The Rise of Cozy Games

Cozy games

Video games as a hobby and media are as diverse as the human mind can conceptualize. Games that test your reaction time, games that push your endurance, games that ask you to manage resources and survive for as long as your character can without dying.

For many in the gaming public, genres have typically be defined by what the game is, that is it’s action, it’s a role-playing game, it’s a sports simulation. The way that it makes you as a player feel isn’t necessarily the way the game can be defined. A game like Dark Souls or Bloodborne can evoke horror but still be considered as Action RPGs, a game like Call of Duty wouldn’t be classified as much more than an FPS shooter even with its nascent political commentary. So, how does one define a game that seems to want to make you feel, at home? A game that is akin to a warm fleece sweater in the winter. How does one define “Cozy Games”?

Cozy Core Aesthetic

Cozy space

In the mid to late 2010s there was an overt push online for a more laidback form of self-presentation. A general cultural apathy had manifested in myriad ways, with doomerism, Trad, and Uwu, all being aesthetics that at one point or another found prominence in many online spaces.

Cozy-core isn’t so amorphous to apply to any sub-genre, but also not so rigid as to set rules for applicability, it’s a very democritized view of self and presentation and goal. The way to be cozy is to have a sort of universalized comfort. Hallmarks for the style are usually autumnal settings with a lot of scarves, neutral and pastel tones, and oversized comfort wear. It’s as much a mood as it is an aesthetic.

Another key element is low-intensity music. This is almost universal for all cozy media.

Origins and Hallmarks of “Cozy” Games

Nintendo Switch

When a game isn’t challenging the player it’s usually referred to as an easy game. But any game can be easy whether through an options menu or repetition and practice. The idea behind “Cozy” games that unites them as a genre is the shared goal of a stress-free escapism that allows for players to lose themselves for hours.

Many games implement farming mechanics and other low-risk gameplay styles such as fishing and bug catching. Many but not all “Cozy” games have no combat elements but even those that do are less focused on the idea of being “strong” as a vehicle for story telling. It is instead another way for you to play and get materials to get back to the core gameplay loop.

The loop in many of the “Cozy” games is the player is given tasks from members of the their town that they can choose to do or not do. If you do the tasks you are rewarded with items and praise and possibly even an in-game relationship. If you don’t? You just don’t there’s many games in the genre and the penalty for ignoring requests is just that you don’t do the quest.

When discussing the genre of “Cozy” there are really three games that stand head and shoulders above the rest for any number of reasons, whether that be influence or popularity. To further understand “Cozy” games, they’re some games that are essential to know.

Harvest Moon

Harvest Moon

Arguably the “pater familias” of the genre of “Cozy” gaming, Harvest Moon also known as Story of Seasons (after a bit of a contract dispute) is a farm simulation role-playing game that first came out for the Famicom / Super Nintendo in 1996. It is a game about maintaining a farm. There’s not really consequences for the player but your animals can die if you don’t take care of them as a game it is pretty much average it was a hard sell at the time but the legacy of the franchise carried on for quite a number of games and in fact gave rise to an entire genre of farming games now this is not to say Harvest Moon was the first farming game but it definitely was the driving factor in a lot of the more contemporary design games.

One thing that Harvest Moon really does a good job of doing is making you feel like a farmer with an actual community one of the core aspects of many cozy games is making you feel like the town that you’re living in and the game world is verisimilitudinous that is feeling as though it is real.

It is also unique compared with many “Cozy” games in that it has multiple endings. How you play determines how the ending is shown and there’s even an ultimate ending for someone who grinds out every possible success condition. But you also get special endings for having kids, or chickens, or a lot of hearts from the bachlorettes of the town. Again, you can win however you want.

Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley

Of the games in this space, few can really hold a candle to the name recognition of Stardew Valley.

Taking from Harvest Moon as an inspiration Stardew Valley made by ConcernedApe is one of the most successful independent games of all time .

Similarly to Harvest Moon you inherit a farm and you live off the land. You become a part of a community. You can get married most notably you can have a same-sex marriage which wasn’t added in Harvest Moon for a time after this game had been published. Another key distinction is that there’s also combat built into the world of Stardew Valley.

