Hello fellow people on the internet! I write this in week 2 of my self-quarantine during the Covid-19 pandemic. Depending on where you live, it is possible that your country/state/province has announced a state of emergency and told people to stay inside for a certain period of time. I'll preface by thanking from the bottom of my heart every single worker who has to continue working at this time, from those working on the front line in the medical field, to cashiers, delivery workers, grocery stores clerks etc. Not only do we owe thanks to those whose jobs are essentials and whose work cannot close during this pandemic, but also because you most likely are some of the least paid workers of most societies and that's not ok. With this in mind, I know that I (and maybe other people) have been struggling with stress and anxiety to particularly high levels these past few weeks. Being immuno-compromised myself the current situation has brought about very high levels of stress that I am struggling to bring down or feel in control of, I thought that I would share with some of you, whether you are quarantined at home too or need a break after work, games that are soothing, relaxing, because we really need some of those right now. 1. The Gardens Between
"The Gardens Between is a surreal puzzle adventure that follows best friends, Arina and Frendt, as they fall into a mysterious world of beautiful garden islands. Manipulate time to solve puzzles and discover the secrets of each island."
The Gardens Between by studio The Voxel Agents is a beautiful game about childhood friendship. The game's beautiful and creative environment as well as it's incredible music by the incredible Tim Shiel makes it a must play if you are looking for a soothing game to end a long and/or stressful day. The Gardens Between is available on Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
"Robin is a short slice of life game that was made to give some visibility to an invisible illness - Chronic Fatigue Syndrome."
Depending on whether this is something that you'd find relaxing, Robin a beautiful, short, free-to-play game by a group of 2nd year game design students at Media Design School. The game offers a realistic and respectful depiction of chronic illness, depression and anxiety. Robin is available on Windows and macOS.
3. The Lion's Song
"The Lion’s Song is a narrative adventure game. It is set against the backdrop of early 20th century Austria with every episode following a different character.
The Lion's Song is a series of four self-contained point & click stories connected into an overarching narrative, where player choices will affect the way in which the story unfolds. Set against the backdrop of early 20th century Austria, every episode follows a different character, each blessed with an exceptional creative mind. The game pulls players into a story of personal struggle for creativity, human connections and inspiration."
I have for a long time praised the work done by Austrian studio MI'PU'MI Games in The Lion's Song which touches on the very many facets and complexities of what it means to be human from the art we create and live by, to our very identities. This episodic game of 4 episodes and its very unique artistic style makes it a game you won't be forgetting for a long time.
The Lion's Song is available on Microsoft Windows, macOS, Nintendo Switch as well as the Apple App Store and Google Play.
4. Coffee Talk
"Coffee Talk is a coffee brewing and heart-to-heart talking simulator about listening to fantasy-inspired modern peoples’ problems, and helping them by serving up a warm drink or two." Coffee Talk is also described by its studio Toge Production as "a game about listening to people’s problems and help them by serving a warm drink out of the ingredients you have. It is a game that tries to depict our lives as humanly as possible while having a cast that is more than just humans.
The game was inspired by the calm feelings of drinking warm drinks in the middle of a cold rainy night, alone or accompanied by friends. The game features visual aesthetics that are inspired by 90s anime, classic pixel art adventure games, and the chill visual often associated with lo-fi chillhop music. Immerse yourself in the stories of alternative Seattle inhabitants, from the dramatic love story between an elf and a succubus, an alien journey trying to understand human’s life, and many other stories that we might be able to relate a lot."
There is a lot to Coffee Talk, and much more beyond it's aesthetic and its chill music. I found the game to be surprisingly political, progressive, using its context of mythical and supernatural creatures living normal lives to touch on issues from prejudice, racism, discrimination, police brutality, the toxicity of certain work places in gaming, to immigration and idol culture in Asian culture. An impressive feat from a small Indonesian studio.
Coffee Talk is available on Microsoft Windows, Switch, PS4, and Xbox One.
"Islander is a minimalist strategy game about building cities on colorful islands. Explore an infinite number of ever-changing new lands, expand your settlements from sprawling villages to vast cities and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere."
Made by 3 person indie studio Grizzly Games, Islander is a gorgeous, minimalist game that I spent hours upon hours in, it is incredibly relaxing, slow paced (or time limitless, I could say) with calm ambient music, all for a very low price!
Islander is available on Microsoft Windows.
6. ABZU "ABZÛ is an epic descent into the depths of the sea, where players will explore beautifully rendered ocean environments with fluid swimming controls. The experience draws inspiration from the deep innate narrative that we all carry within our subconscious: the story of ABZÛ is a universal myth that resonates across cultures. The name references a concept from the oldest mythologies; it is the combination of the two ancient words AB, meaning ocean, and ZÛ, meaning to know. ABZÛ is the ocean of wisdom."
