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Kids' Safety

20 relaxing games for a calmer 2021

young adult man streaming video game on desktop computer

Jan. 29, 2021

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Stressful workdays, difficult parenting situations, global pandemics. We’ve all faced scenarios that leave us desperate for an escape. For some, the cure is as simple as bingeing a silly TV show or striking a yoga pose. For others? Playing a relaxing game is their saving grace.

That’s right, not all video games have a violent reputation. In fact, the FDA recently approved the first prescription video game, EndeavorRX, as a treatment for kids with ADHD. And research increasingly shows gaming can positively affect well-being.

So, we looked to NortonLifeLock’s own gaming enthusiasts for their relaxing game recommendations and scoured the web for the most buzzed-about calming titles. Here, we’ve rounded up 20 video games that allow players to unplug from reality and plug into some form of serenity.

Whether you want to truck in a backwoods, wrangle some slime, or prefer tried-and-true puzzles, these games are sure to help you unwind.

What the Golf?  |  Animal Crossing: New Horizons  | Donut County  |  SnowRunner  |  A Short Hike  |  Tetris  |  Proteus  |  The Forest  |  Firewatch  |  Untitled Goose Game  |  Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture  |  flOw  |  The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild  |  ABZÛ  |  Jackbox Games  |  Stardew Valley  |  Hades  |  Wattam  |  Everything  |  Slime Rancher

What is a relaxing game?

Generally, relaxing video games are slow-paced with low stakes. They’re:

  • approachable, not hard to learn
  • cooperative, not competitive
  • nonlinear, not involving levels
  • peaceful, not violent
  • accessible, not limited to single platforms

The video game plot often takes the backseat to let mellow music, amusing visuals, and sceneries that transcend reality shine. All these things combined, and you have escapism.

Of course, every gamer has their own interpretation of a relaxing game. As NortonLifeLock gamer Jay Odedra, director of pricing and licensing, puts it:

“To me it’s not about the game so much as who you’re playing against. Player versus player is normally hard work and generally not relaxing for me. Playing versus AI, you can pick how much of a challenge you want and make things relaxing.”

Benefits of chill games

statistics supporting that relaxing video games in fact exist and have calming benefits

 

Now that we know what makes for a relaxing video game, it’s worth underscoring the benefits of playing one. It’s been reported that relaxing games:

  • allow us to slip into mindful meditations or flow states
  • deliver instant gratification
  • provide opportunity to express creative freedom
  • induce dopamine release
  • alleviate loneliness

According to the Journal of Medical Internet Research, digital games might also be effective in promoting post-work recovery — some CEOs, CFOs, and other executives are apparently already on top of this, with more than 60 percent reportedly taking daily game breaks.

Most relaxing games

music, visuals, humor, cooperative play, and no time limits all play into a chill gaming experience

 

Without further ado, we’ve compiled our own roundup of video games we and other gamers have played and found peace of mind. And we’ve analyzed just what makes them so chill by identifying the following factors that play into a chill gaming experience:

  • Music, which can deliver instant gratification
  • Visuals, which can help us to slip into mindful meditations or flow states
  • Humor, which can induce dopamine release
  • Cooperative play, which can alleviate loneliness
  • No time limits, which can provide the opportunity to express creative freedom

Savor the settings, laugh at the characters, and put down your controller, mouse, or handheld game feeling a little lighter.

WHAT THE GOLF?

Believe it or not, hard-core golfers may want to avoid WHAT THE GOLF? To borrow the game’s tagline, this is “the golf game for people who hate golf.” Best played in small increments, according to enthusiasts from NortonLifeLock, this single-player game is a true parody of golf, making gamers navigate the green and the absurdities thrown at them in between.

  • The chill factors: humor
  • Platforms: handhelds, computers
  • Rating: E 10+
  • Why you’ll zen out: “I’ll just say that the golf ball is often not the focus. Golfing can become platforming, and exploding cats are involved.” —Anthony Barberis, Principal Marketing Specialist, NortonLifeLock

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

a screenshot of the video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons and a testament to it being a relaxing games

 

Animal Crossing: New Horizons could be considered the golden child of cooperative gameplay. University of Oxford researchers even studied the video game to posit that multiplayer games positively affect our well-being. For most gamers, it’s living on island time — or rather worrying about no time at all — that’s the most stress-free part of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Fish, decorate, hunt, and socialize at your speed.

