Life Sim Games - Image from Disney Dreamlight Valley

Life Sim Games To Help With Real Life

There’s no denying that life sim games are one of the most popular sub-genres in gaming. Life simulation, to give it its Sunday name, seems to be a particularly appealing niche right now. While action and adventure titles definitely have their place when it comes to thrills and storytelling, life sim games hit a different kind of sweet spot.

Is it any wonder? Real life is pretty difficult for many of us these days. The current economic climate means that for a large number of people who’ve previously enjoyed a relatively even level of financial stability, things are much harder. Work-life balances have plummeted as people take on second jobs and extra responsibilities to try and make ends meet. In itself, gaming is quite a privileged pastime now.

As such, lots of people are being forced to look at their subscriptions and additional entertainment choices as real luxury items. Still, while we’re all tightening our belts and cutting back on the things we’d have previously treated ourselves to, our collective well-being is at risk of taking a nosedive.

However, those who are able to reconnect with games that help with this ongoing stress might choose to indulge in a couple of different life sim titles. While they’re not an exact replacement for real life, they provide a few more benefits than just escapism. Although that alone is a pretty useful bonus these days. Let’s explore some life sim games in a bit more detail.

What are life sim games?

Life sim games are titles such as Stardew Valley, The Sims, Animal Crossing, and many more. They allow players to live vicariously through their simulated worlds, with no sense of real-life risk or financial turbulence. This extends especially to life sim games with a business management aspect, such as Farming Simulator or Two Point Campus, for example.

two point campus
Two Point Campus – Two Point Studios/SEGA

There’s more than just the fun factor at play here though. These are games that allow us to stimulate different parts of our developmental and emotional ranges, perhaps without even realising it. As children, learning through play is fundamental to how we perceive and interact with the world. Life sim games have this same effect for adults, as they allow us to visualise a number of different, imaginative scenarios and how we’d like to engage with them. This might be how we’d run our own farms, build our own cities or simply live out a different kind of day-to-day life, for example.

Perhaps most crucially, life sim games give players a sense of control that may often feel out of reach in today’s world. Certainly, the upheaval over the last couple of years has left many feeling at odds with their lives in general. Back in 2020, when COVID really took hold, life sim games saw a massive uptick in player numbers. This is especially true of Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which led to sale shortages of the Nintendo Switch console as gaming took root in the households of new audiences.

What else do people get out of these games?

Though figures have petered out a bit since those days, as many people emerged from lockdowns and began venturing out into the workplace once more, these games have remained popular. The sub-genre itself is evolving and growing, with a number of AAA titles now incorporating aspects of life sim mechanics into their games.

The globally popular MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV, for example, recently added an ‘Island Sanctuary’ for each player as part of its most recent update. This personalised island allows players to mine resources, forage for materials, grow crops, build their own bases and tame animals, amongst other things.

Island Sanctuary Final Fantasy XIV
Final Fantasy XIV – Square Enix

One of the other significant benefits of playing life sim games is the enjoyment of experimentation. This could be said for other gaming genres, but with a life simulator, players aren’t being ushered down a particular campaign route or narrative path. There’s a freedom in these types of games that would be equivalent to that of real life, were real life not so tightly constrained by the responsibilities and pressures of finance, career progression and family commitments.

Being able to put all that in a box and concentrate solely on planting some virtual carrots to cook a virtual vegetable stew with for a while sounds incredibly appealing, to be honest. To add to this is character customisation, where players can often experiment with the idea of being someone else for a little while. This is an important notion for many people, who can often feel trapped by the realities they experience.

Some great life sim titles to try out

If you’re new to this particular sub-genre of gaming then it’s worth looking into. Aside from the benefits mentioned above, these games are, by their nature, designed with relaxation in mind. As a way to unwind from the stresses of real life, they’re an ideal option if you’re in a position to play them. Some life sim titles are also free to play, which is great if you can access them.

Disney Dreamlight Valley

life sim games Disney Dreamlight Valley
Disney Dreamlight Valley – Gameloft

A treat for any Disney fan, Disney Dreamlight Valley was released a couple of months ago and is available in Early Access. It’ll be launched in 2023 on a free-to-play model, which means everyone can experience the charm of its magical life sim action. Players will find themselves at the centre of their own mystical world, which is the titular Dreamlight Valley. Its inhabitants take the form of many beloved characters from the Disney and Pixar universes. However, players need to revitalise the valley and restore the memories of its former occupants first. Enter plenty of farming, crafting, rebuilding and repairing as players can experience being the ruler of their very own Disney world.

I’m currently playing this game a lot and can vouch for its escapism. As you unlock characters, you’ll also unlock friendship quests which can keep you busy outside of day-to-day valley nurturing. So, there’s plenty to do while you’re breathing new life into this strange, forgotten world.

