Video games are the ultimate form of escapism—they can absorb you into their world better than any other form of media. With such absorbing worlds, they can be a great way to relax and unwind, but not every game is well-suited for that. So today, we wanted to shine a light on the calmer side of gaming, showing off games that take it upon themselves to give you chill and relaxing experiences.
Update, 12/12/21: Verified picks and links are still up to date.
There were a few general things we looked for when selecting games for this list. The games needed to be on the easier side of things, they shouldn’t have any high-stress mechanics, and finally, the game’s presentation should be pleasing to eyes and ears—music and visuals go a long way to determining the tone of a game.
One final thing to note: game prices are fluid, they change constantly due to sales and price drops. Because of this, we decided not to include prices for the games listed, but all the games on this list range anywhere from $4 to $60.
So without further ado, let’s talk about some games.
Exploration, assuming it’s not accompanied by swarms of enemies, is inherently relaxing. You spend a large amount of your time just traveling, soaking in the world around you, until you find something truly unique that fills you with a pure feeling of discovery. That feeling is great, and these are the games that capture it the best.
- ABZU (PS4/PC/ Xbox One/Switch): The ocean is vast and begging to be explored, and while you may not get too far with a scuba mask in the real world, ABZU makes it simple (and beautiful) to explore the watery depths. All with a minimal story that, while not amazing, is enough to get your adventure started.
- Journey (iOS/PC/PS4): Journey has been praised since its original release back in 2012 for its beautiful visuals, minimalistic but captivating story, and interesting multiplayer mechanic. You can venture through this desert with a random co-op partner given to you by the game and, which leads to some truly unique experiences.
- A Short Hike (itch.io/Steam): This is a game about taking a short hike up a mountain. The name, and the game itself, are very simple and self-explanatory, but that doesn’t stop this hike from being one of the most charming and relaxing experiences in all of gaming.
- RiME (PC/Xbox One/Switch): Inspired by the dungeons in The Legend of Zelda series, RiME is an open-world puzzle and exploration game about unlocking the secrets of the island Rime. All while enjoying wonderful cel-shaded graphics and small inklings of plot and lore.
- Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles (PS4/PC/Xbox One/Switch): This game is about exploring and nothing else. There are no enemies, no crafting, and nothing to distract you. Just run through this wide-open world admiring the beautiful vistas and creatively designed creatures.
- AER: Memories of Old (PC/Xbox One/Switch): AER is about the peaceful exploration of floating ruins by using the main character’s ability to turn into a bird. A bit strange for sure, but soaring through these dilapidated buildings is both fun and breathtaking.
- Outer Wilds (PS4/PC/Xbox One): Outer Wilds received heavy praise after its release last year, and it’s well deserved. This game’s expertly design world is hand-crafted to deliver a constant feeling of discovery. There are plenty of secrets to find and tricks to figure out, with a unique time mechanic tying the whole game together.
These are the games about walking and not much else, which may sound boring, but if executed properly this genre can be the source of some of the best experiences you’ll have in a video game. They don’t all hit the mark, but these are the ones that definitely do.
- Firewatch (PS4/PC/Xbox One/Switch): This game may only be a few hours long, but it’s a few hours well spent. The presentation is beautiful, the writing and voice acting are top-notch, and the story is engaging and well thought out. Firewatch has been the gold standard of walking simulators ever since its release, and that probably won’t change for a long time.
- Myst (Various): Myst is a classic game that was originally released in the early nineties, impressing players of the time with its amazing atmosphere and sense of discovery. You explore the mysterious island of Myst by solving puzzles, all while discovering the remnants of a plot that took place long before you arrived. Myst is currently available in three forms: Myst, the original game ported to iOS devices. realMyst, a remake made in the Unity engine with updated visuals and tweaked gameplay (iOS, Android, and PC). And finally, Myst: Masterpiece Edition, which is an enhanced version of the original game available on PC.
- Refunct (PS4/PC/Xbox One/Switch): Refunct is a simple game about jumping between platforms in a relaxing environment. It isn’t deep in any regards, but it’s cheap, straightforward, and fun to blast through—perfect for an afternoon gaming session.
- Eastshade (Xbox One/PC): In Eastshade you play as a traveling painter capturing the island of Eastshade on your canvas. It’s peaceful, beautiful, and the story is well-written. If you want to truly get lost in a game’s story for a few hours, Eastshade is what you should be playing.
These games are all about giving you a taste of the real world in video game form, regardless of how accurate that taste is.
- Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Switch): It’s hard to describe what Animal Crossing is. It’s a “life simulator” where almost nothing about the game matches the real world, and yet millions are drawn in by the charming visuals and simple gameplay. The game keeps you coming back with events that occur every day (in realtime) and it can be incredibly addictive. It’s not for everyone, but if you do end up liking it you’re probably really going to like it.
- Farming Simulator 2019 (PS4/PC/Xbox One): The bi-annual franchise’s latest release, Farming Simulator is a game that wears its gameplay on its sleeve. It’s a realistic simulation of running your own farm, with all the troubles and excitement that entails. It may seem uninteresting at first glance, but if you give the game a shot you may be surprised how much you enjoy it.
- American Truck Simulator (PC): Another straightforward game, this time about hitting the open roads of the USA in a semi-truck. It may sound dull, but there is a reason many have spent hundreds of hours driving on these virtual roads. Something about it is just engrossing, and with next to zero punishments for messing up, it’s a perfect game to unwind with.
- Elite Dangerous (PS4/PC/Xbox One): If you want a “realistic as possible” space simulator, Elite is the best option out there. You fly your spaceship through the dark void of space, collect materials, sell those materials, and occasionally land on planets. There are a few threats in this galaxy, including other players, but for the most part, you’ll just be living the peaceful life of a space trader and explorer. (Also, Elite Dangerous does require that you sign up for an account, which you can do on the game’s website.)
