It’s times like these that we’re all thankful to have video games. Whether it’s self-isolation because of COVID-19 or a long day at the office, sometimes the only thing that can set your mind at ease is a low-key retro classic. Maybe a quiet simulator. Luckily, we have some games that might just do the trick. Sit back, relax, and enjoy.
Let’s just say, in a completely unrealistic reality, that you were working a corporate job that you despised; every day was a chore, and you sit in anticipation for pages of your “word-a-day” calendar to be torn off. Of course this would never be you, as corporate life is surely the pinnacle of self-fulfillment. But if it was you, then Stardew Valley would be the breath of fresh air you’re looking for.
In adorable, pixelated fashion, Stardew Valley gives the gift of seeing what greener pastures await as you leave city life behind to start anew at your grandfather’s old farm. Designed by the one-man team of Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone over four years, Stardew Valley plays like a spiritual successor to fellow farming RPG Harvest Moon, with activities like growing crops, raising cattle, and nurturing relationships with the townsfolk. If you put in enough time, you may even get married in Stardew. This game may be the closest thing to a digital hug outside of that one “sending virtual hug” gif.
Grizzly Games Co
If your happy place is an island in the sun, then Islanders is a must-play. Unlike other city builders that might be closer to a course in economics than a video game, Islanders strips itself of all resource limitations to create a truly minimalist strategy game.
You start by simply placing structures onto a small island. Each placement earns you points depending on the nearby landscape and adjacent buildings. If you reach the target number of points, you then move to a bigger island to start the process over. That’s it! No depletion of lumber, no economy, and no existential threat to your island—just strategic placement of adorable little buildings set to lo fi music. And in case you were wondering, yes that was an intentional Weezer reference at the beginning. Happy building!
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Animal friends. Your own island. That cute gibberish language that only Nintendo NPCs speak. This series delivers on the cute and combines the best attributes of the previous two games on this list: Stardew Valley and Islanders. And while the hype around video games can often be misleading, Animal Crossing deserves it.
These social simulation games welcome you into its world like nothing else and offers you simple, yet fun gameplay that keeps you busy without being challenging. If you’ve never played an Animal Crossing game you might ask, “what’s the objective?” The objective is to have fun, live your life, and build your dream island. This game is like a massage on a cloud, in a martini glass made of more, tinier clouds.
A true classic, RollerCoaster Tycoon brought an unprecedented level of coaster customization and charm to theme park sims by asking the question, “what if you inherited a small castle and decided to start a theme park?” Not to mention, it ran pretty well for a ’90s PC game. But what if you don’t want to struggle with your start-up theme park in 1999? What if you just want to build a roller coaster that takes 135 years to ride? Luckily, there’s a solution.
OpenRCT2 is an open-source reimplantation of Rollercoaster Tycoon 2’s original game files, offering cheat options, fast-forward gameplay, fixes for lingering bugs, and even multiplayer support. You’ll still need to purchase the original game of course, but the add-on OpenRCT2 is free to download thanks to years of contributions from modders going all the way back to 2014. And if that’s not relaxing enough, you can always build a little moat around the guests that don’t like your park… not that I’ve done that.
Forza Horizon 4
The latest installment in the Forza racing franchise offers the most relaxing experience of any racing game—not racing. As with the previous three Horizon games, Forza Horizon 4 features an expansive open world where players can race to be the fastest and most furious driver… or you can tour your Mini Cooper around a quaint manor at a reasonable speed.
Set in the idyllic British countryside, this 2018 game scored a 92 on Metacritic thanks to its realistic physics and introduction of in-game seasons, where players earn “influence” to progress the landscape from a breezy spring to a colorful fall, and on to a hot cocoa winter. Combined with a selection of cars from modern machines and British classics, this game is as close to a Sunday drive as you can get from the comfort of your own sofa.
The literal HGTV of video games, House Flipper tells you everything you need to know in the name. You just bought a dilapidated house, and you need to turn this house into a home for a profit. It’s going to take a lot of grueling work, but luckily it’s a video game.
Believe it or not, that oddly satisfying sense of working with your hands and completing a project translates beautifully in this game as you take on tasks like cleaning, demolition, electrical work, and interior design. Want an open-floor plan kitchen? You got it. Want to put that red race car bed your parents never let you have in the master suite? You are the master of your domain. And just in case you actually do want to work with your hands, House Flipper VR is in development right now.
What games do you play to relax? Share your favorites in the comments after you finish brewing that chamomile tea.
Featured Image: Nintendo