Life can be quite stressful. School, work, private life, they all tend to deliver their own problems, and sometimes all one needs is to just… log off from life for an hour or three and immerse themselves on a virtual world to relax.
This list celebrates calming games that allow you to do just that. Many of them are really good at giving you the satisfaction of completing constructive or creative tasks. Others are great at making you focus, or are just fun, relaxing experiences. Either way, the games from the list below are likely to help you wind down after a long day.
Let’s get to it.
|PowerWash Simulator||2021-05-19||Simulator||FuturLab||5%||Read more|
|Proteus||2013-01-30||Adventure||Ed Key and David Kanaga||55%||Read more|
|Dorfromantik||2021-03-25||Strategy||Toukana Interactive||Read more|
|GRIS||2018-12-13||Adventure||Nomada Studio||87%||Read more|
|ABZU||2016-08-02||Adventure||Giant Squid||70%||Read more|
|Audiosurf||2008-02-15||Arcade & Platform||Dylan Fitterer||39%||Read more|
|Audiosurf 2||2015-05-26||Action & Shooter||Dylan Fitterer||Read more|
|Donut County||2018-08-28||Adventure||Ben Esposito||Read more|
|Euro Truck Simulator 2||2013-01-16||Simulation||SCS Software||73%||Read more|
|Everything||2017-04-21||Indie||David OReilly||90%||Read more|
|House Flipper||2018-05-17||Indie||Empyrean||44%||Read more|
|House Flipper VR||2020-11-05||Indie||Frozen Way||75%||Read more|
|Lost Ember||2019-11-22||Adventure||Mooneye Studios||Read more|
|One Finger Death Punch 2||2019-04-15||Fighting||Silver Dollar Games||86%||Read more|
|Stardew Valley||2016-02-26||Adventure||ConcernedApe||Read more|
|Universe Sandbox 2||2015-08-24||Indie||Giant Army||42%||Read more|
Have you ever seen one of these oddly satisfying videos where somebody with a powerwasher removes all dirt from a driveway or a house wall? Powerwash Simulator is all about that. You get a pressure washer, something (or some place) that’s extremely filthy, and all the time you need to make things sparkly-clean. There are no stakes, no danger, just things to paint with cleanliness.
The game has a decent pacing thanks to hardware progression and increasingly more complex objects and locations you have to clean. Later into the game, things can get a bit weird, but it would be funnier if you discover this on your own. There’s even some amusing storytelling to the game, delivered via mission descriptions and text messages you get during a job.
|Developer:||Ed Key and David Kanaga|
Proteus is one of the most peaceful games on the list. It doesn’t seem to offer much to do, but at the same time, the experience of exploring the procedurally generated islands feels impactful and immersive. The environments are very vivid, benefitting from a low-fi, pixelated, yet very much 3D aesthetic which relies more on vibrant colors and contrasts than fancy shading and photorealism.
The experience also owes much to the unique soundtrack of Proteus. Rather than a predetermined, set tracklist, the music around you reacts to the places you visit and the path you take. It’s hard to explain, but few other games manage to root you in their worlds with music the way this one does. Often it can feel downright magical and makes the calm exploration so much better.
Dorfromantik probably isn’t the answer to the “how is a Civilization VI map made”, but it comes close! The premise is very simple: you get a fairly tall stack of hexagonal tiles containing rivers, villages, fields and other rural landscape features. Now you get to put them on a blank canvas of a map, trying to connect fields to fields, rivers to rivers, etc, creating a new world in the process.
It is a bit like a single-player game of Carcassone, with some extra rules which make the solo experience not only less stressful but also more strategic. There are, for example, miniquests which get you more tiles as a reward, extending your playthrough. And they tend to be pretty chill, too, like making a village with a specific number of houses in it. And if you don’t, no muss, no fuss.
On the surface, GRIS is a side-scrolling, 2,5D platform game, but that sells it short of what it really is. There is no danger to be wary of, or high dramatic stakes. There is, however, a colorless world becoming more vibrant thanks to the actions of the protagonist, a young girl named Gris. There are several zones to explore, each offering a unique narrative and aesthetic experience.
There’s also a prominent story layer involving Gris’ emotional state and coming to terms with a recent hurtful experience. As a result, for all of its aesthetic beauty and no danger to worry about, GRIS is also a rather sad story, overall. If you’re looking for a stunningly presented, sentimental game which expertly tells its story without needing any words at all, GRIS should be the fix for you.
If you’re keen on underwater locales in video games, but find Subnautica too stressful, you’re in luck! ABZU offers just as much ocean exploration as Unknown World’s hit, but is much more relaxed, serene, and dreamlike about it. No need to worry about hunger, oxygen, or exploding fish. Instead, be ready to swim with the whales, observe schools of fish, and unveil secrets deep underwater. It’s slow-paced, and better for it.
There isn’t a whole lot that can be written about ABZU without spoiling some specific experiences of gushing over the gorgeous graphics and immersive environments. It has every bit the loveliness of shallow-sunlit waters which put Subnautica on the radar for many people, but instead of science fiction stories, it dives into themes drawn from myths, particularly the Sumerian ones.
Audiosurf and Audiosurf 2
|Genre:||Action & Shooter|
The first Audiosurf was a pretty damn great rhythm game, giving you control of a vehicle gliding along a track generated from a song you fed to the game. Load an intense heavy rock song, you get a bumpy, fast ride. Load something chill, you have more time to enjoy the visualizations while you collect the blocks corresponding to the music beats.
Audiosurf 2 improved on the idea, with new visualizations, and a spiffy new wakeboard-like vehicle which allows the player to do tricks on the tracks. It’s the kind of game that is as difficult as you want it to be, and the sense of flow it provides can be really soothing, as long as you pick the right music. Admittedly, its flashing lights and colors might be a problem for some players, so be aware of that.
