It’s the start of a new year, we’re only one week into it, and although most people praise the new year, claiming it gives them that freeing feeling of a fresh start, I beg to differ. Fresh start a new year might be, but this fresh start, and all the pressure to improve on yourself that comes with it, can leave you with a tension headache, a knotted stomach, and a mood that makes the weather look bright and sunny by comparison. In fact, sometimes it isn’t even trying to change yourself that’s stressful; it’s possible that the time off at Christmas might just have given your hatred of everything time to regenerate and you’re finding it difficult to direct it.
Rather than go home after a hard day of work to torture yourself over the resolutions you didn’t keep that day or the people that seemed to exist only to irritate you, we suggest you take a little time to relax, unwind, and forget about everything by playing one of these soothing games. No timed missions, no violence, no overly irritating characters. Let the little stresses melt away; it’s hard to care that you ruined your healthy eating plan with a delicious cupcake when you remember just how damn good you are at Tetris.
We did mention it for a reason. Tetris is an old one but a good one and since studies have found that it can help reduce painful flashbacks which are a common feature of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, we’re pretty sure it can help you take your mind off of a rough day. Bright colours, simple gameplay, and a visually and mentally satisfying goal means that Tetris is the perfect game to relax with. And, since it’s such a classic, you’re hardly going to struggle to find it. There’s even a Tetris level in Little Big Planet (another game on our list) if you’d like double the distraction.
9) Little Big Planet
It doesn’t really matter which instalment of this series you play, it’s still an effective relaxation game. Whether you’d rather indulge your creative side by building a level or your adventurous side by exploring the worlds and solving the puzzles created by other people, Little Big Planet, with its adorable characters and bright attractive environments, is guaranteed to make you feel warm, fuzzy, and accomplished.
8) Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger and the Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist
The name of this one makes it sound stressful, but we promise it’s not. If you’re looking for something short, creative and genuinely funny we direct you to Steam to download this for free. It’s hard to tell you much about the game without ruining what makes it so great, so we ask you to trust us that this game is a treat to play and if anything it’ll make you realise that, hey, at least your day isn’t quite as chaotic as the narrator’s.
7) The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim
Few things make me feel more relaxed than loading up the familiar world of Skyrim and just going for a wander. I’ve been playing in this world for so long that of course I have my favourite cities and regions to stroll through, and my houses are stacked with lore books that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. Take away the dangerous quests and the threat of dragons, and Skyrim becomes a world where you can go home, pick up a really interesting history book and give it a read. I’ve picked Skyrim because it’s a world that’s so familiar to me, but really I think you could take this approach in any open world RPG that’s been created with a rich tapestry of lore. I’ve done it with Dragon Age, too. Not only do you find out more interesting facts about, or discover more interesting places in, a world you love, quite often you’ll get a laugh out of it too.
6) Drifting Afternoon
Drifting Afternoon is a free online game created by Ferry Halim, who actually has quite a few other relaxing games under his belt like High Delivery and Winterbells. Drifting Afternoon, however, is my personal favourite. The premise is simple: you’re an adorably fluffy rabbit/kitten/squirrel creature in a field and you have to jump between hovering balloons to earn points. It’s incredibly simple, and part of what makes this game so relaxing is the wonderful visuals which make it look like an illustration from a child’s storybook.
5) Gone Home
Gone Home is a game that’s almost like a walking simulator where you experience environmental storytelling at its best. The story of the game is that you play Katie, a woman returning to her home after travelling abroad. She returns to find the house empty and a note on the door from her younger sister asking that Katie doesn’t come looking for her. And that’s it, you have to explore the house, examine items and uncover clues. The game looks great, it has atmosphere and a feeling of freedom and it allows you to forge connections with its characters through their belongings. The mystery of the story and the feeling that you’re getting to know Gone Home’s characters makes it a great game to get lost in after a trying day.
4) The Sims
I have a love for The Sims that will never die, despite the fact that I don’t play it nearly as often as I used to. It’s become one of those games that I will dig out, binge on for hours and then return to my shelf where it will sit untouched for another year or so. The thing about The Sims is that it offers two kinds of relaxation: the constructive and productive kind where you can spend hours building a beautiful house with perfectly coordinated furnishings, or the cathartic and destructive kind where you can create a family and destroy them creatively and sadistically one by one. Usually the most satisfying way to play is to strike a balance between the two and if you really want to take the stress out of caring for your simulated family, there are always the cheats! Ssshh.
3) Dear Esther
It’s the charm and essence of Gone Home for the more outdoorsy types. A purely story-driven experience, Dear Esther is a first person game set on an island in the outer Hebrides that has an engaging and emotional story, stunning visuals with a tranquil setting, and a haunting soundtrack. It’s the perfect way to go somewhere else for the evening without leaving your couch and you can download it on Steam.
2) The Room
Whether you’ve got a PC, a smartphone, a tablet, or a Kindle, you’ll be able to curl up with The Room and lose yourself in some excellent puzzles. The Room, whether you decide you’d like the play the first, second, or third instalment, is massively fun to play with wonderfully rendered 3D puzzles that are challenging to solve but massively satisfying when you do so. Since the first game, The Room has only grown in scope, bringing new and more interesting puzzles every time. The only drawback is that the latest game isn’t available on quite as many platforms just yet, but that only gives you a good excuse to go back to the beginning and get seriously engrossed.
1) Animal Crossing
It doesn’t really get much more relaxing than Animal Crossing. Taking you into a small village populated by almost offensively friendly creatures, Animal Crossing is a game that gives you the freedom to do what relaxes you most, whether that’s chatting to fellow residents, fishing, decorating, gardening, or picking fruit. It can become tiresome after a while, and I wouldn’t really say Animal Crossing is a game that will suck you in for hours, but coming home and checking in on your village each night, picking up some weeds and checking your mail is a relaxing experience and takes you to a friendlier, less pressured home from home.