  • The chill factors: music, cooperative play, no time limits
  • Platforms: handhelds
  • Rating: E
  • Why you’ll zen out: “Want to reorganize your island? Go for it. Want to hunt for your dream character? Have a nice trip! Have a mighty need to redecorate your home with new items? Have at it. All in the timeframe you choose with no time constraints or requirements of any kind, it’s as fun and relaxing as you make it.” —Tami Donahue, Paralegal, NortonLifeLock

Donut County

Donut County is a puzzle game, whereby you’re not a character but rather a hole trying to swallow up characters. The more you swallow, the wider you get. Think of it as a very “holesome” premise.

  • The chill factors: humor, no time limits
  • Platforms: handhelds, consoles, computers
  • Rating: E
  • Why you’ll zen out: "When describing Donut County, ‘charming’ doesn't cut it, and ‘funny’ is an understatement. Playing as a raccoon in a trash-worshiping raccoon mega-conglomerate bent on sucking everything in the world through a giant donut hole in the ground is a glorious, riotous experience." —TheIndieDetective, Steam user

SnowRunner

a screenshot of the video game SnowRunner and a testament to it being a relaxing games

Pick a truck, pick a terrain, and drive all day. That’s pretty much the approachable premise of SnowRunner. The simulation game puts you in the shoes of an off-road trucker — and seats of a semi, tank, Humvee, tractor, and other vehicles — to complete missions with untamed roadway conditions and beautiful scenery. Drive solo or with up to four other gamers for cooperative gameplay.

  • The chill factors: music, visuals, cooperative play
  • Platforms: computers, consoles
  • Rating: E
  • Why you’ll zen out: “It's slow driving while listening to great backwoods hillbilly music.” —Frederick Kudelka, Software Engineer, NortonLifeLock

A Short Hike

"A little exploration game about hiking up a mountain" — A Short Hike's tagline sums up this game just right. You play a bird, which means you can also fly up Hawk Peak Provincial Park and meet miscellaneous characters along the way. Pick a path, enjoy the scenery, and make your own adventure.

  • The chill factors: visuals, no time limits
  • Platforms: handhelds, computers
  • Rating: n/a
  • Why you’ll zen out: "This game feels like a warm and comfy hug after a long day." —dogé, Steam user

Tetris

a screenshot of the video game Tetris and a testament to it being a relaxing games

 

The pioneer of puzzle games, Tetris has evolved into many iterations and for other platforms since it was first released as a computer game in 1984. To quote the gaming site, the single-player game “embraces our universal desire to create order out of chaos.” And that’s something most can consider a positive vibe. In fact, one University of California psychologist studied just that and determined that overworked people often feel less stressed and more positive after playing Tetris. Do yourself a favor and block out some time to bring on the good vibes.

  • The chill factors: visuals
  • Platforms: computers, handhelds
  • Rating: E
  • Why you’ll zen out: “Once you’ve played enough, you start to zone out. This strange feeling overtakes you. You find that the game almost plays itself, each piece demanding to go into a particular spot, the best place for it at the time, and it’s up to you to place it where it wants to go.” —Roux Buciu, Software Developer 2, NortonLifeLock

Proteus

This retro-cool game is set on an island teeming with hills and oceans. The music changes depending on your surroundings, which is perhaps the serenest part of Proteus.

  • The chill factors: music
  • Platforms: consoles, computers
  • Rating: E
  • Why you’ll zen out: "A soothing and serene experience. Like that one time on your way home you stopped just to admire some buttercups for a minute or two … without taking pictures." —Venceremos, Steam user

The Forest

a screenshot of the video game The Forest and a testament to it being a relaxing games

 

Calming music, beautiful scenery and wildlife, and no time limits to force you to hurry — The Forest offers all of these chill game factors with one horrific twist: You’re a lone survivor of a plane crash and trying to stay alive in a forest full of cannibalistic mutants. Thankfully, they only come out at night and gamers for the most part have the freedom to peacefully roam the forest during the day.

