In this tumultuous time of pandemics, political instability and increasing fear, we need to seek out kind messages. Video games are often bursting with violence, death, guns and explosions. But many of these offer a glimmer or beacon of hope. For some titles, this is their primary focus, for others there are moments of pause which give way to positivity, kindness or love. And so, we feel it's worth highlighting some of these for when life grinds at us or just becomes too much.
Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to)
Kind Words seemed to appear on Steam out of nowhere. Perhaps, like the greatest superheroes, it only appeared when we truly needed it. The player is right away folded up inside the comfort of a small living space made from calming hues, a chill Lo-Fi playlist bumps along in the background. The desk facing the beauty of the outside world is bathed in natural light from the large window which opens for a deer to bring messages from real people around the globe. Some of these messages are simple notes saying hello; others are cries for help. With this article in mind, I opened up the game and found people understandably worried about COVID19.
Kind Words sets out to make the world a better place through communication and it does so by keeping the player in a safe space. There's no griefing, no trolls, just positivity and people helping each other with sentiments of peace, words of encouragement and tiny envelopes bursting with advice.
Also consider: Bottled, a mobile app where you cast messages out to sea and wait for others to write back.
Yeah, that's right, Peggle. In the final moments of any round of Peggle, whether you've cleared all the pegs or just the requisite number, the result is the same. The ball slows down on the approach to the final peg, as it hits, firework visuals burst from the screen and 'Ode to Joy' crescendos. It doesn't matter how many times this happens; each one is accompanied by either a grin of achievement or an air punch. This is pure unadulterated 'joy' condensed into bright visuals and terrific sound design.
There's very little skill needed in order to reach this moment and it barks loudly of Pavlov's dog, but it cannot be helped, 'Ode to Joy' is a wonderfully catchy tune and the perfect end to a game. The bonus is that Peggle can be played on everything and by everyone. You can give it to kids or your grandad and each one will be filled with happiness for those few minutes, until it happens all over again.
Also consider: Bust-a-Move, for bright visuals and two player competition bound to cause laughter.
When the credits finally roll on Minecraft, after beating the Ender Dragon, we're treated to a poem of sorts. One which, upon first creation was meant to be "over the top" on sentiment. If you cut through all the cheese and whimsy, there are a few lines which actually carry some emotional weight. Granted, you have to complete the game after perhaps hundreds of hours to see this poem, but one line manages to sum up the entire experience of this sandbox adventure – "What did this player dream?"
Minecraft is much more than an adventure story full of monsters and survival. It's an opportunity for play, to create anything your heart and mind can conceive. Perhaps the game itself doesn't spell out this concept, but it gives players a place to feel at home, at peace, and create anything from outlandish castles for solo players to rattle around in, to sprawling villages made by a mum and her kids. It's electronic LEGO, where imagination runs free and anyone can be what they want, with no boundaries or limits.
Also consider: Roblox, for more creation and LOTS of mini games.
What would this list be without Animal Crossing? Especially given that we're all going to be hiding on our islands for the foreseeable future. There are definitely messages of positivity and hope within the neighbours in the varied worlds or Animal Crossing, but perhaps the best thing about the game is its innocence. Everything from the off-the-wall humour, to the animals themselves, harkens back to our younger days. Days when we cared little about the goings on in the world around us and all that was important were our friends and making them happy and feel good about life.
In Britain, we had a phrase as kids. We'd leave our friends at the school gates or on the walk home from a hard day of studying (HA!) and end with "I'll come knock for you later". Meaning, to those elsewhere, they'd come to the house to see if we were free and able to play outside or hunker down and play video games. I'm sure others had different expressions. This simple thing is acted out each time we play Animal Crossing. We wander around our little villages, picking fruit, catching bugs, splashing about in the stream and knocking on our friend's doors simply to spend time with them. This is a simpler time distilled. A game to show that something simple like delivering a package for a friend or just giving them a gift, is sometimes the most joyful thing in life. Better still, Animal Crossing: New Horizons just came out on Switch!
Also consider: Stardew Valley, you will lose hours and hours to the adorable cast.
What does Flower offer, for a game in which you play as a petal drifting along the currents of a breeze? If you question how this game of utter beauty in colour, music and movement can bring happiness, then perhaps your heart is made of stone and you should see a health professional. Flower, much like Journey, is a game where your own interpretation is a guide to what occurs on screen. For some, it's a tale of loss saved by new life springing forth. For others, it's about birth and the constant renewal of life. On the bare face of things, it's just a beautiful game which causes wide smiles and fond memories of summer days.
