All too often, when people talk about video games, there seems to be some held belief that only games that provide a taxing challenge are “real” video games and only people who play difficult games are "real gamers." You see it in the patronizing way new Dark Souls players are told to “Git Gud” when asking for tips and advice, or when someone who’s 200 hours into the latest Animal Crossing is discussing their love of video games and gets talked down to in response. There’s an exclusionary belief that only difficult, gritty games count, and it’s nonsense.
I do love to play tough, dark, serious games sometimes, but I also enjoy playing my fair share of easy, cute, relaxing games too. The real world is horrible and depressing enough already, and sometimes I just want to live a fantasy where I rescue puppies, make Jesus skateboard, or can feasibly pay off a mortgage on a large detached home.
Scribblenauts is a game where players can type in pretty much any word they can think of, summon items into the world, and use them to solve problems. If you are trying to get a star, but it’s guarded by a hungry lion, you could summon a jetpack to fly over it, use a chunk of steak to lure it elsewhere in the map, summon a kitty cat to befriend it and lower its guard, use a cage to trap the lion, or make a huge hole for the lion to fall into and a bridge to cross it. The game is not about simply solving problems, but finding a number of different solutions that all work.
It’s about being creative, not just going for the first solution and moving on, and finding increasingly elaborate ways to finish a task. Sometimes you’ll have set limitations. Sometimes you’ll only get to summon a few items to solve a very complex task. It’s a game about flexing your imagination and seeing if the game’s developers thought of every possible idea you yourself came up with. With its cute art style and low failure stakes, it’s a great game that is accessible to anyone old enough to read, write, and think outside the box.
In Yoshi’s Crafted World, you play a little felt dinosaur who runs around worlds made of cardboard boxes, string, milk bottles, colorful craft paper, and old tin cans. All of the game’s environments are made up to look like 3D dioramas that feel authentically plausible, with the game offering minimal punishment if you fail to make a jump or are hurt.
As you guide this little dinosaur across beautiful haunted houses, trails, fields, beaches, and clouds, occasionally catching glimpses of the backs of environments and how they were constructed, you can collect little cardboard outfits for Yoshi to wear as he plays through these welcoming worlds.
It’s not a hugely challenging game, and the joy to be found is simply in watching this happy little dinosaur hold a cardboard steam train outfit up around his waist, with a little cardboard smokestack hat on, as he looks for little sunflowers hidden behind trees and fish. It’s so cute that it’s hard not to smile at each new inventive use of its craft aesthetic.
Wandersong is an adorable game about a bard who is told he needs to use his singing powers to save the world. Made to look like it’s made out of colorful layered paper, the game tells a charming story of believing in your ability to make a difference and the life-changing power of music.
Wandersong dedicates its right analog stick to singing, with each direction playing a different note. Music rhythm sections are fairly forgiving, with tracks looping until you get things right and no real penalty for failure. You can get things slightly wrong, but as long as you’re mostly there, you’ll succeed. This willingness to allow music to be a little flawed, but still charming and powerful, really helps to sell the game’s themes about the importance of music not being about its own perfection.
There’s also a completely pointless but completely charming button dedicated to dancing, with different dances unlockable over time. Sure, it’ll take me twice as long to get anywhere, but being able to do a silly jig during serious emotional cutscenes is priceless.
The way Wandersong constantly finds new uses for its simple music mechanic, never making them too challenging but making them instead varied in execution, keeps the game fresh until the end, without excluding those who struggle with complex inputs.
In the Animal Crossing games, players are tasked with collecting fruit to sell, putting together their dream house, making friends, keeping up on the comings and goings of fellow villagers, and renovating the town around them to their liking. You can collect seashells on the beach, go fishing, plant seeds, find fossils, break up rocks, catch insects, and generally engage in a number of low-pressure tasks while trying to pay off your mortgage.
Animal Crossing games rarely punish you for choices made, and ceasing to play will largely just result in your town getting overrun with weeds over time that you may need to clear up eventually. It’s a game that can be played at a leisurely pace, in short bursts over time, and allows players to revel in the joy of making friends in a world that is constantly updating with new content depending on when you decide to jump in and play.
All of the above games put joy, creativity, and colorful aesthetics over challenging tough gameplay, and all of them are a delight to play. Sure, sometimes I want to push myself to my limits trying to take down some impossibly tough boss fight with a skeleton who urges me to give up, but other days I just want a video game that’s going to make me smile and feel better about the world.
I’m just as much a “real gamer” when I’m playing cutesy easy games that don’t require a huge time commitment to master. Cute games are just as valid a part of the medium, and deserving of legitimacy when we discuss the value that games possess as art.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.