As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to fundamentally change the way we live our lives, many people are turning to video games and apps to pass the time, relax and distract themselves from the current situation around the world.
We’ve put together a collection of apps and games that will help you do exactly that, ranging from apps like Calm that aim to encourage you to meditate, to video games that offer a simulated escape from the real-world, like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
Below is our list of games and apps that aim to help reduce stress during these troubled times:
Developed by Snowman and Team Alto — studios with ties to Toronto — both Alto’s Adventure and its sequel Alto’s Odyssey offer a calming endless runner experience.
In Alto’s Adventure, players bound over sand dunes, performing flips and jumps to accomplish various goals. Odyssey builds on its predecessor with more varied goals, the ability to wall-ride, different environments and even weather effects.
Both games also feature a ‘Zen Mode’ that takes the challenge out of the experience. With the setting activated, when you crash, you can just keep riding for as long as you want.
Alto’s Odyssey is available on iOS, Apple TV ($6.99 CAD) and Android (free). Alto’s Adventure is also available on iOS, Apple TV ($6.99) and Android (free).
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch has quickly evolved into a cultural phenomenon given the current state of the world.
The casual life simulation game offers a respite from being tapped in your home while practising social distancing. Along with being able to freely go outside, talk to virtual villagers and construct a town on your own personal island, you’re also able to visit your friends’ islands and interact with them.
New Horizons definitely isn’t for everyone, but many will likely find simple in-game tasks like catching bugs, fishing and collecting fruit both satisfying and relaxing.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is available for $79 CAD for the Nintendo Switch as both a physical copy and in Nintendo’s eShop.
At this point, you’ve probably heard of the Calm app, especially given all of its star-studded ads. That said, it’s become well-known for a reason, and given the current pandemic, this is a great time for both old and new users to jump in.
As its name suggests, the calm app aims to help you relax through different meditation and sleep stories. Some of these are guided exercises focused on activities like easing depression, releasing anxiety or just calming your mind to fall asleep. Meanwhile, Calm has a variety of bedtime stories narrated by the dulcet tones of several celebrities, such as Game of Thrones‘ Jerome Flynn and Dallas Buyers Club‘s Matthew McConaughey. All told, there’s an impressive amount of stories covering a variety of topics.
It’s important to note, however, that only some of Calm’s stories are free to all users. The majority of them are locked by Calm Premium, which costs $76.99 CAD/year. There is a free seven-day trial though, so you can sample the stories at your leisure and then decide if you want to take the plunge. Considering that this pandemic may very well go on for a few more months at least, it’s a nice option to have.
The Calm app can be downloaded for free on Android and iOS. It’s also worth noting that the official Calm YouTube channel is livestreaming free meditation sessions (one of which is embedded above) every day.
Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to) is perhaps one of the most unique games you’ll ever play. That’s because — in direct opposition to the toxicity that runs rampant in online culture — it’s all about sending positive messages to other people. The basic premise behind the game is that you’re relaxing at your desk in your bedroom, giving you and other real players the change to send each other notes.
Impressively, developer PopCannibal has done a wonderful job fostering an almost universally positive community of people who want to share nice messages. This has encouraged people to pour their hearts out and receive support from anonymous individuals. During quarantine, it’s essential to stay connected and support one another, and Kind Words is a unique and cathartic way to do just that. Most importantly, Kind Words also contains links to mental health resources for players who might need more professional help.
Some will likely find this too sappy, but in these trying times, Kind Words might be exactly what people need. You can download the game on Steam for $5.69 CAD. Kind Words is also on sale for $4.55 until April 6th.
#SelfCare, a mobile health and wellness initiative from Toronto-based Tru Luv, is a unique experiment because it’s sort of in the middle of being an app and a game. That’s exactly what makes it so effective, though.
In contrast to traditional games, #SelfCare doesn’t actually give you a clear-defined goal to work towards. Instead, you’re simply encouraged to relax by performing basic activities like breathing exercises or a touch-based, laundry-folding minigame. The best part of this approach is that it offers you full freedom to indulge in #SelfCare for as long as you’d like.
Just woke up one day but don’t want to get out of bed? Open up #SelfCare for five or ten minutes. On the other hand, maybe you want to fit in a brief daily “session” of the game, given that experts suggest sticking to some sort of routine to help you manage quarantine life.
Overall, #SelfCare offers a clever way of using your phone to unwind, rather than keep up with the often-distressing current state of affairs. You can download the app for free on Android and iOS.
In some ways, Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Stardew Valley offer a very similar experience.
Both games aim to simulate the real-world to an extent, only rather than building an island, Stardew tasks players with constructing a bustling farm. Inspired by the long-running Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons series, Stardew Valley features an advanced crafting system, allows you to raise animals like cows, chickens, rabbits, pigs and more, along with the ability to marry in-game characters.
Just like New Horizons, you can also play Stardew Valley with friends over the internet if you setup a multiplayer farm.
Stardew Valley is available on PC ($16.99), Mac ($16.99), PlayStation 4 ($19.99), Xbox One ($14.99), Switch ($14.99), Android (on sale for $4.99) and iOS ($6.99).