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Beyond ‘Animal Crossing:’ What those making your favorite games are playing

"Animal Crossing: New Horizons" gives us a virtual space to be together. But there are more games to play in your coronavirus quarantine.
(Nintendo)

It’s no secret that many have tried to ease the stress of pandemic life with the world of “Animal Crossing: New Horizons.” And with good reason — the game is a comforting space in which we can play at our own pace.

Sure, it has daily worklike tasks, not to mention an emphasis on accruing debt, but stressing over the price of turnips pales next to the anxieties we’re experiencing in the coronavirus era. Just don’t get caught in a game of keeping up with the Joneses.

Yet “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” is far from the only game to play right now. Interactive entertainment is uniquely positioned to dominate in this coronavirus moment. It’s been my go-to form of media, since the need for participation helps keep my mind from wandering. More than providing a sense of goals or tasks, games demand that I be fully present.

More important, games, even when we play alone, feel like a conversation. We don’t watch a world from afar; we play it like an instrument, attempting to unwrap the hidden tunes laid out by developers.

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And despite their reputation as a place for violence and adolescence — a distinction not totally unearned — games are a place to turn for comfort.

In an effort to get a broader roster of games to play, and a sense of what interactive entertainment people are turning to in this moment, we went to the experts: those who develop and work professionally in the game space.

We asked them a simple question: In a time of stress, what’s a go-to game for you? Responses came in from studios large and small (a work the studio is known for is in parentheses), and what follows should give you a good idea of what those who make your favorite games are playing.

The pro picks

(In alphabetical order)

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1. Scott Alsworth, designer, Bohemia Interactive (“Arma” series, “DayZ”)

A recent release that really helps me and many of my colleagues unwind is Frontier Development’s “Planet Zoo.” I think it’s about being able to exercise a sense of control. In everyday life, and especially in challenging times, it’s nice to feel like you have some agency, and I guess building and managing your own zoo’s a wonderful way to achieve that.

I can’t count how many hours I’ve lost to landscape gardening and creating habitats for my animals. Plus, the developers have obviously made a concerted effort to “wow” players with the feel-good factor. I mean, there can’t be many titles that feature authentic African artists performing traditional and uplifting music. For me, it’s definitely a good way of getting to my happy place.

“Planet Zoo” is a zoo simulator available for Windows PCs.

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2. Andree-Anne Boisvert, associate producer, Ubisoft Quebec (“Gods & Monsters”)

Games from the "Mario Kart" series were a popular choice among many a developer.
(Nintendo)

“Mario Kart 64.” There’s a lot of comfort in knowing every single track and shortcut, hearing Wario’s distinctive voice when he gets hit by a shell. (He deserved it!) So many good and frustrating memories were created with friends and family — we still do tournaments every single year. My sister still thinks she has a chance to beat me on Rainbow Road. Yeah, sure!

“Mario Kart 64" is the mid-’90s entry in the popular kart-racing series, the latest version of which is available for the Nintendo Switch.

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3. Dinga Bakaba, game director, Arkane Studios (“Dishonored”)

In difficult times, I play “Bayonetta” because it’s pleasure in digital form. Be it its sugary soundtracks, dreamy/nightmare-y aesthetics or iconoclast eponymous protagonist who tells gigantic monsters to shut up the hell up without even looking at them, it is definitely a trip that stimulates all my imagination muscles. Clearly, this is a game where every idea that came up in a meeting, someone answered “not crazy enough” at least twice.

“Bayonetta” is an action series with fast-paced hack-and-slash gameplay. The latest version in the series is available for the Nintendo Switch.

4. Francesco Barsotti, co-director and programmer, Fallen Flag Studio (upcoming “Eldest Souls”)

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We’ve been working from a home office for a while, so I thought we wouldn’t feel too much the absence of the outside world, but I soon realized I was missing the morning strolls and the weekly workouts to let off steam, and going for a hangout whenever I wanted to. For that reason, I ended up playing a bunch of “Animal Crossing.” It has been pretty much my Zen garden. It’s so relaxing to enjoy with friends online, or couch co-op with your roommates. It gives me that sense of community and socializing that one might lack in a time like this.

“Animal Crossing: New Horizons” is the Nintendo Switch game of this moment.

