Too often it seems like all video games are about gunning down Nazi zombies or assassinating Medicis. Sometimes, you don’t want the fate of the universe, or all of humanity, or whatever, resting on your shoulders.
- Thekla, Inc.
These are the best non-violent games for when you just need to chill.
Tim Mulkerin contributed to this post.
1. “Gone Home”
- The Fullbright Company
Originally released in 2013, “Gone Home” is a first-person video game about exploration. At least, that’s “Gone Home” on paper – in reality, it’s a genre-defying experience unlike anything else in video games.
In “Gone Home,” you play as Kaitlin, a young woman recently returned home from a trip to Europe. You’re the only one home, and as you wander the house’s various rooms, you’ll find diary entries and see photographs that give you increasingly clear ideas about this family and their secrets.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, and Linux
2. “Desert Golfing”
- Blinkbat Games
If you really, really want to play a game that’s as stripped down as they come, check out “Desert Golfing.”
It’s literally infinite golf. You flick your finger across the screen, sending a teeny white golf ball across a randomly generated stage.
There’s no losing. There’s no scary trolls. Just some peaceful physics-based puzzles to take your mind off the cruel realities of the real world.
Platforms: iOS and Android
“Flower” isn’t a traditional video game in any sense of the word. You press buttons and move around a little joystick, but it’s more of a meditative experience than anything else – an interactive poem, maybe. Rather than playing as a person or a creature, you’re playing as the wind. Really!
“Flower” is one of those games that’s hard to describe, but incredible to experience first hand. And it goes without saying of course, but it’s amazing to look at. It’s also a beautiful way to spend a Sunday morning.
Platforms:PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita
“Minecraft” is the virtual equivalent of having some nice, quiet playtime with a pile of Lego.
Aside from its basic survival mechanics, there’s no way to really “lose” in “Minecraft.” You can die, sure, but it’s not really that big of a deal. The goal is just to play, to build, to experiment, to try something new. Players have created some amazing things so far, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic “Falling Water” house and King’s Landing from “Game of Thrones.”
We’re not saying you’ll be the next “Minecraft” mastermind, but there’s always a chance.
Platforms: Xbox 360 and One; PlayStation 3, 4, and Vita; Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, and Switch; iOS and Android; PC and Mac.
“Fez,” the independently-developed platformer (think: “Super Mario”), is the perfect game to throw in when you just need to chill out.
That’s because “Fez” is much more about the act of exploring, finding secrets, and taking in the scenery within its massive world than it is about killing or racking up combos.
Its lovingly crafted levels, combined with its retro aesthetic and stellar soundtrack, make “Fez” an absolute delight to play. If a game can be described as “charming,” that would perfectly apply to “Fez.”
Platforms: PlayStation 3, 4, and Vita; Xbox 360; PC, Mac, and Linux.
Superlatives and hyperbole get thrown around a lot, but “Journey” is simply one of the most beautiful games ever made. You play an entirely silent protagonist, exploring a vast desert, and interacting with the various creatures and structures you come across.
Since the magic of “Journey” lies in experiencing it firsthand, describing how the game unfolds will only do a disservice to the experience of playing it for yourself. But there’s no doubt that “Journey” is one of the best PlayStation games you can get your hands on. It’s also blessedly short, enabling you to enjoy the entire game in a few hours.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3
“Hohokum” is a whimsical and visually inventive sidescrolling puzzle game. What “Hohokum” lacks in realism, it more than makes up for in innovation and sheer artistic brilliance. You play as a thin, flying, snake creature, exploring the world’s many hidden secrets, and interacting with its goofy inhabitants.
Platforms: PlayStation 3, 4, and Vita
8. “Animal Crossing: New Leaf”
In “Animal Crossing,” you play as the mayor of a quaint little town populated by anthropomorphic dogs, raccoons, anteaters, and all sorts of other cute little critters.
