We all have those games, don’t we? The ones we return to over and over again, on vacations and sick days and when we just need something warm and familiar — maybe even comforting.
A few months ago on the What’s Good Games podcast (one of my favorites), the hosts discussed the idea of “comfort food” games. I loved that. For me, there’s a nostalgic quality to comfort food games. It’s like tasting your family’s home cooking after a long time away. Or like going home for Christmas. It’s like visiting your childhood house again, or seeing an old friend.
Flash foward a few months, and now here we are in the middle of a pandemic. The world is going crazy right now, and amidst the darkness I find myself wanting to escape to something comforting more than ever. This has inspired me to create a list of my own comfort food games. I’d love to hear what yours are, too! Do any of these make your list?
Gears of War
It took some time for me to get into the Gears of War series, but once I was able to jump into co-op with my partner, I fell in love. (With the games, not just with my now-husband!) The series has a special place in my heart now, as I have so many memories of playing these with my hubby. My favorite is when we both woke up before dawn, unable to sleep anymore, took one look at each other and said, “Do you want to play Gears of War?” We played until it was time to get ready for work hours later.
Though Gears of War is a shooter series, the games have a ton of heart. You get attached to the recurring characters, like Marcus Fenix who remains the soul of the series. That’s why my husband and I have so many running jokes about radishes, Carmine, and how important it is to “fight through the pain!” I just love this series, and returning to it always feels like coming home.
Mass Effect 2
While any Mass Effect trilogy game could make this list, Mass Effect 2 is my absolutely favorite of the series. I’m currently replaying it for the first time in many years, and it’s incredible. For a decade-old game, it holds up so well.
But what I really love about Mass Effect in general is diving back into this familiar science fiction world, meeting characters like Garrus and Tali who feel like old friends. Sure, Mass Effect is fiction, but the emotions I have when I play are very real. Also, I’m currently playing ME2 on Normal difficulty and finding it pretty easy — maybe because it’s an old game, or maybe because I just know exactly what to expect around every turn. And that’s definitely comforting right now.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Skyrim was one of the first video games I played obsessively. Like, I couldn’t sleep because I had to finish another quest, buy a new house, explore a new city, recruit a new companion. I’ve always felt there’s something addictive about open-world sandbox games like Skyrim, and sometimes that’s okay. That quality of always wanting to do a little more, a little more is actually what distracts me from my worries. While I’ve learned to balance video games and real life, I still love clicking into Skyrim and getting lost in that beautiful, familiar fantasy world for a while.
Part of what makes Portal special as a comfort food game is its style. It’s not a fast-paced shooter, a sprawling open world, or a frantic fantasy game. Instead, it’s a simple puzzle game with humor and heart. I love the fact that the game makes me laugh so much; GLaDOS, the artificial intelligence watching you during your in-game experiments, is hilarious.
Whether you play the first game alone or the second game with a co-op partner, there’s something sweet and comforting about sitting back, taking your time, and solving physics puzzles. All you have to do is get from one side of the room to the exit on the other side. And when you succeed, that little achievement is enough to make your day so much brighter.
Dragon Age: Origins
I’m sure some of you saw this one coming! Dragon Age: Origins is the game that made me love games. Maybe it’s that… or perhaps it’s that birthday connection I have with it. In any case, this is my number one comfort food game!
Dragon Age: Origins is started to feel pretty dated, to be honest — but that only adds to the nostalgia I feel when I replay it. And it’s still a beautiful game, with an amazing story and characters I know and love. Just hearing Alistair’s awkwardness or enduring Morrigan’s snark puts a smile on my face. I’ll always come back to this game as something that truly relieves my stress and reminds me of who I am.
What are your “comfort food” games? Is there anything special you’re doing to get through these strange and challenging times right now?