5. Steve Bristow, assistant head of design, Rebellion (“Sniper Elite,” “Zombie Army” series, upcoming “Evil Genius 2")

Thoughtful story-driven games such as "Gris" have potential to be played with the family.
(Nomada Studio)
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Getting more time to play games with my kids has meant a lot of “Rocket League.” But now that they can beat me at it, we’re revisiting games like “Gris,” “Baba Is You” and “Breath of the Wild.” Imaginative, beautiful and mentally expanding games where being “better than Daddy” isn’t really a thing.

“Rocket League” is a competitive soccer game, with cars. It is available for all major console platforms. “Breath of the Wild” is the latest “Zelda” game for the Nintendo Switch. “Baba Is You” is a puzzle game involving wordplay and structure for PCs and the Nintendo Switch. “Gris” is a thoughtful platforming adventure for the Switch, PlayStation 4, home computers and mobile platforms.

6. Grace Bruxner, creative director, Worm Club (“Frog Detective” series)

I like to play “Splatoon 2.” In all honesty I saw the advertising for it when it was about to be released and had 0% interest in playing. It looked really stressful and intense! But my partner bought it for his Switch and after he played the tutorial I asked if I could have a go. It turned out to be really fun and satisfying despite being a fast-paced competitive game, which I’m normally pretty averse to. Four hundred-plus hours later and I still go to it when I want to zone out and push a big ink roller around and steal shiny eggs from fish parents.

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“Splatoon 2" is a family-friendly shooter involving paint and squidlike creatures for the Nintendo Switch.

7. Joel Burgess, studio director, Capybara Games (“Grindstone,” “Below”)

“Sea of Thieves” has been my trusty standby for relaxation. It’s danged gorgeous to look at but perhaps my favorite thing is the pacing of the game, which is relatively slow and punctuated by moments of action and surprise. The game embraces a rhythm that leaves room for quiet moments to chat with friends, busy yourself with small chores aboard the ship or just take in a sunset. This takes a tremendous amount of confidence from a game design team, and it pays off in spades, making “Sea of Thieves” one of my favorite cozy games to stay relaxed and connected with friends.

“Sea of Thieves” is an online pirate adventure game for the Xbox One and Windows PCs.

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8. Louis Castle, studio head, Amazon Games’ Relentless Studios

My go-to staple game when I need a pick-me-up is the mobile game “Marvel Strike Force.” I really like the short play sessions where I can exercise some light strategy around a theme I really enjoy.

“Marvel Strike Force” is a turn-based strategy game for mobile platforms.

9. Tyler Coles, dev ops, E-Line Media (“Never Alone,” “Beyond Blue”)

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I find myself going back to the games I played as a kid. “Warcraft II,” “Quake,” old [role-playing games]. Nostalgia is strong comfort food, even in games.

“Warcraft II” and Quake” are classic ’90s PC games.

10. Dave Crooks, game designer, Dodge Roll (“Enter the Gungeon”)

Dystopia in virtual reality? Yes, please. Multiple developers are singing the praises of the much-hyped VR game "Half-Life Alix."
(Valve)
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“Half Life: Alyx,” because since no one is coming over I can destroy my living room with a VR setup, and it lets me go outside.

“Half Life: Alyx” is a new virtual reality game that requires a VR headset.

11. Ian Endsley, co-founder, Turnfollow (“Wide Ocean Big Jacket”)

I like to play “Final Fantasy XV” when I’m stressed. It has a car you can ride around in, and it’s pretty chill.

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“Final Fantasy XV” is the 2016 edition of the fantasy role-playing series available for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PCs.

12. Brian Fargo, studio head, inXile entertainment (“Wasteland” series)

My go-to game continues to be “Hearthstone,” but playing the new “auto-chess” mode called “Battlegrounds.” It takes incredibly nuanced tactics to win, and anything competitive keeps me engaged. I’ve clawed my way up to the top 1% ranking and am still learning.

“Hearthstone” is a fantasy deck-building game available for mobile platforms and home computers.

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13. Alec Faulkner, game designer, Yacht Club Games (“Shovel Knight”)

I’ve been having a lot of fun with the NES game “Clu Clu Land.” Your character Bubbles is spiraling endlessly through an inescapable maze, but you can press left or right to extend your hands and reach out for supports to grab onto. The important thing is to try and just keep moving forward!

