than you would think, even if you know your way around a PC's innards. Little mistakes can cost you, so the game presents a challenge, while still being utterly relaxing. That is as long as you can live with a less than perfect score. PC Building Simulator came out last year on PC and all current consoles.
Exploration and Virtual Worlds
It's Minecraft. What else is there to say? At 4,096,000,000 square kilometers, it holds the record for the most expansive contiguous landmass of any video game. YouTuber KurtJMac has a series called "Far Lands or Bust," where he spends about 30 minutes walking in one direction each episode. He started at one edge of the map with the goal of traversing the entire continent. He has been regularly posting videos (at least 800 so far) for two years and still has not completed the journey.
Kurt's self-imposed quest is a prime example of how vast the Minecraft world is and illustrates the concept of doing whatever you want. Your actions are not limited to exploring. You can build just about anything you can imagine. Some have created visually stunning works of art (click on the image above). Others have made mini-games. The sky's the limit, and the game can be as relaxed or as frantic as you want.
Minecraft was a Windows-only affair in 2011, but today has been ported to literally every other platform, consoles, Raspberry Pi, mobile, the PS Vita, Switch and 3DS, and even Apple's tvOS and Amazon's Fire OS. You will have no trouble finding this game no matter what system you prefer.
Although it is not officially billed as such, many have found No Man's Sky to be the ultimate do-anything sandbox. It is undoubtedly my favorite game for chilling out.
What makes it great is versatility. There are quests, but you don't have to complete them. There are dogfights in space, but you don't have to participate in them. There is base building, but you are not required to lay down even one stick of lumber. The point is, there is a lot to do in the game, but you don't have to do any of it. No Man's Sky is all about finding your own path in the game and creating your own stories to tell. You can be a farmer, a trader, a pirate, an explorer, an architect, or even an archaeologist.
The NMS universe spans 256 procedurally generated galaxies with over 18 quintillion fully explorable planets. Technically, this makes it even bigger than Minecraft, although landmasses are separated by light-seconds to light-years. You can try, but you will never discover all the planets. It would take more than 585 billion years if you landed on each for less than one second. Despite that, logging planets is part of the fun. Not only can you catalog planets and all their flora and fauna, but if you are the first to discover them, you earn the privilege to name them (no profanity allowed) and upload the data to the NMS database.
If you skipped over No Man's Sky because of initial reviews or stopped playing after a short stint in the game, it is highly recommended you give it another chance. Hello Games never gave up on its vision, and it shows. It is not the shoddy release it initially was. It is available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
While its simplistic graphics, using 2D sprites in a 3D world, has made it somewhat obscure, Proteus's laid back nature and do-anything style put it on the list.
Proteus is more challenging to describe than to play. Some have called it "an interactive screensaver." There is no introduction, no story, no dialogue, no fighting, and no real goal. The best way to characterize it is to say it's like a 3D procedurally generated world set to a dynamic soundtrack that players are free to explore as they wish.
You begin the game in the ocean with an island in the distance. Once you swim to shore, you spend the rest of your time wandering around the island. There are forests, ruins, and various flora and fauna. Approaching different objects and areas changes the music. You start in the spring and progress through the seasons watching the landscape change as it would in real life. The game ends at the end of winter.
Proteus is not for everyone, but can be an entertaining diversion for those times you want to chill with something completely different. It is available on all PC platforms (Linux, macOS, and Windows) from Steam for $10.
If you're more into action games and shooters, Superhot: Mind Control Delete fits the bill perfectly as the kind of game you can pick up for as little as 10 minutes, play through a few mini-levels, and unwind as you smash everything in red in slow motion, using anything in black to hand.
A follow-up to the original Superhot, this game series started life as an entry into a competition where developers would design and create a first person shooter in 7 days. Mind Control Delete has tweaked and perfected the formula, it offers a unique taste to the shooter genre that can be relaxing and satisfying without losing the appeal of an action-strategy blast.
Ultimately, going all John Wick, ripping through the blood red bodies, while dipping in and out of bullet time, is ridiculously fun.
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