In Donut County you control a hole. The hole grows the more things fall into it, and it shrinks when it expels things from the underground/void it’s connected to. Your job, basically, it to make sure everything on the map falls into the hole. Usually, there’s a puzzle you have to solve using the whole physics and the interactions between various objects in the game world.
The game even has a story, but ultimately, it’s about objects falling into a hole, and that’s where its strength lies. The idea is simple, the execution is charming, and while there’s a bit of a mean spirit beneath it all, the graphic style makes it so enjoyable. Figuring out a way to make an entire freaking barn fall into a hole is something no other game is ever going to offer you.
Euro Truck Simulator 2
As most fans of the series will tell you, there’s something incredibly relaxing about just getting behind the wheel of your truck and driving along European roads. You have few worries, except making sure your cargo arrives intact at its destination. No biker gangs to fend off, no immediate danger, there’s just you, your truck, and the road. You can lose yourself in ETS2’s simple loop.
Of course, there can be more to the game if you want. There’s the more number-crunching side of things, for example. If you want to, you can eventually establish your own company, with your own fleet of trucks and drivers to help you make deliveries. Even without getting DLCs, you have 71 cities and twelve countries to ride across. It’s a great way to spend a lot of time in a relaxing way.
Everything is a lot to take in. This is a game which allows you to become anything in its world, anything at all. If you become a beetle, you move more or less like a beetle. If you become a tree, you move as a wave of growing and wilting trees surging across the landscape. If you become a large quadruped animal, you might inexplicably move by tumbling forward.
You’re not bound to the Earth’s surface, either, you can move planets and interact on a galactic scale. It’s a deeply conceptual game, yes, but thanks to its lack of threatening conflicts, you can immerse yourself in the exploration of the world and its bizarre mechanics. It’s really quite a unique experience, and thanks to procedural generation, you might always find new opportunities.
House flipping is the practice of buying neglected houses or apartments in poor condition, renovating them, and selling them at a profit. House Flipper is a game exactly about that. No quirky twist, no random robbers coming to invalidate your hard work. You get a house, you fix a house, you decorate a house, you sell a house. A simple, clear gameplay loop.
If you’re into (or suspect you might be) house renovation, check this game out. You’ll clean, rearrange the walls, bring in new furniture, and do a dozen other things necessary to turn a rundown ruin into the coziest house in the neighborhood. Clear goals and strong feedback make completing tasks feel rewarding, and the game is constructive, not destructive, which feels even better.
Lost Ember launched without much fanfare, which is a shame because it’s a game that can only be described as lovely. Without getting into too much detail, you play as a person who reincarnated into a wolf, being barred for some reason from the true ascension of their tribe. Bummer, but the upside is that you can run around as a wolf…and a bunch of other animals big and small.
You can briefly possess a wombat to squeeze through narrow openings, or highjack a parrot to soar through the skies. Some animals you need to control will run from a big, black wolf, so you’ll have to find a way to approach them. Exploring the world rendered through stylized graphics is a joy, even if eventually you’ll need to go back to chasing the story.
What is there to say about Minecraft that hasn’t been said before? It’s arguably the most famous and influential game of the generation. It’s a game which captured the imaginations and countless hours of free time of adults and children alike, despite, or maybe because of, its weird, voxel-based graphics. And it happens to be a great game to unwind after a long day.
Granted, it’s most likely to work best if you play solo, or with a few choice friends, but going into the creative mode and building something, big or small, gives a similar sense of progress and accomplishment that House Flipper, mentioned earlier, does. Seeing a fortress grow, or a recreation of a fantasy city expand thanks to your own work is something no game does better than Minecraft.
One Finger Death Punch 2
|Developer:||Silver Dollar Games|
One Finger Death Punch, both of them, really, are phenomenal games to launch for fifteen minutes when you’re on a break, complete a couple of stages, unwind, and return to your business. Despite the title, you need TWO fingers to watch your stick figure beat the hell out of hundreds of other stick figures. It’s absurdly simple but works extremely well.
OFDP can get very fast, but adjusts its speed to your performance, which means that the better you are, the faster it goes, which on a good day can put you in a strong flow-like mindset, where nothing exists, just you and two lines of enemies. It’s great if you want to vent, great if you want to do something completely mechanical, and great if you are old enough to know Xiao-Xiao.
Stardew Valley is undoubtedly a labor of love, and it’s reflected in its polish and charm. Although clearly Harvest Moon-inspired, this lovely farm management sim stands on its own very well, staying among the top-rated Steam games. Unlike real life, running this virtual farm is serene, relaxing, AND satisfying.
Also unlike real farms, in Stardew Valley you can grab your gear and go dungeon crawling for rare resources. You can, and should, also visit the nearby town to sell your products, get new seeds or tools, and, perhaps most importantly, meet the locals. The are many NPCs in town, and they are quite friendly, adding to the game’s welcoming nature.
Universe Sandbox 2
Sometimes to relax you just have to distance yourself from daily concerns. There might be no other game that gives you as much distance as this one. Universe Sandbox gives you control over planets, stars, and galaxies. The title really doesn’t lie. If you want to, you can create a new star system, smash stars together, or bombard Earth with asteroids, if you fancy.
Universe Sandbox is also playable in VR, increasing your immersion immeasurably, and making you even more distanced for the duration. Even if you aren’t of astronomical bent, there are no conflicts in Universe Sandbox 2, and toying with celestial bodies of all scales is a soothing experience that also provides a chance to just vent like an angry god.
Relax, we’ve got your back
That concludes our list of relaxing games which can be of great help if all you need is just relax and forget your stresses for a few moments. Hopefully one, or more, of the options caught your interest and will help you wind down after a bothersome day.