Tis the season for lots of stress - the holidays and end of semester hysteria usually leave me wanting to crawl under a rock and hibernate for a few weeks - so Ian Bogost's latest Persuasive Games column for Gamasutra was a welcome read through. The topic this time is on what makes a truly relaxing game. fl0w and Cloud, for all their appearances of being 'meditative' and relaxing games, are what Bogost terms "lean forward games". That is, they're twitchy and responsive and don't exactly lend themselves to a truly relaxing experience, no matter how soothing the visuals may be. He also gives a nod to my favourite series of relaxation-through-repetitive-task games:
... the most Zen gardening in a video game by far is in Harvest Moon. The daily reaping, milking, chicken lifting, and related chores require precision, duty, and calm. The crop watering is my pick for the most calming, especially on the Game Boy or DS where the tile-based graphics more explicitly frame which square is which.
Harvest Moon emphasises the repetition of simple tasks as much as, if not more than, their outcomes. Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon are games that invite the player to complete these tasks independent of the long-term goals they facilitate. Both are games one might boot up late at night, before bed, to wind down.
Nothing like infinitely repeating tasks that includes flinging chickens around the barnyard to make for a soothing play experience. It's a nice little article and a shift from the usual Bogost fare, and he makes some interesting points on the nature of relaxing games.
Persuasive Games: Video Game Zen [Gamasutra]