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What are cosy games and which are the best ones?

Stardew Valley is an indie phenomenon (Concerned Ape)
Stardew Valley is an indie phenomenon (Concerned Ape)

One of the hottest trends in gaming is not exotic graphics or virtual reality. It’s the often overlooked niche called cosy games.

These idyllic worlds offer a less emotionally taxing experience that’s light-years away from frantic first-person shooters or battle royales. It’s a chance to escape into a low-stakes world, with no pressure to level up or beat records. Say hello to the warm embrace of cosy gaming.

This style of game has been around for a while and yet is finally receiving the critical acclaim it deserves while luring in more players than ever.

Disney Dreamlight Valley was nominated for Best Family Game at the 2023 Bafta gaming awards and well-known titles, such as the Animal Crossing series or indie phenomenon Stardew Valley, attract millions of fans.

Given that many titles in this genre are played online rather than paid for outright, it’s hard to be sure how popular they have become.

What’s abundantly clear is that their evolving success is proof there is room for variety in gaming. Often, the titles that receive the most attention are the action-adventures, such as God of War Ragnarök, which won four Bafta gaming awards, but this is far from the whole story.

The good news is that there are several exciting new cosy games set for release this year, from the sequel Oxenfree 2 to the dreamy exploration title Way to the Woods. To help you get acquainted with the genre that everyone is talking about, we’ve put together this handy guide.

What are cosy games?

Cosy games vary greatly, but a defining feature is how they make the player feel. In a nutshell: it’s all about feeling warm, comforted, and safe.

These games are designed to be relaxing and meditative, often with a focus on building relationships and the natural world.

Nurturing and world-building are often major features of cosy gaming, with players often implored to take care of their neighbours or their environment.

Many cosy games involve leaving the busy, big-city life behind to start anew in a small town or remote island. For example, Stardew Valley sees the player leave their job at a huge corporation behind to take over their grandfather’s farm.

They involve heading out into nature and developing hobbies like farming, fishing, and foraging: all hobbies found in Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Animal Crossing is one of the most successful cosy games (William West / AFP via Getty Images)
Animal Crossing is one of the most successful cosy games (William West / AFP via Getty Images)

Community is a focus, too, as players are typically encouraged to befriend strangers and neighbours who are often, but not always, anthropomorphic animals, like in Littlewood.

While players can improve their in-game skills and develop their in-game world there are, broadly speaking, few set levels nor time limits. Cosy games generally allow players to go at their own pace, taking detours to explore the world as they go.

Nintendo defines cosy games as games to play when “you’re curled up under a comfy blanket or sipping your favourite hot beverage,” that will “give you the warm and fuzzies”.

Basically, you can expect precious few shootouts or car-jacking exploits, and more casual farming or friendly world-building.

Why do gamers enjoy cosy games?

Cosy games offer a different way to escape from the real-world responsibilities compared to killing people or dominating foes. It’a chance to sit back and relax.

For example, Animal Crossing: New Horizons (2020) was released as the Covid-19 pandemic began, just three days before the first UK lockdown was announced.

It was a welcome escape from the horrors in the news and the ideal hobby to adopt while stuck at home.

Fans of cosy gaming will pick up, say, Stardew Valley over the likes of Call of Duty to create a wholly different vibe.

For instance, Phoebe Gipson, 25, who is a self-confessed cosy gamer, says: “Animal Crossing heals my inner child.

“After a stressful day, I can log into a world where everything is cute and there’s no conflict — my only responsibility is to pick weeds and decorate my house.”

She continues: “Before bed, I’ll spend 20 minutes collecting fruit or building a restaurant for my villagers. I find it to be very calming, almost meditative.”

Cosy games do tend to appeal to women and girls over men and boys, but this is a lazy generalisation. Fans of these snugglesome titles are not necessarily children either.

The demographic of Animal Crossing players, for example, is split evenly between men and women, reports Nintendo Life and the players tend to be in their 20s or 30s.

These are people who are hankering for a few moments in a calmer environment. For instance, Kate Rice, 23, said: “Cosy games just feel like a warm cup of tea.

“I’d honestly take a silly little character with silly little tasks over running away from zombies or high-stakes combat every time.”

Stardew Valley is a popular farming sim (Concerned Ap)
Stardew Valley is a popular farming sim (Concerned Ap)

What are the best cosy games?

