There's no right way to unwind. For me, walking around a Spanish island taking photos of the local wildlife, hiking up to the peak of a mountain, and returning to my hometown after dropping out of university are just some of my favorite ways to relax. I've not done any of these activities in real life, but I did get to experience them all through games like Alba: A Wildlife Adventure, A Short Hike, and Night in the Woods.
These kinds of games encourage players to take things slow and enjoy the cozier things in life, which is why they've gained a reputation for being 'cozy games'. While there isn't an official definition for what a cozy game is exactly, those that do fall under this categorization have a particular vibe that is easy to spot. Typically, a cozy game will be laid back, have minimal, if any, combat, an endearing art style, and will wrap its action around a wholesome story. These kinds of games have become so popular in recent years that they've caused an online cozy game movement – inspiring developers, shaping lifestyles, and building communities.
Keeping it cozy
"People need to have stress-free moments during the day and just relax and smile. In the past year, more and more games with cozy vibes have popped up, and I firmly believe they help when you're having a tough day," says Bee, one of the developers behind the upcoming cozy life sim Kitori Academy. It doesn't take much searching to see that Bee has a point, several games in Steam's best sellers list could be classed as a "cozy game", and the same goes for other digital storefronts such as the Nintendo eShop, and PlayStation Store. But what constitutes a cozy game? According to Bee, it’s all about the feelings a cozy game gives you, and less about sticking to a strict set of genre rules or game mechanics.
"Cozy gaming makes me think of autumn days, with a blanket, a hot drink, and your favorite book, or a place where I would like to have an afternoon picnic." When asked whether the cozy gaming trend's popularity impacted Kitori Academy's direction, Bee says: "The intention of making a cozy game was there from the start. We picked a theme and elements that have tints of my personality and how I like to live my life. After a long working day, I enjoy relaxing with warm and gentle games, so every piece of art, music, and story we include in Kitori Academy reflects all of this."
While cozy gaming may have started life as an online trend, it is now on its way to becoming a recognized genre – one that developers around the world are specifically designing for. Australia-based Studio Drydock is hard at work on its own contribution to the movement with Wylde Flowers. Studio founder and creative director Amanda tells me that "the plan was to be cozy from the start" and that ethos is at the heart of this upcoming Switch and PC release. In the magical life-sim players are encouraged to kick back and relax, and this idea goes beyond just Wylde Flowers' development. "We've almost built that into the ethos of the studio with our commitment to make games that are non–violent," Amanda explains, "so when we were determining how the art would look and what kind of story we wanted to tell for Wylde Flowers, it was really fundamental."
World of your own
Cozy gaming has even progressed beyond the games themselves, with its influence showing up in other areas of popular culture. Thanks to the likes of Instagram and TikTok, we've now got a number of cozy gaming influencers who are known for producing comforting content which is either based around or directly influenced by the games they’re playing. The influencers in question are also known to promote the same uplifting messages that a lot of cozy games feature through the use of self-care tips, and insights into the idyllic lives they present to their audience. Ultimately though, it all comes down to a shared love of cozy games and how they can inspire us to better ourselves.
One of the biggest cozy gaming influencers out there is Kennedy, aka @cozy.games, who boasts an impressive 40.6k followers on Instagram and 209.7k on TikTok. "To me, 'cozy game' is an umbrella term for any feel-good game that gives you the space to escape and unwind," Kennedy explains. "Whatever the actual content, cozy games make you want to curl up with a blanket and fully immerse yourself in a world where you feel at home."
Kennedy not only shares content about games but also small snippets of her cozy lifestyle, which promote things like appreciating the little things in life and creating comforting home environments. "As a community, we can celebrate exactly who we are and how that carries over to other areas of our lives like personal style, decor, other hobbies, etc," Kennedy says. "I also know that I and many cozy gamers see gaming as something that can be integrated into your life in a healthy and beneficial way – particularly when it comes to improving mental health."
The nurturing environment that Kennedy has helped to create online has affected not only fellow fans but also those who are only just getting started with games. "[I've] noticed through my own community comments that the trend allowed those who didn't previously see a place for themselves in the gaming world to feel seen and welcomed, and as a result, were getting into gaming for the first time."
Cozy gaming couple Josh and Sophie of @cozygamescorner on Instagram and TikTok also believe that the appeal of cozy gaming is "the ability to genuinely relax with a game without any rush or pressure and seek out some form of escapism." The pair's Instagram account is filled with warm-feeling photos, meaning even the likes of The Witcher 3, Hollow Knight, or even Fall Guys can be posted alongside the usual suspects and still maintain that cozy aesthetic. The couple believes that the lines have been blurred recently and that "almost any game has the potential to be considered cozy."
But when did the idea of cozy gaming start? Jenny (aka Kimchica) – who you may recognize from her work with Wholesome Games, as well as her own content on Twitch and TikTok – says that: "This is a type of game that has always had an audience, it just used to be a little more challenging to find other like-minded folks." Comparing the games associated with the cozy gaming movement to the likes of Nintendogs, Cooking Mama, and Neo Pets from the early 2000s, Jenny explains: "The communities that formed around these different titles were largely niche and didn't really move into the mainstream. I remember it was even a struggle to find the games themselves!"
All of the content creators I've spoken to about this topic made reference to Animal Crossing: New Horizons and how the timing of its release, which coincided with a worldwide pandemic that forced our lives inside and social calendars online, really boosted the awareness of cozy gaming. Wylde Flowers dev Amanda calls it "the greatest example I'd ever seen of people escaping tough times into a truly cozy world that made them feel safe and like they could relax."
Jenny also mentions the island getaway title, explaining that part of its success was "largely because it was a comforting title in a trying time." She continues: "We are in such a time of turmoil, and cozy games absolutely provide a bit of refuge and relief from that." As Kenndy suggests, we also can't discount the impact of social media platforms like TikTok in this movement: "TikTok played a huge role in identifying and naming 'cozy gamers' and identifying games as 'cozy games' on a large-scale."
Another reason for cozy gaming’s popularity could be down to the accessibility of these titles. Many cozy games – such as Stardew Valley mobile, Assemble with Care, and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp - were designed to be enjoyed on the go, so they’re always on-hand for players to dip into when they need to. The Nintendo Switch’s hybrid functionality also benefits for the same reason by allowing fans to take their favorite cozy games out into the world with them. "A player needs to be able to drop into a cozy game and breathe a sigh of relief, knowing they're in a safe place where they can just be," says Amanda. Jenny also supports this theory by saying: "There's a level of access that cozy games have that's quite appealing. [...] Many of these titles can be found on mobile, which I would argue almost everyone has access to, making them easy for folks who don't traditionally consider themselves 'gamers' to pick up and play."
It's clear that the cozy gaming community is thriving right now with countless games on the horizon and new fans joining the wholesome online space every day. In fact, the thing that is continuing to give the cozy gaming movement momentum is its fans; people who are just looking to take time to themselves every once in a while and who want to encourage others to do the same. As Kennedy tells me: "I feel so passionately about nurturing this safe and cozy space in the gaming world. I hope with more and more cozy gamers joining the community, we will continue to grow this welcoming space, and more people can recognize the value that a cozy game can have in their life."
Wondering what cozy game you should try out next? Take a look at our new indie games 2022 list.