How can this small title not offer some grins and even sighs of contentment? It is nature living and breathing, full of colour. We could have chosen Journey in this spot, but Flower evokes memories of wonder and a once upon a time discovery.
Also consider: Journey, meeting random people to walk through a stunning world is a joy.
Noby Noby Boy
Sometimes smiles come from pure silliness. There's nothing better than the ludicrous flipping life on its head in order to insert some cheer into your life. Enter Keita Takahashi and Noby Noby Boy, a game where you play as The Boy, a small worm-like creature, who stretches like a plasticine snake. Before Octodad made you control each limb with different buttons and thumbsticks, Noby Noby Boy was controlled on the PS3 analogue sticks – the left controlling the front end of Boy and the right stick controlling the back end. The idea was so simple, just stretch him as much as possible using objects in his world - houses, people, hoops, food – all randomly generated.
Why? Just because. But also, to impress Girl. Girl needed players to stretch as far as possible in order to reach the end of the solar system. Your length was uploaded and added to those of others playing across the real world, so that the total distance was a group effort. A task accomplished by just being silly. It was in each of these tiny worlds, dioramas if you will, where the colour popping cast all live only to create joy.
Also consider: Wattam, talking poops? Instant guffaws.
Another place where imagination is the only thing holding back the player from creating, but this time the game comes with all the saccharine visuals and companions you need. Dreams, for the most part, holds your hand tightly and guides you through processes with kindly voices and bright sentiments of encouragement. Playing to create, you're always told what a great job you've done or how impressive your creation is. Playing other people's creations opens up whole worlds of possibilities.
You might find a game which recreates racing toy cars across the carpet of a grandparent's living room, or maybe a tale of loss and discovery. Dreams gives players a whole world of other people's imaginations to roam through and when you're done, you can leave comments of encouragement or stickers which simply spell out 'a good job, well done. Who doesn't like being rewarded with praise and stickers?
Also consider: LittleBigPlanet, creation and play has never been cuter.
It doesn't matter which iteration you choose; The Sims can bring joy in so many ways. Whether you want to create and build and adorable family who will strive to chase their dreams, or maybe you enjoy tormenting the tiny beings by stealing ladders or creating basement goblins. Perhaps it's quite cruel, but it's no different to playing with action figures as a child. Some kids put their dolls to bed nicely, others cut their hair and tattooed 'bum' on the plastic flesh. Whatever choice, it was done in the name of fun.
And who can forget just cheating, gaining infinite money and building the biggest, most lavish house you can imagine? The Sims is the perfect way to live a life you may not be able to achieve in the real world – be a rockstar, an astronaut or an artist. Whatever you choose, will bring huge amounts of endorphins.
Also consider: Theme Park, where is joy made? Theme parks full of rides.
So many of these games and others have been about transporting the player back to a childhood state and ICO is another of these. It's a classic 'boy meets girl' story set in a vast and sumptuous world. With no dialogue, each movement conveys emotion and the trust in which Yorda places in the titular character of Ico is just lovely. As the player, it's up to you to piece together the story of this outcast boy and the Queen's daughter, whose life is in danger.
The world is gorgeous, the castle and its puzzles are equally sublime. But the joy mostly comes from these two delightful characters interacting, with Yorda showing Ico how to love and accept each other for who they are. This is a traditional fairy tale and one which will be remembered forever.
Also consider: Shadow of the Colossus, for more beauty in fairy tale worlds.
The Yakuza games, for all their gunfights and fisticuffs, constantly convey a line of positivity. In one moment we could be in the middle of a street fight, only to find ourselves sat in a bar in the next – a whiskey in one hand, cigarette in the other, talking to a film director about the work of another. Kiryu straightens his posture and delivers a piece of advice about staying true to a vision.
Earlier, he'd stood in a different bar and expressed a similar sentiment to a 'Mama' who had transitioned from male to female. His words were gentle, a stark contrast to the vicious pummeling he'd been dishing out. Here, Kiryu expressed how hard it must have been to live a life that didn't feel right, one that buried the person's true identity. Having a positive impact in a world that is in desperate need of it is a constant theme in Yakuza games. Below the criminal underworld, our hero has seen the worst in humans, he seemingly wants to do right by them and keep everyone focused on the beauty of life.
Also consider: GTAV online, get together with friends and create carnage.
Looking for more recommendations? Here are 11 happy games to play when things look bleak.