Not all games have to be violent, fast-paced, and full of rage-inducing moments. They can also be wholesome and relaxing. When COVID-19 became rampant, people began to have free time for themselves, leading to some turning to video games to cope with the pandemic. Undoubtedly, the game that captured everyone’s hearts during the height of COVID was Animal Crossing: New Horizons. But did you know that cozy games have existed for a long time?
Games that leaned heavily towards farming, building, and decorating include the SNES’ Harvest Moon in 1996 and the original Animal Crossing (2001) for the Gamecube. However, it’s only now that we see this gaming genre take the world by storm. So what exactly are cozy games? And what makes them stand out compared to other genres? Let’s take a deep dive into the cozy gaming culture and what it means for the future of gaming.
What is Cozy Gaming?
Cozy or comfort gaming is the art of playing games emphasizing exploration and relaxation over gore and violence. The world is becoming more hectic and stressful each day, so why make it even worse by playing a game that you know will affect your mental health?
There’s nothing wrong with playing competitive games, but if you’re looking for a way to unwind, cozy gaming is the way to go. The gameplay here typically gravitates towards calming music, a slower pace, and “gentle” gameplay mechanics. Some examples of such titles include Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley, and Minecraft.
“Boring” Gameplay is Good for You
Cozy games are designed for us to relax in a stress-free environment. These games often involve mundane real-life tasks, from unpacking to using a powerwash to clean a minivan. According to Kelli Dunlap—a psychologist and game designer—the popularity of cozy games could be attributed to the happenings worldwide since 2020. People began to seek normalcy, predictability, and control, and cozy games are the perfect vehicle to meet those needs.
The Allure of Cozy Gaming
One of the many allures of cozy games is that it appeals to a broad range of players. High-intensity gameplay may not be accessible to everyone. Since cozy games are typically inclusive, they offer a way for everyone of all ages and skill levels to enjoy them. This accessibility becomes appealing to people who are non-gamers—particularly to those who are intimidated by complex gaming mechanics.
Another appealing aspect of cozy games is their simplicity. You can quickly grasp a concept and enjoy the game within minutes of starting it. Having easy-to-understand gameplay appeals to our desire for autonomy and reassures us that our decisions matter. It offers a sense of accomplishing in completing simple tasks. This feeling alone can be incredibly satisfying. In recent years, we’ve seen a surge of renewed focus on mental wellness and health. Cozy games provide an easy way to get that dose of self-care and escapism that can benefit our well-being.
What Makes A Game Cozy?
A game is cozy if it brings a sense of care and comfort. Project Horseshoe—an annual game design think tank—published a report in 2017 exploring how cozy gaming can reach a broad audience by treating coziness as a positive philosophy for driving meaningful change. In their words, coziness equates to abundance, softness, and safety.
When Did Cozy Gaming Start to Become Popular
Soon after the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons during the pandemic, my news feeds on social media began to fill up with influencers dedicated to playing cozy games. Nintendo, in particular, hit the jackpot when they sold 40 million copies of New Horizons—nearly four times as many as their previous Animal Crossing title. During this time, content creators dedicated to the cozy gaming culture were racking up millions of views.
Even when the world opened back up, the “wholesome” or cozy games industry continued to grow. On PC, Steam now has games that identify as “cozy.” We now even have Wholesome Directs courtesy of Wholesome Games, a Nintendo Direct-esque show focusing on welcoming and cozy aesthetics.
Video Games Don’t Have to Be Intense, Hard, or Stressful
All in all, a confluence of factors—namely from social media algorithms and pandemic lockdowns—led to the cozy gaming culture’s sudden virality. The genre has carved out its niche in the gaming world, and I’m honestly here for it.
A refreshing alternative to the high-stakes games that have dominated the gaming industry for so long offers us a way to grapple with the world’s uncertainties. With soothing atmospheres and simple gameplay, it’s no surprise that cozy gaming will be here to stay. If you’re looking for a low-key experience, consider diving into the world of cozy games!