“Clu Clu Land” is a vintage Nintendo game that can be had on the Nintendo Switch.

It’s no accident that “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” is resonating now. Built to ward off loneliness in 2001, the franchise is made for the pandemic moment.

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14. Steve Filby, marketing director, Motion Twin (“Dead Cells”)

“Hades,” because you can really get in the zone on that game, and they’ve got the meta-upgrade drug mainlined right to your brain: So. Much. Unlocks.

Also, “Ori and the Will of the Wisps,” because the combat is way more fun than the first game, and also “Elite Dangerous.” I took advantage of working from home to order a third screen and set up Nvidia Surround, so I feel like a real space boy.

“Hades” is a dungeon-crawler for Windows PCs. “Ori and the Will of the Wisps” is a fantastical platforming game for the Xbox One and Windows PC. “Elite Dangerous” is a space-flight simulation for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and home computers.

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15. Ben Fiquet, artist, Lizardcube (“Streets of Rage 4")

I’m always finding my way back to “Nuclear Throne” or “Dead Cells” for the instantaneous play it gives me. After a long day, I just want to blow things up for 30 minutes.

“Nuclear Throne” and “Dead Cells” offer unique spins on old-school action, and are available for most major platforms.

16. Nina Freeman, game designer (“We Met in May”)

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The most stress-relieving game I’ve been playing recently is a PS2 classic called “Chulip.” It’s a game where you play as “Poor Boy.” He’s new in town and doing his best to improve his reputation with the locals. In order to accomplish this, you must go around town doing favors for people and earning ... everyone’s kisses!

You kiss everyone, seriously — a local frog, the pawnshop owner, a wizard. it sounds silly, and is, but it also explores some really insightful critiques of capitalism and expectations around work and productivity through the many kiss-quests you embark on. I love it because it addresses some serious topics while also being consistently hilarious. This is super hard to pull off, and “Chulip” does it so well.

“Chulip” is a early-2000s oddity that was released for the PlayStation 2.

17. Diego Freire, writer, Chibig Studio (“Summer in Mara”)

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I play a lot of “Just Dance” on Switch. It’s a very fun game, not only because you do all this exercise but the choreography is so cheerful and imaginative that it makes me laugh out loud. It puts me in a great mood so I can face a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

“Just Dance” is a dance party franchise available for most major platforms.

18. Jeff Gardiner, project lead for “Fallout 76,” Bethesda Studios

My go-to game is “Total War: Warhammer.” Slow-paced strategy mixed with the rush of massive real-time battles make time have no meaning.

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“Total War: Warhammer” is a tactical strategy game for home computers.

19. Kate Gray, narrative director, KO_OP mode (“Gnog”)

I have been playing “Astroneer,” which is a survival-ish game set on a distant planet where you have to figure out how to build a base using the planet’s natural resources. It’s one of those games where you have to set your own goals, whether that’s aimless wandering around, admiring the local flora, or building a huge factory and terraforming the landscape to suit your needs.

Sometimes I spend 10 minutes pottering around; other times it’s four hours of intense, self-directed cartographical research missions. During quarantine evenings, I usually stream myself playing the game to my friends. A lot of that time is spent falling in holes that I made while digging, and spending the next little while screaming and running out of oxygen while they laugh at me. It’s great.

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Astroneer” is a survival adventure game that is often serene and is available for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and home computers.

20. Halley Gross, narrative lead, Naughty Dog (“The Last of Us Part 2”)

“Fortnite” has been a great way to still feel connected with my friends and family. We regularly hop on for a few rounds as a way to catch up — and blow off some isolation frustration together.

Battle royale sensation “Fortnite” from Epic Games has long been a hangout space. It’s on most gaming platforms and recently hosted a Travis Scott song premiere.

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“Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End” is a game that provides a narrative with a sense of surprise.
“Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End” is a game that provides a narrative with a sense of surprise.
(Naughty Dog/Sony Computer)

21. Cloé Hammoud, world content manager, Ubisoft Massive (“Tom Clancy’s The Division 2")

To me, a good comfort game is a game that creates a sense of wonder and surprise, aesthetically charming, and that sparks my curiosity. I’m thinking, for example, of ... “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End,” or “Firewatch” from Campo Santo. These are great games to escape from the long and dark Swedish winters and discover exotic worlds, intriguing places and breathtaking vistas.

“Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End” is an action-adventure game for the PlayStation 4 and “Firewatch” is a patient, narrative game set in the great outdoors for consoles and home computers.

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22. Alastair Hebson, head of special projects, Superhot (“Superhot,” “Superhot: Mind Control Delete”)

Hempuli Oy’s amazing game “Baba Is You” is my current go-to title when I need to relax. The puzzles are the cleverest thing and the game never fails to surprise and impress. It’s a tricky game but “Baba” always takes my mind off whatever is stressing me out.

“Baba Is You” is a puzzle game involving wordplay and structure for PCs and the Nintendo Switch.

23. Clint Hocking, creative director, Ubisoft Toronto (“Watch Dogs: Legion”)

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I actually got my old tabletop role-playing group back together, and we’re playing old-school RPGs over video conference. I have tons of video game options — that’s not what I miss; it’s the social connection. Getting together with friends is what keeps me sane during the crisis.

Even video-conferencing app Zoom can be a place to play role-playing and other old-school games. (Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the owner of The Times, is an investor in Zoom.)

24. Cyrille Imbert, CEO, Dotemu (“Streets of Rage 4,” “Windjammers”)

“Total War Warhammer 2" is a game I play a lot during lockdown because six hours of campaign feel like 30 minutes. I’m afraid I could just play any “Total War” game until I die of starvation.

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“Total War: Warhammer” is a tactical strategy game for home computers.

25. Bryan Intihar, creative director, Insomniac Games (“Marvel’s Spider-Man”)

There’s just something about “Tetris Effect” that’s hypnotically calming. From the gorgeous visual design of each level to the sensational music and sound effects that perfectly complement the move of each puzzle piece, I always feel more relaxed than when I first picked up the controller.

“Tetris Effect” is a reimagining of the classic puzzle game, available for the PlayStation and also in virtual reality.

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26. Ashraf Ismail, game director, Ubisoft Montreal (“Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla”)

My favorite games are narrative experiences, but specifically to de-stress I need to play mechanic-focused games. Games like “Diablo,” “Hearthstone” and “Mario Kart.” Recently my go-to de-stress game has been “Dead Cells” playing on Switch. Visually fantastic, great mechanics, “short” sessions, cool world-building and doesn’t turn you into a puddle of emotions. A great comfort game!

“Dead Cells” offers a unique spin on old-school action, and is available for most major platforms.

27. Alex Kanaris-Sotiriou, co-founder/art director, Polygon Treehouse (the upcoming “Röki”)

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The games of From Software, including "Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice," are tough but allow players to get into a sense of rhythm.
The games of From Software, including “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice,” are tough but allow players to get into a sense of rhythm.
(From Software)

Although not the obvious choice, I like to unwind by playing From Software games! Their games (“Dark Souls,” “Bloodborne,” “Sekiro”) are notorious for making the player’s heart race with danger lurking around every corner, but they are also utterly absorbing. They bring an almost meditative focus, a clarity of thought and rhythm that make the rest of the world melt away.

From Software’s games are incredibly difficult and most are available for home consoles and personal computers.

28. Karol Kała, producer, 11 bit studios (“Moonlighter,” “Children of Morta”)

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“Diablo 3.” It’s a comfort food with an immortal, endless gameplay. I know this game inside out; muscle memory does its job so it’s a pure pleasure with zero stress, even when pushing for higher and higher rifts.

“Diablo 3" is an action RPG available for all major platforms.

29. Jan Kavan, co-founder, CBE Software (“Someday You’ll Return”)

If we’re talking games in general, it’s a game of chess as it helps me focus on a single goal, which helps ease the stress. If we’re talking about video games it’s usually something story-driven, like “Heaven’s Vault,” with its exo-archeology, which is an excellent stress reliever.

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“Heaven’s Vault” is a historical, literary adventure from the team behind “80 Days,” a great intro game.

