Video games are great at fulfilling power fantasies or sending you on adventures you could never undertake in real life. But sometimes, it can be a bit overwhelming. When you need to wind down after a stressful day, and you’re more in the mood for a meditative experience than cathartic action, there are still plenty of games out there. You can turn the dial down on excitement, even if they’re a bit harder to find. In no particular order, here are our 10 favorite games to play to relax.
The best place to start this list maybe with the game that most people associate with stress-free gaming. Stardew Valley builds on the legacy of farming simulators like Harvest Moon to deliver an experience that’s all about slowing down, arranging your life, and spending time with friends. You can choose to spend all your time making your farm as efficient as possible or turning it into a work of art. If planting crops gets old, you can take a trip down to the beach and while away the day fishing or walk around looking for buried treasure.
There is a bit of combat, but it is pretty low-key, and some might game’s clock be too much. Fortunately, if you find something in Stardew Valley, not to your liking, there’s more than likely a mod to change it.
Donut County is as hard a game to put down as it is to describe. You play as a raccoon with a smartphone app that creates holes to swallow up anything nearby. It grows larger as it devours more stuff like a reverse Katamari Damacy.
There are challenges to complete, but they’re mostly pretty simple, more about thinking of clever solutions than putting your skills to the test. Donut County doesn’t push you or punish you for doing things wrong. Instead it lets you enjoy the experience, which is made even better by its charming art style and chill soundtrack.
Untitled Goose Game
While Untitled Goose Game is all about causing chaos, it can still be a relaxing experience. You play as a goose let loose in a small village with a to-do list of ways to annoy and unbalance its inhabitants, from trapping them in garages to stealing entire dish sets from the pub. Part of what makes it relaxing is there’s no way to fail. The worst thing that can happen to your goose is it gets temporarily chased away, and at any time you can reset the entire world without losing any progress.
If you get tired of ruining people’s days, you can also just spend some time floating in the water or listening to the (stolen) radio. And as it turns out, sometimes absolutely wrecking an entire village is just a great way to blow off some steam.
Some of the most popular platformers in recent years have been hyper-difficult games like Super Meat Boy, but Gris heads confidently in the exact opposite direction. Rather than racking up death counts with high-pressure challenges, Gris lets players take their time progressing through its levels. And that’s a good thing, because the game is full of stunning art and beautiful music.
Gris leads players on an emotional journey that’s certainly intense at times, but that focuses on overcoming the hard times rather than dwelling on them. Its puzzles and platforming challenges are just enough to keep you engaged without ever becoming frustrating or slowing down the pace.
Elegy for a Dead World
If you’d rather unwind by writing a story than experiencing someone else’s, Elegy for a Dead World is for you. In Elegy for a Dead World, you play as an astronaut exploring a collection of alien planets not to conquer or colonize them, but to write about them. The game gives you a series of writing prompts and gorgeous background paintings to spark some inspiration, then gets out of your way and lets you write. When you finish, you can share what you wrote with other players and browse through the stories that others created. Unless you count the fear of sharing your work with strangers, there are no enemies or obstacles to overcome. A great way to kickstart your creativity.
Euro Truck Simulator 2
Driving miles and miles behind the wheel of a massive truck may not be everybody’s idea of a stress-free afternoon, but for some, there’s nothing better. How else do you explain the gigantic success of Euro Truck Simulator 2? Released in 2012, the game still has a massive fanbase of people lining up to pay for an experience that in real life is quite a demanding job. In Euro Truck Simulator, you customize a big rig and use it to haul cargo through dozens of realistically reconstructed European cities. That’s about it.
Aside from the pleasure of watching its scenic vistas roll by, there’s something about the single-minded focus on one particular task. You drive incredible distances making Euro Truck Simulator 2 oddly relaxing.
Another paradoxically relaxing job based on a stressful job, Wilmot’s Warehouse puts you in the role of a warehouse employee. You sort and arrang hundreds of products, then retrieving them on command when customers arrive to pick them up. Wilmot’s Warehouse doesn’t give you a lot of rules. Instead, it’s left up to the player to decide how to organize the plethora of products in their warehouse. If you’re aiming for the best score, it can get pretty hectic. But the satisfaction of finding the perfect logical order for all of your products, or carrying out a plan based on your distinctive sorting method, can be a blissful experience for some.
Visual novels as a whole tend to be on the more relaxing end of games since they’re about unraveling a story rather than testing your skills. Eliza is an excellent example of this often-overlooked genre that’s appealing even for newcomers to visual novels thanks to its sleek look and excellent, mood-setting soundtrack. Of course, that’s all secondary to its story, which is as compelling, surprising, and engaging as you’ll find any game.
Eliza tells the story of a woman named Evelyn, who works as a “proxy,” serving as the human face of a new app designed to automate therapy and collect data on users. It’s not the kind of game you can play to turn your brain off. But if your idea of relaxing is getting lost in a great story, it’s worth a look.
Another visual novel, The Yawhg. This one is lighter on the account and heavier on decision-making than Eliza. You can play it with four players controlling different characters for collaborative storytelling. The Yawhg tells the story of a group of people living out the last weeks before the apocalypse in a medieval fantasy city and how their choices in the meantime affect them when the big day comes.
If that sounds a bit too grim, rest assured The Yawhg is an entertaining game with a great sense of humor and some excellent art by comic artist Emily Carroll.
A unique take on an open-world game, Eastshade sets you loose in a beautiful fantasy world as a painter in search of a subject. As you wander the island, you’re not looking for treasure to collect or foes to slay, but landscapes to capture on canvas.
Eastshade doesn’t require any artistic talent; the paintings your character makes automatically appear. Instead, it focuses on the thrill of finding the perfect landscape and the joy of enjoying an environment with the singular goal of appreciating its beauty. Along the way, you can form friendships with the island’s inhabitants and take on some light quests. But none of it is complicated enough to disturb your calm.