The rise of cosy games

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Videogames have been through a lot of phases since their conception, from Pong and Pac-Man, to Doom and Devil May Cry. Previously shunned as a pass time for kids and nerds (though there’s nothing wrong with being a kid or a nerd), games were once considered a niche interest, but those days are no more. Gaming is more popular than ever, appealing to people from all walks of life – and part of that is due to the rise of cosy games.

While many of us still love popping a cap in a zombie, blasting through an alien scourge, or infiltrating a military base, cosy gaming has opened up a whole new world, with titles that are accessible and appealing to all sorts of players. Whether you’ve been playing games since you were old enough to hold a controller like us at Pocket Tactics, or you’ve never dabbled in anything beyond an arcade machine at a fairground or a few rounds of Candy Crush on the toilet, the expansion in this genre has made gaming far more comfortable and inviting to all.

So, what are cosy games?

Cosy games are pretty hard to define, considering it’s entirely dependent on vibes and what each person feels when playing the game. For example, many people find Signal Simulator and Voices of the Void cosy, whereas Vinsauce’s Joel certainly disagrees. Similarly, I find games like Far Cry and The Witcher cosy despite all the action, because they’re familiar, and I associate them with positive memories.

Generally, though, when people refer to ‘cosy’ or ‘hygge’ games, they’re talking about a specific breed. Farming sims, puzzle games, building games, some adventure games, and general life sims all pop up in this category, usually accompanied by soft colour palettes, relaxing music, and a lack of pressure or threat. Time limits and combat do make appearances, but are rarely the main focus. Instead, a cosy game is mostly defined by its fun, relaxing vibes and easy-to-pick-up gameplay.

Cosy games - a farm in Ooblets with a player surrounded by plants

Why are cosy games getting so popular now?

Searches for ‘cosy games’ (or the American spelling, ‘cozy games’), have gone up 155% over the last year, with communities dedicated to the topic across multiple social media platforms. There are even whole aesthetic pages that share relaxing gaming setups, with cosy games on a TV or monitor, soft, pastel-coloured décor, and heaps of plants.

So, why are we seeing a rise in cosy gaming now of all times? Of course, there are plenty of contributing factors, with the internet allowing more indie developers to try their hand at making the games they want to see, titles like Stardew Valley taking the world by storm, social media allowing amplification of games outside of niche sub-cultures, and more. However, I feel the biggest reason for the rise in popularity of cosy games is escapism.

Escapism has always been a core reason for people immersing themselves in gaming. With its reliance on visual, audio, and physical stimulation, gaming is more involved than watching the TV, listening to music, or reading a book, as it unites all of these things into one. The higher level of engagement puts you directly in the middle of the experience, requiring more focus and taking your mind off the real world completely, while other mediums can have their immersion broken through fiddling with your phone, chatting, or staring at the wall for ten minutes as you delve into a pit of existential despair (or at least, in my experience).

Cosy games - Tara from Wylde Flowers feeding animals on a farm

And, with the last few years seeing increased stress levels due to the pandemic, the cost of living crisis, political conflicts, and more, there’s been far more of a demand for escapism beyond the usual gamer niche. Now, it’s not just us nerds grinding away on our favourite MMO. It’s people completely new to gaming picking up the controller (or tapping away on the keyboard or their phone) as they carve out a reprise from the hectic world and the stresses of their everyday lives.

As such, titles with simple gameplay loops, relaxing atmospheres, appealing colour palettes, attractive aesthetics, and room for self-expression have become a mainstay in the gaming world. And, with a correlating rise in indie games and platforms for new creative teams to try their hand at spreading the magic, there are more options to explore than ever before.

Our top picks for the best cosy games on Switch

Okay, so with all this talk of cosy vibes, pretty aesthetics, and modes of escapism, I should probably give some recommendations, right? Well, luckily, the Nintendo Switch has plenty of cosy games on offer.

In fact, I feel like the Switch is one of the true homes of cosy gaming in the current gen. While there are plenty of great titles on other platforms, the Switch is both a popular home console that has become quite common in many households and the perfect way to soak up that sweet, cosy goodness.

Whether you’re curled up on the sofa with your Switch in docked mode, or snuggled up in bed in handheld mode, it’s easy to get comfy with this console – and, with such a huge catalogue of first-party games that ooze those cosy vibes, it’s a perfect escapism machine. So, here are a few of my favourite cosy games to get you started.

Stardew Valley

Easily the most popular title in the ‘cosy games’ category, Stardew Valley is a pixel art RPG life sim that sees you move to a farm in the countryside to escape the hustle and bustle of corporate life. Build a home, grow some crops, raise some animals, make some friends, get married, and fully assimilate into a true world of wonder while also occasionally heading out to the mines to take down enemies and collect some ore. It’s lovely, and it deserves all the praise it gets.

Animal Crossing New Horizons

If you were on the internet at all during the beginning of the pandemic, you likely know how much of an impact this addition to the long-standing Animal Crossing series had on the world. When none of us was allowed to go outside, hopping into an island getaway and forgetting our troubles with a bunch of cute critters at our side was just what we all needed – and it still stands up today.

Wylde Flowers

A wonderfully witchy farming sim, Wylde Flowers focuses on creating a safe space for all players through its relaxing gameplay, inclusive characters, and charming narrative. Renovate your farm, grow crops, build relationships with the townsfolk, and nurture Tara’s magical abilities, all to a truly cosy and magical backdrop.

Disney Dreamlight Valley

In my opinion, Disney Dreamlight Valley is a perfect example of a ‘cosy game’, uniting players from all walks of life through a love for Disney characters and a desire to add a sprinkle of magic to your everyday life. Mak over your valley, help and befriend iconic characters, garden, fish, cook, forage, and more in this magical adventure. It’s a truly enchanting experience, and I’m so excited to see it continue to grow in the coming years.

The Spirit and the Mouse

The Spirit and the Mouse is a little bit different from the titles I’ve mentioned above, but it truly encapsulates a sense of warmth and cosiness in such a quaint and lovely way. You take the role of a mouse who must help an electric spirit restore happiness to the inhabitants of a beautiful village in what seems to be rural France. It’s a stunning platform adventure game with a truly wholesome plot at its core, and that little mouse is honestly the most adorable critter I’ve seen in gaming.

Cat Cafe Manager

Adopt stray cats, build up a café to keep them in, serve customers, and build friendships with your regulars in this comfy little business sim. Unlike other games in the genre, Cat Cafe Manager strives to ensure the player feels relaxed and as stress-free as possible throughout, making it a genuinely chill experience to curl up with. Plus, cats!

Townscaper

Townscaper is more of an experience than a game – almost like filling in a colouring book. Set in the ocean, it sees you plop little islands and pieces of buildings into the water, connecting them like Lego, as you watch your tiny world expand and imagine the characters that could inhabit it. With its wonderfully relaxing music, simplistic gameplay, and beautiful colour palette, it’s a truly satisfying and cosy experience that’s perfect when you need a low-impact distraction from the world around you.

There are heaps of other awesome cosy games to explore, and I can guarantee that I’ll be kicking myself for missing some of the list – at which point I’ll be sure to come back and add them in.

However, if there’s one thing that I want you to take from this piece, it’s that gaming has evolved. It’s not just a niche, it’s a beautiful medium that truly has something for everyone, and, when things seem overwhelming, or the light at the end of the tunnel looks too dim, cuddling up with a cosy game and escaping the world for a while is a truly magical thing.

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