Strategy games are already commonly associated with being relaxing experiences, even when they’re about declaring wars or fighting off aliens. And these two in particular really focus on making you feel as relaxed as possible.
- Mini Metro (PS4/PC/Switch/iOS/Android): On the surface, Mini Metro is unremarkable. The visuals are minimalistic and the gameplay doesn’t look particularly deep. But yet, it still manages to be a great game. You’re in charge of the subway systems of every major city on Earth and it’s your job to make sure those systems actually function properly, so go on and enjoy your new life of connecting subway lines for many, many hours (or rage quitting in minutes).
- ISLANDERS (PC): ISLANDERS is a laid-back city builder where you manage an Island village. The mechanics aren’t particularly in-depth, but that’s part of the appeal. With so few threats to the residents, you can just chill out and build your perfect city.
This genre is fairly simple—it’s just games that take place on a 2D plane after all. Your movement options may be limited, but after decades of this genre being around, developers have found endless ways to make that interesting.
- The Gardens Between (PS4/PC/Xbox One/Switch/iOS/Mac): This is a short and sweet plot-driven game about two best friends who get trapped in a mysterious and imaginative world. You solve simple puzzles and do minimal platforming, and the game uses a beautiful 2.5D visual style. This game is very easy, but that’s exactly what you want sometimes.
- GRIS (PC/Switch/iOS/Mac): GRIS is a beautiful, hand-drawn 2D platformer that tackles the subjects of emotional well-being and fear. It’s a short, touching story with some fantastic presentation to back it up. The gameplay itself is simple and doesn’t ask much of the player besides some basic platforming.
- Alto Series (Various): Alto’s Adventure (iOS/Mac/Android) and Alto’s Odyssey (iOS/Mac/Android) are two fantastic mobile games about skiing. The gameplay is simple and the visuals are breathtaking, which is all you need for a relaxing play session.
- LIMBO (PS4/PC/Xbox One/Switch/iOS/Android) and INSIDE (PS4/PC/Xbox One/Switch/iOS): Both of these games are dark, story-driven 2D sidescrollers from developer Playdead. Each game uses a unique visual style, with LIMBO being completely silhouetted while INSIDE makes great use of 2.5D graphics. They might be a bit too grim for some, but for others, the engrossing atmosphere makes them the perfect games to chill out with.
There’s nothing more calming than a good puzzle game…except when it’s making you rip your hair out. We tried to avoid those while still choosing games that offer up a good challenge.
- FEZ (PS4/PC/iOS): The puzzle platformer is a broad genre, encompassing many games, but FEZ is one of the best. In FEZ, you play as a little blob of pixels who obtained the power to warp reality itself—which from your perspective just means changing the camera angle. But this does affect how you move around the stages and what secrets you can uncover. It’s a clever central mechanic that the game expands on until the very end.
- Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (Switch/3DS): Another game about shifting your camera angle, but this time with a bit less subtlety—there is no in-game reason for this great power. None of the puzzles are particularly taxing, but they still feel great to overcome. The whole game just oozes that classic Nintendo charm and just makes you feel happy as you complete stage after stage.
- Monument Valley 1 (iOS/Android) and 2 (iOS/Android): Both Monument Valley games heavily mess with your perspective of things. The mind-bending stages are simple in appearance but complicated in gameplay, and it’s all tied up with a sweet story about a mother and daughter. Fans of artist M.C. Escher will love this one.
- Room Series (Various): Despite being set in a dark and gloomy environment, the Room games are actually pretty chill. You solve a lot of puzzles in these games, all with tactile feeling graphics and mechanics. You’ll open up secret compartments in furniture, while also admiring just how well detailed that furniture is. You’ve got Room 1 (iOS, Android, Switch, and PC), 2 (iOS, Android, and PC), and 3 (iOS, Android, and PC) all available, which should give you many hours of puzzle-solving entertainment. The story runs through all three games, and it’s captivating.
Good survival and crafting games truly are diamonds in the rough of many lazily-made titles. When these games are good though, they can pull you in for hours. Most do rely on some form of overall threat—such as enemies or dying of things like hunger and thirst to keep you engaged—ut there are plenty that take a more relaxed approach to survival.
- No Man’s Sky (PS4/PC/Xbox One): Despite its rough launch, the modern-day No Man’s Sky is actually a pretty good game. With breath-taking vistas and beautiful music, you can easily get lost in the cycle of exploring new, procedurally generated planets for hours. While there is a fair bit of grinding in No Man’s Sky, and a few threats to make exploring difficult, the presentation alone makes it worth at least trying.
- Stardew Valley (PS4/PC/Xbox One/Switch/iOS/Android): One of the most successful indie games of the past five years, and for good reason. Stardew Valley is all about relaxing, chatting with townsfolk, and peacefully tending to your farm. The visuals and music are charming and, with the great co-op mode, you can enjoy it all with up to three friends.
- Astroneer (PS4/PC/Xbox One): When it comes to crafting games, it’s hard to think of one more chill than Astroneer. Your objective is pretty simple: explore planets, expand your base, and activate all the gateways found on each world. The game is fully multiplayer, and you can have a blast messing around with the game’s admittedly janky physics engine with your friends. This one just gives off a fun tone, from the silly emotes your avatar can do to some of the more ridiculous items in the game.
There are a lot of titles on this list, and they won’t all be for everyone. But there should at least be something you to help you wind down at the end of a stressful day. Or, you know, month. Year? 2020 has been nothing if not stressful so far. Hopefully, one of these will give you some much-needed relaxation.