The Rise of Cozy Gaming

March 25, 2022

You may ask, “What is cozy gaming?”  Or you may already have a few games that you can think of. Perhaps a few include an apron-wearing tanuki overlord, maybe you escort spirits to the Everdoor, or happily take over your grandpa’s farm. Whatever comes to mind, cozy gaming is a style of game that invokes safety, abundance and has a low-stress vibe. So if one of your favorite game mechanics is petting dogs, these are the games for you, at least sometimes.

Cozy gaming has been around for a long time, and the footsteps of the genre began with Harvest Moon in 1996. Harvest Moon is a quiet little RPG-style game where you interact with the villagers, take care of animals, and curate a farm. Though considered one of the footsteps toward cozy games, the original Harvest Moon doesn’t quite make the cut today because there is loss that has negative moral weight in the game, as livestock can be killed. 

In the spring of 2020, we saw the fifth installment of Animal Crossing released to wide acclaim. Animal Crossing is a beloved series and the first series to hold today’s definition of a cozy game. Animal Crossing: New Horizons sold 37.62 million copies. That is more copies than The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Since then, there has been a boom in cozy gaming, with Unpacking winning multiple awards and a vast community rallying around Stardew Valley.

What are the criteria for cozy gaming?

Cozy gaming must meet a specific list of criteria, but keep in mind these are more like guidelines for the genre rather than hard rules. These pieces are why the games are so alluring, especially when you want something calm to play. The idea behind a cozy game is to provide the environment for higher-level needs and intrinsic value. Providing a place to explore needs beyond what we need for basic survival. 

The first piece is Safety. These games do not have any risk involved; unlike many other game titles, any risk that does exist is optional. There is no high-risk action to take in the game, and there is no detrimental loss or threat looming over you in the game. The game provides an environment where you can rely on it, trust it, and not worry about a negative impact. 

Next, we have Abundance. You do not have to worry about basic needs within the game. Food and shelter are provided unquestionably, leaving you as a player able to focus on relationship building, beauty, self-reflection and actualization, and a feeling of belonging. This can be the most profound part of a cozy game, especially if our outside lives are stressful. 

The last piece of a cozy game is Softness. This piece is mastery from the developers, who create an environment and experience that keeps you as a player comfortable and allows the game to progress without excessive stress. The game wants to keep you calm, relaxed, and present. As a result, you won’t find much, if any, adrenaline-inducing scenes in a cozy game. 


What breaks a cozy game?

There are a lot of game elements that can disqualify a game from being cozy. Extrinsic rewards like items, loot, or achievements are an example. Elements of danger or threat will break the feeling, responsibility, and emotional labor needed to execute responsibilities. An outside presence or non-consensual social presence in these simulated peaceful environments can feel like a threat or deception and create a feeling of insincerity.

There are many factors that make or break a cozy game. The original Harvest Moon has the negative loss involved, disqualifying it from the list. Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild feels very cozy at times, but it does not meet the criteria for the cozy genre. It has elements of loss, danger, and responsibility, but most agree it is a cozy game regardless. 

Cozy games are a balanced act of motivators to keep the player in a creative space where they can enjoy the game without motivators that may add to real-world stress. 

Are all cozy games cute?

In short, cozy games do not have to be cute. However, cute is something humans inherently love. According to Dr. Sandra Pimentel, a psychologist at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York, you can write it off to our evolution. “If we think about evolution, our goal as a species is to survive and pass on our genes.” It appeals to an internal desire to nurture our needs. 

A cozy game may include many qualities, such as home, wealth, politeness, and childlike wonder. All of these appeal to some part of an average experience that fills something we are lacking in real life or could be lacking in real life. Adults do not outgrow our need to play, and these games help appeal to the innocence of playing for the sake of how it feels and not a reward. 

Through the element, cute and cozy hard conversations and topics can be tackled in a healing manner. Games like SpiritfarerWhen The Past Was Around, and Graveyard Keeper tackle difficult topics while also keeping the player in the realm of self-actualization. All of the design elements of the gameplay together to create a low-stress, homey, emotionally available environment from the aesthetic to sound design to the controls. 

In the End

Cozy games have been cultivated for a reason over the last 20 years. Some game developers believe there has always been a market for them, and we are only at the beginning of the journey with the development of cozy gaming. They fill something for many of us that we are not getting in our lives and allow us to spend time on introspection while also providing a distraction. 

There is no shame in loving these kinds of games or avoiding them if they do not appeal to you. They showcase an extraordinary power in video games and give additional avenues for people to design worlds, experiences, and stories that feed a different part of the human experience. 

If you need help getting your hands on a PC that can help you pave a new cozy world into existence or allow you to engage in a cozy world, Xidax is always here to help! Until then, game on!

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