Don’t think of “Animal Crossing” like a video game in the traditional sense of the term. Instead, thinking of it as more of a nice place to visit when you need a break from the real world.
This isn’t to say that “Animal Crossing” is boring. On the contrary, its quirky sense of humor and charming art style are weirdly captivating.
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
9. “Stardew Valley”
Don’t you miss the old days when you would plant your own corn, milk your own cows, and just live off the land? No?
Well, “Stardew Valley” will make you nostalgic for the good ol’ days, even if you’ve never stepped foot on a farm in your life.
You can do basically whatever you want in this unexpectedly popular farming role-playing game. You can chop down some trees, explore a cave, make maple syrup, cook a meal, go on a date with another farmer, and pet a cat. Sounds weird? Maybe! But people love its relaxing charm.
Platform: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Mac, PC, and Linux
10. “The Witness”
- Thekla, Inc.
“The Witness” is probably the most controversial choice on this list, only because it will utterly consume some people’s lives while it will send an equal amount of people running in the opposite direction.
Essentially, it’s an open-world puzzle game where you’re the sole inhabitant of an otherwise abandoned island, exploring its eerily quiet buildings and beautiful landscapes. Every puzzle in the game is a sort of line-based maze puzzle, but the way “The Witness” slowly introduces new rules for these puzzles over the course of the game makes it feel like you’re learning a whole new language.
If that in any way sounds like your jam, “The Witness” will completely captivate you for weeks. It is in no way an exaggeration to say that “The Witness” is simultaneously one of the most challenging and also one of the most peaceful games I’ve ever played.
Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, Mac, and iOS
11. “Lara Croft GO”
- Square Enix
Mobile games often get a bad rap for being downright obnoxious, and for good reason: All too often, they’re packed with intrusive ads and overly-persistent Facebook integrations.
One mobile game stands out from the pack as something truly marvelous: “Lara Croft GO,” the challenging yet unusually relaxing puzzle game based on the “Tomb Raider” series.
Think of “Lara Croft GO” like a turn-based board game. As you move Lara across the game’s tiled stages, your enemies will move, too. The beautiful art style and addictive gameplay make “Lara Croft GO” the perfect choice for when you need to play something a bit more cerebral.
Platforms: iOS and Android, PC, PlayStation 4 and Vita
- Campo Santo
“Firewatch” was one of the best games of 2016, partly because its art direction is breathtaking, but mostly because it tells an incredibly moving story in just a few short hours.
You play a man named Henry working in the Shoshone National Forest as a forest fire lookout. You’ll explore the wilderness, unravel mysteries about the area, and grow closer with Delilah, a co-worker who you interact with exclusively via walkie-talkie.
The Hitchcock-style mystery at its heart will tinge that beauty with a healthy dose of paranoia, but the act of exploring this gorgeous rendition of the wilderness is completely transfixing.
Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC and Mac
“Tacoma” is the story of six crew members of a space station (named Tacoma), set in the near future of 2088. You’re a forensic investigator, essentially, but in space, digging through notes and audio logs and other detritus of people’s lives.
Rather than focusing on game mechanics, “Tacoma” focuses on storytelling and setting. You can take the story at your pace, and dig in as much (or as little) as you want. Beyond just a focus on storytelling, “Tacoma” tells a genuinely interesting story full of surprisingly fleshed out characters. It’s relaxing, no doubt, but it’s also a triumph of interactive narrative.
Platforms: Xbox One, PC and Mac
14. “Monument Valley” (and “Monument Valley 2”)
- Monument Valley
“Monument Valley” and its delightful sequel are excellent puzzle games that engage players intellectually and visually. The game’s worlds are M.C. Escher-esque, requiring a careful eye and a dash of creativity to complete.
There’s a reason you see Frank Underwood on “House of Cards” playing “Monument Valley” – the man lives a high intensity lifestyle, and he needs to unwind. And hey, you probably do too – in that case, “Monument Valley” (and “Monument Valley 2”) is probably right up your alley.
Platforms: iOS and Android