For much of my life in gaming, I have mostly gravitated towards big action games. Games with big boss fights, sports games featuring buzzer beaters and big hits, shooters with intense cutscenes, and solving the occasional high-stakes adventure puzzle.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a large wave of “wholesome” games (or sweet/relaxing games). To be clear, not all “wholesome” games are “Family” games. Many of these games deal with serious topics and themes, while others are silly, goofy fun.
My First Wholesome Journey
The game that sort of set me off on a journey to find other “wholesome” gaming experiences was 2016’s Firewatch (Campo Santo). I had no idea what to expect from the game. I was mostly intrigued by the art style (by artist Olly Moss). At this time, I had many art director/graphic designer friends from school who put me onto different artists. As a big fan of Olly Moss’s movie poster designs, I was excited to see this art style translated into a video game world.
While playing through Firewatch, I noticed that there was not much action taking place. The story was great though, and I found myself prepared for something big to happen the entire time, but it never did happen — and that was fine.
Firewatch is a heavily story-driven game that focuses on many topics: including guilt, isolation, and escapism. However, there are no big boss fights, weapons, or anything like that. In the end, Firewatch consisted of a choose your own adventure where you walk around a beautiful forest, while building a remote friendship (via walkie talkie). This was the first real memorable experience I had like this in a game.
Other Wholesome Breaks
After Firewatch, I didn’t only search for “wholesome” games to play. I continued on my path of destruction with action, adventure, shooters, and sports games, but I now began enjoying a “wholesome” break here and there. After an intensely frustrating adventure it is always nice to take a break and enjoy a quiet, relaxing game.
In 2022, I can think of two big “wholesome” games that really surprised me. That’s the thing with these games, on paper many can seem mundane or boring, but you won’t really know until you play them.
The first game was Lake. A game where you play as a woman visiting her small hometown, covering for her father as the town’s postwoman. In Lake, you meet people, have conversations, spread gossip, and form relationships. It’s another choose your own adventure, but you also get to drive around in a mail truck delivering packages and letters to the townspeople. (Previous Lake coverage from myVGBC.com)
The second of my memorable “wholesome” games of 2022 was Unpacking. This feels more like your typical video game due to its level design, where you unpack items in different homes each level. The sweet part is that this is actually the story of one person’s life, as they move from home to home. It begins as a relaxing adventure, but becomes more overwhelming since this person continues to accumulate more and more items. This one is almost a mix of relaxing and chaotic, depending on the player. I still need to finish a few levels in Unpacking. (Previous Unpacking coverage from myVGBC.com)
Recent Wholesome Adventures
There are currently two similar “wholesome” games that I recently played on my PlayStation 5. The first was Beasts of Maravilla Island, which didn’t quite click for me. You basically walk around an enchanted island taking photos and discovering new species. Maybe I didn’t play long enough, but I was hoping for a bit more.
The second game also features photography, but also features much more. That game is SEASON: A Letter to the Future. I’ve played many post-apocalyptic games, but what makes SEASON unique is that it takes place in a quiet, empty world. The common trope found in post-apocalyptic games, shows, movies and pop culture is always zombies, evil robots, or some type of beasts. I have found none of these in the world of SEASON.
SEASON: A Letter to the Future is the story of documenting the end of this civilization through sound and visuals. The player is able to capture the sound and look of the world using their microphone and polaroid-style camera. Somehow every photo comes out great.
Traversing these great valleys and wondrous landscapes by bicycle can be breathtaking. The camera pans out and in as you bike through different territories. The two trigger pedaling system is also a nice touch.
The last feature of the game that I truly enjoy is the scrapbooking. Each location can be summarized to a spread in your scrapbook using photos you’ve taken, sounds captured, collectibles and items. I really enjoyed exploring a new area, then thinking about how to lay it out in my scrapbook.
A Wholesome Ending
I guess my taste across all media has grown. In my teenage years, I was obsessed with mostly big action or comedy movies. Today, there are many “wholesome” shows and movies. Shows about normal people, doing normal things. Seinfeld was a show about nothing.
I know that I will always love a big action adventure game. It’s just nice to have these little “wholesome” treats as a break after finishing some 50+ hour game or something like God of War: Ragnarok.