30. Chris Keenan, president, inXile entertainment (“Wasteland” series)

“League of Legends.” Similar to chess, it’s incredibly difficult to master. The game requires thought as well as a constant focus, which keeps you in a flow state, so the rest of the world fades into the background for a brief period of time.

“League of Legends” is the Riot Games esports smash available for home computers.

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31. Thorben Kohler, gameplay programmer, Rockfish Games (“Everspace” franchise)

The remake of "Final Fantasy VII" was a highly anticipated 2020 game.
(Square Enix)

The “Final Fantasy VII” remake brings back not only childhood memories but also surprises with innovative gameplay mechanics and stunning visuals. Small and big changes distinguish it from the original in a way that they can coexist without any further argue. Seeing familiar locations, characters and enemies re-created with this respect for detail gives a much-needed comfortable feeling these days. I’m actually quite happy that it was released in these difficult times, otherwise I might not be able to sink much-deserved hours into it.

“Final Fantasy VII” is a long-awaited remake of the fantasy role-playing game, currently available for the PlayStation 4.

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32. Sean Krankel, co-founder/studio director, Night School Studio (“Afterparty”)

When I’m stressing, I like games that force my brain to turn off the incessant drama, like meditation or a good album. So as counterintuitive as it sounds, games like “Doom” or old Japanese bullet hell shooters like “Ketsui” are my emotional palate cleanser. But if I need a shot of positivity, I’m all about “Mario Kart 8" and “Animal Crossing,” but who isn’t?

“Doom Eternal” is the latest in the popular shooter franchise, available for most major platforms.

33. Vijay Krish, artist, Outerloop Games (“Falcon Age”)

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“Hades” by Supergiant is my go-to game these days — a rogue-lite that gives me a good challenge where I can go through the game twice in an hour since each run takes about 20 to 25 minutes. No two runs feel the same with all the different power-up combos, etc.

The game also has amazing art, music and a great cast of very likable characters. If you like a decent challenge without being too punishing, this is it.

“Hades” is a dungeon-crawler for Windows PCs.

34. Amanda Lui, senior business planner, Xbox Game Pass

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“Kingdom Hearts III.” I love Disney, I love Disney music, and I love RPGs. It’s a captivating adventure with a beautifully done story, and the game mechanics are challenging yet easy to quickly pick up. “Kingdom Hearts” does such a great job bringing the original Disney story to life in a new way that I usually end up rewatching the Disney movie after completing its associated world. “Kingdom Hearts III” delivers on some of my favorite things and then I don’t feel so bad.

“Animal Crossing.” This game is all the rage now and for good reason. It’s so satisfying to do mundane tasks that I’m currently not able to do in real life (like shopping or hanging out with friends) or actively avoiding (like gardening, yardwork and cleaning up my house). Yes, I’m constantly finding myself in debt to a heartless raccoon, but I’m also connecting with my friends in whole new ways. Because of “Animal Crossing,” I’ve had a virtual dumpling night, watched meteor showers with my friends and engaged daily in a lively text message thread where we over-strategize about how to maximize turnip profits. “Animal Crossing” has been my favorite way to play apart together.

“Kingdom Hearts III” is the latest in the sprawling Disney-focused fantasy role-playing game.

Games are a playground, a place to see what happens when we do what we aren’t told, and a world in which failure is embraced — welcomed, even — as a way to learn. Why play matters in times of stress.

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35. Bonnie Jean Mah, franchise narrative director, the Coalition (“Gears 5")

I’ve been comfort-food gaming — replaying favorites such as “Dishonored 2,” “Rise of the Tomb Raider” and “Fallout 4" — and catching up on games I missed earlier, like the wild rides that are “Doom” and “Days Gone.” But my de-stressing go-to has become “Call of Duty: Warzone” — white-knuckle gameplay, gorgeous environment and a total adrenaline rush. Relaxing? Not exactly. Fun? YES.

“Call of Duty: Warzone” is a free-to-start, multiplayer competitive shooter for home computers, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

36. Lee Mather, game director, Codemasters (“F1” series)

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I’m playing “COD Warzone” religiously every evening in a team of four. Since the lockdown some of my less gaming-heavy friends have found the fun and camaraderie of chasing people around a map trying to shoot the crap out of them. It’s a great way to completely zone out of what’s going on around us in the real world, have a chat and worry more about where the next armor pickup is coming from, and who’s paying for the UAV.

