Four Soothing Games for When You Need to Plug In and Chill Out

I am notoriously terrible at computer and video games. Don’t get me wrong, I like them. Occasionally I even love them. But, and I know this phrasing is going to get me in trouble, I do not have dextrous fingers. My gaming is usually of the table top variety, but in the instances I enjoy computer games, I usually enjoy something with a good story that I can point and click through while using my brain to solve puzzles. Except of course when I’m on overload mode, like right now. Sometimes what I need out of a game instead is to disconnect, look at the pretty and breathe. Usually they involve immersive sound design of some kind. Here are a few games that are helping me do just that.

Sokobond

This is a minimalist puzzle game about chemistry. Move one element around to pick up other elements and create a chemical, but be warned! Some environments are special. The name of the puzzle always has a hint in it. Its open, bright spaces and candy-colored atoms make for an easy feel even as the puzzles get harder. And that sound design! Gosh, it’s so relaxing. Throw on some headphones and get sciencey.

Windows, Mac and Linux, $10.


Panoramical

The tagline for this game is “a collection of places that morph to your touch.” Each of the 15 worlds has 18 channels that you can morph using your mouse, keyboard and even, for the musical among us, a MIDI controller. That’s how keyed into sound this game is—and I even think it was made by a DJ? Maybe? I seem to remember hearing that somewhere. The 18 channels morph both visual and audio elements, and you can take snapshots to share when you make something cool. I highly recommend sitting down with some tea and your nice headphones. The nice headphones are really important for this one.

Windows and Mac, $10.


Fragile Soft Machines

This French game is a calming, writing game where your choices affect the world and the way you describe things affects the story. The simple questions partnered with, once again, excellent sound design make you think about what you want right there, at the computer. You. Not the game you, which in this case is a butterfly with a busted wing, but you-you as well. What do you want out of this world? What are you hoping for? And it doesn’t require dexterity—simply point at the vines you want to climb, and climb higher (or not). This game is actually a little difficult to describe, but does it help you to know that I might teach it alongside poetry? To me, this is the poetry of games.

Windows, Mac and Linux, $3.


Proteus

I squealed with delight while playing Proteus for the first time. The idea is simple—no goal, no jumping or slashing. Just looking with your mouse and walking forward with a click. You take a walk in nature. That’s it. But your world is created before your very opening eyes, and it has the most incredible tapestry of sound. Rain makes music. Strange mushrooms honk at you. Time exists, with the sun rising and setting, the moon and stars looking down from inky blue skies. Ugh. You guys. I ran through a rain cloud on a mountain top! I chased chickens! I swam while the sun was setting! I highly recommend this game! Is it a game? This computerized alternate reality experience? I dunno, just play it with some headphones and breathe deeply!

Windows, Mac and Linux, $10.

So what games are you playing to destress? Am I the only one who doesn’t find hurting stuff cathartic? IDK, y’all, maybe it’s just against my alignment.

Staff Writer for Autostraddle, Part-time Faculty at The New School (teaching digital storytelling), Managing Editor for Scholar & Feminist Online at Barnard Center for Research On Women. Follow me on Twitter @AEOsworth or on Instagram, also @AEOsworth.

A.E. has written 542 articles for us.

24 Comments

  1. If anyone’s looking for android games in this vein, I’d recommend “Let’s Create! Pottery” where you mold virtual clay with your fingers. Super soothing, and there’s also a free version. I also like Viridi for chilling out. It’s a virtual succulent pot that grows in real time.

    • Seconded on Viridi (I use it for iOS), and downloading the pottery game now! I can always use more chill-out games on my phone — so nice to be able to just step outside of a stressful day, just for a moment or two, and play something calming and pretty.

  2. I just started playing ‘The Trail’ (iOS/Android), made by Peter Molyneux’s new studio 22Cans in collaboration with Kongregate. I think it’s been out since late 2016?
    It’s a collecting/crafting + walking simulation game. There are some community building aspects to it too, once you reach the first town and settle there you have community collecting and building goals. The game is free to play and really easy to level up without dropping any money into it. So far I’ve been enjoying it, though I don’t know how long I can keep walking around collecting stuff before it gets boring.

