Let’s face it— with the most popular video games being highly competitive shooter games like Call of Duty, Fortnite, and Overwatch, “video games” and “stress-free” are words that continually have less and less in common. While that might seem the case on the surface, there are a lot more video game genres other than run-and-gun competitions that offer wondrous worlds to escape and get lost in. In no particular order, here are my favorite stressless video games to help you get through the rest of the semester (and for your overall health *wink*)!
Just to be clear, I will not be talking about Minecraft, Journey, Super Mario 3D All-Stars, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, or similar highly popularized games because those are stress-free games that everybody’s already talked about. If you haven’t heard of those games and are looking for a stress-free gaming experience, check them out! This list will contain some of my favorite stressless games that could use a little more love and attention.
I discovered A Short Hike early within the COVID pandemic, and man was it a life saver! In A Short Hike, you play as Claire, a pigeon-like teenager, who is anxiously waiting for a phone call during the family’s annual camping trip to Hawk Peak Provincial Park. The only problem is that the only cell reception is at the top of Hawk Peak. A Short Hike teaches Claire, and subsequently the player, that joy is not only in the destination but in the journey as the main objective of reaching Hawk Peak becomes less important than meeting new friends and exploring the gorgeous vistas.
Every character including Claire is charming, funny, relatable, and full of life. The scenery is a literal breath of fresh air. This is easily one of my favorite games that offers memorable characters and important messages while presenting a comforting escape from the hustle and bustle of school. A Short Hike is available on Nintendo Switch, PC, and Mac.
If you love stress-free games and cats, then this is the one for you. Brought to my attention recently from the marvelous Stephanie Bridges, the Professional Expert in our Esports Club, Neko Atsume is a game all about adorable cats! Similar to the Tamagotchi or Nintendogs that I loved when I was younger, Neko Atsume lets you craft your own front yard to entertain your cats. From buying them treats and toys to taking photos and even naming them, Neko Atsume is simple yet superb. And the best part is that it's free and it's on the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store, so it’s mobile! Perfect for breaking the monotony of a school day. Check in with your feline friends whenever you feel overwhelmed throughout your day.
Another one of my all-time favorites is Grow Home. Grow Home is a 3D platformer where you play as an awkward robot named BUD (Botanical Utility Droid) who needs to help a massive plant grow towards the mothership in order to secure seeds for Earth. To grow the plant, you must climb up it and hold onto a budding flower which will sprout out a vine that you can aim towards higher surfaces… or wherever looks the most fun place to go next. The world is a little playground to discover with each level you grow higher. Throughout each floating rock or damp cave are crystals that level up BUD’s abilities, like his jump. And since the world is all one big level without loading screens, if you try to jump towards a rock or the plant and miss, you will fall all the way down to the bottom (but don’t worry, there are check points throughout). This game is simple, but so much fun in a non-stressful way and I highly recommend it. Like A Short Hike, Grow Home is one that I often revisit once every couple of years. Grow Home is available on PlayStation and PC.
Similar to Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley is a peaceful role-playing life simulator. You start off inheriting your grandpa’s old plot of land and little by little, you build it into a thriving farm. Very much inspired by the Harvest Moon series, Eric Barone single-handedly created Stardew Valley to continually scratch that farm/community stress-free itch. While some (including myself) have found this type of game to be a bit stressful because as you strip back all the layers, you are just performing virtual chores, the vast majority of people adore this game for its easy pace and expansive details, and it’s not hard to see why. Check this one out if you love games that you can check back in on whenever you need a little break. Stardew Valley is an incredible game and is available on Apple, Android, PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, PC, and Mac.
One that I have yet to dip my toes into, but have had my eye on for a long time, Spiritfarer is not only a stressless experience, it is also an emotional one too. You play as Stella who is a Spiritfarer, a ferry master for the deceased, who grows emotional bonds with each soul as she helps them on their journey towards the great beyond. Taking some management ideas from games like Stardew Valley, Spiritfarer has players growing the housing on their boat, fishing, crafting, exploring, and farming to accommodate your residents’ needs. A game all about connections and precious memories, Spiritfarer will make you feel something while also offering a relaxing expedition. Spiritfarer is available on PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, Google Stadia, PC, and Mac.
Fez is a peaceful puzzle-platformer game with a memorably cute world and intriguing game design. You play as Gomez who, with his friends and family, thinks he lives in a 2D world, until one day he receives a fez, gifting him powers that reveal the 3D world. With the power of the fez, Gomez can rotate his 2D world four different ways like a cube in order to find new pathways between time and space. Fez presents abundant discovery when the room you thought you knew gets turned ninety degrees revealing hidden secrets and freedom as there is no right or wrong way to go. The connected islands are designed beautifully both artistically and functionally to maximize stressless fun and creativity. Although it is a single player experience, my brother and I both adored this game and played it with each other when it came out in 2012. As breathtaking as the day it came out, Fez is a wonderfully immersive game that will definitely help you take a breath from the books. Fez is available on Apple phones, PlayStation, Xbox, PC, and Mac.
Last but not least, Feather is as simple as it gets. I love birds, especially birds of prey, and one of my biggest fantasies is to be a bird, flying free on the wind through an open, blue sky. In Feather, that’s exactly what you get to do. With the help of a soothing soundtrack, Feather gives you the opportunity to live out your fantasies by flying as a hawk over a beautiful island. There’s not much to it, and that’s a good thing. Exploring at your own pace, soaking in the beautiful scenery, and discovering the islands secrets, Feather is an extremely relaxing experience. Feather is available on PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, PC, and Mac.
I love video games because of their ability to pull you into another world to create your own memorable stories. With these stress-free games, unforgettable moments are just bonuses from the peaceful breaks needed throughout your day. There are so many more wonderful stressless games that didn’t make this list, like The Gecko Gods, Townscaper, and Proteus to name a few. Whatever you choose, make sure to pick times in your day to unwind and relax. Don’t let stress ruin your day; sit back, relax, and take a load off with a great video game.