Every gamer probably has those few games that truly help them manage their stress. More than just an escape, we’re talking the ones you can always count on to let you physically and mentally unwind. We asked some of our Rogues Portal gamers what they play to relax.
Super Mario Bros. 3 may not seem like the most peaceful game in the world, but it never fails to help me relax. I played it as a child – a LOT. I reveled in every level, every enemy, every Koopa Kid. I could almost play the game in my sleep, with or without warp whistles, and to this day it remains my favorite side-scrolling Mario game.
When I hit my teens and life became more turbulent, playing Super Mario Bros. 3 recalled a happier time when life and games were simple. I would get into a zone where nothing else mattered – it was just me and Mario against the world. Super Mario Bros. 3 helped me through some tough times. Nowadays life is complicated in different ways, and though I don’t play it nearly as much as I used to, I still find time to adventure through Super Mario Bros. 3 to find my happy place.
When I’m really stressed or anxious, I want to play one of two types of games. Usually I log onto League of Legends or tackle the daily run in The Binding of Issac, trying to settle into that uncanny intense yet elusive “gaming zone” where I’m on autopilot grinding away my anxiety through repetition, muscle memory, and pentakills. But that can also have a compounding effect, especially when I have to deal with toxic players or I’m just having a bad game, leaving me an even more tightly wound ball of nerves then when I began. Not to mention the ridiculous time sink these games can become if you aren’t mindful, it’s so easy to justify playing one more match to break a losing streak. Trying to relieve stress in the crucible of ARAM is a double-edge sword. It’s so satisfying to pull off an amazing play with one of your main champions, but nothing gets me more frustrated than going 20/3/15 and not getting a damn S for that match!
When I know I’ll just get more anxious from the hectic grind of MOBAs or dungeon crawlers, I prefer to sink into games that allow for totally immersive gameplay, preferably with a calming musical score and minimalist design. Shadow of the Colossus and Journey never fail to melt the stress away and despite their simple stories/goals have, for me at least, infinite replay value.
Shadow of the Colossus is one of my all-time favorite games. Wandering into that forbidden land, the outside world simply disappears and I can roam the endless fields astride Agro, almost feeling the cool breeze play across my skin. This game is all atmosphere. There are no dungeons to explore, no characters to interact with, no enemies to grind or farm for upgrades. With a haunting orchestral soundtrack that only plays during cut scenes and colossus encounters, you traverse this tranquil, uninhabited land in blissful silence and solitude. When you do attempt to fell one of the colossi, there is tension in the air, but it’s still wrapped in the game’s minimalist design. Shadow of the Colossus manages to raise the stakes without raising your frustration, even when you plummet to the ground or face a particularly tricky bit of climbing. When you finally crest the top of these ancient stone puzzles and look on at the simple beauty of the landscapes stretched out to the horizon, a serene bliss washes over you and suddenly no problem seems insurmountable.
Journey is another very atmospheric game. You flit across sands, glide through waters, and drift through the air to a soothing soundtrack in what feels like a wandering dance. Everything is connected, one movement flowing into the next, unbroken, endless, as you traverse the vast desert and sprawling ruins towards a distant mountain. You can encounter other players on your journey who can assist you, but you’ll be unable to speak with them or write to them. They are also nameless, without gamer tags or any identification, so even when someone is there you don’t feel the need to interact. The entire game is wordless, but you can communicate through musical chimes that gently blend into the background score. You interact with your surroundings in a similar fashion, singing to turn dull strips of cloth a vibrant red, often revealing hidden paths or activating stones, always beckoning you forward and onward as they swirl through the air around you.
We all play video games differently. While we usually dig deep into multi-hour epics, your Skyrims, your God of Wars, your Mass Effects, it always helps to have a few games orbiting those main ones just to decompress and/or throw on just to hammer out a level or two before bed.
I am no exception.
While my main drag is currently Fallout 4, hopefully after I finish I can join the rest of ya’ll in 2015, I have a healthy roster of other games that I will partake in when I either A. don’t want to get murdered by a bunch of Synths in that goddamn robot horse racing track while trying to bolster up my Minutemen standing or B. just want a quick, soothing few hours in a video haze before bed. They are as follows:
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance
For my money this game is the pinnacle of Marvel Comics in video games and that was even before Activision “remastered” it for modern consoles. Absolutely packed with characters and adhering to a fun, easy to digest level format, M.U.A. as lulled me into deep relaxation states for years as my version of the Defenders (Dr. Strange in his classic duds, Silver Surfer in his original costume, Ms. Marvel (Captain if your nasty), and The Incredible Hulk) smash through legions of randomly generated enemies as we dungeon crawl our way though classic locales like MurderWorld, Mephisto’s Realm, and Attilan. Even the sequel, which is dinged by having far less characters and forcing you to choose a side in the superhero Civil War, is a blast and a half. I can’t recommend it highly enough if you just want a good, solid beat-em-up with surprisingly deep RPG elements and the coveted couch co-op.
I am going to level with you; I am RUBBISH at shooters. Like, embarrassingly bad. But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the ever loving shit out of Destiny 2. After putting in my time and hours of effort during the first one, I greedily picked up the sequel and found more of what I enjoyed the first go around; air tight shooting mechanics, varied activities, and, best of all, a real sense of user friendliness that kept me coming back for higher Light levels and better loot. Now, am I still super bad at certain Crucible activities? Indubitably. But that still doesn’t stop me from queuing up some podcasts and rolling through a Strike queue or just bouncing around the wastes the universe, throwing space magic and hoping for some neat new armor. I find it oddly soothing.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 – The Sith Lords
@ me all you want, I really, really, REALLY love this sequel and here recently I have found myself, once again, pulled deep into it’s story and characters. While a bit more involved, both mechanically and time wise, than what I usually play when I want to relax, I have found its D&D inspired combat, worlds, and companions really easy to hang out with and shockingly relaxing after a day’s work. Sure, some of the encounters can get a bit harried, like a recent duel between the Twin Sun assassins and my hapless version of Atton, but hearing the score and my dual lightsabers ignite as an enemy hoves into my field of view really puts me at ease and for the life of me, I couldn’t explain why.
When I’m stressed, I really like things that are repetitive (I even find data entry relaxing). So I like a game that slightly engages my brain while also letting muscle memory take over. Games like Puzzle Quest or Gem Wars are perfect for that, as are PopCap games like Peggle or Plants vs Zombies. I love Montezuma’s Revenge, where you have to match coloured balls as they move along a maze. In a slightly different vein, No Man’s Sky is another really relaxing game. It came out when my boys were babies and I didn’t even have enough brain power to tackle my usual puzzle games, but I could stare at the beauty of an alien landscape while searching for new species of plants and animals until all my tension melted away.