  • The chill factors: music, visuals, cooperative play, no time limits
  • Platforms: consoles, computers
  • Rating: M
  • Why you’ll zen out: “You get to build your camp and survive in the wild with very little fighting — and even that is slow-paced when necessary.” —Bob Shaker, Director of Product Management, NortonLifeLock

Firewatch

You're a man named Henry and you're a fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness. A single-player game, Firewatch's narrative changes with whatever choice you make — and there's a lot of decision to navigate, as this is a mystery game.

  • The chill factors: visuals
  • Platforms: consoles, computers, handhelds
  • Rating: M
  • Why you’ll zen out: "Take it slow, take screenshots, and enjoy the view." — Sharmack, Steam user

Untitled Goose Game

a screenshot of the video game Untitled Goose Game and a testament to it being a relaxing games

 

Untitled Goose Game is a puzzle game with a pretty simple premise. You’re a horrible goose wandering through a village being horribly annoying. Think: stealing people’s lunch, upending gardens, and, of course, honking. With no time limits to complete these assigned pesterings, gamers can end their gameplay whenever they please. Not so horrible, right?

  • The chill factors: humor, cooperative play, no time limits
  • Platforms: consoles, computers, handhelds
  • Rating: E
  • Why you’ll zen out: “It’s a goal-directed puzzle where you can just goof off. I like to focus on the puzzle, but my kids also like to just untie people’s shoes and honk when someone is drinking their coffee.” —Anthony Barberis, Principal Marketing Specialist, NortonLifeLock

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is the epitome of a slow-paced game. It's a walking simulator game set in a deserted village in the Shropshire countryside, and the premise is to discover just why the village is deserted.

  • The chill factors: music, visuals
  • Platforms: consoles, computers
  • Rating: M
  • Why you’ll zen out: "It’s a game when you need to relax and enjoy amazing voice acting and stunning visuals. You are never being rushed or forced to do anything. Only a good story and world setting." —Seba, Steam user

flOw

a screenshot of the video game flOw and a testament to it being a relaxing games

 

By no surprise, flOw is all about going with the flow. In this single-player game, you play a microorganism looking for food and evolve with each nourishment. Play at your own pace.

  • The chill factors: music, visuals
  • Platforms: console, computers
  • Rating: E
  • Why you’ll zen out: "With simplistic but beautiful and unique visuals, a haunting soundtrack, and a ‘let's see what's next’ design approach, flOw is all about exploring the unknown and seeing what lies deeper in the game's seemingly infinite fluid." —Chris Roper, video game reviewer for IGN

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The freedom to explore the landscape of Hyrule to whatever degree you please is why some gamers coin The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild a chill game. As Link, you’ll traverse towers, shrines, villages, and stables and move at your own pace to hunt and gather for survival.

  • The chill factors: visuals, no time limits
  • Platforms: handhelds, consoles
  • Rating: E 10+
  • Why you’ll zen out: “There’s so much map to run around in. It occupies me and allows me to play my way. Some days I just want to climb mountains and paraglide around, finding shrines. Other days I want to take out each and every bokoblin encampment I can find.” —Tami Donahue, Paralegal, NortonLifeLock

ABZÛ

a screenshot of the video game ABZÛ and a testament to it being a relaxing games

 

To break down the word ABZÛ is to understand the game itself. AB means ocean and ZÛ means to know. Together, they create the ocean of wisdom, and that's just what you explore in this underwater game. It even has a dedicated meditation mode that encourages you to simply sit back and take in the scenery.