“Call of Duty: Warzone” is a free-to-start, multiplayer competitive shooter for home computers, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

37. Kyle McKernan, artist and designer, KO_OP mode (“Gnog”)

I often find myself playing games that might be deemed stressful themselves when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Even horror games like [“Resident Evil 2"]. Remake or difficult games like “Sekiro” help me focus and feel like I can triumph over smaller — albeit terrifying — horrors than the larger issues we are facing in the real world. These games aren’t relaxing at all, but they do reach a part of my brain that needs to feel like I’m overcoming something.

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Resident Evil 2” is a survival horror game that was rereleased in 2019 for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PCs. “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice” is an action-adventure game for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PCs.

38. Mike Moreton, lead designer, Codemasters (“GRID” series)

I’ve got three games on the go at the moment: “Void Bastards,” quick pickup and play first-person game where no two levels are played the same, along with replays of levels also being totally randomly generated. 2018’s “God of War” for when I want to sit down and play for longer periods of time. Missed it when it came out but loving the epic story and world that’s presented. And “Blood Bowl 2" against my mate — we both loved the board game when we were younger and we live miles apart now, so this is an easy way to rekindle an old passion.

“Void Bastards” is a strategy shooter for most major platforms, “God of War” is an action-adventure for the PlayStation 4 and “Blood Bowl 2" is a fantasy-sports mashup for home computers, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

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39. Damjan Mravunac, CMO, Croteam (“Serious Sam,” “The Talos Principle”)

“Rayman Origins.” It bonds me with my kids. They used to watch me play it, but now it’s much more fun as they both grew up enough to grasp the idea of a controller, and they are pretty darn good at it. Also, the music. Best music ever.

”Rayman Origins” is a beloved platform game that today is most easily played on Windows PCs.

40. Hannah Nicklin, writer/narrative designer, “Mutazione”; CEO, Die Gute Fabrik

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"Cribbage With Grandpas" offers constant problem-solving to keep the mind occupied.
(Less Than Three Interactive)

My go-to game in times of stress depends if I want to distract or soothe. If distract, I’d go for the smooth flow of a good “Slay the Spire” daily run on my Switch. I find the same joy in that as I do in sport (cycling, running, swimming) — although I am still racing online in “Zwift,” which takes the power output from your bike and translates it into online bike-racing.

If soothing — trying to fall asleep but with a brain too full of thoughts — I turn to “Cribbage With Grandpas.” Both of these [“Slay the Spire” and “Cribbage With Grandpas”] have the maths in common. It takes the problem-solving part of my brain and sets it to a simple, comprehensible and, above all, possible-to-solve set of calculations. In times of such out-of-control unpredictability, I always return to the comfort of a solvable problem.

“Slay the Spire” combines deck-building and action and is available for most major platforms. “Cribbage With Grandpas” is a modern mobile spin on the card game.

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41. Paweł Orzech, UX designer, 11 bit studios (“Moonlighter,” “Children of Morta”)

“Stardew Valley.” There’s just this something that allows me to slow down and think about my crops. You know, water them a bit, maybe add something to my plant collection and watch them grow.

“Stardew Valley” is a relaxing farm simulator for most platforms, including mobile, that should appeal to “Animal Crossing” fans.

42. Bryan Pawlowski, lead engineer, Timberline Studio (upcoming “The Red Lantern”)

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“Final Fantasy 14" — that’s where my fiancée and I will be spending our virtual honeymoon time.

“Final Fantasy 14” is a massively multiplayer online game set in the universe of the fantasy role-playing game.

43. Scott Phillips, game director, Ubisoft Quebec (“Gods & Monsters”)

“Words With Friends” on my phone is my go-to game for solace. I play regularly with most of my family so it keeps me connected to them and reminds me of our vacations and holidays — which always involve a game or two of “Scrabble.”

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“Words With Friends” is a popular Scrabble-like mobile game. Fans may also want to check out “Scrabble Go.”

44. Fernando Prieto Prado, managing partner, Gato Salvaje Studio (upcoming “The Waylanders”)

I am replaying “Dragon Age Origins.” I love narrative games, and this one has been an enormous influence in our development of “The Waylanders.” I am trying to make different choices from the last time but, after playing so many times, it is a real challenge.