Stardew Valley in it’s close to a decade of production is without a doubt one of the most lovingly well crafted games to be produced and one of the most successful ones to be produced by an independent developer. It’s still receives constant updates in as far as “Cozy” games go, it’s core philosophy seem to have been to make a world that you would want to be in and from the hour logs on Steam, from the numerous glowing reviews, from the overwhelming praise of the game it can be said that this game hit its goal and also it is a “Cozy” game.

Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing

One of the biggest franchises in gaming, Animal Crossing is arguably the biggest name in “Cozy” gaming.

Animal Crossing is a franchise that is one part life simulator and one part Farming Simulator and probably the biggest name when people think of ” “Cozy” games it is not a stretch to say that many “Cozy” games were directly inspired by Animal Crossing.

Animal Crossing as a franchise has always aimed to create a community for its player to play. Within there are dozens of quests where you can collect bugs collect fish chat with NPCs get items from those NPCs sell trade go to other towns go to your friends’ towns there are so many different things for you to do within the world of Animal Crossing that the idea of Animal Crossing is a bit overwhelming. But the thing about it is you don’t have to do anything. D

Again, Animal Crossing does not tell you, “You have 7 million things you have to do you have to do right now you have to do it right now!” Despite the pressure from Tom Nook to pay off your debt, there is no consequence for not paying off your debt immediately. There is no consequence for taking an extended break outside of your neighbors noticing that you’ve been gone for a while and at the end of the day the game only asks for you to do what you would like to do.

Its most recent release Animal Crossing: New Horizons sold so many units made people pick up the Nintendo Switch at such a high clip that it would be disingenuous if not right dishonest to say that it does not have an impact on this current wave of “Cozy” games but where is a boom, there is a bust, and where there is praise,and hype there of course is, backlash

Criticism of “Cozy”

In film and music there is the genre of “mumblecore” made up of a vague awkwardness and twee that to some is appealing and to others is revolting. in film the term is most often used with regards to independent works that lack a lot of the hallmarks of the typical Hollywood production, such as in budgeting, scope and scale, and the titular “mumbling” dialogue.

The term “mumblecore ” is a matter of contention to some because of the connotations of “mumbling” carries an implicit air of derision. Mumblecore films are accused of lacking plots or compelling characters that other movie genres present as a matter of fact. In music “mumblecore” is derided for the amateurish nature of the production and again lacking a certain gravitas that other genres present. These criticisms are also replicated in the genre of Cozy gaming.

Youtuber, Koramora goes into detail about her and many others criticisms of “Cozy” games, especially after the boom period of Stardew and AC: New Horizons, most chief among them is the sense of pointlessness some “Cozy” games can rely on.

That is to say, progression in “Cozy” games can sometimes be described as cyclical and disengaged. With a game like Mario, you’re working towards an ending. With a game like Animal Crossing, the game is infinite theoretically.

In more active games, you’re responsible for getting things done or facing consequences. You lose out on things for failing. But that’s the opposite of the intent in many “Cozy” games. They’re not designed around you losing.

Is “Cozy” a crime?

This criticism of “Cozy” games can be lobbied at games as a whole but the critique is a bit more salient for “Cozy” games because the general premise is these are games that don’t pressure you. You can veg out and just have a good time with them.

And is that really a problem?

Gamers as a consumer demographic have an unfortunate but not highly unique tendency of elitism. As gaming became more mainstream many gamers sought to differentiate themselves from “casuals” by the time invested in games. That began to fall to wayside however as many “casual” gamers had hours in the 100s if not 1000s of their preferred games.

So the remedy then became to disregard games of certain genres, as lesser. To say these games aren’t “real” games and their players are thus, not “real” gamers.

The value of said title notwithstanding, if one wants to apply a harsh definition, all games and thus gamers aren’t doing more than playing digital skinner boxes. None of these toys are necessarily or inherently valuable. They do serve a function and that is entertainment. For some that’s shooting a zombie fish-gecko in Resident Evil 4, for others it’s catching a Lionfish in Animal Crossing.

Works Cited

Americanspy. “Game Trends: Why Cozy Core Is on the Rise.” eBaumsWorld, eBaumsWorld, 25 Apr. 2021, gaming.ebaumsworld.com/articles/game-trends-understanding-cozy-core/86815939/.

Bellingham, Hope. “Cozy Gaming: Why a Wholesome Trend Became a Recognized Genre.” Gamesradar, GamesRadar+, 26 July 2022, www.gamesradar.com/cozy-gaming-why-a-wholesome-trend-became-a-recognized-genre/.

