Characters standing next to a campfire in front of a cabin in "A Short Hike"; A diver swimming just below the ocean's surface in "Abzû"; Four characters in front of a beach house in "Animal Crossing: New Leaf"; A yellow sports car driving under an overpass in "Burnout Paradise Remastered"; A farm in "Stardew Valley";

Between pandemics, politics, and other people, it can often feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. These are the times when avoiding notifications and social media for a while is a good idea. Luckily, video games can provide the escapism you need.

Unlike games that push you around from one checkpoint to the next, the following five titles all allow you to control what you do next. If you don’t want to meet in-game goals, you don’t have to. And yet each offers more challenge or engagement when you’re ready for it.

Let’s explore these easygoing worlds together.

“A Short Hike”

Characters standing next to a campfire in front of a cabin in "A Short Hike."
A Short Hike was released in 2019 by Adamgryu.

Combine the placid environments of Animal Crossing with the wonder of discovery from a vintage Zelda title, and you’ve got A Short Hike. This open-world fetch quest game is set on a gorgeous island full of friendly animals.

It blends a retro pixel aesthetic and peaceful soundtrack with great effect. A Short Hike isn’t a very long game, but you can proceed at your own pace. You’re free to linger and explore the island as long as you’d like. You don’t want to miss it!

This game is temporarily available for free on the Epic Games Store from March 12-19, 2020. It’s available for Windows PC, Mac, and Linux.

Where to get it: Epic Games Store, Steam, Itch.io.

“Abzû”

A diver swimming just below the ocean's surface in "Abzû."
Abzû was released in 2016 by 505 Games.

In Abzû, you’re a diver who doesn’t worry about oxygen or energy as you swim through a beautiful underwater seascape. It’s an adventure game, but a very chill one.

At any moment, you might explore ancient archeology, hitch a ride on the back of a manta ray, or simply soak up the serene beauty of it all.

The gentle soundtrack accentuates the relaxing experience as the story unfolds. The game also includes periodic meditation spots, where your character can simply rest and admire the scenery.

Abzû is available for Windows PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.

Where to get it: PS4: PlayStation Store; Xbox One: Microsoft Store; Switch: Nintendo eShop; PC: Steam, Epic Games Store, GOG.

“Stardew Valley”

A character farming in "Stardew Valley."
Stardew Valley was released in 2016 by ConcernedApe.

Stardew Valley combines the best elements of the farming classic, Harvest Moon, with easygoing social elements, and lite crafting and dungeon crawling combat (which is completely optional). It also does it all in a gorgeous, retro art style that hearkens back to the best Super NES classics.

The main game takes place over three years (each with four seasons) as you tend your late grandfather’s farm. You can farm as much or as little as you want, expand your house, raise a family, or simply go fishing. The catchy soundtrack will stay in your head forever after you play this beautiful interpretation of life at a slower pace.

It’s available for Windows PC, Mac, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation Vita, iPhone, iPad, and Android.

Where to get it: PC/Mac/Linux: Steam, Humble Store, GOG; PS4: PlayStation Store; Xbox One: Microsoft Store; Switch: Nintendo eShop; Vita: PlayStation Store; iOS: App Store; Android: Google Play.

“Burnout Paradise Remastered”

A yellow sports car driving on a highway under an overpass in "Burnout Paradise Remastered."
Burnout Paradise Remastered was released in 2018 by Electronic Arts.

The beauty of Burnout Paradise is you don’t have to race. It’s an open-world driving sim that features dozens of car and motorcycle models. You can perform stunts at your leisure, mow down light poles, make sweet jumps, crash through billboards, or just drive around and obey traffic laws.

If you feel competitive, stop at an intersection and initiate a race. It’s all easygoing—cops don’t chase you if you go too fast, and, if you crash, your car regenerates instantly. Paradise City is also amazingly people-free. In other games, this might seem eerie, but, in this one, it’s a welcome escape.

It’s available for Windows PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

Where to get it: PS4: PlayStation Store; Xbox One: Microsoft Store; PC: Origin.

“Animal Crossing: New Leaf”

Four characters in front of a beach house in "Animal Crossing: New Leaf."
Animal Crossing: New Leaf was released in 2012 by Nintendo.

Animal Crossing first brought relaxing joy to players all the way back in 2001. Since then, each entry in the series has continued to deliver. As a resident in a small town populated with animals, you tend the grounds, make improvements, catch bugs, go fishing, dig up fossils, and raise money to expand your house.

The game keeps a real-time clock, so the world changes depending on the time of day and seasons. While New Leaf is one of the oldest titles on our list, Nintendo has updated it frequently since it launched and added a great deal of content. It’s still very worthwhile to play and is available on Nintendo 3DS.

Nintendo will release the sequel, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, for Nintendo Switch on March 20, 2020.

Where to get it: Nintendo 3DS eShop: Nintendo.com.

Take It Easy

We all have duties and responsibilities, but there’s a limit to what we can physically and emotionally handle. Taking a time-out to relax is not only healthy, but it can also make you more productive.

So, don’t feel guilty if you can’t always stay on top of the news. It’s okay to sit down, turn on a video game, and relax for a while.

What games do you play to relax? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!

RELATED: 4 Easy Ways to Calm an Anxious Mind

Benj Edwards Benj Edwards
Benj Edwards is a Staff Writer for How-To Geek. For over 14 years, he has written about technology and tech history for sites such as The Atlantic, Fast Company, PCMag, PCWorld, Macworld, Ars Technica, and Wired. In 2005, he created Vintage Computing and Gaming, a blog devoted to tech history. He also created The Culture of Tech podcast and regularly contributes to the Retronauts retrogaming podcast.
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