Rick, like many hardcore games, usually states “chilling out” or “relaxing” as one of the primary reason that he plays video games. And yet, more often than not his play sessions will result in screaming at the television, controllers tossed in a huff and general bad moods that require him to take a time out in the bedroom while the cats and I calm our shattered nerves. While I long ago made peace with this seeming contradiction in Rick’s motives, it did get me thinking about how useful video games are for relaxation.
Most of the most popular games out there tend to focus on pulse quickening action and lightening reflexes, things that don’t tend to lend themselves to “chilling out.” I can certainly see how working towards a goal with regular positive reinforcement and no real world consequences can be focusing and therefore relaxing to many people. But it got me thinking about whether there exist games that really do encourage you to actually breath, relax, and zone out.
In these stressful, over saturated times there does seem to be a movement towards games and apps that promote relaxing, zen-like vibes, but those tend to be smaller experiences that are meant to be picked up and put down when you need a little serenity. However, for this post I decided to focus on games that offer longer, more meditative experiences that can be drawn out over a whole lazy Sunday.
Here’s my list of four sure-fire games to help you chill out:
This early title from Journey makers That Game Company is the definition of a game to chill you out. There is no combat, no real win states, just follow the breeze and watch flowers and other plants bloom in a field. The ambient soundtrack is tranquil and reassuring, the movement is fluid and calm, and the experience is loveliness personified. Pretty much anything by That Game Company would qualify for this list, but Flower stands out for its beauty and its simplicity.
Hohokum is probably as close to smoking a bowl as a video game gets. It’s relaxing, colourful and utterly stress free. It is also endlessly charming and surprising, with characters and situations constantly reacting to you as you wind your way languidly across multiple landscapes full of whimsy and delight. Again, the soundtrack is equal parts peaceful and comforting and the overall experience is one of utter contentment.
Born from the mind of triptastic animator Paloma Dawkins, Gardenarium is a psychedelic walking simulator across a landscape that is in constant motion. While there is an objective of sorts to do with collecting soda cans, the game is much more about exploring the vibrant environment and opening yourself to the experience. Once again the emphasis is on experience and contemplation, rather than having fixed goals to achieve.
Viridi is that rare sort of game that actually works best if you play it in another window while you’re working. It is a succulent growing simulator. That happens in real time. Pick your pot, your plans, water them ever so occasionally and sing to them when then are down. Watch a tiny snail traverse the perimeter of your pot. Let the twinkly background music lull you into a trance while you balance spreadsheets and occasionally check on your succulents’ progress. Bonus: It’s free to play!