Brinks, Melissa. “Explore Comfort and Self-Reflection in Cozy Games.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 1 July 2019, forbes.com/sites/melissabrinks/2019/07/01/explore-comfort-and-self-reflection-in-cozy-games/?sh=341f6b374127.

koramora. “Why Do Cozy Games Suck?” YouTube, YouTube, 16 Oct. 2023, youtube.com/watch?v=MnMQgN0aTQM.

Strampe, Louryn. “The Best Cozy Games.” Wired, Conde Nast, 10 Nov. 2023, wired.com/gallery/best-cozy-games/.

Velocci, Carli. “The Best Cozy Games for Unwinding and Relaxing | CNN Underscored.” CNN, Cable News Network, 8 Nov. 2023, edition.cnn.com/cnn-underscored/electronics/best-cozy-games.

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50 Comments

  1. Jovany
    2

    So my unhinged take on this phenomenon is that people are using these kinds of game as an escape because the world is seriously kinda screwed right now. Houses are unaffordable, prices of everything are blowing sky high, wages are stagnating, etc etc. What better game to escape in than one that lets you fulfill your fantasy of gasp owning a home and doing stuff with it?

    • Skyler
      1

      This is why I have 1000+ hours in House Flipper 1 & 2.

  2. Rory Gill
    1

    I love cozy games. They are so cozy.

  3. Haiden
    1

    I love cozy simulator games since I was a kid, especially if the game allows me to make my own world or story (a la Harvest Moon and The Sims) or take a detailed role of someone else–even for a mundane job (like Movie Business, Actor Tycoon, and Diner Dash). Though, I don’t really like cozy games (mostly on mobile) that do almost nothing to add creativity, like clicker city building games where all I do is clicking and clicking or buying stuff to build faster–sometimes I don’t even get to choose where I want to build stuff.

  4. Simpso
    2

    Cozy Gaming, in my opinion, is about creativity, community, co-op, and comfort. How was YOUR world / experience in a gaming world? What connections did you make with the world you explored or inhabited? Did you and your friends have FUN playing TOGETHER? Did playing the game take you away from your real world struggles and let you experience something that made you feel good? (Whether that be free, cuddly, heroic, exploratory, or whatever it is that will make YOU feel ‘cozy’ in that moment.)

    • Curtis
      0

      Yup. Traditional gaming is about competition, consequences, control and competence. Did you win? What happens if you lose? Did you make the other person feel like a loser? (Real or fictional=heroes v. villains) Can you “do it”? (eg. Git Gud) 😀

  5. Makena
    2

    While i personally don’t play that much cozy games, i appreciate their place in the gaming space.

  6. Lewis
    2

    I’ve enjoyed cozy games throughout the years both pre and post covid. It’s so nice to finally have a name for a genre that I always looked for in gaming. In my opinion, I also believe that zeldas botw had played a part in the boom for the cozy game genre. Yes it has combat and fighting and bosses that made me grit my teeth BUT, the exploration, the music, and the beautiful environments were very calming and easy to get lost in. It made it worth fighting those bosses and continuing the game. It also has many classical elements of a cozy game: from taking care of your horse, doing quests for the people (one side quest was literally just you helping to build a town lol), exploring new areas, and cooking. Overall, I think botw has influenced many newer games as well as the cozy game genre.

  7. Amigo
    1

    Harvest moon was my life as a child omg.

  8. joan
    2

    I’m limited to playing Switch games, so while I’m glad more cozy games are coming out, I wish more of them came to the Switch at launch. It’s hard to get excited for games I may never be able to play.

  9. Sunshine
    1

    I think the purpose of these games has nothing to do with the larger world. They are about giving YOU the chance to do or be anything you want.

  10. Angel
    1

    Ever since getting Stardew Valley, I’ve been wanting to create my own cozy game, set in a conworld I’ve been working on for some time, where the player lives in an island community operating without money, where everyone collaborates etc.

  11. Mia
    2

    I think another aspect of the cozy genre (at least the good cozy games) that most people don’t realize is a staple of the grenre is creativity, and I think it’s for the same reason, most people don’t have the time, energy, or money to paint or sculpt, or other traditional means of expressing creativity, but it’s not very hard to build a house in Minecraft, or customize your farm in Stardew Valley, or make the perfect themed island in Animal Crossing.

