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Cozy Gaming in a Chaotic World: How “Vibes” Defined a Genre

Video games have always been an extensive entertainment category, but with the rise of cozy games in the past few years, this intangible feeling has come to define an entire subgenre of games.

What Is A Cozy Game?

While cozy games have existed for decades, the term rose to popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic. With most of the world’s population isolating indoors, cozy hobbies, such as reading, art, and knitting, caught the world by storm; in the same vein, many people were also introduced to gaming for the first time and tried to find games that invoked that same pleasant feeling.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is one such game that skyrocketed during this period. Released on March 20, 2020, this new installment within the Animal Crossing series brought players to a deserted island, where, over the course of real time, they could create the island paradise of their dreams.

Games like this appealed to both seasoned gamers and those who have never held a controller in their life. Most goals in Animal Crossing: New Horizons are set by the player, and because of the sheer amount of design options, the game promotes creativity and collaboration.

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There isn’t a catch-all answer for what specifically defines a cozy game. Unlike other video game subgenres, such as first-person shooters, platformers, or RPGs, cozy games are not defined by a specific game mechanic or design. Instead, cozy games are spread across genres and are defined by the feelings the players associate with them. Because of this, games that some people describe as cozy might not resonate the same with other gamers.

Low-stakes, Wholesome, and Accessible

Despite the cross-genre nature of cozy games, they often have a lot of traits in common that place them within the genre, such as non-violent mechanics, low-stakes, and light-hearted vibes. The main point of a cozy game is that it shouldn’t make you stressed—if the game makes you feel comforted and safe, then it fits neatly into the genre.

OU Esports member and future cozy ambassador, Asa “Sleepy Cow” Ha, found that cozy games appealed to them in a way that many other popular games didn’t.

“I’m not a very competitive person, so you can imagine that multiplayer competitive games have never quite been my style,” Ha said. “The only reason you’ll see me on Overwatch or League is ‘cause that’s what my friends are playing!

“Cozy games truly feel like they’re for everyone—especially the hardcore gamers when they’re sick of grinding the ranks. At the end of a long day, I just like to pet the virtual cows and powerwash some guy’s private jet.”

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In fact, many popular cozy games feature seemingly mundane tasks. In Powerwash Simulator, one of Ha’s favorite cozy games, the goal is exactly how it seems—powerwash various objects until they are pristine. Farming simulation games have also garnered the cozy reputation.

After the success of Stardew Valley and its inspiration, Harvest Moon, other farming sims have followed in their footsteps. The recently released Coral Island resembles games like Stardew Valley with its loveable cast of characters but puts a spin on the farming mechanics by adding a storyline centered around healing the island after a catastrophic oil spill.

Simplicity is key when it comes to cozy games. They don’t require hours of grinding or practice to succeed—you play when you can, for as long as you want. There is something for everyone in the cozy game genre.

Inclusivity and Diversity in the Genre

Regardless of their entertainment factor, cozy games have been groundbreaking within the gaming sphere. Many cozy games are story-driven, which opens the window for sharing voices that often go unheard or underrepresented.

Ha strongly advocates cozy games as a means for diverse representation.

“Another difficult but cozy game, Celeste, has served as an icon for trans representation in video games ever since it came out. More and more these days, cozy games are the head of incorporating all of our unique identities into what we’re playing!” Ha said.

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Story-driven games, such as Celeste, often appeal to the player because of the intimate connection they offer with the characters within them. Coffee Talk, a visual novel game developed by indie studio Toge Productions, is one such example of a cozy game that uses its characters and story to draw players in. The actual game mechanics are very simple—serve coffee to customers who come to your coffee shop. But it is through the customers themselves and the conversation they offer that the story truly comes to life.

As you chat with customers of various species, gender, and race, you learn more about who they are. They share their likes, dislikes, preferred coffee order (or tea!), and most importantly, their story. Coffee Talk is categorized as a cozy game because of this concept—through visiting a coffee shop, where characters themselves are trying to decompress, they ultimately show what it means to be human and how that often isn’t tied to dramatic battles or legendary heroes.

The cozy game community is also heralded for its welcoming community for gamers of all types. Historically, marginalized communities have struggled to find space within gaming communities, but cozy games have offered a place for these individuals to feel at home.

Platforms like Reddit and X have become hubs for cozy game recommendations and general chats about these games. Many content creators have built their platforms off of playing these games and have garnered large audiences due to the inherent range of genre within the realm of cozy games.

Cozy games are ultimately about eliminating the barriers that divide us and offering an escape that many people desperately need. In a high-stress world, the ability to disconnect from reality through a game, whether micro-managing a pixelated farm or crafting homes for various animals, is invaluable.

Contributor’s Favorite Cozy Games

Asa “Sleepy Cow” Ha: Undertale, Overcooked, Powerwash Simulator, Astroneer, and Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion

Katlyn “BReADmastrr” Don Carlos: Stardew Valley, Spiritfarer, Townscaper, A Short Hike, and Viscera Cleanup Detail