  • The chill factors: music, visuals, no time limits
  • Platforms: computers, consoles, handhelds
  • Rating: E
  • Why you’ll zen out: "This game is the first game that comes to mind when I think of video games as an art form. Stunning visuals, a phenomenal score by Austin Wintory, and some of the best use of subtle storytelling I have ever seen in a video game." —NuclearEpsilon, Steam user

Jackbox Games

Consider Jackbox Games a virtual spin on all of your go-to games with friends, with Cards Against Humanity- and Pictionary-like cooperative games. The studio releases games in Jackbox Party Packs that accommodate up to eight players. All you need is a mobile device to tune in and then the game is cast onto a TV or, if you’re playing remotely, to a computer screen via Zoom, Twitch, or Steam. From there, it’s up to you and your crew to bring the humor.

  • The chill factors: humor, cooperative play
  • Platforms: handhelds (and TVs)
  • Rating: T
  • Why you’ll zen out: “I’ve got a regular Monday-night Jackbox Zoom with friends, and it’s been a wonderfully anchoring and relaxing touchpoint in the plague era.” —Anthony Barberis, Principal Marketing Specialist, NortonLifeLock

Stardew Valley

a screenshot of the video game Stardew Valley and a testament to it being a relaxing games

 

In Stardew Valley, you've traded in your city slicker roots for life on your grandfather's farm, and there's a lot to get done. But don't feel overwhelmed. You can tackle it however you please, and that's the beauty — and relaxing part — of this type of farming.

  • The chill factors: music, cooperative play, no time limits
  • Platforms: handhelds, computers, consoles
  • Rating: E 10+
  • Why you’ll zen out: "Listen, you wanna play a nice calming game where you can farm, fish, mine, and interact with interesting non-player characters? Then this is a good game. It has an amazing soundtrack and dynamic characters." —Hedgeman, Steam user

Hades

PC Gamer deemed Hades the best action game of 2020. It’s a roguelike game, meaning a video game whereby you get stronger as you play. These types of games are often set in a dungeon or confined space. The most relaxing part of Hades? According to some gamers, that would be the satisfaction that you’re consistently progressing as you play and that each run is a manageable 30 to 60 minutes.

  • The chill factors: visuals, music
  • Platforms: handhelds, computers
  • Rating: T
  • When you’ll zen out: “I don’t normally go for roguelikes, but this game is wicked fun. I can pick it up and put it down quickly.” —Tami Donahue, Paralegal, NortonLifeLock

Wattam

a screenshot of the video game Wattam and a testament to it being a relaxing games

 

You've got a friend in Wattam because that's the entire plot of the game: Make friends. There's about 100 of them to choose from, from sushi to seashells, trees, and even toilets. It apparently takes all but three hours to complete — how refreshing!

  • The chill factors: humor, cooperative play
  • Platforms: Computers, consoles
  • Rating: E 10+
  • Why you’ll zen out: "Everything is cute, charming, and everything that happens just makes you feel a small sense of childhood delight." —GamingTaylor, Steam user

Everything

From animals to planets, everything is a playable character in Everything. If that sounds philosophical, well, that's just the start. Everything is also narrated by British writer and speaker Alan Watts, who’s renowned for helping to popularize Buddhism.

  • The chill factors: music, no time limits
  • Platforms: handhelds, consoles, computers
  • Rating: E
  • Why you’ll zen out: "The music is given to you as a friend, a loyal fellow that will always keep you out of the real world, so you can really feel you are moving through icy lands or wandering through vast space." —Arreme, reviewer on Metacritic

Slime Rancher

You can approach Slime Rancher at your own pace, and that’s why some players consider this a chill game — Steam users also can’t resist calling it “cute.” The single-player game centers on main character Beatrix LeBeau, a rancher, and her attempts to wrangle slimes in space on the “Far, Far Range.” Yeehaw!

  • The chill factors: music, visuals, humor, no time limits
  • Platforms: consoles, computers
  • Rating: E 10+
  • Why you’ll zen out: “The slimes you collect and raise are stupid cute, the music is dynamic and changes depending on where you are and the time of day.” —Tami Donahue, Paralegal, NortonLifeLock

Reality can be tough, and we all need a respite sometimes. Turn to what works for you — a little humor, calming music, beholding beautiful scenery, or maybe others’ company — and know video games have tapped into all of that and then some.

Kick back, relax, and game on.

an infographic listing 9 relaxing video games and their calming benefits

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