Let’s start with some honesty, as lying around the holidays is sure to get me a little more than coal in my stocking: I don’t know exactly when this piece will be published. That’s up to the editorial board. However, I do know that, by the time this piece is out, winter will be either just around the corner, or all around us.
For many people, that change in seasons—particularly, from long, sunny days to cold, and often snowy nights—will come with hardship. Some of it practical, some of it psychological. It’s hard to be stuck inside, day after day, knowing that the sun will be down by the time you get off work and that the whole world seems in hibernation.
Luckily, we have video games. In the same way that games like Animal Crossing helped many of us scratch that social urge when the pandemic started, the escapism of video games—enabled by their unique levels of immersion, compared to other mediums—can provide a cure for the winter blues. Games can give you a sunny landscape and a cheery mood so you can feel like you’re in a world where you don’t have to shovel your car out of the snow, and where you can see some sunlight in your damn free time.
It’s just about picking the right games.
That’s what we’re here for.
Please note—if you have Seasonal Affective Disorder, major depression, or any other significant disorder, then make sure you have a support network available. Reach out to your local helplines if things start to feel especially hard. You are loved and cared for, and help can be just a phonecall away.
For the more day-to-day sads, we’ve compiled a list of fun, summery video games full of sun and freedom. These are picked to transport you away from the cold winter and to a better place. And what better place to start than…
Super Mario Sunshine
In my view, Mario Sunshine is the undisputed king of “mood games.” The upbeat soundtrack, the endless sun, and the whimsical story make it an impossible game to play without being happy. What’s more, the tropical beach aesthetic that runs through the entire game in a way only Nintendo could master will make you feel far, far from the cold.
While it’s a GameCube classic, Switch players can pick it up on the Mario 3D All-Stars collection.
While the end of the game has some icier moments, Journey’s warm desert aesthetic, its sense of exploration, and its chill soundtrack all combine to create a game that sings with openness and gentle welcome. That’s probably one of the best things about this game: it’s relaxing. It doesn’t ask much of you except to enjoy it. In the middle of the stress of winter—especially around the holidays—this is a welcome reprieve.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD
You’d think, with Ocarina of Time and some other classics FINALLY coming to the Switch, I’d be recommending them. Or maybe Breath of the Wild. But, Skyward Sword’s aesthetic is well-suited to overcoming winter sadness, and without Wind Waker available, it’s your next bet. The verticality of the game, combined with the open sky of the overworld, help amplify the sense of adventure. The game lacks any ice or cold-themed levels, and instead feels like a Zelda game limited to the seasons of Spring and Summer.
While it’s not the best of the series, it’s a good pick for overcoming sadness mid-winter.
Another game that, while not the best in its series, is the best for our purposes. The Uncharted series is a fantastic, story-focused thrill ride that takes the heartrending writing skills that went into making Last of Us and puts them towards a straight-forward, fun adventure series. Uncharted 3 places you, mostly, in the deserts of the middle east (as well as some other sunny regions I won’t mention for spoiler reasons). The characters are fun, the dialogue is funny, and the game’s sense of adventure in a sun-drenched region should help you forget about the cold outside.
Also, if you happened to tear your heart open by playing Last of Us, recently, this is a good cure.
Farcry… 3 through 6
Yeah, we’re getting four for the price of one. Part of this has to do with the fact that each entry is available on systems owned by a good chunk of gamers. But, also, the games are usually located in sunny, open landscapes, whether those be tropical islands or the plains of Montana. They’re open-world shooters that give you a nice balance of chaotic fun and serious gaming, and the sense of freedom they offer is hard to beat in other first-person shooters.
What’s more, each game is a self-enclosed story that’s compelling enough to carry you through to the end. The only one we can’t vouch for is Farcry 6, which was just released. But hey… so long as you’re stuck inside, maybe it’s time to take a risk!
A summery game if there ever was one, Spiritfarer is a chill (at first) life simulator that has you faring spirits to the afterlife, managing farms, and figuring out what difficulties befell these spirits. The game is pleasant… but also heartfelt, as you unpack the sometimes-tragic stories behind these characters. While the other games on this list may make you feel the warmth on your skin, this one will warm you from the inside out.
You also might cry a little. Just a fair warning, there.