They're moments you've seen before, and will see again. The miraculous, twitch-reflex headshot from across the map. The tightly coordinated teamfight that clinches the match. A fluke in card game RNG that ruins the best-laid plans. Some unexpected improv comedy by way of multiplayer hijinks. These kinds of highlights happen regularly in the most prominent games being watched on Twitch and YouTube, keeping perpetually popular staples like Fortnite, League of Legends, Counter-Strike, and Hearthstone planted firmly at the top of the heap. People tune in to the most-viewed games because they're all but guaranteed to be constantly engaged, be it by lively hosts, high-level plays, or steady in-game action. But as of late, I've found myself most contented by the polar opposite: low-stakes, leisurely games that must seem positively mundane by typical Twitch standards. Turns out, there's a whole wide world of streaming enjoyment beyond the realm of the hottest games being played by the most energetic people.
I've become hooked on watching chip-ins from the bunker that gently roll into the hole for an Eagle. Birds chirping and people politely clapping after a perfect tee shot. Nights spent cruising down freeways in a big rig, taking care not to damage the cargo. Troublesome left turns when AI drivers struggle with the rules of the road. These moments and the games that create them might sound like a recipe for voluntarily narcolepsy to you, and I'll readily admit that they're not exactly riveting, edge-of-the-seat thrill rides. But there's a distinct charm to the streams and VODs of gameplay that soothes rather than excites, performed by people whose volume rarely rises above an inside voice. And the more I watch, the more I'm convinced that a bit of laid-back, literally casual gameplay is a healthy addition to any balanced viewing diet. There's a reason everyone adored Twitch's revival of The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross, beyond mere nostalgia: people often forget how therapeutic a bit of quiet, calming, light-hearted entertainment can be amidst the entropic chaos of our daily lives.
If you're still reading, then you must be the kind of open-minded, good-looking individual (with impeccable taste) who's willing to give these alternative streams a shot. Allow me to evangelize my two favorite content creators as of late, starting with Ian 'Brutalmoose' Macleod. I'd long been a fan of the Brutalmoose channel on YouTube, which covers everything from old PC games and direct-to-video kids movies to bizarre game shows and recipes that date back to the 1950s. But I only recently discovered the magic of his totally chill livestreams, which highlight such action-packed games as American Truck Simulator, Shenmue, and Animal Crossing. Watching Ian drive a semi while he calmly chats with his audience, smooth jazz playing in the background all the while, is relaxing in ways I'd liken to a midday nap on a sunny, breezy beach.
Next up is Simon 'Smurphboy' Murphy, whose YouTube channel I stumbled onto while idly searching for gameplay of the PS4 exclusive Everybody's Golf. At the moment, the view counts on his videos are typically in the double digits - but dammit if I don't find myself watching his nine-hole course replays on a daily basis. Playing golf is typically thought to be a leisure activity - and watching someone else hit the links even more so - but Murphy's soothing commentary, complete with English accent and idioms like "Oh my days," is what really puts the tranquility over the top. Murphy is unfazed whenever his shots stray from the fairway, and politely pleased as he sinks yet another effortless putt for a Birdie. His demeanor is the perfect complement to Clap Hanz's playful take on the game of golf that's given the series such longevity.
What I find so endearing about these two channels is the homey vibe their hosts create based on games that'll never take the internet by storm. Performance is a huge part of finding popularity and success on Twitch and YouTube, in the sense that both expert ability and emoting to almost cartoonish degrees can work wonders for building an audience. But Ian and Simon don't seem to be preoccupied by dreams of superstardom on the front page, shattering concurrent viewer records as their chat floods with LULs left and right. They're enjoying easygoing games that encourage skillful play without demanding it. Sharing that experience with the audience, as directly as possible, is what's important.
They're not constantly mugging to the camera or yelping in mock-disbelief at in-game misfortune. They're playing games the same way I (and likely most people) do: to simply have a good time, without the need to try and turn every other moment into something worthy of a Twitch Clip or a highlight reel. Fundamentally, it’s about imparting the quieter, nuanced, equally valuable experiences these games were designed to gift us, rather than wrapping everything in the same loud, animated, but relatively straightforward hype that makes for more certain commercial success. In an industry increasingly in a spectacle arms race with itself, it’s refreshing - not to mention healthy - to have a place where we can soak up the wider, more eclectic world of gaming (and life) experiences.
Finding the right fit
American Truck Simulator and Everybody's Golf may not be your cup of tea, and that's just fine. I think it's more important to recognize the commonalities between these games and others like them, which can help you discover the channels and humble hosts that best suit your tastes. At a fundamental level, the stakes are incredibly low; you're not competing directly against other players to prove your mental or technical superiority. This isn't esports, with fired-up shoutcasters, flashy main stages, and huge monetary rewards on the line. It's not speedrunning, which can be rife with nail-biting close calls, anxiety-spiking pressure, and crushing misplays. Horror games are out of the question, with their jump scares catering to the streamer who wants to scream their head off for your amusement. There's often no threat of death and defeat, as in a multiplayer shooter, or deflating setbacks, as in a roguelike. You won't find the copious amounts of salt that pours forth whenever the opponent has the perfect answer in a card game.
I wholeheartedly encourage you to seek out your own go-to channel full of low-key entertainment, and see just how relaxing it can be. Twitch is the perfect place to start: simply browse the game directory starting about 15 rows down, and see where that takes you. Thanks to this method, I've now taken a newfound interest in Russian Fishing 4, satisfied at watching virtual anglers dig for worms and cast their lines onto serene lakes. It's great. Perhaps I could also interest you in some archived footage of pinball tournaments (because everyone should appreciate pinball). There's no one correct way to watch games on Twitch and YouTube; you're free to tune in and enjoy whatever suits your fancy at the moment. But if you look past the viewership chart-toppers and take a chance on something a bit mellower, you might find a newfound appreciation for watching games where nothing really happens.
For more ways to pleasantly unwind, take a break with these four games that are all about maximum relaxation.