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Though video games have earned a largely negative reputation thanks to their depiction of violent acts and addictiveness, many are actually helpful rather than hurtful when it comes to mental health. In fact, one 2017 study published in Human Factors found that people who played casual video games to destress during the workday felt better than those who just sat silently.
So, which video games are best when it comes to relaxing and unwinding? We’ve rounded up five calming video games to play when you need a calming escape.
1. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Shop: Animal Crossing: New Horizons, $54.99
There’s a reason why Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons sold over 13.4 million copies in the first six weeks following its late March launch: It’s the perfect escape. The social simulation video game gives you total control of your very own island, which you can slowly but surely transform by selling fruit, watering flowers and catching fish. With a Nintendo Switch Online subscription, you can even visit friends’ islands and host gatherings of your own. Something about virtually fishing with friends is just so relaxing.
2. The Sims
Shop: The Sims 4, $39.99
When everything in your own life is going wrong, it can be cathartic to create a new family on The Sims and be in total control. The life simulation franchise — which is already on its fourth installment — gives you total, unlimited authority over your characters, from the career paths they pursue to the Sims they “woohoo” with. Purists prefer to play this game without cheat codes, but it’s equally satisfying to motherlode your way to the five-bedroom McMansion of your dreams.
Shop: Firewatch, $17.99
Travel back in time to 1989 with Campo Santo’s Firewatch. In this mystery first-person adventure game, you play as a man named Henry who works as a fire lookout deep in the wilderness in Wyoming. When strange things start happening to you and your supervisor, you leave your post to explore the Shoshone National Forest to try and figure out what’s going on. Be careful out there, though — everything you say and do will affect your relationship with the only human you know and, ultimately, the outcome of the game.
Shop: Journey, $14.99
When it comes to calming video games, Journey is it. In one of the most serene settings there is — an isolated desert — you embark on a scenic trek to the top of a faraway mountaintop and “discover who you are” along the way. Make sure to turn the volume up as you roam through sand and ruins: In 2012, Journey became the first video game to score a Grammy nomination for its evocative soundtrack.
5. Katamari Damacy Reroll
Shop: Katamari Damacy Reroll, $19.99
This game is the perfect pick-me-up after a particularly anxiety-inducing day, mostly because it’s completely unhinged. There’s really not much strategy to it: After your father, the King of All Cosmos, accidentally destroys all the stars, your goal is to just roll around a katamari (a sticky ball of alien origins) and keep adding to it until it’s big enough to be a new star. When your ball gets big enough, you can literally pick up giant objects like cruise ships and trees.
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