I’m also playing “Civilization VI.” I have played every “Civilization” since 1996. It is perfect for keeping your stress away and forgetting the world around you.

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“Dragon Age Origins” is the first in the popular “Dragon Age” role-playing game series and “Civilization VI” is the latest in the popular world-building strategy series, available for all major platforms.

45. Alice Rendell, senior narrative designer, Ubisoft Massive (“Tom Clancy’s The Division 2")

"Stardew Valley"
“Animal Crossing” fans may want to check out “Stardew Valley.”
(Concerned Ape)

When I want to relax I turn to “Stardew Valley,” but I have often asked myself why? A typical day on my farm means never completing chores, running out of energy by 9 p.m. and finishing each day with more tasks than I started with.

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This is exactly what leads to stress in my own life, so why is it so relaxing in “Stardew”? Because it offers real and tangible accomplishments. I can grow and sell products, upgrade my house and befriend my neighbors, all of which offer visible progress inside the game. Yes, the game is based on chores, but they are chores I actually finish! Creating a soothing balm for that less manageable, real-world stress.

“Stardew Valley” is a relaxing farm simulator for most platforms, including mobile, that should appeal to “Animal Crossing” fans.

46. Tim Schafer, founder, Double Fine (“Broken Age”)

All I’m playing right now is “Animal Crossing.” It lets me go outside, hang out with friends and sleep on the beach!

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“Animal Crossing: New Horizons” was built for these times.

47. Jennifer Schneidereit, game creator, co-founder, Nyamyam (“Astrologaster”)

“Animal Crossing: New Horizons” is currently my go-to de-stress game. It is very calming to slowly transform and decorate my island, getting to know the neighbors and inviting my real-life family and friends over to sit on the beach and chat. I find it relaxing to have a lot of possibilities without any obligations. The game’s humor is great and its (possibly) unintended satire of capitalism makes me laugh a lot.

“Animal Crossing: New Horizons” was built for these times.

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48. Ziba Scott, founder, Popcannibal (“Kind Words”)

For years now, when my mind has no energy left to defend itself against becoming fixated, I fixate on “The Battle of Polytopia.” It is the perfect distillation of “Civilization.” “Polytopia’s” simple and generous free-to-play model is the ONLY ONE that has ever convinced me to buy in. It’s that good. Developer Midjiwan expertly balances complex strategy gameplay, varied visuals and a plethora of units while maintaining a simple, easily parsed game-state presentation.

“The Battle of Pollytopia” is a world-building strategy game available for mobile platforms and home computers.

49. John Smedley, studio head, Amazon Games San Diego

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My comfort game is “League of Legends.” I notice I’ve been playing a lot more during the quarantine just to hear the voices of other gamers on Discord.

“League of Legends” is the Riot Games esports smash available for home computers.

50. Harvey Smith, creative director, Arkane Studios (“Dishonored”)

Right now, locked down at home for over a month, I am playing the s#%t out of “Pokémon Quest.” Surprisingly deep. My feisty little Vulpix just became a gorgeous Nine Tails, AT LONG LAST.

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“Pokémon Quest” is a free-to-start mobile game in the massive franchise that still finds new ways to surprise.

51. Marty Stratton, executive producer, id Software (“Doom Eternal”)

Playing on my ’80s retro-arcade cabinet, “Galaga” is my favorite of the games on it. Standing up, playing those games on an arcade cabinet, is like taking a step back into childhood.

52. Nicholas Tannahill, marketing manager, Firefly Studios (“Stronghold Warlords”)

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The settings of "Assassin's Creed: Odyssey" can have one dreaming of a life beyond the indoors.
The settings of “Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey” can have one dreaming of a life beyond the indoors.
(Ubisoft)

Like most devs, I started lockdown with my back catalog. “Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey” stood out as something I’d only ever have time to play during lockdown and, living in London, the closest I’m getting to an actual beach!

