Modern Life

Welcome to the kinder, gentler world of cozy games

From peaceful worlds to satisfying puzzles, cozy games prioritize comfort over competition.

By Melanie Ehrenkranz — October 23, 2023

When journalist Marilyn La Jeunesse was looking for new villagers for her island in the video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons, she stumbled upon a blue goat named Sherb. “He’s just this sweet little guy who loves wearing winter sweaters and relaxing,” she says. 

It was an “a-ha” moment for La Jeunesse: She realized the game was more than a fun way to pass the time — it was making her feel calmer. 

“It’s weird, but his whole ‘slow’ approach to life sort of made me realize that it’s OK not to rush around or have a million things to do,” she says. 

Animal Crossing: New Horizons — an open-ended simulation game in which players create a home in a peaceful village, get to know their neighbors, and do everyday activities like gardening and decorating their home — launched in 2020 just as COVID-19 took hold. A perfect escape from pandemic anxiety and lockdown isolation, the game immediately became wildly popular, setting sales records and sparking widespread interest in games designed for comfort instead of competition, aka “cozy games.”

“Cozy games are a great way to help me stop thinking about my real-life stress and focus on something else entirely for a few hours,” says La Jeunesse.

Cozy games are intentionally designed to provide a relaxing experience, or what Alicia Fortier, lead game designer for the in-development Cozy Grove 2, characterizes as “feelings of safety, abundance and softness.” 

“These games invite you to slow down and take a moment to yourself,” Fortier says. “What does it mean to invest in relationships? In your community? In just appreciating the beauty around you?”

By 2026, the World Economic Forum estimates the entire gaming industry will be worth more than $226 billion, with over 75% of that revenue coming from social and casual games that have soared in popularity since 2020.

Animal Crossing is the genre’s most famous example with over 42 million copies sold to date, but there’s also Cozy Grove, The Sims, Stardew Valley, Spiritfarer, and Disney Dreamlight Valley — all simulation games that let players settle in to calm new worlds. 

There are puzzle games, like Unpacking or A Little to the Left, which are all about organizing objects; narrative-driven games like Coffee Talk, in which players become baristas, listening to people’s stories while serving them warm drinks; and satisfying task games like PowerWash Simulator or Lawn Mowing Simulator, which are exactly what they sound like.  

What makes a cozy game so cozy

Kelli Dunlap, psychologist and community director at TakeThis, a mental health advocacy organization for the gaming community, explains that cozy games operate on a very different principle than competitive games. Competitive games typically measure some type of performance and put you in high-stakes, high-stress situations. There are competitors, battle bosses, opposition. You can get hurt. You can die. You’re trying to demonstrate your abilities.  

Cozy games don’t require prior gaming experience and aren’t designed to get your adrenaline running. Quite the opposite — Dunlap says they run on the “tend and befriend” principle. And if you’re not challenged to survive, then you can focus on thriving.

Animal Crossing

“The goal is to take care of things, to organize things, to befriend and be around people in your space,” she says. “It’s less about getting ramped up and amped up and more about contentment, calm, and satisfaction in simple things.”

Cozy game influencers like Kennedy (, Gale (@gamergirlgale), and Alex (@cozylittleflower) show off cozy games on pastel-hued Instagram grids featuring cups of tea, lit candles, fuzzy blankets at the ready, and just a general self-care and cuteness overload. It’s the lifestyle equivalent of what game designers are thinking about when developing cozy worlds and gameplay.

“It comes down to story, color palette, music choice, even down to mechanics,” says Dunlap. “You don’t want elements that cause stress and excitement.”

Cozy game designers think about how to reduce complexity in the worlds they’re creating and eliminate competitions or time pressure. No, “harvest your corn in 10 minutes or bad things will happen to you,” kinds of missions, Dunlap says. They may even limit the number of missions a player can complete in a day. Cozy Grove is designed to be played for about 20-30 minutes — more of a moment to pause than a marathon gaming session.

“A lot of players might instinctively want to play for way longer,” says Fortier. “But Cozy Grove is a game about daily rituals and delights.”

From the comfort of your PC

As cozy games have become more popular, they’ve also become more accessible, with many that were once confined to mobile devices now available on PCs. Games like Gardenscapes, Homescapes, and Township, all of which have hundreds of millions of users on Android platforms, are now compatible with personal computers. 

“Google has made those games available on many markets through their new PC app called Google Play Games, which is something we’re really excited about,” says Randy Stude, director of product marketing at HP. “The game experience can seamlessly shift from mobile to PC and back so that your game state continues to progress.” 

“It’s less about getting ramped up and amped up and more about contentment, calm, and satisfaction in simple things.”

—Kelli Dunlap, psychologist and community director at TakeThis

Animal Crossing

That seamlessness works nicely with how gamers engage with cozy games — popping in and out of the world of the game whenever they need a break. In Cozy Grove, for example, players can try on new outfits, fish, plant and harvest trees, and then leave and return at their convenience, without missing out on anything or losing progress.  

“It’s a third place in a way,” Fortier says. “It’s just waiting for you to come back, everything the way you left it, though the seasons may have changed.” 

Something for everyone 

In building the sequel, Cozy Grove 2, Fortier says designers are working on how they can balance a player’s need for self-expression with the stories they want to tell. That means thinking about things like where players can (and can’t) place island decorations, in what order they get access to certain tools, and even when they can hug the non-playable characters.  

Ultimately, every detail is designed to evoke a specific feeling in the player, which may be the one thing the broad spectrum of cozy games have in common. 

“That feeling of satisfaction you get from PowerWash Simulator is a very specific feeling of accomplishment,” Dunlap says. “That’s different from something like Animal Crossing, where you are designing your house and planning your neighborhood and traveling to other people’s islands. That’s a little more fantasy play.” 

Whether it’s creating a spa to care for cute baby animals, organizing inventory in a warehouse, or mowing perfect lines in a field of grass, cozy games may not follow a tried-and-true formula, but they all provide an outlet — a fun and accessible way to explore an emotion or experience that may be hard to come by in real life.   

“Emotional expression, social connection, stress management, the need to feel challenged or that your actions matter — all of those things can be built into games,” Dunlap says. 


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