    • Jacquelyn
      0

      I have severe RA that’s taken away my ability to paint most days, but I have enough hand function to play games. I 100% use decorating animal crossing islands as a creative outlet now that I can’t express myself through paintings the way I want. Thank you for bringing this up

    • Phoebe
      0

      I think you’re spot on with this. I’ve only ever played one video game by choice (the rest were as a kid my brother forcing me to play with him and I HATED THEM!!) and it was a cute little game in which you decorated a terrarium with little plants and statues and fed animals. I reveled in making them perfect, and exactly how I wanted them aesthetically. I realize now this was a creative outlet that was very low stakes, free, and accessible. Thank you for that insight!

  12. Addyson
    1

    Not to turn into a sociologist out of nowhere, but I feel like people are drawn to cozy games because a lot of us feel like the world around us is kinda burning down (prime example: 2020 and ACNH). And I think a lot of devs are building off that by providing players with a little whimsy, coziness, and calms in an otherwise hectic and decidedly un-cozy world. So, the more violent (physically or psychologically) the world beyond us is, the more cozy games can (and will) proliferate.

    That, or we just like cute animals and twee homesteading idk.

  13. Hatfi
    1

    Cozy and indie just go well together.

  14. Abbey
    1

    The best part of the surge of cozy games is: i got to know your The Artifice better.

  15. taker
    1

    I already had a switch, but the pandemic and seeing all my friends playing ACNH made me buy it too, cause what else was I going to do ! I loved it though lm sure there were days I spent 10 hours listening to podcasts and just fishing…

  16. Chief
    1

    I’m actually in the process of developing my own cozy game! Right now it’s pretty similar to Stardew Valley, but I want to go a little more outside the box in terms of mechanics. If anyone has ideas for features to add to my game, please let me know! I don’t want it to just end up as a carbon copy of all the other cozy games out there.

  17. Ada
    1

    Cozy games can be so satisfying.

  18. Brielle
    1

    Dude, netflix and mobile games just can’t register in my brain. I need cozy games.

  19. Jillian
    2

    I think people are tired of the usual dark and edgy games because we’ve become so oversaturated with them it’s nice to have a break from that and be reminded of the games of your childhood in some cases.

  20. The thing about the “cozy games” mentioned in the article is that (with the exception of Stardew Valley) they’re relatively old. I remember seeing advertisements for Animal Crossing when I was a preteen, and the article even mentions that Harvest Moon came out in the 1990s. What this suggests to me is that, if indeed the point of cozy games is to serve as a welcome distraction from the harshness of the world, that idea has been around longer than many people give it credit for. Unless, of course, these cozy games were once niche and have only recently exploded in popularity, which is possible too (I don’t really play cozy games, so I don’t know).

  21. kabbie
    1

    Cozy games are def a favourite of mine.

  22. Skunk
    1

    Not my favorite genre of game but definitely do enjoy playing a cozy game every now and again.

  23. mort
    1

    I like Animal Crossing, sims, stardew valley, Rune Factory, harvest moon. Yet, I haven’t really been interested in any of those indie cozy games. Need to invest time into this more.

  24. Norah
    1

    I remember my mother and I playing Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon for ages on the Wii. Playing Stardew Valley now takes me back to those days. Sometimes playing something calm and relaxing where there’s no fighting or world destroying threats is all I need after a long day.

    • Coffey
      0

      I loved playing Harvest Moon when growing up and Stardew Valley reminds me of those simpler days.

  25. claire
    1

    my only complaint about the Cozy game moniker is people are starting to label any game that has a cute art style as “cozy” regardless of the difficulty or how rage inducing it might be.

  26. Lesim
    1

    I’ve been a gamer since the late 1970s, but I went straight from Atari 2600 and 8-bit to PC and never took up a Nintendo system, so I missed the console on which these games got going.

    For me, this style seemed to come out of nowhere with Stardew Valley, and now these games are everywhere. I think they have been successful because they fill a need that isn’t satisfied by the usual fast paced action games – a need for both escape and relaxation. Many of us are rather tired after a long day at work, and we aren’t necessarily looking for an intense and challenging experience in our leisure time. Furthermore, video games are capable of so much more than flashy graphics and fighting.

