Video games raised me. Okay no, my parents raised me—but I did grow up as the daughter of video game store owners. My parents’ store was ahead of the times, offering secondhand video games for sale and trade in the nineties (before it was common retail practice). “Buy ‘em, beat ‘em, trade ‘em!” was the company tagline that still rings iconic to this day.
My first summer job was adding price tags to Nintendo 64 games; I touted my love of Pokémon in tv commercials; my second-grade classmates asked me if I could get them Dreamcasts (uh, no). Looking back on my childhood brings a heavy wave of nostalgia—those afternoons spent testing Super Nintendo games with my brothers, the music of Mario, the sounds of Sega, the echoes of our competitive laughter.
Video games and the people who play them occupy a special place in my heart. I find calm and flow in The Sims, I find energy and community in Mario Party, and I find terror and thrills in the 1993 SNES classic, Zombies Ate My Neighbors. I could go on.
As we collectively hunker down with our loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are looking to start a new hobby—or revisit an old one. Personally, I’m dusting off the Super Nintendo, switching on the PS4, and booting up my PC and inviting gaming into my life as a soothing practice. Video games are (and have always been) more than the violent, gun-toting image we so often hear about, so I wanted to share the games that have brought me peace, flow, and quiet over the years.
Whether you’re new to gaming or not, these games will invite some calm into your day. If you don’t currently have a console, you can search for retro models on eBay, since many of these games have older versions on multiple consoles. The links you’ll find below don’t include every version of the game, so be sure to check out if there’s a version on a console you already have.
I discovered Journey on a whim a couple of years ago. The immersive beauty and simplicity of this game is a respite from the chaos of everyday life, and the Grammy-nominated musical score will bring you to tears. You play as an unnamed wanderer, journeying towards a distant mountaintop. Along the way, you work collaboratively with other travelers. (The best part? They’re anonymous real-world players; you’ll see the gamer ID of who helped you along your way during the end credits. I might have cried when I realized I was playing along with a helpful stranger.) If you can’t get enough of Journey, ABZÛ was developed by the same team and is another beautiful and peaceful experience.
Yearning for simpler times? Harvest Moon follows your character as they build their life on a farm they just inherited. Plant seeds, care for animals, go fishing, harvest crops, develop your farmland, make friends—it’s idyllic, pastoral, and challenging at the same time. My go-to version growing up was Harvest Moon: Friends Of Mineral Town on GameBoy Advance. Now is a great time to dust off your old handhelds and scout out a copy on eBay. (I especially love that the game’s time follows a daily schedule, so there’s a regular reminder—and requirement—for your character to sleep.) If you don’t have a console, Stardew Valley is available on Steam and on mobile and is a Harvest Moon-like game that you’ll adore just as much.
Have you ever wanted to live vicariously through someone else? I definitely haven’t. (I’m kidding.) The Sims has been one of my favorites since I discovered it as a preteen. Building a home from scratch as your Sim scrapes by on a shoestring budget is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Constructing an elaborate mansion using cheat codes for unlimited Simoleons ($$$) is equally delightful. Whether you live for creating a quaint family or chaos reigns supreme, this game is perfect for low-stakes, meditative play when you need to refocus your mind for a while. Pro tip: I prefer this game on PC versus consoles, but I’ve linked them just in case.
During my gloomy teenage years, Animal Crossing was a beacon of lighthearted play and silliness. One look at the animation and you just might agree: it’s cute. Like, really cute. In this game, you build your home, befriend the neighbors (who sometimes move away, noooo!), and accomplish simple tasks for your friends. The original GameCube version was playable in real-time–which meant that it was always the same date and time as the real world, and seasons changed whether you played the game or not. The newest release, New Horizons, just hit shelves in March 2020—just in time to hunker down with it.
If you’re a fan of nonsensical games, the Katamari series is full of absurd gameplay. Specifically created with ease and enjoyment in mind, Katamari Damacy is one of the easiest games to pick up and *roll with* on this list. After the King of All Cosmos destroys all of the stars by accident, you play his son—a little prince—tasked with rebuilding them. You roll around an adhesive ball (a katamari) and anything smaller than the ball gets stuck to it. As the ball grows, you can collect larger and larger objects, from thumbtacks, to trees, to cruise ships and beyond. Each time you complete a katamari, it becomes a new star in the sky.
Let’s embrace the hobbies we love, and the ones that nourish us, whether they’re screen-free or not. What are your all-time favorite video games? Drop them in the comments below, and I’ll check them out 🎮.
Emily Torres is the Managing Editor at The Good Trade. She’s a Los Angeles transplant who was born and raised in Indiana, where she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her reading or writing, caring for her rabbits, or practicing at the yoga studio.