It’s time to snuggle up with a curated selection of games that will heal your inner child, or at least take your mind off the raging storms of the real world, without expecting you to slay creatures or be mean to others. Yes, it’s time to let some nurture into your nature.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Move to a remote island and build your community from scratch, with the help of beloved characters like Tom Nook and the Able Sisters. Invite cute animals to live on your island, decorate your town, and earn money by fishing and farming fruit.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons will make older fans nostalgic for Wild World and New Leaf, and is sure to win over new fans with its charm and cute characters. Fans of world-building will be blown over by the options to decorate and customise their home and island.

Available on Nintendo Switch for £36.99.

Stardew Valley

Give up your corporate life in the city and move to your late grandfather’s abandoned farm. Hone your farming, fishing, and mining skills while befriending the town’s residents. Complete mysterious quests and discover the magic of the valley.

Stardew Valley will suit gamers who enjoy routines and tasks, but in a low-pressure environment. There are dozens of achievements to work towards in Stardew Valley, such as befriending the villagers or catching all the fish the valley has to offer. However, players can move at their own pace and focus on an aspect of the world they enjoy most.

Stardew Valley has a score of 87 on Metacritic. Available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, iOS, Android, and PC from £4.99.

The Sims 4

The Sims 4 is a classic cosy game that invites players to build their ideal homes, nurture their family, and help them achieve their dreams. While the nature of The Sims allows players to adapt how they play the game, with various challenges and goals, this means that it can be adapted for cosy play.

The cottage-living expansion pack is especially cosy. Players can adopt chickens, cows, and even llamas, and decorate their homes with cottage-core furniture. The pack is ideal for those who enjoy the nurturing aspect of cosy gaming, or the creativity of world-building.

The Sims 4 is free on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox, and Cottage Living costs from £24.99.

Unpacking

Unpack boxes in this relaxing puzzle game, while learning about the life of the character whose home you’re decorating. While you never meet the character, you will learn about them in detail over the course of eight house moves.

Unpacking will appeal to gamers who enjoy organisation and decoration. It’s a relaxing way to unwind, while the main character’s journey will keep gamers captivated.

Available on Nintendo, PC, PlayStation, and Xbox for around £15.

Spiritfarer

Spiritfarer is a cosy game about dying that asks the player to confront their feelings about grief. Play as Stella, a spiritfarer who helps spirits settle their unfinished business before preparing them to move on to the afterlife, but not before building their dream bedrooms on her ship.

Spiritfarer will appeal to gamers who enjoy task-based gaming, but the connection Stella forms with the spirits will give gamers an even greater sense of accomplishment.

Available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, iOS, Android, and PC with prices ranging from free to £24.99 depending on the console.

Lake

Leave the big city and return to your quiet hometown to fill in for your father as the local delivery person. Rebuild relationships and meet new neighbours as you deliver their letters and parcels, before deciding to either return to the city or build a new life by the lake.

While Lake is an adventure game, it will appeal to cosy gamers for its beautiful environment and charming townspeople. It’s great for gamers who like tasks without the high-stakes.

Available on PC and Xbox for £15.99.

Coral Island

Coral Island is a farming sim game set on a tropical island. Restore coral reefs, mine for gemstones, and romance the single islanders before building a family. The environment is a key focus of Coral Island, as players are encouraged to nurture animals and care for their surroundings.

A classic farming sim, Coral Island will appeal to fans of Stardew Valley and Harvest Moon.

Available for £19.99 on Xbox and PC.

Littlewood

You’re a hero who saved the world – but have forgotten everything since. Rebuild your town while making new friends, but be sure to make time to explore the world of Solemn and discover its history.

Littlewood’s cute anthropomorphic characters are charming and the town-planning feature is highly customisable. Classic farm-sim tasks also feature, such as chopping wood and catching fish.

Available on Nintendo and PC for £11.

A Short Hike

Slowly make your way to the summit, exploring the island as you go. Take time to fish, swim, and befriend other hikers along the way. Either follow the marked paths or head into the backcountry and see what you could discover.

A Short Hike is relaxing and immersive, ideal for curling up and spending an afternoon with. The stunning landscapes and calming soundtrack, along with the cute characters, are sure to appeal to fans of cosy games.

Available on Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation, and Xbox for around £6.