You’ve had a rough week. Your boss/client/coworker has been an ass, the world’s a mess, your life’s a mess, and you’re in desperate need of some TLC. But there’s hope! It’s Saturday morning, your calendar is clear and your phone is on mute, so it’s time for some serious comfort gaming.
But as someone who has crossed the line from comfort gaming into “Ow, why did I do that?” more than once, allow me to offer a few suggestions. Nothing takes the shine off your self-indulgence like staggering out of your chair nine hours later wondering when the last time you blinked was.
Shower first. This may seem counter-intuitive. You’re settling in to play a game—you’re in your jammies, maybe yoga pants if you’re a really classy type. But showering first keeps that gross, grungy feeling from setting in. Bonus: your hair will have time to air-dry in exactly the shape you want it!
Snack up. Ideally, a variety of snacks is best. Something sweet, something salty, something fresh, something pizza. Don’t neglect that “something fresh” category! Slice an apple and stick it on a plate with peanut butter or grab a bowl of baby carrots and hummus. Again, this will help you keep from feeling gross (this time on the inside!) when you’re done and allow you to plume yourself on your virtue (and ignore the empty bags of Swedish Fish and popcorn on the floor).
Don’t forget water! In addition to whatever your tipple of choice is, fill up your most optimistically large water bottle and place it at your elbow. Gaming hangovers are real (trust me), and the best way to avoid them is exactly the same way as you avoid an alcohol hangover: hydrate.
Set an alarm. It’s really, really easy, in the throes of a good gaming binge, to throw good judgment to the wind and play a lot longer than you intended. Set an alarm and decide what it means. Maybe you’ll take a break when it goes off and take a walk or talk to another human being. Or maybe the alarm means it’s time to order the pizza. I’m not here to judge you.
Choose your game. This will require a little self-examination. In general, comfort gaming speaks to three different needs. The need for reassurance, the need for release or the need for escape.
For reassurance, all kinds of sims are top-notch. Farming sims like the Harvest Moon games or Stardew Valley are incredibly relaxing and good to not think with. My own comfort game obsession lately has been Rimworld, the scifi colony building sim. My little colonists scurry around filling up their granaries with rice, shearing their alpacas and building wind turbines, and some part of my tension disappears. Definitely pick a game you’ve played before—this is no time to be learning new mechanics.
The same goes for “release” games, the ones you pick up when it’s time for a spot of the old ultra-violence so that you don’t end up in jail for punching an actual person. You don’t want to waste time perfecting a rotation or struggling with a learning curve or combat mechanics that may or may not be well balanced. Hack-and-slash games are good for this because they don’t involve too many complicated moves, generally just a lot of clicking.
Gauntlet is a classic that works well in single-player (a lot of hack-and-slash games are designed for co-op and don’t play as well solo) and lets you get straight to skull-bashing without a lot of preamble.
Finally there are escape games—this is the only category where I’d actually recommend picking up a new game, because the best escapes are those with immersive worlds and enthralling stories that you haven’t yet wearied of. This might be a good time to pick up a back-catalogs RPG you haven’t played from a studio you like. BioWare’s early outing, Jade Empire, is nowhere near as complex as their later offerings, but its a lovely game and a gorgeous world, and, most importantly, it will feel comfortably familiar to anyone who’s every played a BioWare (or BioWare-influenced) game.
For fans of The Witcher 3, this might be the perfect time to go back and find out what Geralt was up to in The Witcher 2—some fans even end up liking this earlier entry in the franchise better, though the graphics naturally can’t muster the same shock-and-awe of the 2015 offering.
An immersive adventure game can work just as well for those who aren’t RPG fanatics—this might be exactly the time to settle down and marvel at the artistry of a game like the 1997 classic The Last Express, a historical adventure set on the Orient Express in 1914, just at the brink of World War I. Or Nancy Drew fans can walk in her shoes through the streets of Venice, Kyoto, and other fabulous locations with Her Interactive’s wonderfully designed mystery games. Either way, you will be somewhere else, living a life just a bit brighter and less stressful than your own.
Playing video games to “escape your problems” gets a bad rap—but what’s better, stewing over things you can’t change, or cheering yourself up with some quality fun time? Just make sure to take care of yourself, and your mood will brighten up in no time. Happy gaming!