What mellows you down easy?
Life is stressful, which is a phrase I hate saying because it reminds me of all the stressful things in my life. We’re living in crappy times, and many of us are in crappy situations. Thankfully, things are starting to improve for me, but every day is a constant battle. I’m not trying to turn this into a competition, though. You all know how it is.
Given that video games are my hobby of choice, it seems natural that I use them to relax. But not every title is fit for this purpose. For example, I wouldn’t want to play Overcooked with my parents as a way to unwind. I’d probably only use that if I wanted to give myself a reason to be disappointed in them for a change. Likewise, I don’t use games for escapism. Some people can get lost in World of Warcraft for days at a time, but my mind doesn’t work that way. I just need something calming that sets my mind on the right track and slows my heart rate.
So, what games do I use to max and relax? That depends on what kind of stress I’m under, but here’s a few examples:
Nintendo’s early Super Nintendo flight simulator, Pilotwings, may seem like an unusual choice to unwind with. After all, a lot of it revolves around the stressful task of landing some sort of precarious aircraft on increasingly smaller targets. However, I’ve found that I’ve returned to it time and time again when things get hectic.
There are a few reasons for this. Part of it is the synthetic saxophone music that drones out of the SNES sound chip. There’s something about the SNES’s buzzy music that just loosens me up. SimCity had the same effect. The flight controls in Pilotwings also have a floaty feel to them, and the Mode 7 background scaling conveys a weightless effect. It’s like taking a bath in sour cream.
Oh, but mind the helicopter missions that come out of nowhere and are equal parts frightening and frustrating.
The follow-up, Pilotwings 64, was also a pretty good game to chill out to, though it was somewhat undone by its inclusion of missions wherein you fire rockets at a big metal man.
If you’re familiar with my past articles, you’ve been warned that I’m not going to shut up about Chulip, my beloved game about smooching. It wasn’t an empty threat; it’s a very special game to me. I’ve returned to it many times to get lost in its mundane world filled with oddballs, to bank its currency of kisses, and to take tea after midnight in a graveyard.
Chulip has a simple premise: you play as a Japanese schoolboy who wants to win the girl of his dreams, but she won’t even give him the time of day unless he demonstrates his rampant promiscuity by kissing everyone in town.
The main goal is actually more stressful than it sounds, because Chulip isn’t a game that’s afraid to outright kill you for your failures. It’s a dangerous world for puckered lips. You can die from dangerous playground equipment, a blood-thirsty doctor, dirty hands, or the embarrassment suffered when you don’t practice proper bathing etiquette. It can be a lot to handle.
So what makes this game so relaxing? That would be its embrace of mundane life. What other game lets you have tea with an uptight komainu statue? Where else can you view short Japanese silent films late at night? Why not ring the bell at an old temple to unleash to horrible curse? Chulip is full of quiet moments like waiting for a train or sneaking around a quiet factory after hours.
Of course, to some, these mundane moments might come across as boring, but to me, it never ceases to take me back to quiet summer evenings.
It also helps that its soundtrack is out of this world.
Densha De Go 64
A rather recent acquisition, Densha De Go 64 is a Japanese train simulator. A port of the second game in the series, it’s part of a long-running franchise of games that have touched many platforms. Most of them had their own special controller (sold separately) that furthered the immersion by offering dedicated throttle and brake controls.
It’s a game that requires an awful lot of skill. You can’t be too fast or too slow or you’ll be punished. You need precise braking techniques to stop at the perfect place at each station. Screw up too frequently, and the cute mascot will be extremely disappointed in you.
However, there are plenty of routes where that only require keeping a consistent schedule and watching out for hazards. There are lots of sections where you just keep an eye on your speed, watch the scenery, and listen to the steady click-click of the tracks. Every once in a while a calm voice tells you that a light is coming up and the station announcements are a dull drone in the background.
I mean, then the game pulls the emergency brake on you because you passed the previous two stations three seconds earlier than you were supposed to and you’re deducted 15 seconds from your banked time because it’s a jerk. Whatever, Densha de Go.
I was very tempted to give this spot to a game like Euro Truck Simulator 2 or even American Truck Simulator, mostly because I’ve got a pretty great steering wheel setup for it. And, truthfully, those titles definitely deserve the spot, but I’m going out into left field and gathering up a lesser-known game on PS2 for some casual distance driving.
That game is Road Trip, one of the few entries in the ChoroQ series we received in the West. But while most of the series revolves around racing, Road Trip gives you an enormous seamless world to drive around in. Although the main goal is still to win races, you’re also given quests from other cars and can collect coins and photographs from spots in the world.
But when you’re not doing that, you’re exploring towns or traveling from one location to the other. There are huge swaths of open road for essentially no reason. The other cars putter around the world harmlessly, the landscape is barren in that special PS2 kind of way, and collectables are pretty sparse outside of towns. It’s just you, the hum of your engine, and the open road. Also, its somewhat bizarre soundtrack that slaps along in the background.
Everything about it is stupid, friendly, and cheerful. It’s one of my favorite games to sit down with so I can just turn off my brain and watch the scenery go by.
So, when you’re trying to take your mind off of how difficult life is to endure sometimes — when you’re sprawled out on the couch, buried under blankets, and stocked up on chips — what do you gravitate towards? Is there a specific title you like to pluck off your shelf, or is there simply a genre that draws you in?