Games for Reflection and Tranquility
Interactive media has always been something that can elicit an emotional response from us - we put effort in to it, we become invested in the story, the setting and the characters that we have celebrated and grieved with. Games have the capacity to change us; to inspire self reflection.
So with that in mind today we’re going to be talking about games that make us think about important issues and make us feel calm. We'll be checking out games across multiple platforms, some of which are free or inexpensive so that everybody has a chance to experience some of the games on this list.
Platform: Nintendo Switch, PS4, PSVita Developer: Polygonal Wolf Released: 2018 Price: $3 USD
‘Drowning’ is - at its core - a walking simulator. But it is a walking simulator with purpose - with a story unlike any other. In ‘Drowning’ you follow the story of a young man as he tells us about his journey with depression and how it has affected him and those around him through his teenage years, starting in year 7. As you hear his story, you walk a beautifully rendered low-poly path backed by a calming soundtrack and you might see stories by the developers relating to their experiences with mental illness. It’s a great experience to lay back and immerse yourself in and for some it allows reflection on our personal battles with depression. Despite walking a path in isolation, ‘Drowning’ makes you feel less alone.
Platform: PC (steam), Nintendo Switch Developer: Samurai Punk Released: 2019 Price: $10 USD
Ever heard the phrase ‘free as a bird?’ well, ‘Feather’ exemplifies that concept in a beautifully executed meditative flying game. You take the form of an eagle soaring high across a low poly, beautifully designed world and dive in and out of trees, soar across mountains, skim oceans and fling yourself through magical rings. ‘Feather’ is a short experience, albeit one with definite replayability in times of stress or unease. It gives you time to think whilst enjoying a gorgeous soundtrack and refreshing visuals. It’s easy to lose yourself in this colourful, well designed world - which gives your mind time to rest from the fast pace of day to day life. This is definitely something I can see myself playing on the Nintendo Switch late at night in bed, bleary eyed and unable to rest in order to find calm.
Platform: PC (Steam) VR: HTC Vive and Oculus Rift Developer: Puncta
‘Everybody’s sad’ is a short and sweet free VR experience about learning how to take care of yourself by saying no to those who are asking too much of you. It endeavours to teach you to balance your own needs and the needs of the people in your life when you’re overwhelmed. It’s a quirky, vibrant experience with an adorable visual style and great voice acting that makes every character have a distinct and interesting personality that makes them all memorable. Although, what isn’t memorable about a talking chair that asks you to sit on it or a hairbrush that only wants to cheer you up? Content warning: Inclusion of adult props in the game make it not appropriate for some players.
The Beginners Guide
Platform: PC (Steam) Developer: Everything Unlimited Released: 2015 Price: $10 USD
From the writer behind ‘The Stanley Parable’ comes ‘The Beginners Guide’. ‘The Beginners Guide’ is a surreal story narrated by the friend of a game developer who is discovering his personal style of game development; we follow the developers journey from creating basic worlds to crafting more intricate games over the years of their friendship. It’s almost part exploration game, part mystery where as you experience the developers creations and solve puzzles the narrator joins you on the journey as he attempts to interpret the meaning behind the surreal games; but not all is what it seems to the two of you. The game explores the truth that sometimes we project our own feelings on those around us instead of addressing what the real issue is.
Platform: PC (Steam) Developer: Strange Loop Games Released: 2018 Price: $30 USD
There is a meteor heading for earth! We might not make it! Okay, sorry guys - that is a little not-calm and a little stressful, but this game does make you think and that’s why it’s on this list. ‘Eco’ is about creating a society and government and evolving technology so that you can eventually fight off the meteor before it collides with the planet! However, in trying to save the planet you need to be careful not to pollute it and hurt the delicate ecosystem around you. This is a game about balance, about cause and effect and about keeping our planet safe. Everything you do has an impact - good or bad. ‘Eco’ is a voxel based, vibrant game with an intelligent crafting system that can be played alone or with friends. It does have a calming vibe to it - so long as you don’t look to the sky.
Shinrin-Yoku: Forest Meditation and Relaxation
Platform: PC (Steam) VR: HTC Vive Developer: Hinge Digital
‘Shinrin-Yoku’ is a free but visually stunning hyper realistic VR meditation experience. The game drops you into a beautiful forest setting inhabited by several wild animals and decorated with dense, leafy foliage on a calm sunny day. You’re able to change the scene from day to night, revealing more hidden treasures and events around you. You can sit still and bask in the serenity - or if that isn’t your style, there is a stick you can wield to poke things with. I love throwing this game on to lay back on the floor and observe my surroundings - sometimes being able to transport yourself to another world that expects nothing of you is just what you need.
The First Tree
Platform: PC (Steam), PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Developer: David Wehle
Price: $10-$15 USD, depending on the platform.
The First Tree is an exploration game that parallels the story of a fox trying to find her missing babies to the story of a man reconnecting with his estranged father. You take control of the fox and cross snowy mountains, uncover clues and race to find your babies whilst the man tells his life partner about his dreams and his story with his father. The game features an amazing orchestral soundtrack, stunning vibrant visuals and light puzzle solving. As you progress through this game you will learn how their stories intertwine and develop an understanding of life and death through the eyes of the fox and the loss of her family.
Thomas Was Alone
Platform: PC (Steam), Xbox One, PS4, Wii U, PS Vita, Android, iOS Developer: Mike Bithell
Price: $5 - $12 USD, depending on the platform ‘Thomas Was Alone’ is by far the oldest game on our list (having been released 7 years ago), but it is not at all the least notable. ‘Thomas Was Alone’ has stood the test of time with its charming, minimalistic style, engaging award winning narration and stunning music. In the game you begin as Thomas - a red rectangle. Yes, that's all - a red rectangle. But Thomas is more than just that. You learn with Thomas, you grow with him, he refines his skills and begins to make friends that he can rely on to help him achieve his goals. It’s hard not to get invested in his story or that of his many friends found throughout the games 100 puzzling levels. By the time you’re through your 10th level, you’ll want to cheer for that little red rectangle. ‘Thomas Was Alone’ is the perfect game to put onto your smart device for a relaxing atmosphere on the go.