Let's face it, folks...we live in a world filled with more stress than most of us really care to deal with on a regular basis. Sure, we have numerous outlets to relieve this stress, but for regular visitors to this site, there is one singular way to feel better without punching your fist through a wall. That way is, of course, gaming. For me, there are several specific games (and specific areas of certain of these games) that relieve more stress for me than anything else (except maybe sex...but that's a different site, *ahem). Here they are...

I could've chosen just about any of the various Sim Games (with the exception of The Sims...can't stand those) to start off, as they all give the player an amazing amount of control over what goes on. For me, though, being able to create a golf course from scratch is a dream, and one of the best ways to relieve stress I know (as opposed to actually PLAYING the game of golf). I always turn down the sound while playing and listen to some music, as the SimSpeak tends to grate after awhile (especially the friendly greeting that sounds like "My Beano!"). I've created seven complete courses since getting the game several years ago and I'll go back to tinker with the courses from time to time, as well as creating ultimate challenger holes just for the fun of it. A great way to spend a couple hours on a weekend if you have nothing to do after a stressful week.

To be honest, when I first popped this game into my PS1, I was put off by the graphics and overall feel of the game, which almost led to me taking it back. Thankfully, I took a second look at it, and it became one of my favorite games of all times. However, what did it for me was not the plot, nor the playability itself...instead, it was the ability to craft weaponry, up to and including some incredible double halberds (my preferred deliverer of pain) and swords. As a collector of blades myself, being able to create my own (within the context of the game, of course) was the ultimate in satisfaction and a great way to relieve stress, as you can build up your weapons stats by beating the stuffing out of various practice dummies scattered around the town. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys bladed weaponry.

I'll admit it...I tend to be a bit of a control freak. If there is something that I can mold or manipulate in ways that I prefer, then I will do it. It's in my blood. However, as with anything else, not everything can be controlled, and sometimes, this stresses me out in the extreme. Praise the gods for Sid Meier, who has taken those of us who like a little control in our lives, under his wings. I've played all the other versions of Civ, but 3 is the one I go back to most often. If I'm feeling really, really stressed, then I'll play the game on the easiest level possible, with only one other civilization to play against, just so I can be an isolationist for several centuries. Quite satisfying, and the ultimate way to control everything without some jerk of a dictator stepping into your yard.

When this game first hit store shelves in the United States, many reviewers wondered how (or if) a farming game would sell. Sure, it never had the numbers of, say, one of the Final Fantasy games, but for those who have played it (and replayed it numerous times), Harvest Moon: Back To Nature is one of the most laid-back, stress-free, relaxing games ever made. Essentially, all you do is take a farm that you inherit (again, no spoilers here, so play it yourself to find out the hows and whys) and make it successful. Along the way, you get a dog, a bunch of locals to talk to, and maybe even a girlfriend that becomes your wife. True, it's sexist as can be (but then, a lot of games like this are, given their pedigree), but for taking a great deal of time doing very little, it excels in ways no other games can even approach.

Some might wonder about the placement of this game in a stress-relieving list, given the difficulty of some of the missions and the overall mood/attitude of the earlier parts of the game. However, there is one specific part of the game that just relaxes me, and that is hopping on one of the dozen or so motorcycles available during the game and just driving around, listening to K-Rose or "The Dust" for half an hour or so. Yeah, nothing really gets accomplished, other than increasing my motorcycle riding ability, but sometimes the best things in life require no real effort. Hence, driving around San Andreas, watching the scenery go by...oh, and sometimes taking dives off 400 foot cliffs into the bay. Muy bien!

When my life gets to the point where I feel I have no control over anything, I tend to play games where I get to be God for awhile (or at least one who can put a tree wherever I damn well please, thank you very much). Of the three control-freak's-dream games on this list, this is my favorite. There are so many things about this game that make me feel more relaxed, but the main area of interest to me is getting to take pictures of mundane objects that you can later combine to make new and (usually) helpful items. Even more than re-creating the various world areas that have vanished (no spoilers here--play the game yourself to see why), just going around snapping pictures of everything is very calming. Besides, not all stress relieving involves blowing the heads off of gang members or decapitating skeletons.

Yes, I'm aware that Doom actually appeared elsewhere, but I never got a chance to play it until it came out on Super Nintendo (one of the only, if not only, cartridge to be colored red, for the sake of trivia). In any case, when I was in my early 20s, this was my main stress reliever whilst finishing up college and starting out on my own. In terms of playability and style, Doom was horrible to me, but I got a big thrill out of gasping my way through ridiculously difficult levels, blasting away with guns that would knock a bodybuilder on his can due to the recoil if fired in real life. It was the blood and general violence that did it...which probably says something about me that I'd rather not delve into further...

To be honest, the overall game sucks compared to the first one(although it's better than the subsequent volumes), but Driver 2 has one thing that makes it a superb stress-reliever: the ability to get out of the vehicle you're driving during free roam and carjacking another one. This then allows you to spend time crashing through traffic, leading cops on long chases full of metal carnage, and generally making a nuisance of oneself. While the mission parts of the game are, themselves, apt to raise your blood pressure, nothing makes me smile more than leading about ten police cars over a slowly rising drawbridge in downtown Chicago. Very choice.

In reality, I am an outstanding driver, albeit one who prefers to putter along about ten miles above the posted limit. However, traffic, slow drivers, people who do everything in their cars EXCEPT drive, etc, make me more than a little stressed. Thus, whenever such things start to make me want to put on horrible glasses and a tie (a la Michael Douglas in "Falling Down") and pump bullets into SUVs, I pop in Burnout Revenge. Specifically, I love, love, LOVE the Traffic Attack section. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than plowing through a couple hundred automobiles of varying sizes, sending them careening into guardrails, walls and other vehicles. Prime stress-relieving bliss!

My #1 stress reliever. I can come home in a near rage, pop this classic into the player, and go to town. The best thing about it, from the opening fight on, in and over the ships to the final battle against Ares, is that every single creature you kill (in some of the most satisfyingly bloody ways ever seen in a game) never existed. Therefore, you can have a guilt-free hour or so of total carnage, getting all that excess stress out of your system, without feeling at all bad about it. Truly a stressed-out individuals dream come true!

I own over 140 games on several different systems, and many of them are more fun to play or have better graphics, etc, etc, than the ones I have listed here. However, when I'm stressed out and don't feel like trying to maneuver through a level of a Hitman game, or spend hours leveling up to beat some boss in Final Fantasy 7000, these ten games are perfect ways to spend a few relaxing minutes or hours. Sometimes, it's good to just stop and chill out for awhile. To quote the immortal Ferris..."Life moves pretty fast...if you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you might miss it..."

List by zanazarius (05/29/2007)

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