“Odyssey” is proper virtual escapism. The photo-realistic water, sun-baked plains and grand vistas all evoke that perfect holiday, but it’s more about the little things. The tide physically drags your character back out to sea, you can hear Mediterranean birds in the forest and snippets of Greek as you pass through towns. Be it nostalgia for family holidays or something else, this gives me a far greater sense of presence and peace than standing atop a 50-foot statue of Zeus, although admittedly that’s pretty cool too.

“Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey” is the recent entry in the open-world action-adventure franchise.

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53. Philip Tibitoski, CEO, Young Horses (“Octodad”)

I’ve continued to play the heck out of “Destiny 2.” I love the game feel, activities, competition and lore. But a big part of why it’s my favorite game is because it’s where I get to catch up with friends. It’s the game that brings me the most comfort.

Not to mention there’s an ongoing schedule of seasons and releases that always keep things feeling fresh and exciting. It can be difficult to get into and esoteric in places, but if you have a friend who already plays then you should totally get into it.

‘Destiny 2’ is a cooperative first-person shooter available for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and home computers.

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54. Konrad Tomaszkiewicz, Quest director, CD Projekt Red (“The Witcher” series, “Cyberpunk 2077")

These past three weeks I found myself staying up and playing “Pathfinder: Kingmaker” late into the night. The class and rule systems really hit the “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” nostalgia jackpot. For the first time in ages I was getting “Baldur’s Gate 2" vibes. Plus, the game is huge. There’s tons of interaction with your party members and interesting quests strewn across the map.

The difficulty level felt a bit too spiky at times, but nothing the game’s pause mechanic and a little bit of load-and-save magic couldn’t help me handle. There’s a really interesting high fantasy story here too, featuring elements of dark fantasy and some pretty cool and genuinely surprising twists. Not to mention a neatly fleshed-out kingdom management component — the amount of hard work they put into it is really huge.

“Pathfinder: Kingmaker” is a role-playing game for home computers.

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55. Josh Van Veld, director of operations, Xaviant (“Don’t Die Minerva”)

I’ve always been a fan of racing games, but this month I finally discovered “iRacing,” which is a pretty serious racing sim for the PC. I’ve found that the detail and realism really immerse me in the experience and I’ve been enjoying the competitive aspect more than I expected. Some friends and I competed in a six-hour endurance race last weekend and it was a total blast!”

“iRacing” is a highly competitive racing sim for home computers.

56. Suzanne Wallace, brand manager, Fellow Traveller (“Neo Cab, “In Other Waters”)

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Sandbox games like “Animal Crossing” or “Crusader Kings 2" are my go-to in times of stress. God-like control over an island or a dynasty that I nurture and develop over time into something impressive — just what I need to make me feel as though I have control over my IRL life!

“Crusader Kings 2" is a historical strategy game for home computers.

57. Marlon Wiebe, video producer, Brace Yourself Games (“Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer”)

My current go-to game for times of stress is “Elite Dangerous.” People complain that it’s empty and boring, but for someone like me who’s always been a bit of space cadet, I can be that same space cadet but this time where it counts: in space!

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It’s one of the most immersive VR experiences I’ve had, and its fully simulated model of our galaxy really drives home the vast and awe-inspiring universe we live in. Noncombat jobs like mining, exploration and trading are a great way to zone out and put aside our terrestrial issues for an hour or two.

“Elite Dangerous” is a space-flight simulation for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and home computers.

58. Kiki Wolfkill, studio head of “Halo” transmedia, 343 Industries (“Halo”)

As with many, I do have a second job during quarantine, which is “Animal Crossing” ... at least I’m getting chores done somewhere! Otherwise I’ve been playing a lot of “Half-Life: Alyx.” With so much going on, I’m drawn to that extra level of immersion with VR and have loved getting back to the “Half-Life” universe; both the newness and familiarity are a welcome adventure.

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“Half Life: Alyx” is a new virtual reality game that requires a VR headset.

59. Kevin Zuhn, creative director, Young Horses (“Octodad”)

“Portal 2"! There’s still a community out there making puzzles for that classic. I can always check in for a blend of familiar and new, and that’ll occupy my thoughts with cubes and flight paths for a while. I also find the atmosphere of massive architecture strangely soothing (and if you agree, might I recommend “NaissanceE,” “INFRA” and “Manifold Garden”).

“Portal 2” is a classic puzzle platformer game, most easily played today on home computers.


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