These are tough times, and sometimes at the end of a long day all you want is to play away the stress of the day. Maybe that means an old favorite, or a game that whisks you away from all the madness for a few hours, or something with a positive message. Maybe it's a brutal game about loss, the human spirit and, um, a global pandemic? Our team shared what they turn to when they need a break from the real world.
This is the latest in a series of big questions we'll be interrogating our writers with, so share your answers and suggestions for topics with us on Twitter. (opens in new tab)
World of Warcraft
When the real world is collapsing in on itself, the familiar sights and sounds of Azeroth never fail to allure me back in. I can swear by the therapeutic qualities of certain zones within World of Warcraft, and the peacefulness that can come from simply wandering their digital landscapes as a means of escapism. The preternatural, Afrofuturist plains of Nagrand never fail to satisfy the senses, for instance, while even the first few notes of the flute on Elwynn Forest's main theme is enough to send me into a near trance-like state. At the moment, of course, World of Warcraft is also the perfect place to schedule "social gatherings" when the real life equivalents are currently outlawed. Who needs brewhouses and coffee shops when you can down a few pints together by the hearth of the fire at the Goldshire inn? Alex Avard
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Tending to my island has become part of the working from home routine now, and it's the thing I wake up every morning thinking about. It's the bookmark to my day, a little over breakfast, a dabble at lunch, and a longer session in the evening. When your home is all you see, it's nice to know that there's a getaway available within seconds of turning on your Switch. I've met up with friends, sent them post with presents in, helped people get better tools, and generally just used it as the thing that blanks out all the anxiousness, the occasional sadness and the never-ending bad news cycle. Sam Loveridge
I never thought I'd be into the auto-battler genre, and then Hearthstone took a crack at it, and now I can't stop. Battlegrounds is the most addictive game I've played since, I don't know, Runescape, back when I was like 14. Every draft is totally different, and the chance at high-rolling an absurdly overpowered board is so tempting that I always wind up playing just one more round. I've put in nearly 250 hours in just a few months, and while my play time inevitably trails off after a bit, updates are frequent and inevitably bring me back for another couple dozen rounds. Battlegrounds is the game I play to unwind, kill time, and just about everything else. Hell, I'll play Battlegrounds to unwind after getting heated while playing Battlegrounds. And it will probably stay that way for some time. I'll play some normal Hearthstone when the new expansion is out, but Battlegrounds feels tailor-made for me, so I don't think I'll ever truly leave it. Austin Wood
Spyro: Year of the Dragon
Ironically enough for a character that’s dished out his fair share of flame grilled farewells, Spyro’s third PS1 game never fails to chill me out. Mostly because it comes bundled with the tried-and-tested warm blanket of nostalgia. No matter what else is going on, I can switch this on at any time and just retreat back to those heady days of Tizer, ice cream, and Spyro. A potent mix. It’s also a joy to control. I can just charge around the vivid and colourful worlds doing nothing more than headbutting walls and cooking some Gnorcs medium-rare. It’s mindless mayhem done right.
Plus, it helps that the game is just so adept at giving you so many different things to do that it’s almost impossible to think about anything else. Spyro goes skateboarding? Sure, why not? Racing? Go for it. Escort missions? OK, forget that last one – but it’s still a classic I want to dip into almost on a weekly basis – and I can’t see that changing anytime soon. Bradley Russell
The Last of Us
It's not a stress-free paradise, of course, but The Last of Us is my go-to for relaxation and familiarity. Putting aside the action-packed encounters with bandits, and the stealthy, tense battles with the infected, its characters, story, music and world bring me back again and again. I just can't get enough of the post-apocalyptic landscapes and environments particularly; there's something so alluring and beautiful about nature's reclamation of the world and it's a deeply interesting and fascinating place to be in and admire. I'll always investigate or re-investigate every nook and cranny, stop and stare at great views, and inspect the flora and landscape features close up, no matter what playthrough I'm on. Also, despite having a good memory (hurray!) which means I can't 'forget' stories (boo!) I still, somehow, really enjoy the plotlines: I never skip cutscenes; I always read the notes; I'll stop and listen to the music; and I love every incidental chat or gesture that occurs along the way.
I'm due another playthrough or two on Survivor and Survivor NG+ before Part II comes out, and I'm already enormously looking forward to its familiarity, distinct music and sounds, and comforting, luscious landscapes. Rob Dwiar
The Simpsons: Tapped Out
Eight years ago an Official PlayStation Magazine colleague, Leon Hurley (who now happens to be a GamesRadar colleague) casually recommended that I download The Simpsons Tapped Out for iOS. “It’s about endlessly, relentlessly collecting stuff. You will love it,” he decreed. It was the understatement of the millennium. I played it every day for the remainder of 2012, to soothe the stress that came with editing a national publication. I played it to stay calm at the births of my children in 2013 and 2015 (I’m sure it’s merely a coincidence that their mother and I are no longer together). I played it whenever times got rough during a spell of challenging mental-health therapy in 2019. And I’m playing it nightly again now, as everyone on the planet stays in their houses and wonders what the next terrifying twist in the COVID-19 pandemic will be. The world is going to be a very different place come 2021. But we can at least count on digital Ralph Wiggum to raise some smiles on 1st January. Ben Wilson
No Man’s Sky
I generally settle into big games where it’s easy to do side stuff and get lost in ‘things’ without worrying about a point. Games like Oblivion or Skyrim for example where you can just wander and explore and see what happens without having to commit to anything. I’ve been alternating between Fallout 76 and No Man’s Sky for a while and Nomanski has just edged into the lead thanks to the atmosphere, music, and the fact I’ve been working on my base. I’ve got some staff in there, I’ve recently got the power issues ironed out thanks to some solar panels and batteries, and generally I’m just enjoying pottering around. It’s that lack of pressure that makes it relaxing: there’s no requirement I do anything so the smallest activity feels like progress. Whether that’s exploring new planets, looking for resources or popping into the Nexus for a multiplayer mission. I can do anything and nothing and that freedom is just the thing to chill out. Leon Hurley
Any Super Mario at all
Nintendo's mascot is the only thing you need in your corner if you're feeling blue. Mario games are bright, breezy, and colorful no matter which version you pick up. There's an uncontainable jolliness to them, and it's exactly the sort of thing we need right now. The unbridled creativity of their levels and mechanics adds to the magic. I've recently been making my way through Super Mario Odyssey, and it's built from the same brand of cheer and playful joy. Christmas in video game form, in other words. Benjamin Abbott
When I'm upset about something as huge and implacable as The State of Things, I need to occupy my mind with something that's familiar but still leaves no room for real-world anxieties to creep in. I reach for my phone and boot up Downwell. I own Downwell on four different platforms at this point and have been playing it for years. Somehow I've still never beaten it, but that's not really the point any more. The hyperfocus I get while I'm trying to extend a combo ever further, bouncing off of safe enemies' heads while avoiding dangerous ones, is like a warm blanket between me and the rest of the world. Mulling over which upgrades to pick for the best build and which weapons are worth swapping into up for their health/energy upgrades occupies my mind, while muscle memory keeps my fingers working across the screen. And hey, I still have more palettes to unlock! Connor Sheridan
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