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It's been a funny old few weeks, and things are probably going to get worse before they get better. But they will get better. There are challenges ahead, I've no doubt, but I also know that we need to do what we can to remain optimistic, united, and calm.
That's easier said than done, of course. Believe me, I know. Keeping a cool head right now isn't something that we should all be expected to do all the time, and it's okay to be scared and upset. But when that happens? There are ways to calm down. Different people will have their own methods of coping. Yoga, reading, mediating, copious amounts of tea. And for me, and I suspect many others, I like to escape into video games.
The catch is that not every video game is a meditative or calming experience. I mean, some of you might enter a zen-like state every time you play Dark Souls or Resident Evil, but not me. I like to relax to games that are a little more obviously... relaxing.
With that in mind, I've put together a list of games that I think are great when you need to switch off your brain and calm your nerves. I hope it helps you, too. And remember, we are going to be fine.
Red, Yellow, Gold, Sun, Sword... it doesn't matter which Pokémon game is your favourite, they're all wonderful, relaxing RPGs that anyone can lose themselves in. Whether you're coming back to Crystal for the sixth time or trying out Leaf Green for the first, the simple thrill of building up a powerful team of monsters and exploring colourful, friendly worlds full of imagination and fun can help to soothe even the most troubled mind.
Flower is... well, it's delightful. A ethereal, experimental joy from the studio who would go on to create Journey, Flower is everything we need right now. Its soothing music, bright colours, and gentle gameplay make for a truly majestic experience - one that will be doubly poignant for those of us stuck indoors right now.
Also definitely play Journey, if you haven't already. Or play it again if you have.
Like Flower, Proteus is really more experimental than anything else. The only "point" to this atmospheric little indie game is to explore a strange and beautiful island and discover its many wonders. You aren't rewarded in any tangible way, nor are you expected to do anything. All that Proteus asks is that you dim the lights, turn the sound up, and let yourself be taken away by an evocative, fantastical creation.
Those of you who haven't bothered to play No Man's Sky in the last few years will doubtless be rolling your eyes at me right now, but even before Hello Games toiled on various much-needed upgrades, this space exploration game was a relaxing experience. In its most recent incarnation, there's more to see and do than ever before, and there's an entire mode built around stress-free exploration. So relax, jump into your ship, and explore an infinite universe. That soundtrack will always slap, too.
What can I say about Minecraft that hasn't been said thousands of times? If you're looking for a game to keep you busy, this survival sim has literally unlimited potential. If you're looking for a game where you can just relax and escape? Minecraft still offers that unlimited potential.
Explore countless worlds, build anything you can think of, or just run around playing with friends that you might not be able to visit with in person right now. Minecraft can be as challenging or as relaxing as you want it to be - just take your pick.
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Okay, so Breath of the Wild can be difficult - infuriating, even. Those of you playing the game for the first time will find the open world of Hyrule to be a truly deadly place where everything from enemies to the bloody rain will kill you dead. Stick with it though, and you'll master the wilds of Hyrule. Once you've done that, you'll find one of the most relaxing open worlds in gaming, one that I guarantee still has secrets (usually Korok Seeds) for you to find.
Simply ride around on horseback drinking in the scenery and enjoying that gorgeous, subtle piano that echoes in the background. Absolute bliss.
Is there a better escape from the real world than a fantasy island where you're indebted to a greedy little raccoon? I don't think so, which is why I can heartily recommend any entry in Nintendo's charming Animal Crossing series.
Play Wild World on the DS for a blast of nostalgia, or New Leaf on 3DS to see what it's like running and managing your very own town. Wait a few days and you'll be able to play New Horizons on Switch, the latest game in the series and an absolutely excellent slice of chill island life.
When I'm stressed out or worried, I often find a good drive calms me down. The catch is that I can't actually drive, so if my wife isn't around to ferry me down country lanes while I look out the window mournfully with Death Cab For Cutie on in the background, what am I to do?
Why, I play Forza Horizon 4. There's loads of competitive stuff to do in Playground Games' racing epic, but if you just want to drive around a gorgeous recreation of the English and Scottish countryside and listen to great music, you can go right ahead and do that. It'll melt all your troubles away.
Music-based action games are always a good shout if you're feeling stressed or anxious, because it's so much easier to lose yourself in a soundtrack if you're actively engaged with it. 2019's GOTY contender Sayonara Wild Hearts is my current recommendation.
Its gorgeous, electrifying soundtrack floats, swoops, dives and soars as you control characters through a series of dreamy, inventive challenges. You don't even need to be particularly good to get through the levels unless you're bothered about high scores, so just sit back and let yourself be absorbed by Sayonara's unique charms.
Much like Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley is a game that manages to find beauty in the mundane... although this indie gem is altogether less whimsical and often willing to go to some surprisingly dark places.
Even so, there's a meditative quality to gathering fish, farming crops, and tending to animals while getting to know the game's cast of characters. Let your mind drift away from whatever might be upsetting you, and focus on getting your prize turnips ready
"What?!" I hear you cry. "Assassin's Creed Odyssey is an epic action-adventure RPG, not a relaxing game by any stretch of the imagination. What an IDIOT."
Well yes, you're right. Especially the part about me being an idiot. But what you have to remember is that Assassin's Creed Odyssey (and its predecessor, Origins) both have a mode called Discovery Tour. In this brilliant mode, you don't have to fight or take quests, or any of that business. You simply explore Ubisoft's stunning - and it is stunning - recreation of ancient Greece, learning about historical sites and landmarks as you go. Relaxing and educational. What's not to love?
Featured Image Credit: Nintendo/Microsoft/Chucklefish
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