Playing through It9 Video Games for Anxious People (That Aren’t “Animal Crossing”)

A still from Animal Crossing (Photo credit: Nintendo)

If you’ve been online over the last week, then you’ve likely seen a ton of buzz about Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the newest installment of the Animal Crossing series, where users play as a character in a town filled with fruit trees, fossil hunting, and new friends (who are all adorable animals). NPR called New Horizons “a perfect escape,” while The Verge notes that it’s a “chill, charming life sim that puts you in control.” Given the relaxing, escapist nature of Animal Crossing, it’s unsurprising that it has garnered a lot of love from people with anxiety. According to some mental-health professionals who spoke to Newsweek, “diving into the game is a great idea because of its loose narrative and slow-paced activities that can be compared to mindfulness.”

While New Horizons might be one of the most relaxing games on the market, it’s not the only game that’s helpful for people, myself included, who have anxiety. I reached out to the people of Twitter to gauge what other video games anxious people are playing. The tweet garnered more than 250 replies, so we decided to build a list of some of the most recommended games for those who need some help coping (or just want something new and fun to play).

1. Neko Atsume

Neko Atsume is a cat-collecting game available on iOS and Android. The game, which became hugely popular after being released in 2014, has a simple premise: Players attempt to collect different types of cats by leaving them gifts and food. There’s one fun twist: Some of the cats have names inspired by famous people: Hermeowne (Hermione Granger), Guy Furry (Guy Fieri), and Lady Meow Meow (Lady Gaga). As an added bonus, Neko Atsume doesn’t have a definitive ending, so players can really take all the time they need.

2. The Sims

Unsurprisingly, The Sims was one of the top-recommended games. After all, it’s one of the bestselling video games of all time and it’s available across a huge range of platforms, including Xbox One, Playstation 4, and the computer. On The Sims, players build entire families and new worlds, and the gaming gets even more extensive for those who purchase expansion packs. Writer Ella Dawson tweeted, “The Sims forever and always,” while Angel Powell, a writer and disability activist, shared, “[The Sims 4] gives me control of something.”

3. Harvest Moon

Harvest Moon might be up your alley, if the ability to engage with your environment, build relationships with other characters, and listen to sweet, calming music is what draws you to games like Animal Crossing. Originally released in 1996, the Harvest Moon series features a main character who suddenly becomes the owner of a farm and has to build a new life. The goals are appealingly low stakes: Players can choose to focus on their farm, prioritize finding a partner and having a child, or dive into the more mythical parts of their new town. (Each version of the game has a fantasy component. For instance, in one version, there’s a group of fairies that help players complete tasks.) The most recent additions to the franchise are Harvest Moon: Light of Hope and Harvest Moon: Mad Dash, which are both available for the Nintendo Switch and Playstation 4. The next game, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town, is also for the Nintendo Switch, and it will be available on July 10, 2020 in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, and Australia.

4. Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley, like Harvest Moon, is an open-ended role-playing game where you become a farmer. It’s available for computers, PS4, XBox One, and Nintendo Switch, and there’s also a mobile version. “What the Animal Crossing games, Stardew Valley, and Ooblets all do is mix free-form play with a relaxed atmosphere, elements which seem to have resonated with players keen for a change of pace from the barrage of stimuli and hyper-kineticism video games are best known for,” wrote Lewis Gordon in a 2019 article for The Verge. “They’re chill in the same way real gardening is.”

5. Diner Dash

“Being anxious about serving fake people food weirdly cancels out life anxiety,” journalist Mallory Carra shared on Twitter. Diner Dash was originally conceptualized for the PC, but it later became a mobile game. It’s now one of the most downloaded games of all time. Players act as Flo, a woman who quits her job and decides to build a franchise of diners. Each level has individual goals, but the overarching goal is making sure customers are satisfied, so the actions include seating customers, serving them customized meals, and upgrading the diner over time so they’re more comfortable. Diner Dash includes spinoff series, like Diner Dash: Hometown Hero and Diner Dash: Flo on the Go, which take Flo to new locations.

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6. Monument Valley

Monument Valley, an indie puzzle game created by Ustwo Games, offers players the opportunity to act as a princess named Ida and complete mazes, geometry, and additional puzzles. “It’s truly, stunningly beautiful,” professor Amy K. Cannon told me. “Well designed, mysterious, [and] a whole strange world unto itself. It also is just the right level of absorbing for me: not so hard I feel discouraged but challenging enough that each level is totally absorbing, and I feel that’s what I need right now.”

7. Dead by Daylight

Dead by Daylight is an “asymmetrical multiplayer horror game” that some people with anxiety enjoy for a multitude of reasons. “The tasks are simple and game play isn’t too long, so it lets me focus on one task at a time,” one Twitter user named Allison Pichowicz told me. “The fact [that] it’s so gory should negate any relief, but it lets me blow off steam.” In a 2018 article for Teen Vogue, Brittney MacNamara explained this phenomenon: “[Horror] movies that make some people tense up with fear and racked with emotional distress are exactly the kind of medicine for some people living with anxiety.”

8. Two Dots

Alison Vu, Bitch’s director of fundraising, is always raving about Two Dots. “The rules are to match colors [and] match dots at a certain frequency,” Vu said. “The rules are simple, [which] makes it easy to play and escape, [and] the music and colors/design are happy, bright, and soothing.” Vu said Two Dots is low commitment, and, as an added bonus, it’s free for iOS and Android.

9. Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition

“Update on a classic,” writer Sara Luterman told Bitch about Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition. “[The] semi-repetitive game play with some amount of strategy is soothing.” Ages of Empire II is a strategy-based historical game where characters build new civilizations. The game can be played solo or with friends, and there’s a lot to be done, making this a good distraction if you let off steam by diving into the details of a new world.

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by Rachel Charlene Lewis
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Rachel Charlene Lewis is the Senior Editor at Bitch. She has written about culture, identity, and the internet for publications including i-D, Teen Vogue, Refinery29, Glamour, Autostraddle, Ravishly, SELF, StyleCaster, The Frisky (RIP), The Mary Sue, and elsewhere. Her literary work, reviews, and interviews have been published in Catapult, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Normal School, Publisher’s Weekly, The Offing, and in several other magazines. She is on Twitter and Instagram, always.