“My friend…care for your psyche…know thyself, for once we know ourselves, we may learn how to care for ourselves” – Socrates
Recently, things have been difficult for a lot of people with added reasons to feel stressed and fewer and fewer outlets for that frustration with social distancing measures and lockdowns still in place across the globe. This article lists ten games with the potential to help with relaxation, self care and mental wellbeing. Some have been created with mental health or self care in mind, some are just pleasant, relaxing experiences and others may even encourage self reflection and gratitude!
Free Games for Self Care and Relaxation
Developer: DU & I Games
Released: July 2020
Price: Free/Name your own price
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Available on: Steam, itch.io
Virtual Cottage is designed to give ‘players’ a comfortable place to rest and be productive without the quandry of distractions. It features a simple but cosy interior environment, delicately animated and lit according to the playing device’s clock changing subtly throughout the day.
The main purpose of the Virtual Cottage is to monitor tasks. Players can assign themselves a task with an allocated time allowance and the option to play a sound at the end. The timer cannot be stopped once started, encouraging commitment to the task at hand! Additionally, players can keep a short to-do list displayed on-screen to stay informed of upcoming jobs!
One of the main features of Virtual Cottage is its diverse OST and wide range of lo-fi tracks from different artists. There are also optional animated effects such as a fire in the fireplace or rain, wind and snow that appear in the window, these all have sound effects which, along with the music, have their own individual volume controls and on/off switches allowing the player to create their own ideal ambience.
This is certainly more of a relaxing time management tool and interactive distraction diffuser than it is a game in any traditional sense. However, it succeeds admirably in its intentions and absolutely has the potential to create a more mindful work or study environment, increase focus on a task and even enhance the sense of achievement that accompanies completion. An easy title to recommend to perpetual procrastinators, especially with its non-existent price tag!
Soft Underbelly is a short but heartwarming monologic narrative experience about taking a break! The player takes part in an extended one-way conversation with their pet cat about friendship, trust and care, this is mostly linear but there are a handful of dialogue options to explore throughout the game.
The game’s visuals consist of a single animated image, which sounds underwhelming but for a game that can be played in 5 minutes it works quite well, especially as the artwork is so lovely. It consists of contracting orange and green shades in light and pastel tones with soft linework and is well suited to the tone of the experience. Similarly, the soundtrack is minimal but it’s slow tempo and twinkling piano key sounds help give Soft Underbelly a really relaxing feel.
The game’s sensitive story and delicate narrative design are its stand out features. The writing is wholly relatable to any cat owner and will definitely pull on the heartstrings in an upbeat way. Overall, Soft Underbelly is a delightful game to take a break with. Its short length and cute, positive feel make it the perfect self-care game!
Paid Games for Self Care and Relaxation
Developer: Circus Atos
Released: April 2017
Price: £1.79 – £10.79
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, Xbox, Switch
Available on: Steam, itch.io, Humble, Google Play, App Store, Microsoft, eShop
Under Leaves is a colour-filled hidden object game set in the majestic animal kingdom. Gorgeous hand-drawn watercolor illustrations and a soothing soundscape make for a gently exotic experience and give the game a unique overall feel. The game initially consisted of 9 different locations around the world with 29 animals waiting to be discovered. However it was updated in 2018 to add more locations and animals and again in 2021 to make it available on console.
Free of any text, and with minimal and intuitive controls, the game is easily accessible to everyone and provides an original and beautifully artistic take on the hidden object game genre. It’s relaxing soundtrack is the perfect accompaniment to the calm and casual gameplay, making this a great game to unwind with!
Released: March 2012
Price: $4.99 – £11.99
Platforms: Windows, PS3, PS4, iOS
Available on: Steam, Playstation, App Store
Journey allows players to explore an ancient, mysterious world by soaring above ruins and gliding across sands to discover its secrets. While the game is primarily a single-player experience, it is also possible to anonymously encounter a fellow traveller and explore the vast world together, the lack of identifiers mean it is likely players won’t even realise how many different people they’ve interacted with until they reach the very end of the game! This addition gives the game a very wholesome and cooperative feel overall.
Journey also features a serene yet powerful, Grammy-nominated musical score as well as superb artwork and stunning lighting to help bring the vast landscapes, curious creatures and strange derelict structures to life. There are a few tenser moments when loosely defined threats appear but these are minimal and short-lived, serving primarily to emphasise the relaxing nature of the game as a whole.
To conclude, Journey is a short game, but the couple of hours needed to complete this game can be a truly mesmerising, captivating and even soothing experience.
Relaxing Games Revisited
Care Pack Bundle
Released: 10th March 2021
Available on: itch.io
The Care Package Bundle is a selection of games by a diverse range of developers and curated by JUSTCAMH. Created in the wake of the absolute mess that was 2020, the aim of this bundle is to help spread some positivity and joy this year and break the monotonous blues of ongoing lockdowns.