    • Yes! The scenery and music are pretty, and I find there’s just enough of a challenge to keep you engaged. It’s a great way to just unwind for a bit.
      I will admit that the tolls can be really annoying, but at least they give you Favours as a daily check-in reward now so you can skip those if you wait long enough.

      • You just have to craft a lot in the beginning and trade every single time. I had enough chits for all of the tolls up until after I settled in a town, I just traded so much! And if you have enough gold in the town to open the stage coach and move to a bigger town, it’s a big help. I earn like 8000 a day just from participating in my town’s trading (assuming they don’t fill up the crates before I log in).

  3. Kingdom:New Lands is amazing. It’s a resource-management game that makes 12 hours feel like 12 minutes. You play randomly as a King or Queen (race also varies), and there’s a unicorn that sh*ts money. Can’t really ask for more than that.

    • I forgot to mention, the controls are motion-only and don’t require button presses. The mechanics take a little time to get used to, but I think the game is pretty accessible.

      Another great game in this style is Journey ($14.99, also for Playstation). There’s a free demo on the PS store that I truly enjoyed.

  4. Excited to try some of these! I am really not a gamer so my suggestions might be super obvious, but for anyone else who wants to casually try some phone games that have an excellent effort: reward ratio…

    1) Monument Valley, $3.99/$1.99 expansion. It’s a puzzle game, engaging enough but not frustrating, and it is SO SO SO PRETTY. So pretty. And it’s ​about a princess who rescues herself. It’s supposedly free through Amazon underground but I couldn’t get it to install, still felt like money well spent.

    2) The Room 1, 2, and 3; $.99, $1.99, and $3.99 respectively. Very different type of puzzle game, basically a series of escape rooms full of weird boxes. Worth playing in order since they get progressively more complicated and there’s a vague plot. Annoyingly takes both hands so it’s hard to snack while playing but it’s engrossing enough to forgive that flaw.

    3) Infinity Loop and 2048, both free. Has it been long enough for 2048 to be cool again? I like both of these for when my anxiety is bad, they both hit a nice balance of mindless and distracting.

    • The Room games are awesome. Not sure I’d classify them as “chill out games” because of the mild horror/suspense/creepy vibe, but they’re a great way to give your brain a bit of a workout. And I love that The Room 3 has several alternate endings you can unlock – you get a bit more replay value out of it.

  5. Lieve Oma is another really lovely, soothing game with great music. Basically the game involves you walking around with your grandmother in the forest, picking mushrooms and just reading the story as it unfolds.

    I really enjoyed playing it and the graphics were really pretty too!

  6. I bought my gf Proteus to calm down with after playing the other game I got her called The Long Dark, where you have to survive in post-apocalyptic sub-zero Northern Canada (where we had just moved–it was too real).

    Defs gonna check out the chemistry one, and I’d add: Blendoku for those souls who like sudoku but would like to try their hand at colour gradients.

  7. Night in the Woods is amazing, and is mostly a story game about returning home and the search for meaning and life in a small town growing smaller. I cannot recommend it too much. It has a simple design, and doesn’t require any fast reflexes or the like (even when shoplifting in the mall).

    The sound design is good, and it goes amazing places.

  8. I highly recommend I Love Hue, free for Android and iOS. It’s a super calming color-based puzzle game where you just have to make the scrambled tiles into a gradient. It’s great because you will never get stuck forever on a puzzle; you’ll always be able to figure it out if you keep messing with it. It’s relaxing and helps me focus.

  9. “Lunar flowers” has really beautiful and calming animation. As the title suggests, there are flowers, moon phases, and also riding a dragon. You walk around and solve puzzles. It is free.

  10. I’ve been playing Osmos to destress. You are a “mote”, which looks sort of like a glowing jellyfish, and you float around and absorb other motes and get bigger. It’s sort of spacey and there are things you should avoid, but no danger or tension and you can play with very little input and watch the pretty things floating calmly.

  11. Oh yeah and I also really like Eufloria on the PS. You plant trees on planets and when they’ve produced enough seeds you can send the seeds to new planets.

    Sometimes invasive trees come and try to kill your trees and you have to send seeds to get rid of them, but it’s still low stress during the invasion and the controls are really easy.

  12. Abzu has been saving my stress levels lately. I was kind of afraid to play it because I basically hate the ocean but now I wish there was more of it. Not being able to die or lose the game helps.

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