Nerves have been sufficiently jangled as of late, not least thanks to the slew of action packed games that have landed in recent months. I crave an altogether more sedate beginning to next year, and so my mind turns to games in which violence, reflex or any other kind of unblinking attentiveness takes a back seat.
Looking for a broader mixture of games? Check out our regularly updated list of the best PC games you can play right now.
Best non-violent games
Primarily we're talking violence-free games here, but I wanted to drill a little deeper than that - so nothing that generally requires a competitive streak. I'm chasing a certain feel rather than a certain category. Flying, walking, puzzling, driving, building, dreaming, climbing, stretching, swinging (not like that), swimming, wondering: these are just a few of the ways in which flashing pixels can make you feel a very different sort of accomplishment.
- Cities: Skylines
- Floating Point
- Kentucky Route Zero
- American Truck Simulator
- World Of Goo
- Getting Over It
- Desert Golfing
- Planet Coaster
- Grow Home
- Slime Rancher
- Mini Metro
- Overcooked 2
- Planet Zoo
- Untitled Goose Game
- House Flipper
An extremely cheap (£2/$3) wingsuit-based gliding game, in which you can soar freely over a vast voxel landscape. It's beautiful to behold, and it's up to you if you want uninterrupted flight or to try to better your own score in a challenge mode that has you circling or flying through rock formations at speed.
Most of all though, it's the sound and feel of the wind roaring around you that makes this sing: that sense of being in another place, free as a bird.
Where can I buy it: Steam.
Some city-building games, as this is, can be fairly exacting affairs - the constant terror of running out of money or being unable to prevent an entire suburb from burning down does not exactly promote relaxation. But Skylines has a particularly tranquil and forgiving take on mayoral simulation - you really, really have to work at it to make a catastrophic error, and even if you do, new citizens will cheerfully stroll back in en masse once you've cleared the mess away.
The core Skylines experience is instead calmly 'painting' districts, pipes and roads, the land a canvas for what most pleases your eye. There is time (and slow-time) aplenty to place the powerlines and water pumps required to make it all function - to build a city in Skylines is to gently lose yourself in an unhurried world.
A game about swimming with the fishies, and the prettiest fishies you've ever seen at that. Abzu is tour of an undersea world that basically looks like a megamix of all the most impressive scenes from Blue Planet. You glide alongside the shoals, or take occasional rides on the back of larger creatures, and the central thrust is the pure joy of whatever burst of colour and flutter it shows you next.
Granted, there is some minor peril in its near-closing moments, but even that its about jaw-dropping magnificence rather than twitchy action. Abzu is a glorious, glorious sight.
A fantastic and free game, Floating Point is grappling hook-based, pressure-free physics from the guy behind Heat Signature and Gunpoint who - full disclosure - is a friend of a couple of folk on staff here. But it's well worth giving it a spin anyway.
Floating Point doesn't start off as a particularly relaxing game, as getting used to the controls and the movement involves repeated failure for a while, but once you've got the feel, you'll be in the zone, free-swinging forever and ever and ever across a minimalistic world of ethereal platforms.
Where can I buy it: Steam.
Kentucky Route Zero
One of very few games included here that could be described as story-based, but KRZ, loosely a point and click adventure but with none of the puzzles, has an entirely different and free-wheeling approach to story than the norm. There is an underpinning tale, but it's more there to tug the camera through a string of powerfully inventive scenes, by turns beautiful and unsettling and usually both, but always tranquil, reflective and encouraging a gentle drift into a different state of mind. You could drift forever on the Zero if you so chose.
KRZ is a tour through a ghostly other-America, and is so dedicated to taking its sweet, gentle time about it that it even saddles one of its lead characters with a limp early on in order to ensure do the same. It will make your mind churn with both emotion and analysis, but never in an exhausting manner; instead, in one that will make you question yourself as well as its characters.
American Truck Simulator
I've said it before and I'll say it again many times over - don't flinch away from the titles, presuming these are dour, overly technical affairs for people who have a picture of a Scania S-Series printed on their phone case. The Truck Sims are, in my experience, the best roadtrip games around - their combination of vast landscapes and (relative to racing games) slow movement effortlessly bringing about a state of zen.
Soaking in the scenery and the sun, tuning the radio to local stations, the lonely strangeness of arriving at a rest stop late a night, the gentle satisfaction of a job completed after (compressed) hours on the road. They are a tonic, and one in which all lorry gonkery can be left at the door.
World of Goo
An old classic now, but a kick-down-the-doors explosion of invention and cheer at the time. This is not historically true, but for me this stretchy, jokey puzzle game marked the point that 'indie games' arrived. Less as a specific moment in time, more as a flag planted in the earth, heralding a new age of PC gaming. None of this is to overlook, however, just how delightful Goo is in its own right. The combination of convincing physics, cartoony animations and some head-spinning switch-ups in the late game makes it an enduring accomplishment of naturalistic, not austere or mechanical, puzzling.
