Are cute, cuddly and ‘cosy’ games taking over the video game world?

Why many gamers are opting for softer versions of video games and how they are different from the competitive variety

By Husna Murad

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One businessman sits, relaxed, in virtual reality generated by artificial intelligence
One businessman sits, relaxed, in virtual reality generated by artificial intelligence

Published: Thu 28 Dec 2023, 7:00 PM

Amid the popularity of action-packed battle mode and vast open-world games, the wholesome trend of ‘cosy games’ is making waves across the gaming world. Called ‘cosy games’ for their low competition drives and relatively calm gameplay, these small games pull people in with their comforting aesthetics and quick wins.

Bored of her everyday metro commute, UAE expat and real estate agent, Angel Roni downloaded a few cosy games on her phone. “When I’m on the way to work, I don’t usually have anything to do and keep thinking of my tasks for the day. But it tends to stress me out so I play these games to distract myself,” says Roni.

She started playing ‘Fill the Fridge’, a stacking game that allows you to take an assortment of grocery items and organise them inside a fridge. The difficulty increases as you progress in the levels. “It doesn’t take a lot of brain power for sure but it’s just enough of a challenge that I don’t find it boring,” says Roni.

Players looking for a calm yet productive pastime often gravitate towards games that tend to not overstimulate them in their downtime. These games usually have quick play levels with immediate achievement satisfaction.

“For the past six years, I’ve had anxiety and stress in my life, so I try to calm down and meditate by playing these mobile games. They help me to refocus when I need to take a deep breath during the day,” says Roni.

Since the start of the gaming industry in the 1970s, e-sports have developed into a multi-billion dollar global industry with no signs of slowing down in its ascent. Franchises like Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, and Fifa bring in hundreds of millions in the year of their release.

Popular video games are usually found to be riddled with giant machine guns, blaring music tracks, and fan-favourite violence and gore. However, there are gamers who tend to gravitate towards a quieter and more soothing experience. Recently, cosy games like ‘It Takes Two’, ‘Overcooked’ and ‘Animal Crossing’ took the gaming world by storm with their vibrant animations and challenges that keep players coming back. The game ‘Stray’ brought in over Dh172.6 million since its release in 2022 according to Steam.

“If you ask my brother, who is a hardcore gamer, he’d say that cosy games are incredibly boring. It’s more about why you play them and what fits your lifestyle. These games fit mine,” says Roni.

Dubai-based game developer and gaming journalist Sahil Bajaj says what a player considers a cosy game can be quite subjective. “My cosy game would be something that is hyperviolent and I’m just mowing things down while for someone else it would be light music and a cute, comfortable aesthetic.”

“I’m a competitive person in my daily life,” says Roni. “So, I need to find a game that’s a little challenging but not too much that I’m driving myself crazy by competing with myself. That doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy other faster games but sometimes you just want to not scream at your screen in frustration. Or at other people.”

While cosy games like ‘It Takes Two’ are created for more than one player, frequent gamer Matthias Eze believes that playing with others does not do justice to games marketed as cosy. “There’s less anxiety to do better in cosy games than in other games where you compete with people. I also don’t have to keep listening to other players to keep up with them in multiplayer,” says Eze, a university student in Dubai.

High-action, online multiplayer games like ‘Call of Duty’ and ‘Fortnight’ do bring millions of people together but players often end up exasperated with teammates and the competition. With cosy multiplayer games like ‘Animal Crossing’, the community built around social simulation and world-building is much more likely to “sustain friendship” according to Eze.

However, cosy games do tend to be limited in the customisation of layout and characters than other game styles. While that may appeal to some players, others find the lack of options a little restrictive. “I spent almost 20 minutes trying to figure out how to change the colour of the fridge in the game but it just wasn’t an option,” says Roni.

According to Bajaj, who has developed games for independent projects, cosy games are cheaper to make than more competition-driven action games. Cosy games’ developers are usually considered indie with a lot of their production being independent or solo projects with little funding to start with. Catering to players that are quite forgiving of lower-quality graphics and sparse character movement, cosy games do not always get the high financial backing that their high-action-based counterpart productions with well-established franchises do.

"It's not just about the production value of cosy or indie games either, it's consumers preferring to spend money on popular franchises that have a solid place in the game world rather than a new name that they think could potentially be a waste of money,” says Bajaj.

However, a cosy game can be much more complex than the name suggests. Players find that cosy games have a calm aesthetic and pleasant colour but they can also have underlying tones of current socio-economic concerns.

“Cosy games are very spread out and diverse. A lot of the times they are just baseline cute, but they also have things behind them that take away from the cuteness if you think about it,” says Bajaj. “The game ‘Donut County’ is like that. It allows players to have mindless fun with a hole devouring all these donuts but then you realise that it's a metaphor for gentrification and capitalism in our society.”

For Roni, cosy games are just about escapism. “I want to not think for a bit, so I bring my phone out and play a game that lets me do exactly that,” she says.

The tragedy and violence of role play and war-based storyline games being replaced by the comfort and calm of cosy games is probably a farfetched idea but that does not mean cosy games are not here to stay and grow.

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