As the daily stresses and strains of our everyday lives nibble away at our sanity, it is important to take stock, to step back if for a moment, and refocus. It is all too easy to become enveloped, too wrapped up in whatever eats away at us. It’s also very common to take these challenges home with us, either venting our frustrations to our partners and friends or keeping our minds racing as we lie awake at night. (Both I’ve been guilty of at times.)
In a bid to combat (combat is an aggressive term…) or alleviate (ah, that’s better) this, I sought out various sources of calm which can help take the mind away from such bouts of tension.
Relax Melodies by Ipnos Software is my immediate go-to for a burst of gentle, soothing audio. The ability to assemble a melody of sounds from a wide variety of effects is great, and the basic free version offers plenty of choices. (I’m partial to campfire + waves + thunder.) I often find a short session of this on the train home hugely beneficial.
Loffee is a relatively new find for me but is perfect for soft, lo-fi background music when focusing on tasks at hand, whether it be compiling spreadsheets, presentations, producing technical drawings or even just reading a book. There’s a nice mix of tunes available (again for free), collated under headings such as “Morning Coffee”, “Winter Woods” and “Rainy Days”. This has helped me get through a number of projects and tight deadlines.
In addition, Spotify’s extensive collection of mindful playlists & albums have come through for me in spades lately. Two particular favourites are Rain on the City by Traxlab and Ocean Escapes, both of which tend to overcome any bout of insomnia.
I could not mention “insomnia” without also praising the work of Dearest Scooter’s Sleep With Me Podcast. I first discovered his show when I was in the middle of a low point several years ago, and to this day it still never fails to work wonders. I cannot reccomend this enough.
So we’ve covered Work and Rest… What about Play?
I find gaming to be a great way to escape and lose myself for a few hours, but not every game provides a calming, mindful experience. In fact, most are the opposite, and i think this leaves the medium with a negative stigma sometimes, especially by those who don’t experience it for themselves. I therefore looked for a number of titles that could provide just that. Here are a few recent examples that I’ve enjoyed playing.
Far: Lone Sails is a beautiful game. For me, this is partly due to its complete lack of UI. No icons or info to obscure and detract from the game’s wonderful visuals, the experience is pure and compelling. Matched with a truly atmospheric soundtrack, you embark on a journey whilst micromanaging your vehicle’s fuel, speed and other elements. However, this never gets out of hand or too frustrating, leaving you to enjoy the rolling landscapes and the intriguing puzzles along the way.
Aer: Memories of Old has a sublime flying mechanic which sees you soar among the clouds as a bird in a world of floating islands, as you explore the realm’s ancient ruins and relics of the past, which provide clues to saving the land. Again, the interface is almost non-existant save for a compass at the top of the screen, and the geometric art style is incredibly pleasing, as well as the movement.
Rime has some of the slickest animations and colourful enviroments I’ve seen in a long time. Unreal Engine 4 does a lot of work here, and it shows. An almost cartoon like graphical style, you explore the mediterranean-inspired world as a young boy, solving puzzles along the way. I’ve only just started the game, but I was entranced by it from the start. Even the movement is fun. Seeing your character awkwardly run through the water, or scramble down a hill is a pleasant change from just a simple jog. I’ve heard the story really tugs at the heartstrings later on, and look forward to seeing where it goes.
I missed the boat on Harvest Moon. Which is why I’m thankful for Stardew Valley. Like to farm as well as explore? Rather be green-fingered than just battle-tested? This game is for you. It’s very easy to lose yourself in growing crops, clearing tress and debris, fishing, upgrading your home and more. The fact that the game was made by one person, Eric Barone makes it even more impressive. A great way to zone out. (When the game eventually lauched on mobile i bought it again instantly… no regrets.) It’s truly a great experience.
I also highly reccomend Yonder and My Time at Portia for adventuring, crafting and establishing your own stake on the land, with both of these set in idyllic 3D environments as opposed to SV’s cheerful 2D pixels.
However, for true zen-like gaming, it’s difficult to beat Euro Truck Simulator 2. (I would argue it still has an edge over its USA conterpart, American Truck Simulator.) Some might find the idea of virtual long haulage boring, but it really can be a relaxing, chilled experience. Find a radio station you like, get comfortable and deliver your cargo on a jaunt across Europe. The developers put out regular updates, and have just recently released a big patch which revists and upgrades a wealth of content. Best enjoyed with a wheel and pedal setup. There is also a very popular unofficial multiplayer mod if you fancy it, which can often lead to hilarity.
There are a few others on my radar which I hope to pick up soon –
- Eastshade – travel an open world as an artist, painting the landscape for NPCs and solving challenges.
- What Remains of Edith Finch – an award-winning story-driven experience.
- Slime Rancher – wrangle slimes in this hugely popular adventure, praised for its relaxing playstyle and game mechanics.
Alternatively, a good book is always a place you can lose yourself in. I’ve recently finished Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, a short but amusingly whimsical tale of a person who finds happiness in a role others deem below them, and who try to “fix” her when all she wants is to be content. I’ve now just started Bird Box (I purposely havent seen the movie yet!) by Josh Malerman. The premise is intriguing to me, and I like the creepy uncertain vibes that the early chapters give off. No spoilers please!
It’s important to make time for yourself, when the world often seems intent on stealing all of it from you. These are just a few ways I try to take a moment, and claw it back when it’s needed most.