It’s been one hell of a week/month/year, huh, y’all? I feel like I spend a lot of time these days staring at Twitter and then scrambling to find something to plug my brain into, just to kind of cool it off for a minute. The less realistic it is the more it helps, so lately I’ve been turning to video games. I thought I’d share some of my favorite soothing games so we can all maybe plant some parsnips, connect some dots, and chill out for like, fifteen minutes or so.
You can buy and play any of these games on both Windows and Mac computers through the Steam client. I’ve included their non-sale prices, but Steam has two big sales a year (winter holidays and summer) and games go on sale at other times, too. If you make an account and put these on your wish list, Steam will automatically email you if any of them go on sale!
1. Stardew Valley – Mac & PC, $14.99
I have played Stardew Valley for 150 hours. I have a beautiful wife (Abigail, she rules), two lovely kids (Killian and Angus), and a disorganized but highly productive farm. I’ve even completed most of the quests and “end goals” of the game, and you know what? I’m still playing. There’s something so kind about Stardew. It’s a cute and simple game that lets you organize your rows of crops, milk some cows, slay monsters in the mines, and go fishing, even in the same day if you have enough energy. It’s also very important to make friends and build a community. It’s kind of like Animal Crossing, just with more stuff to do and more meaningful relationships. Stardew gives the player objectives, but it’s never punishing or grueling. There’s always something to do, but you’re never really going to get in trouble for doing something else if you just don’t feel like it that day. I find it pairs well with Netflix seasons of the Great British Bake-Off on in the background.
2. Audiosurf 2 – Mac & PC, $14.99
I was first introduced to the original Audiosurf by my boyfriend, who’s a fiend for rhythm games (think Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero, etc.) He has reported that you’re supposed to play this game sort of like Tetris, flying along a track built to a song of your choice from your music library and trying to hit blocks of the same color so you can clear them off of your grid. If you’re good at rhythm games, this is a great way to get into that state of flow, letting you drop everything from your brain except the feel of the music. If you are terrible at rhythm games, like me, it’s like a super chill light show. Audiosurf 2 has a basic music visualizer mode, but it also has a Casual Puzzle mode. You can still play the actual game in Casual Puzzle, but I’m a woman with simple needs, and sometimes I just like to sit back and treat it like a simulation of a gentle rainbow roller coaster. I highly recommend “Chicago” by Sufjan Stevens for this, and would consider recommending “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads if I weren’t afraid I would lose about 12 hours of my life to David Byrne and technicolor.
3. LYNE – Mac & PC, $2.99
Sometimes the best way to calm your brain down is to distract it. I’ve found that LYNE is really good for this! LYNE is a super-cheap game that seems to consist of nothing more than logic puzzles made of lines you’re supposed to connect. These puzzles start out simple and go up ever so slightly in difficulty as you learn the internal logic and the game adds new obstacles and rules. It’s a nice way to exercise my brain without feeling like I’m punishing myself. I’m about 50 puzzles in and I think the longest I’ve spent on any so far is 4-5 minutes, which is just long enough to feel challenged but not long enough that I’m furious about it. It scratches a little brain itch that makes me feel a little bit like a genius.
4. Proteus – Mac & PC, $9.99
Proteus is less of a game than it is a very pleasant experience, in the best way possible. Every time you start the game up, it generates a new pixel-art island landscape for you to wander around. There’s nothing to do except walk, and if you get tired of holding down the WASD keys to do that, you can even point your camera in a direction and press Q to just glide over the water, the beach, and the mountains. The day passes from morning to evening to night peacefully. Music plays as you explore, and new sounds happen as you approach pixel animals that make their own kind of music. It all comes together to form a nice little escape that asks nothing of you.
5. Catlateral Damage – Mac & PC, $9.99
You ever feel like breaking some stuff? That is exactly what Catlateral Damage is for. You play as a cat and you wander through different rooms knocking things off of shelves and beds and dressers. I finally get why cats like that! To hell with your bathroom counter full of beauty products! GONE is your intricately arranged museum dinosaur skeleton! I am fuzzy and infinitely powerful! Nothing can stop me! (There’s a mode that gives you levels and objectives, but why would you, a video game cat, play a version that gives you orders? Hit that “Litterbox” mode and break stuff ‘till you feel better.)
Bonus Browser Games (free!)
I genuinely don’t remember where I found these “games,” but I’ve had them bookmarked for years. Weavesilk lets you choose colors and points of rotational symmetry to make designs that seem like they’re made of colored light right in your browser window. Neonflames does the same thing, but it’s nonsymmetrical and feels more like painting with stars and galaxies. Neither of them are very deep, but they can be a nice way to zone out and make something simply and pretty, so I like to visit them sometimes.
Jessica Davis is nervous, but excited. She used to write for a popular web series, but right now she mostly listens to podcasts and thinks about stories. Jessica likes magical girls, fake plants, the Mountain Goats, and stories about teens saving the world through hope and love. You can follow her attempts to be funny and/or thoughtful on Twitter.