What free games do you like to play when you’re broke and bored?
It’s no secret that inflation is rising at an exponential rate around the globe, and the increasing cost of living with it has made everyone a bit more skint than usual. Video games for many are an escape from reality or a means of relaxing and unwinding (yes, even if the game is sweaty or stressful), but when your bank account balance is looking like you’re staring down the barrel of ice cube soup and packet noodles until the next payday, buying and playing a new game is often one of the first ‘luxuries’ to be cut.
As a person who believes she deserves a little treat every single day for navigating the mortifying ordeal of existing, not being able to buy said treat because I need to save money is a rough cop. But that’s where free games come in – hours of enjoyment without having to scrounge for pennies or work out what else to trim from my budget. It’s a win-win, all things considered, and a balm to the stresses of day-to-day life without lumping on additional stress about how much it’ll cost me.
Now, of course, there’s a whole bunch of free games out there to try, and even more if you happen to already have a subscription to something like PS Plus, Apple Arcade, or Xbox Game Pass. But assuming that gaming subscription services have also been cut from your budget, what do you play when you feel like you’re in NPC idle mode and want to snap out of it, but you’re also living a caviar lifestyle on a fish-finger budget?
For me, I often turn to good old live service games and white knuckle past the cosmetics stores with all their tantalising shapes and colours (with great difficulty). Fortnite is a pretty common fixture, but Valorant also gets a look-in from time to time. The multiplayer aspect means I can drag in friends if I want to get some no-cost socialising in without having to leave or clean my house, and keeps things fresh and interesting.
A rare but guilty pleasure of mine when I am very small and have no money (so you can imagine the kind of stress I’m under) is to hark back to my childhood browser game joys of Poptropica and Neopets, in a move I’d describe as akin to David’s recent piece on the games you turn to when the ol’ mental health is taking a dive.
However, one of the bigger games that I think probably takes the cake for my top free pick given the sheer amount of hours I can sink into it in a dazed stupor without shelling out any money is The Sims 4. While I do have a number of the expansion packs pre-purchased, the base game itself is fully free and just as enjoyable. Make your Sims do all the shit you can’t afford to do, like buy a house, go out on the town, or type in a money cheat so you never have to lift a finger again! The possibilities span ahead of you in infinite directions and for infinite hours, and we all know The Sims is a hot contender for ‘games you’ll play obsessively for a week, forsaking basic human needs to attend to, before abandoning for six months.’
All of these are relatively big titles, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t great free games from indie devs and smaller studios to try out too. There’s all sorts of fantastic little gems to check out on the free section of Itch.io, like The VHS Paradise, short Aussie narrative game A Long Goodbye, or visual novel A Date With Death. Just about any genre you can think up, there’s an Itch.io game for that (it’s worth noting that while these games are free, there’s the option to pay/donate what you feel to support the devs, and when you’re less broke, I’d highly recommend doing so.). Whatever genre you’re in the mood for, there’s likely a free game out there to scratch that itch when you’re pinching pennies.
Here’s where I turn the question to you, Kotaku Australia readers. While I’ve got my favourite free games to dabble in when the wallet is tight and I’m looking for some entertainment, I want to know what your go-to is. What free games are your top picks, and why? Have you found yourself getting more into no-cost titles over the last twelve months since the cost-of-living and rental crises have worsened across Australia and the world? No game is too big, too small, or too out-there – I’m keen to hear your recommendations to share with other thrifty (and broke) readers looking for something different to check out without having to shell out any dollarydoos. Share away in the comments.
Image: EA / Maxis
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