Stretch the goo to build bridges and towers and reach new places: this is what World of Goo is, but it barely begins to describe it. Very much in the category of those games that absolutely become your entire reality for as long as you're playing it; in the zone, never stressed, always intrigued, with the added bonus of using scant but charismatic in-game messages to build your own loose sense of the world behind it.
Getting Over It
This is not a round-up of relaxing games. These are games that take you to another place, another mindset, another kind of absolute focus. Getting Over It, a combination of unforgiving dexterity and endurance challenge and elliptical narration, is a game about pain. It's also a game about making a man with a cauldron for legs use a sledgehammer to climb a mountain, but mostly it's about making you pursue some kind of epiphany through suffering. Keep climbing. Do not succumb to your fears, your exhausation, your fury. Just press on.
You can't get more in the zone than you can with a Bennett Foddy game.
The not-sports sports game. It is about sports, obviously, because the central and only mechanic in it is hitting a ball with a stick, but the endless sands of Desert Golfing pursue a very different vibe from the competitive, adrenal cycles of norm-sport. The holes go on forever; the desert goes on forever; the golf... well, forever.
This is a stable genius' pastime of choice re-imagined not as a penis comparison contest for rich old men, but instead as a state of zen, an ambient challenge of you vs the elements, dreamlike, peaceful and non-judgmental. Desert Golfing state of mind.
Where can I buy it: Steam.
The least game-like game here, it nonetheless achieves that special something-something I'm looking for: it grabs a hold of my mood and my mind, it makes me aspire for something other than power, and it makes me lose myself to the idea that I am something other than myself without weapons, enemies or even goals. Mountain to some extent plays itself, but it requires a certain amount of nurture if it is to change and grow.
Things happen while Mountain runs in the background. Your breath will catch in your throat while you wait for those moments. Relaxing? No, not really an accurate description of the surge of excitement you'll feel when your Mountain sprouts a new feature or utters a new proclamation.
Frontier's game of rollercoaster construction is effectively one of endless tinkering, to lose yourself to a grand act of design with a potentially stupendous pay-off. Remeniscent of theme-park builders of old, the game takes classic ideas and builds upon it with a spectacular array of features.
It can involve a great deal of in-the-zone patience both during building and, depending on how restrained you've been, riding. The seemingly endless minutea can be overwhelming, but for a non-violent foray into gaming, Planet Coaster is the place to be.
I could have filled this piece with walking simulators, but really I wanted to demonstrate that self-consciously low-key games are not the only way to achieve that off-in-another-headspace feel I'm so preoccupied with lately. Bernband is a game about exploring an alien city. Usually such a concept involves shooting monsters and criminal gangs and all that Mos Eisley jazz, but in Bernband's case it's all about just soaking up an otherworldly atmosphere, taking in the sights and sounds of a place that might just exist in the far reaches of the galaxy.
A combination of the comfortingly familiar mainstays of Earth cities and the unsettling (yet unthreatening) possibilities of the alien. Lovely, lovely noodling.
Where can I buy it: Game Jolt.
This outta-nowhere exploring'n'climbing gem from Ubisoft is arguably best played with a child at your side, but what's the point in being grown-up if you can't be childish sometimes? It's the tale of a crash-landed robot bringing vast plants to life - think cosmic Jack and the Beanstalk - in order to make his way back home. Partly it's about figuring out a route via some gentle puzzling and jumping, partly it's just about haring about a tranquil world seeing what does what. A joy of exploration and experimentation.
I should note that, somewhat at odds with the piece's concept, the cute ickle wobot can be 'killed' by falling-based misadventure, but will be immediately reconstituted back at the most recent waypoint.
I know that looks an awful lot like a gun, but honest, it's more of a vacuum cleaner. You use it to herd around and feed (mostly) friendly slime-creatures whose excretions can a) be used to create new types of creature and b) sold on in order to then purchase other, er, flavours of poo yourself. While this may sound gruesome, it's all presented with cute aplomb, just part of a general tilt towards adorableness - though you'll regularly feel deep frustration at the misbehaviour of your herd while you're trying to get gelatinous types to do (or eat) particular things. There's also a side order of chicken- and crop-farming to help keep things tranquil. In contrast, there is a small element of exploding monsters to deal with at certain points, but it's all jolly cartoony.
RPS' favourite number-puzzle game, although by and large we feel that the later Hexcells Infinite is the better game. The first one's a much easier entry point, however, and you should probably dip your toes into its ambient, logical waters before proceeding to Infinite. Hexcells is gentle without being easy, coaxing you into a laid-back state of mind while making the number-crunching bits of your brain gnaw pleasantly on its hex colour-switching conundrums.
One of those where, even if you've gone into it feeling altogether dubious about this whole maths business, you'll suddenly come to finding that hours have passed in an entirely pleasant whirl.
Effectively, Zelda without the fighting. Which is to say exploration and puzzle solving in a beautiful, open outdoor space, where running, jumping, climbing and swimming are your key verbs. Rime doesn't even try to push you into particular directions or actions, in the main, instead allowing you to look around, experiment and enjoy slow and sometimes startling acts of discovery. It regularly cascades into new and surprising places and situations, and though it does occasionally place you in harm's way, you never do harm yourself.