    Sometimes, “cozy” games aren’t all that cozy. I have a problem with combat, which is a non-cozy experience, and I wonder why it is in so many of these games. Sure, the monsters are cute, but the fighting in Skyrim is easier and less intense than the fighting in some of these games. Though Skyrim doesn’t have the aesthetic, it has many of the mechanics of a cozy game. A game can have none of the cutesy aesthetic and still be cozy, while a game that has cuteness overload can still be intense and stressful. I like some of the games that have combat, but I find that, more often than not, it detracts from the overall relaxing experience. Another problem I have is mediocrity. With the proliferation of these games, it seems like there are many out there that check off all the boxes and aren’t particularly innovative. I find that it is wise to look at a lot of reviews before purchasing these games.

    Having lived through the entire young-male-dominated phase of gaming (from roughly the late 1980s through the mid 2010s), I’m glad to see gaming become more inclusive and cater to a wider variety of tastes. In a way, it is returning to how it was in the early days, when girls could be found in the arcades or at home playing games on the Atari 2600 or the Intellivision. So-called cozy games are an important part of this diversification, and the runaway success of Baldur’s Gate 3, a turn based RPG that doesn’t rely at all on lightning reflexes, is also hopefully a good sign for the future. Notwithstanding the bad launch of Cities: Skylines 2, city builders are also doing well these days, and they provide a similar sort of relaxed pace and outlet for creativity that many of the cozy games do. The online multiplayer space still appears to be a dumpster fire full of jerks and predatory monetization. I’m an antisocial gamer, and I don’t like to give money to scams, so I avoid online and mobile games like the plague, but it would be nice to see improvements there too. People who want to socialize in online games shouldn’t have to put up with trolls and misogynistic neckbeards.

  27. Cross
    0

    cozy games = the future ^_^

  28. Shelby
    0

    I play RPGs. Shooting games are boring and I detest them. I don’t care much for cosy games, but I enjoyed Cattails, Stardew Valley and Kitara Fables.

    Most games I like are RPGs or where you play as an animal. So one day I will play Bravely Default II or Magi Cat to juat play a cute platformer.

    Never liked competive games.

  29. Barn
    0

    Harvest moon and animal crossing are goated games!

  30. Rhett
    0

    Tears of the Kingdom/Breath of the wild is a great mashup between cozy gaming and the action adventure. I know it leans more action and adventure, but the game is very cozy in between the action. Great experience.

  31. yoda
    0

    My most anticipated games in this genre are Creatures of Ava and Grimoire Grove.

  32. baird
    0

    What makes these games cozy is that; for just a little bit, you get to play on the winning side of capitalism.

    • Karissa
      0

      The fact that Sims were created to be a critique of capitalism, yet now it’s nowhere to be seen and it instead is a tool to make more money reminds me of Disco Elysium quote from Joyce Messier: “Capital has the ability to subsume all critiques into itself. Even those who would critique capital end up reinforcing it instead”

  33. Mack
    0

    I think the definition of cozy games has gradually morphed and expanded over the past few years. The games no longer have to simulate idealistic lifestyles. The gameplay loop just needs to provide the feeling of stability and consistency that the real world is lacking.

  34. I love cozy games! I think they are a great escape from the rush of everyday life. Sometimes, you don’t want to think too much when you are trying to chill by playing games. I’d much rather play something which helps me relax than a very mission-driven game that makes me feel even more worn out.

  35. Siothrún

    I love this article! Great job! I’ve been getting into some cozier games myself, lately.

  36. Fatty
    0

    Cozy just a fancy word for boring games geared towards a specific market.

  37. annika
    0

    In my opinion, the first cosy games are the sims.

  38. Elf
    0

    I find cozy games pretty realistic in that 100 hours in I start to feel existential dread that nothing I’m doing matters.

  39. munch
    0

    One of my cosy games of choice is Terra Nil. It’s core gameplay is about bringing dead planets to life – bringing water, growing trees, attracting animals etc etc. And at the end of the map you LEAVE! You get the F out of the way. No money, no capitalism, no humans.

  40. Bridget
    0

    I can’t wait for Tiny Bookshop, the upcoming cozy game! Love the fact that it has real titles.

  41. Hermione
    0

    Love all of these games! I’ve wishlisted all of them!

  42. CoxCox
    0

    Cozy games are wish fulfillment for cozy people.

  43. Willie
    0

    They games are simulating childhood play. Adventure, friendship, exploration. That’s what’s cozy about them.

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