Giant Squid Studio has composer Austin Wintory on board and art director Matt Nava so, what else can I say? ABZU is available on Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch,PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
"Explore the ancient, mysterious world of Journey as you soar above ruins and glide across sands to discover its secrets. Play alone or in the company of a fellow traveler and explore its vast world together. Featuring stunning visuals and a Grammy-nominated musical score, Journey."
Made by studio That Game Company, Journey features some particularly unique game mechanics. Focusing on gently telling a story of belonging, community and friendship. Also, music by Austin Nava and art direction by Matt Nava, so, yeah.
Journey is available on Microsoft Windows, iOS and PlayStation.
"Florence Yeoh feels a little... stuck. Her life is an endless routine of work, sleep, and spending too much time on social media. Then one day, she meets a cello player named Krish who changes everything about how she sees the world and herself."
Florence is a beautiful short, indie game about young love and becoming yourself. Made by Australian dev Mountains and Annapurna Interactive, who makes a variety of games, Florence may be short, but it has a surprising amount of depth.
Florence is Available on Microsoft Windows, macOS and Nintendo Switch as well as iOS and Android.
9. The Stillness of the Wind
"One by one, everyone left the once bustling village for the city. Everyone, except Talma. Now approaching the end of her days, she maintains a simple, solitary way of life, surviving, subsisting, tending to her homestead and her goats.
Develop your own personal routine as you care for your farm and your animals. Tend to your goats, make cheese with their milk, collect eggs and cook meals, grow vegetables and barter with the travelling merchant who brings increasingly disturbing letters from your family in the city."
A follow up to the critically acclaimed Where the Goats Are, The Stillness of the Wind is a quiet rumination on life and loss." - Memory of God / Lambic Studios Available on Microsoft Windows, iOS and Nintendo Switch.
10. Animal Restaurant
"Animal Restaurant is a business simulation (somewhat) idle game that has great artwork and is strangely soothing to play. The mechanics are simple (if sometimes indecipherable): you buy recipes and facilities to expand your restaurant, serve customers, hire staff, and increase your star rating to discover new customers."
Currently only available on Android.
11. The Sims Obviously.
Available on Microsoft Windows, macOS, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
12. Tokyo Maker
I personal have a soft spot for city makers + puzzle games with ambient music. As someone who struggles a lot with sleeping, these are usually a great way for me to direct my heavy train of thoughts and gentle turn off to fall into a slumber. I really liked the Japan/Tokyo one.
Available on the Google Play Store as well as the Apple App Store.
13. Stardew Valley
"Stardew Valley is an open-ended country-life RPG! You’ve inherited your grandfather’s old farm plot in Stardew Valley. Armed with hand-me-down tools and a few coins, you set out to begin your new life. Can you learn to live off the land and turn these overgrown fields into a thriving home? It won’t be easy. Ever since Joja Corporation came to town, the old ways of life have all but disappeared. The community center, once the town’s most vibrant hub of activity, now lies in shambles. But the valley seems full of opportunity. With a little dedication, you might just be the one to restore Stardew Valley to greatness!"
Although I know that Stardew Valley can be a stressful and anxiety inducing game for some due to its monster fighting aspect (for me it was the fishing mini-games.....) I could not make this list without listing it. Stardew Valley becomes incredibly easy going and relaxing a little later in the game when there doesn't seem to remain many treaths to you or your farm (and fishing has become easier/doable..)
Available on Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation Vita, iOS and Android.
14. The Long Dark Here comes a personal favorite of mine; "The Long Dark is a thoughtful, exploration-survival experience that challenges solo players to think for themselves as they explore an expansive frozen wilderness in the aftermath of a geomagnetic disaster. There are no zombies -- only you, the cold, and all the threats Mother Nature can muster. "
Now, now, let me explain myself. At first glance and due to its description, The Long Dark may not seem like a "relaxing" game, but it truly is. Within its Sandbox option and its difficulty option (from which you can choose pacifist) The Long Dark is a survival game with little to no music, the sound of wind against branches, that very specific sound of winter, the sound of "crunch" your feet make as you wander through heavy snow. I have spent many hours throughout the years, me and my Canadian self, walking through the many maps offered to us inside The Long Dark's Sandbox game-play. Please give it a chance.
Available on Linux, Microsoft Windows, macOS, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
15. A Short Hike
"In A Short Hike, Hike, climb, and soar through the peaceful mountainside landscapes of hawk peak provincial park. Follow the marked trails or explore the back country as you make your way to the summit. Along the way, meet other hikers, discover hidden treasures, and take in the world around you."
Available on Microsoft Windows.
There are countless of games out there that are relaxing, soothing, that gently invite you within a story or universe where your mind can finally get a little peace, comfort. I could not list all of them here, but I wanted to offer a diverse, indie-focused, list of games that have personally helped me when I needed to slow down, whether I needed cuteness and flowers, or the calm of the great white north. If you enjoyed this list, have played any of these games before or end up trying any of them because of this list, please let me know. I hope to make another list with even more games very soon. We're going to be okay. Aurelie xox