The Care Package Bundle is a diverse collection, created with the intention of giving people something positive, a selection of upbeat and relaxing ways to spend some time, in an accessible and affordable way. Buying all the games individually would cost $16.99 but the bundle sits at $7, less than half of their collective RRP! There is a range of genres, from visual novels, platformers and shooters with puzzles, alchemy, boss fights and more, meaning that is bound to have something for everyone.
Overall, The Care Package Bundle is an uplifting collaboration, full of great games and is excellent value and I highly recommend checking it out!
A full review of the Care Package Bundle and all seven games that it includes is available here!
Kind Words (lo-fi chill beats to write to)
Released: September 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Available on: Humble, Steam
Kind Words (lo-fi chill beats to write to) is an asynchronous multiplayer game about writing nice things to real people. It has a simple set-up, the character is in their room writing letters and listening to music. Players can send random positive thoughts to everyone and anyone via paper plane, make specific requests or reply to those of others. Players can send stickers when replying to another person’s request or as thanks for a received reply and can be used to decorate the character’s room. As a jolly extra, the role of the postman is played by a sweet and cheerful deer!
Kind Words is a great little experience to dip into and get a daily dose of positivity and kindness. Its calming aesthetics and music match the themes of the game perfectly making it an ideal way to relax and boost spirits, however, it is not the place to take more serious problems.
A full review of Kind Words can be found here.
Developer: Toge Productions
Released: 29th January 2020
Price: £10.29 – £11.74
Platforms: Windows, Mac, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Available on: Steam, GOG, Humble, Nintendo, Microsoft, Playstation, itch (Free demo)
Set in an alternate Seattle in which humans, orcs, elves and succubi co-exist, Coffee Talk is a game about listening and making drinks. As the sole barista of the eponymous late-night coffee shop, the player must interact with customers whilst satiating them with a range of warming beverages!
Coffee Talk is an interesting and original title, seamlessly combining its narrative and minimal mechanics. Most enjoyable is the way in which the short tales of others are combined with the overarching story of the barista in a subtle, calming yet evocative way. This is further accentuated by the distinctive art and music, both adding to the charming nature of the game and making it a relaxing experience to get lost in!
A full, detailed review of Coffee Talk can be found here.
Everything, by David O’Reilly, is a relaxing, sandbox game in which you can explore worlds in minute detail or from a grand galactic perspective, becoming anything and everything you encounter along the way, from bacteria to black holes. This all provides the perfect backdrop for Alan Watt’s philosophical and therapeutic commentary and makes for a wholesome and self-reflective experience overall.
A full review of Everything is available here.
The Stillness of the Wind
Developer: Memory of God
Released: February 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Switch
Available on: Steam, itch, Humble, Nintendo
The Stillness of the Wind is a relaxing and meditative survival game about life and loss. It centres around Talma, who, having watched the land around her change and the people she loved move on, remains in solitude on her farmstead. She leads a simple but content life, persistently filling her days with routine, looking after her home and caring for her adorable goats and chickens!
Overall, the game is a relaxing and pensive experience that will take players through a range of emotions without being overwhelming.
A full, detailed review of The Stillness of the Wind is available here.
Upcoming Games for Self Care
From the Developers: “Did you know that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S? They affect 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older. 18.1% of the population every year. Yes, nearly 1 in 5 people. Wow. But what’s even more wow is that anxiety disorders are highly treatable… and there are many, many things that a person can do to deal with them very well on their own. That’s the reason we created anxiety.exe – a relaxing and informative game about, well… anxiety and mental health in general.“
Anxiety.exe presents players with a ‘mindOS’ in which to explore different ways of dealing with anxiety. Some are instant, some are an investment into the future – reportedly all of them are backed up by science and researches. There are even cute little assistants to summarize and link proper research, allowing players to check the details by themselves.
Besides learning about anxiety management and improving mental health, players can also have a chat with an old… friend. Be careful though, it’s a complicated relationship!
To celebrate the existence of such positive gaming experiences and give you the chance to try one of the games featured in this article, we are giving away a Steam key for Everything!
For more details and your chance to win (or just to chat about indie games), simply join our friendly Discord server and check out the announcements!
There are plenty of ways to use games and interactive media to help look after one’s mental wellbeing, whether it’s a way to take a break and relax or more specifically geared towards mindfulness or self care there are lots of options and we’ve only covered ten here!
For more about games and mental health, maybe check out the following articles and reviews:
Five Free Games that Attempt to Tackle Mental Health Issues – Three Free from Angela He – SHUT IN: This Game will Insult You! – Curtain – A Garish Glance at a Destructive Relationship