5 Relaxing Games for When Life Gets Too Stressful

Let’s be real, life is exhausting. With homework, exams around the corner, college applications, and a ton of extra-curricular activities filling up your day planner, sometimes a kick-back session with your favorite video games can be just the thing you need to unwind. But sometimes, even your favorite online multiplayer games can be too taxing: the competition, the constant pressure to do well on the leaderboards, and cranky teammates. So, when you can’t rely on your favorite multiplayer FPS game, what’s an overworked student to do? 

We’ve compiled a list of five games we think will be great for relaxing and dropping a couple hours (or more) to de-stress and clear your mind. 

#1 Stardew Valley

Have you ever wanted to shed the shackles of your day-to-day and move to a small town? Have you ever wanted to run your own farm and get rich off the land? Have you ever want to fall in love, get married, have kids, and turn those kids into pigeons when they get to be too much to bear? Do you like gorgeous pixel art? Well then, this is the game for you. 

Stardew Valley is a farming simulator created by ConcernedApe, a one-man team. Created over four years of hard work and testing and, boy, does it show. If you’ve ever played Harvest Moon, then you’ll like this. Made as homage to the Harvest Moon series Stardew Valley is the Harvest Moon for PC, Mac, Linux and the recently released Nintendo Switch. In Stardew Valley, your time is your own. You can build out your farm as efficiently as you’d like and spend your days maximizing profit, or you can focus on strengthening relationships by learning what gifts the townspeople prefer. If fishing is your forte, there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from spending entire days in-game fishing your heart out. There’s also a mining and combat section for the adventurer in you, where you can mine ore to upgrade your farm tools and craft objects to streamline the farming process. 

Speaking of the townspeople, Pelican Town, the setting of Stardew Valley, is filled with colorful people with vibrant personalities. Some of them will take a liking to you immediately, and some take time to warm to you. Every one of them is worth taking the time to know. If you’re looking for an escape, Stardew Valley delivers it in spades. Hang out on the beach, talk to villagers, and tend to your farm to the soothing tunes of the game’s soundtrack. You’ll find yourself saying “Just one more day,” for the next few hours at least.

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#2 Euro Truck Simulator 2

Alright, hear me out here. I can’t explain it. I bought this game a year ago and have 215 hours on it, according to my Steam account. It’s a game where you drive trucks and deliver cargo all across Europe and… that’s it. When I find myself in need of a long drive to clear my head, I boot up ETS 2, find the longest job I can take and head out on to the wide European highways. Sometimes I put on some podcasts to keep me company. Sometimes I flip through the European radio stations and listen to songs in languages I don’t understand. Either way, it’s enough to clear my mind of the worries of the day and leave me to focus on nothing but the road ahead.

The game currently encompasses most of Western Europe, with the Viva Italia! DLC recently released in December of 2017. Developers SCS Software are constantly working on new updates and area expansions for the game. The current map is sure to be more than enough to cure your wanderlust. Driving through the vast Italian countryside, small French villages or making your way up the winding roads of the Alps while pulling  a 20-ton piece of cargo all leave you with a sense of satisfaction and exploration. Ostensibly, it’s a business management simulator where you start with one truck and build up your fleet until every truck in Europe makes money for you. You can play up the business side as much as you want or just get in your truck and drive, which I vastly prefer. 

One hour of real time translates to about 10 hours in-game. You can drive all through the day and into the night and witness beautiful sunset as the sun slowly drops beneath the horizon and the night comes to take over. Realistic weather also comes into play—when it rains, it pours, and you’ll have to slow down and take curves more slowly lest you drift your truck into a bank or tip it over. There is nothing as calming as listening to the rain pour, the rhythmic beat of the windshield wipers, and the low hum of your truck engine as you make your way across the map.

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#3 One Finger Death Punch

In a word: catharsis. One Finger Death Punch requires you to use two buttons on the keyboard or both buttons on your mouse to correspond to a direction to attack (left or right). Waves of enemies attack you and you tactically destroy them one by one.  It's simple, but it's not easy. Later levels get increasingly complex as the game adds more enemies, weapons and moves to ramp up the difficulty. By the time you get to the later levels though, you'll be acting more on reflex than thought.

Each level is under two minutes, but once you get in the zone, you'll never want to leave. It's perfect for anybody looking for quick bursts of arcade-style 2D violence enhanced by the smooth animation and very visceral sense of satisfaction with every screen shaking punch and kick. If you have twenty minutes to kill and just want to vent out your frustration in the form of pixelated blood and gore, this is the game for you. 

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#4 Night in the Woods

In Night in the Woods you play as Mae, a college drop-out who returns to her hometown after two years at college. For anybody who's ever been homesick, or who's come back home after a year at college and felt that everything just feels a tiny bit different, this one's for you. NITW perfectly captures the feeling of nostalgia, letting you roam around Mae's hometown catching up with old friends and talking to her family. There's a grander plot at play here, but this game is at its strongest when it connects to that base yearning for a time gone by. Time has passed by in their little town while Mae was away, and Mae herself is a different person. It's these moments of humanity that the game does so well, aside from the mystery surrounding their town. 

You can roam around the town and find out what's changed since you've been gone and talk to neighbors. The best part of the game is playing little vignettes-- little bits of story that let you hang out with whichever one of your friends you want to spend the day with. It's all beautifully done, with the initial hesitation between their interactions giving way to the deeper bond that connects them. It absolutely nails the feeling of coming home and catching up with your friends: when you're not quite sure where you start because it's been so long and so much has happened, but you know they're still the same friend you grew up with and you do your best to reaffirm the strength of your bond through those threads of golden time you have together. 

Play this game if you're feeling homesick. Immerse yourself in the world, the characters and the relationships surrounding Mae. If nothing else, it will make you appreciate the time you get to spend with your family and friends that much more and realize home isn't the place, it's the people you love. 

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#5 The Witness

The Witness. It's a puzzle game and a walking simulator, but so much more than the sum of its parts. In The Witness, you explore an island inexplicably littered with mazes and tile puzzles all around an island so lovingly rendered, you can't help but breathe out a sigh of relaxation. 

Unlike so many games, The Witness doesn't hold your hand. There are no tutorial pop-ups to tell you what to do, no arrows to lead you toward your next objective. You alone are in control of your destination. The puzzles themselves don't teach you how to solve them. Every puzzle teaches you something new: a new mechanic that you can apply to later, more complex puzzles. It's that difficulty, that frustration you feel when encountering a new puzzle type that makes finally solving it so rewarding. Every new mechanic you learn isn't simply left in one area of the island, you take it the knowledge you've earned onward with you deeper into the game as you explore more of the island. The slow accumulation of knowledge and respect you gain for the mechanics of the puzzles is unique to The Witness, and something I don't think I've ever experienced in any other form of media before. 

I have yet to finish the game, so I can't speak to whether or not The Witness has an overarching plot yet so much as there are bits and pieces of information to be gleaned around the island. There are video and audio recordings, and some statues that let you know something is going on. It's intriguing, and an excellent way of keeping the player engaged as they ponder tile puzzles and search for meaning in the many, many sections of the island. 

If you're a puzzle fan, a walking simulator  fan, or just love challenging yourself with new mental experiences, give The Witness a try. 

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