I don't consider myself a hardcore gamer by any means, but I do love playing video games. It started off with my parents' Game Boy (yeah, the OG one), and it's progressed through different platforms and games over the years.
But what I can't stand are games that give me stress. Shooters, RPGs, horror, anything that either A) makes me nervous or B) makes me start over if I fail, I've never been a fan of. Even games that people typically consider relatively stress-free are sometimes too much for me. Not Minecraft. Not even Stardew Valley (have you been inside the mining cave!?). Most of the games I play don't really have a story, and the progression is up to my own pace. My life is already stressful–why do I have to stress in games too? Maybe you're like me, or maybe you're looking for some games to switch the gears a little from your usual play. Here are some of the games I play often and recommend!
Animal Crossing (Nintendo platforms)
When people think of "stress-free" games, whether they've played it or not, there's a good chance Animal Crossing comes out on top. The cult game that started off in 2001 on the N64 and GameCube (and is now on the Switch) has amassed millions of fans of creating and running your own town/island and interacting with your animal citizens while you fish, garden, and become friends with the local pigeon barista. Animal Crossing is on almost every Nintendo platform, and they even have Pocket Camp, a spin-off game for phones.
Why it's stress free: Who doesn't want to just quit your job and take on a new, slow life, spending the days curating a museum or decorating your dream home? Different platforms offer a slightly different AC experience, but the common denominator is that you get to choose what you do. No deadlines or tasks, no checkpoints or losing a life.
Stress Factor?: If you forget about your town (aka neglect to play for months), it turns into an uncontrollable flower field, and you have to get your measly shovel out to clean it all up. Oh, and your residents may say some sad/snarky things about you neglecting them. And if you play any of the older games, an angry (and I mean, really angry) mole will come out and yell at you when you quit without saving. It's traumatic, trust me.
If you like Pokémon, Animal Crossing, and Stardew Valley, this is the game for you! You play as a character that's arrived in Badgetown, a seaside town in Oob. You'll meet a funky, pink-haired mayor and start living on a small farm. The town has some fun shops as well as unique NPCs you can interact with and complete tasks and gain gummies (the currency). You'll start farming for plants, but also for Ooblets! What's an Ooblet? Ooblets are the cute, slightly amorphous and blobby creatures you can collect (kind of like Pokémon) seeds of through dance battles. Each Ooblet has a signature move, and you battle to collect them all. As you progress in the story, you'll also be able to explore different towns of Oob.
Why it's stress-free: Same with AC, you go at your own pace. Although most of them have no time limits, unlike AC, you do get tasks. The conversations you have with the NPCs are quirky and funny, and the Ooblets you collect will quickly make you love the game.
Stress Factor?: This is a pretty stress-free game. Not gonna lie, most of the dance battles are pretty easy (sometimes too easy). But I've encountered Ooblet seeds that are pretty hard to get. Another small stress factor is that some of the tasks take a really long time to complete and require tedious steps to finish. Not a big deal, but it can get annoying at times.
Unpacking (Windows, Mac, Linux, PS4+5, Switch, Xbox One)
The title says it all: you play this game by unpacking. You play a character going through different phases in life, an each chapter offers different rooms you'll be unpacking. Open the boxes up, and out come your belongings. You're tasked to find a spot for the items and along the way, you'll learn about the protagonist's life and what the belongings mean. You start out small in a bedroom as a child, but as you progress through the game, you go through your teenage years, early adulthood, and so on. This might sound boring, but it's pretty soothing. While there's no limit, the story does come to an end.
Why it's stress-free: While unpacking in the real world may not be as fun, this game is pretty ~zen~. You take out item by item and find a place for it. Although it's a puzzle, there's no one correct answer. Books could be on your bedside table or a bookshelf in your living room. Your shoes might be in a closet or under your bed. There's no timer, just you and your stuff.
Stress factor?: Even though I did say no one correct answer, items do have to be in one of the correct areas. It is still a puzzle game. Once you finish unpacking each room, you'll get an indication if certain items aren't in the right place. And sometimes those places are hard to find. Whether it's because you don't agree with the placing or you feel like items won't physically fit anymore on the placing, it can get annoying figuring out something seemingly simple.
Spiritfarer (Windows, Mac, Linux, PS 4, Switch, Xbox One)
Spiritfarer is a more typical adventure game. There's no time limit on tasks, but it follows a storyline with an ending. You play as Stella, a young girl with a cat named Daffodil, who takes over the tasks of the mythological Charon as the new spiritfarer in the middle area between life and death. You explore islands on your ship as you find spirits who have their last wishes on their mind. You complete tasks that lead up to fulfilling their wishes, and you can also cook, farm, and look for ores, all while befriending the spirits who come aboard your ship. All of them have vibrant personalities, and their stories will tug at your heartstrings. Many reviewers mention that this game helped them get through their own grief of the passing of a loved one.
Why it's stress-free: The music and graphics are extremely soothing and beautiful–it almost gives off a Studio Ghibli vibe. The stories of the spirits trying to cross over to the afterlife can be sad at times, but mostly heartwarming, funny, and nostalgic. While it deals with a theme of death, it's a cozy feeling game.
Stress factor?: The tasks needed to get your spirit passengers can be challenging at times. You'll need ship upgrades and certain materials you can only obtain once completing other tasks, which require more obstacles. While there's no time limit on these tasks, it can get frustrating when you feel stuck on your adventure.
Sims (Almost every platform you can think of, but it also depends on which Sims)
Whether you've actually played it or not, you've probably seen the memes. Sims is another cult favorite simulation game. You could probably say it's the game that kickstarted the simulation game trend. You can build a home from scratch and create your own Sim (customizing their eyebrows, height, freckles, you name it). You can have a family, or you can be the town playboy. You can befriend the Grim Reaper... or your dead relatives. You can even have a dream job, or go to college.
Why it's stress-free: If you ever wanted to play god and create your own world, this is your chance. You can really do most things and depending on the Sims you play, the expansion packs really add onto the experience.
Stress factor?: Maybe you created your favorite Sim. Maybe that Sim is a bad cook. And maybe that Sim catches their oven on fire and dies while your other Sims plead for the Grim Reaper to not take them. But alas, the Grim Reaper's having a bad day and kills off your Sim forever, leaving you with an urn. Jokes aside, I think the Sims is a pretty stress-free game.
Some other games I've played or are on my list:
- Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicle
- A Short Hike
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
- Bear and Breakfast
There are so many games that fit this "stress-free" criteria. But just like finding a favorite dish out of all the delicious dishes in the world, not all games fit the bill for everyone–it's all about exploring! Hope you have fun exploring some of the games I have here, and maybe you'll even find your next favorite game. Happy gaming!
When Cancer Wasn't My Main Problem
When I got cancer, I thought that would be my biggest problem. I was very wrong.Read More >>
The Power of Generational Healing
Investing in your mental health has an impact that echoes through generations. Read on for reflections on my dad's journey and my own as a new parent.Read More >>
10 Ways to Support a New Mom
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and also Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month. If you know someone who's recently welcomed a baby, here are 10 ways you can help support them.Read More >>