Finding relaxing games for the anxious mind isn’t as easy as one might expect. To chill, and those unwanted thoughts start to creep back. It’s too intense, and it’s a one-way ticket to Overwhelmville: Population Me.
I keep naming Stardew Valley as one of the games that helped me de-stress at one of the lowest points in my life. Yes, the very same game that’ll have you sprinting from one corner of the map to the other before a red, wobbly clock goes from 1:59 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. and causes your character to pass out in the middle of nowhere. If you know, you know.
However, there have been a lot of more satisfying, more relaxing games to come out in recent years. In this list, we’ll go over the best 15 relaxing games to play in 2023.
1. A Short Hike
The best way to unwind for me is to connect with nature. There is a reason every therapist recommends going for a “mental health walk.” I don’t know what this says about my mental well-being, and I hope my therapist doesn’t read this, but there are times when I really don’t feel like going for a walk.
After giving this comforting, enchanting hiking game, with its quaint scenes and simple narratives, a chance, I invariably find myself yearning for a cup of tea and a cozy session with A Short Hike.
I can confidently recommend A Short Hike as a top-tier relaxing game for anyone, whether you’re into games or not.
Rollercoaster, Zoo, and City Simulators are all fun in theory. But whenever I try to understand how they work, my brain turns to goo. In their quest for perfection, this genre has swelled with details to the point where they seem to have forgotten that maybe games are meant to be fun.
Townscraper did not forget. It’s a highly satisfying, non-encyclopedic building game with a colorful art style. The game doesn’t try to shove 30,000 different building blueprints down your throat or worry too much about rendering each individual tooth for the town’s citizens. Instead, it’s just pure creative city building.
I hate moving. Disassembling boxes, letting go of stuff, dealing with an empty new place, and struggling to find the right spot for everything — it’s all a pain. But Unpacking – the game – is a whole different story.
You see, anxiety sometimes comes from a place of procrastination. There’s too much to do, and I feel like doing none. Unpacking is a game that demands minimal effort but rewards you with immense satisfaction. Transforming a bleak, empty mess of a room into a personalized, decorated area is relaxing, and watching the result is more than encouraging.
4. Coral Island
Farming simulators, in general, offer an escape from the daily grind that’s causing your stress. They introduce the simplicity of farming as a fresh routine, and it’s this very repetitiveness that makes them so alluring.
The reason I picked Coral Island for this list is simple: it never overwhelms me. When your cup’s nearly full, a game with complex mechanics and a relentless flood of information is a sure recipe for a mental spill.
Coral Island welcomes the familiar and adds just a touch of innovation to maintain the status quo. This game keeps me engaged and entertained without ever causing frustration.
There is something inherently beautiful about Abzu’s breathtaking blue serenity. It beckons you to shed your burdens, don your diving gear, and plunge into the ocean’s magnificent embrace. Down here, you’re free from any and all pressures and encouraged to explore the wonders of the sea. Any worries that once weighed you down are sealed above the water’s surface.
In my eyes, survival games are ruthless. They just drop you off in the middle of a potentially devastating location with nothing to hold onto. The thought alone stresses me out.
Surprisingly, Astroneer is a survival game packed with a colorful art style and a progression system kind enough for me to describe it as soft — therapeutic, even. It’s a game to be shared with a friend or a family member who’s comfortable sharing quiet moments, perfect for relieving stress.
Dorfromantik is a city builder sim made cute. It’s the perfect blend of aesthetic art design and challenging gameplay. If your brain craves some activity to reduce anxiety but don’t want to get into games with puzzling mechanics like SimCity or Cities Skylines, Dorfromantik is for you.
8. Behind the Frame: The Finest Scenery
I’ve got a dream (a pretty frustrated one) — living in a secluded Swiss villa, sipping tea, and painting stunning landscapes all day. And so far, The Sims was the only game that let me turn that dream into a virtual reality.
But then came Behind The Frame: The Finest Scenery, a game that makes painting far more aesthetic and satisfying. The close-up shots of our character gently squeezing out the paint and setting up the canvas launch you on a serene voyage.
Managing a boathouse for several animal-themed spirits is surprisingly relaxing. Spiritfarer’s gorgeous color palette and mechanics will engulf you in its world, making you forget about your own troubles.
You have to be prepared, however, if you’re sticking with Spiritfarer to the bitter end. While the journey eases your stress, as the narrative unfolds, inevitable moments of sadness will tug at your heartstrings.
10. Power Wash Simulator
When stress hits, I turn to cleaning as a relief. Given how frequently stress pays a visit, you’d think my house would be spotless. However, cleaning counters and mopping floors doesn’t hold a candle to the satisfaction that Power Wash Simulator can bring to an anxious mind.
You can now become the protagonist of those rug deep cleaning videos by restoring every dirty van, muddy playground, and greasy train to its former clean glory.
11. Donut County
My mind was blown when I discovered that games could deliver the same oddly satisfying feeling as those mesmerizing Orbeez videos.
Donut County casts you as a ground-level void. Your job is to gobble up items, animals, and folks to expand. What hooked me was the sheer gratification of creating a hole and making things disappear. Yet, beneath the surface of all the devouring lies a deep message that’ll keep you engaged.
12. Dave the Diver
What makes Dave the Diver an anxiety-reducing game is how it immerses you in the grind.
If you’re looking to stay mentally sharp and curb anxiety, Dave the Diver keeps your mind laser-focused on one goal: running the ultimate sushi restaurant. Dave the Diver is a game perfect to keep your brain busy, as long as that’s what you need.
When real-world issues are driving me crazy, I morph into a cat in a post-apocalyptic cybercity. Stray’s gameplay is extremely satisfying, and the plot is quiet enough to let me pretend this is a cat simulator. Nothing beats the satisfaction of throwing just about everything off every surface, cat-style.
14. Persona 5
For the longest time, I immersed myself in Persona 5 with an intensity that bordered on insanity. Every moment of my in-game day had to be a relentless pursuit of enhancing relationships, skill mastery, and ticking off Mementos requests.
Don’t be like me. Persona 5 is a world to get lost in. Take any metro line to whichever corner of Tokyo you want to spend your time in. Get lost in the routine of going to school, hanging out with friends (mostly Futaba), and brewing some coffee behind the counter at LeBlanc.
15. Death Stranding
Death Stranding is not your run-of-the-mill relaxing game, I know. Holding my breath around invisible and floating monsters to prevent my imminent death does nothing but induce more anxiety.
Still, I find strolling through its lush landscapes carrying packages to the sound of CHVRCHES pretty relaxing. Maybe not the game to de-stress from scratch, but if you’re already in it, delivery quests in the UCA offer a calm breather.