Surely, if you have played video games in your life, you must have played one that involves shooting down your opponent. The adrenaline rush of ‘owning’ your opponent is a feeling that many kids cherish during their teenage angst years. Violent games come in all shape and form – from first-person shooter (FPS) games like Counter-Strike and Call of Duty to R-rated action-adventure games such as GTA, which promotes illegal activities like murder, robbery and sexual harassment. Developing such games guarantees a good sale, and violence is often the centerpiece of their marketing campaigns. However, there is also a genre of video games that are soothing and relaxing, and the number of people opting to play them is gradually on the rise.
Such alternatives are known to cater to audiences who don’t find particular joy in meaningless violence in video games and the inherent ‘power-trip’ associated with them. At the center of such relaxing games is The Sims, a game where players take control of ordinary humans and interact with the simulated living world around them, inhabited by other player-controlling humans. The game is, undisputedly, a bestseller in the life simulation genre. First developed in 1989 under the name Sim City, the main version of the game has spawned four versions in over two decades. The number of people playing Sims 4, the latest installment, increased by 35% from 2017, demonstrating the rising popularity of relaxing video games.
In addition to the popular Sims video games, there are other Indie alternatives that promote the same ideology of harmony and non-violence. While violent games are often built on the concept of victory and failure, such games just provide a simulated environment for the players to investigate and enjoy. One such game is Ooblets, where the player gets to grow and create a team of tiny creatures to explore the world with. Ben Wasser, the designer of the game, states that, “One of our core gameplay guidelines is that we try to never punish the player and avoid everything that could be considered annoying, punishing, or needlessly difficult.”
Creating a Zen-like environment for players to explore seems to be a common theme for the majority of relaxing games. While games like Abzu focuses on deep-sea exploration using a simulated underwater world, No Man’s Sky enables the player to travel through the ever-expanding universe, countering millions of galaxies and extra-terrestrial life in the process. Inspired by Flight Simulator, the game Fugl allows the player to control a bird flying through a simulated world of valleys and caves. According to Johan Gejstland, the designer of Fugl, “The act of movement itself in a game can be relaxing enough for players.”
Building a game that doesn’t rely on violence to win over audience opens up doors for imagination and creativity for its developers. It’s no wonder, that such chill-out games are often developed by independent firms around the world, unlike big game studios that focus on making money by releasing action blockbusters. Moreover, a large proportion of players who indulge in such narrative-driven games are found to be young women. Although studies have failed to find definitive proof of violent video games propagating violence in young kids, it’s definitely not the cup of tea for many. Preferring calm, relaxing video games is a choice adhered by many people who just want to traverse a virtual world and gasp in the awe that it provides.