A beautiful thing that takes the best parts of Zelda, Tomb Raider, Uncharted and Prince of Persia, then liberates them from the stereotypical requirement for bloodshed.
This is presuming you don't consider the absorption of or by other faceless, amoeba-like blobs to be an act of violence. If such a concept doesn't have you reaching for the smelling salts, Osmos' biological puzzling is a 2009-vintage treat, and which somehow feels simultaneously microscopic and cosmic in scale. As I say, the key mechanic is to absorb other cell-like beings in order to grow in mass, but pursuing them involves the expulsion of some of your own matter, thus creating a constant risk/reward tension. But it's always calming and colourful with it.
Not just violence and action-free, but also beautifully successful at ripping away the fiddliness and presumed knowledge of both management games and simulation games. Mini Metro is all about building underground rail lines, but it eschews numbers and finances in favour of efficiency and experimentation. What route can you draw - with lovely, fluid coloured lines that very strongly evoke a metro map - that collects passengers from various commuter hotspots then takes them to their destinations as quickly as possible, while avoiding the delays of overcrowding and adjacent lines?
It's a logic puzzle game that never feels like a logic puzzle game, and has plenty of the beautiful moments where everything just snaps into place and flows beautifully.
A truly ingenious and devastatingly pretty game that somehow fuses jigsaw puzzle ethos with the kind of reality-shifting lateral thinking that something like Myst could only wish it had. Gorogoa, however, is extremely difficult to describe in terms of any other game, and is a real original, but at the same time feels as though it has always existed. Essentially, you overlay 'panels' from its succession of grids onto each other, which, done correctly, cause new scenes to flower, and which simultaneously tell the twisting tale of one person's life and a folkloric backstory. Really though, this is yer actual 'picture speaks a thousand words' incarnate, and can only be understood by experiencing it.
The delicacy of its puzzles is astounding - whenever it seems about to collapse into frustrating complexity, it eases itself - and you - gently back to rewarding intuition.
Currently residing in early access, Dorfromantik is a charming puzzle game due to have a full launch very soon. Thiscalming and soothing game sees you build a pastoral landscape from the ground up. Build villages, plant forests and wind rivers - the world is your oyster in this tile-based delight.
There are currently two modes on offer here: an open-ended creative mode and one where players can challenge themselves to beat the high score, which can result in some tough tile-placement decisions in order to gain the most points. Dorfromatik is still a very relaxing game overall, though, as it taps into our innate need to plan, construct and shape an entire area to our own design.
KeyWe. What a concept. You and a partner play as two job-hunting kiwi birds that (somehow) get hired at an outback post office. Chaos, of course, ensues. Weirdly the fact that two fuzzy birds are in charge of your telegrams isn’t the strangest part: the other staff member is an octopus.
The game takes place on various levels that spans a year’s worth of time; new mechanics and themes being introduced with each turn of the season. Whereas the game is full of action and fast-paced co-operative tasks, there is no violence to be seen, just pure unadulterated avian antics.
The improved and expanded sequel to the original Overcooked is one of the best multiplayer games released recently, and the only violent tendencies will come from outside the game. Essentially, Overcooked 2 is a chaos management sim. Players must work together to overcome the stress of running a kitchen and sending meals out on time - while pushing past absurd obstacles like haunted counters and pedestrians getting in the way.
Overcooked can be played alone or with others - we recommend single player mode to anyone who doesn’t want to create a rift between their teammates. Other than that, the game is a raucously good time.
Where can I buy it: Steam.
Thanks to a recent update celebrating the second anniversary of the game, Planet Zoo now has lemurs. This adds another option to the long list of fuzzy (and not so fuzzy) creatures just waiting to have a sufficient home built for them. Similar to Planet Coaster, Frontier Developments second offering allows players to build their own zoo attraction.
The list of things to do to create a livable and profitable environment is never ending - did you add enough humidity to the tree frog's vivarium? Is the lion's enclosure safe? Are there enough toilets for the customers? Whatever the progress you’ve made, these sandbox zoos will keep you entertained and involved for many an hour.
Where can I buy it: Steam.
Untitled Goose Game
Honk. Honk honk. Enter a crudely drawn goose with an instrument of sorts in its beak. But fear not - this game is not about violence and crime: it is about mere irritation. The aim is to waddle around creating a wave of havoc in your wake by completing such objectives as ‘steal the hat’, or ‘get on T.V.’.
As hectic as the goose’s schedule is, Untitled Goose Game presents a relaxing little challenge in a very British town setting, with a few levels to keep you busy. Anyway, back to business... *continues smashing the honk button*
Time for something a little different. Possibly one of the most boring game concepts - literally watching paint dry among other things - House Flipper has become a solid name in the game industry thanks to its mundane but addictive play. It truly realises the millennial dream of fixing up a house (without us having to pay for it).
Boasting many expansions featuring gardens, luxurious items and cyberpunk themed spaces, House Flipper is a highly recommended time-sink to take your mind off the immense combat scenes of todays’ blockbuster titles.