We’ve been playing video games for pretty much our entire lives. Over the last few years, our focuses have shifted to other life experiences (specifically around how to amplify our at-home experiences which you can find in our other blog articles!). Recently, we’ve been faced with the reality of not just having to stay in our house but also with the harshness of getting everyday goods and groceries. I’m sure many of you can relate to the lineups outside stores, crowding inside stores, fear of becoming infected and the difficulty getting good quality ingredients.
Given the harshness outside, we’ve taken comfort in enjoying the ‘outside world’ within video games where we can explore, be at peace and not have to worry (too much) about things that could harm us. When we started looking for new games to play, we wanted games that were not overly stressful, violent or focused on apocalypses – basically to take our mind off the real-world situation. We discovered a whole genre of non-violent games which have turned out to be some of the most meaningful, story-rich, engaging experiences we’ve ever had with video games.
If you’re looking for games to take your mind off being stuck indoors, read on for our favorites.
#1 – Outer Wilds
This game *blew my mind*. Space exploration isn’t a genre I would typically play but I had seen the title recommended on several lists as I searched for new Playstation 4 games. The trailer itself was mesmerising with its incredible soundtrack and unique planetary environments. I felt like I could make up for not being able to explore Earth right now by going into space instead and exploring planets that were very different.
While playing the game I felt that exploring the observatory on Timber Hearth (this isn’t a spoiler) made the game’s price tag worth it on it’s own. I felt like it was more fun than the real-life museums I’ve been to and I had a lot of fun engaging with the exhibits in it. I had only just begun the game and already felt like it was well worth the cost. That’s not something I’ve said for any other games I’ve played.
The game itself is a lot more than just exploration, there’s a deep rich story combined with incredible visuals and an auditory experience I keep coming back for. I found myself wanting to learn more and explore more and there were no parts of the game that felt like a grind. The game itself is non-violent – you don’t have weapons and you’re not off killing things. That being said, space is a dangerous place and you can’t just expect to survive without a functioning spacesuit.
This is hands-down the best single-player game I’ve played and it helped me enjoy my inside time significantly more.
#2 – Eastshade
After finishing Outer Wilds, I was curious about the genre of non-violent games. Most, if not all of the games I’m used to playing involve some form of destroying things…from pots to enemies through some combination of weapons or magic spells. This was a new framing of games and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. We were browsing through Polygon’s list of best 2019 games and came across Eastshade. The screenshot above really did it for me – it looked gorgeous and it’s premise is that you’re an artist who paints your way through your journey. This was a really unique premise and style and after hours of searching through many terrible games I was thoroughly excited to try this.
The beginning of the game felt a little more retro and I began unsure about the visual quality. However, this quickly changed as I started to explore the town and its surroundings. For being unable to travel and go exploring in real life, this game satisfied everything I needed. I could go hiking, foraging, stroll through nature, ride a bike, paint, and much more. It wasn’t simply an exploration game, there was story, interaction and purpose. It felt like a real life simulation if you were an artist long ago. There are also ways to speed up the game if you don’t want to take the scenic route every time.
I really enjoyed this game and it gave me the serenity I needed while quenching my thirst for exploration. I also loved being able to ‘paint’ images for others and myself.
#3 – Subnautica
Of all the games on this list (and that we’ve played recently), Subnautica is definitely the most stressful but also the most elaborate. On my search for more non-violent games, similar to Outer Wilds, I came across Subnautica – it seemed like it would be the underwater version of Outer Wilds. It’s quite different. Subnautica has several modes – survival where you have to take care of food, water, oxygen and not getting killed by everything in the ocean, freedom where you have to take care of oxygen and not getting killed, and creative where you don’t have to worry about anything. We started out in freedom mode as the additional stress of having to constantly find food and water wasn’t what we were looking for. There’s a lot to find, a lot to mine and a lot to build which gives you a lot of freedom and a lot of exploration. There is also a lot that you can die from.
We’ve progressed through ¾ of the game on freedom and subsequently taken a break to play on creative. You can still explore all the great reefs, wrecks, and deep dark caves, but you don’t have to worry about dying and losing all your things. The one mode I felt was missing here was something between creative and freedom – in creative you don’t have to mine for materials, all the blueprints are unlocked and you can make as much of anything you want – which makes it feel less engaging because you’re not really going to go find and collect what you need – going out to find things really drives the exploration part. Having a mode where you don’t get killed by everything or run out of oxygen but where you still have to find things and mine them is the mode I would prefer to play.
Depending on your preference, playing on Creative or Freedom will probably be the best place to start. Given that we were looking for a less stressful experience to escape the real world with we ended up enjoying creative more – the story still progressed and you could get as creative as you wanted building things. That being said, we enjoyed starting out on Freedom and having to mine all our materials – that in-between mode really would have been the best.
#4 – Donut County
We love donuts. I had seen this game pop up on the Playstation store a few times. The first time, it reminded me of Katamari (that game where you roll around and everything sticks to you and you grow into a giant thing collecting everything in your path). This game felt similar: you’re a hole that swallows things and gets larger which then means you can swallow larger objects…until everything is gone. It seemed funny but not enough to make me want to get it at the time. I had probably seen it five more times while browsing other games on the Playstation store and combined with the fact it was 50% off, I decided “might as well try it”. I was pleasantly surprised and actually really enjoyed playing it. It didn’t take very long to finish (within a couple of hours) but it was oddly soothing. There’s something about being able to make everything disappear into a hole…in some ways it’s like decluttering and tidying…without having to do the work. It might be even more soothing because I feel like throwing things out right now is not the right thing to do but instead I can relax tidying things up using this donut hole. The game had a reasonable story as well which I was not expecting and it helped the progression of the game feel smooth. The best part of the game was that there were new mechanics to use that help with clearing out a level – there are puzzles within (it’s not just a hole that gets bigger) – this kept the levels and game engaging and helped with it not getting stale. If you’re looking for a game that will last a single session and help you feel calm this is it.
#5 – Untitled Goose Game
There are infinite geese where we live. We often hear them honking about as they travel in groups and fly by to the park or as they block traffic or get chased. As we were trying to find new games (since we’ve been spending a lot of our time breezing through games) we saw this one called Untitled Goose Game. The name itself sounded genius – there was almost nothing else competing for the name so it was super easy to find. The premise: go around a city being a goose. Finally, we could understand what the geese outside were thinking and doing. The trailer itself brought us laughing so hard we couldn’t breathe (but not the COVID kind of couldn’t breathe…). There is a lot
of trouble to make to do as a goose in the town as you go around having fun, startling the locals, and crossing things off your to-do list. This was a great light-hearted adventure for us where we took turns being the goose and causing havoc. The game itself isn’t super long but definitely cheered us up. We also found the art to feel super polished and overall enjoyed the game. We now have a better understanding of what all those geese are thinking and we’re cheering them on.
*Note: If the creators of Untitled Goose Game read this, please please make a sequel called Untitled Geese Game that is multiplayer. We would 100% buy this! (While all the games on our list are single player, Untitled Goose Game feels like it would be the perfect fit as a local co-op. While it’s tons of fun to even just watch being played, we’d love if a 2nd player could more than gander.)