The relationship of video games with relaxation is not always clear. Whilst apologists for video game violence have always been keen to claim that gunning people down in everything from ‘Doom’ to ‘Battlefield 3’ has an element of catharsis, the fact is that the gunshots, explosions and blood-stained corridors of Mars isn’t exactly meditative. Even with the audience expanding motion controls of recent years, the emphasis has been firmly on physical action rather than quiet requiescence and contemplation. The Wii Balance Board demands your sweat rather than your introspection.
Nevertheless, there are experiences on today’s video game consoles (and a few classics) that are considerably more passive. If you rarely (or never) pick up a game controller, or you’re tired of shooting, commanding and running towards or away from stuff, there are experiences out there you’ve probably never even considered. The Wii-mote probably isn’t about to replace your walks in the park, meditation, spa pamper days or Pilates sessions. But as another strategy for relaxation, having a games console may be more viable than you think.
The success of Nintendo’s Wii and DS were actually rather belated when you consider Tetris: it essentially took them 15 years to rediscover the formula for games that were universally enjoyable. Meanwhile, there have been countless versions of Tetris on virtually every games platform available, and there has never really been a reason to change the formula (though Nintendo have tried on multiple occasions anyway). Shapes composed of four blocks fall from the top of the screen, you line them up on the bottom trying to make complete rows without holes. And you can keep doing it for hours.
From a therapeutic perspective, I’d probably find something else to listen to whilst you play though. The original theme is as annoying as it is catchy. And the music in later versions really isn’t much better!
Whilst traditional gaming fans and diving enthusiasts alike may be amused at the idea of playing a Scuba diving game, the Endless Ocean series is a surprisingly compelling alternative to actually putting your flippers on and getting your toes wet. The game offers cave, trench, wreck and several other types of diving experience, the premise being that you have been contracted to document the species of an area of sea and perhaps even discover some treasure. It’s a slow game with a relaxing soundtrack and pretty visuals. Even defying typical standards of what constitute a game, reviewers settled on giving it mostly favourable reviews. There’s little action, but plenty of exploration. A great way to relax and unwind.
Osmos is a slow paced puzzle game in which you propel a little single-celled organism around, attempting to absorb bigger and bigger cells, until you’ve absorbed everything else onscreen. This involves a great deal of strategy and repetition, but the simple controls and range of interactions make it the perfect game for spending a stress-free half hour from time to time. The specific style of ambient soundtrack is also very relaxing.
The perfect version is probably that available for the iPad: touch screen controls are perfect for this kind of game. Again, this isn’t the kind of game you play in one long burst: but revisited whenever you want to slow things down, it’s an essential experience.
Of all the games on this list, this is arguably the least relaxing. After all, it’s technically a shooting game, even if you’re ‘purifying’ the future internet with your shots. Then there’s the fact that there’s a certain amount of difficulty and frustration involved in the game’s later levels, especially if you’re trying to rack up a high score.
But Child of Eden is a game that has been almost grudgingly dragged into being a game. Creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi likes to style it as an ‘experiment in synaesthesia’, a kind of cross sensory feat where the fantastic music, the spectacular visuals and even vibrations in the controller come together to create an ‘experience’. The game is only five levels long, you can turn all the on-screen icons off and the game’s difficulty can be turned off entirely: it’s a fine way to sit back with a cup of tea, listen to some fine music and lose yourself in a visually complex firework display of a game.
Thatgamecompany’s mission statement comes across as a tad pretentious, focusing on ‘video games that provoke an emotional response from players’ and the claim that Flower is a ‘Poetic-Adventure’ is sure to raise a few eyebrows. But there is no mistaking the fact that Flower is a beautiful game, and as perfect a method of meaningful relaxation as you can hope for. The player controls a single petal, travelling on the wind to make other flowers bloom and illuminate the stunning grassland landscapes. All this is achieved by tilting the Playstation 3’s Six Axis controller (marking just about the only worthwhile use of this technology to date).
You can’t lose, there are no high scores and there aren’t any explosions. But it’s incredibly atmospheric, therapeutic and all whilst remaining undeniably ‘fun’ in the way that most games are. Thatgamecompany’s forthcoming ‘Journey’ is cause for a special kind of serene excitement too.
Steph Wood is a ball of stress who plays video games for relaxation, but mostly for the explosions. Steph writes for The Sanctuary Spa, who offer more conventional Gifts For Mum in the UK.