Available on: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC

The Sims 4

life sim games the sims 4
The Sims 4 – Maxis/EA

Perhaps the most iconic and well-known franchise in the life sim genre must be The Sims. It’s the title many of us started out with when playing PC games in particular, and holds a special place in the history of gaming. The Sims 4 is its current iteration and is a highly enjoyable way for people to live out their simulated fantasy lives. The game also has a huge variety of add-ons and expansion packs for players to use when customising their Sims’ lifestyle choices.

Creating whole communities, setting aspirations, building relationships and experiencing all that sim life has to offer is just as popular as ever before. In fact, there are over 33 million of us actively playing The Sims 4 at the moment, which is pretty impressive given that the game was first released way back in 2014. It’s a formula that just works, plus it recently went free-to-play on all platforms.

Available on: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, PC

Stardew Valley

life sim games stardew valley
Stardew Valley – ConcernedApe

If you’re craving some stress-free farming and interaction, Stardew Valley is a must-play. This quintessential life sim has won a number of awards for its highly engaging yet relaxing approach to starting a new life in the country. Players will find themselves moving to the titular Stardew Valley to renovate and rebuild their recently deceased grandfather’s old farm.

The Valley itself is packed full of interesting characters to get involved with, which gives another element of role-playing into the crop-raising and harvesting slice-of-life action. Stardew Valley also follows a seasonal pattern throughout the game for that immersive feel and is a really great game to sink some time into if you’re looking for a break from the real world.

Available on: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC

My Time At Portia/My Time At Sandrock

A colourful combination of role-playing action and life-sim gaming, My Time At Portia gives players the freedom to explore, craft, build and quest through a new world. In a similar vein to that of Stardew Valley, players will discover they’ve been given the keys to their father’s old workshop. They’ll need to restore it to its former glory as they grow crops, mine resources, raise animals, take on building contracts and solve mysteries across the island nation of Portia. With plenty of townspeople to befriend and help, My Time At Portia is a relaxing and fun adventure to escape into.

The game’s sequel, My Time At Sandrock, was released fairly recently. It takes players to the desert community of Sandrock, where improved crafting and building systems are there to help players along. Players will need to help the town of Sandrock escape from ruin by implementing infrastructure to make it a profitable community once more. The game is fairly new, so is currently in Early Access and can be purchased via Steam or on the Epic Games store for around £20.

Available on: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC (My Time At Portia) – My Time At Sandrock: PC

The Good Life

life sim games the good life
The Good Life – White Owls/Playism

Alright, so it’s not technically a life sim as such, but The Good Life does have some life sim elements to it that players should enjoy. Plus, it’s such a weirdly engrossing adventure that it needed to be included here.

Players will step into the shoes of New Yorker Naomi Hayward, a journalist who gets sent to a quaint English village to investigate the secrets of its reported happiness. As a bizarre mystery begins to unfold, players will have to manage Naomi’s finances, life choices and relationships with the people she meets in Rainy Woods. Discovering the secrets of the “happiest town in the world” turns out to be a highly interesting and unusual mix of detective work, debt management and life simulation. Plus, Naomi has a very special relationship with cats and dogs in this game, which makes it all the more engaging.

This is definitely one to try out if you enjoy an original adventure along with your escapism.

Available on: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

life sim games ACNH
Animal Crossing: New Horizons – Nintendo

The game that took the world by storm back in 2020 still has a lot to offer those who haven’t got around to trying it yet. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is available exclusively on the Nintendo Switch and is probably one of the more expensive choices when it comes to these games. However, it has an undoubtedly cute and cosy feel to it that Switch owners across the globe have resonated with.

The game encourages players to become the boss of their own desert island, building an animal-based community as they go. Gathering and crafting play a large part in the overall gameplay, as do socialising and building relationships to improve the island.

Players can also get some local and online co-op gameplay in the mix with Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which is another reason it became so popular during the pandemic. The game can be enjoyed locally with up to four players and with up to eight players available to explore an island together online.

Available on: Nintendo Switch

Grow: Song of the Evertree

Grow Song Of The Evertree
Grow: Song of the Evertree – Prideful Sloth/505 Games

A game that allows players to literally grow their own worlds, Grow: Song of the Evertree is a richly satisfying experience. It’s a visually stunning game that blends life sim elements with adventure and landscaping. Players can explore their worlds at leisure, discovering new flora and fauna as they reconnect with different elements of the natural landscape.

As with other life sim titles, there are plenty of crafting, harvesting, mining and fishing activities to sink some time into in this game. However, being able to generate entire new worlds from a single seed is a pretty engaging and unique concept that gives Grow: Song of the Evertree a fresh feel all of its own.

Available on: Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC

Ready to escape from reality?

Whether or not you’ve played these types of games before, it’s worth trying something different from time to time. Games can have a variety of effects on well-being and overall mood. So, it’s always a good idea to broaden your horizons now and again to feel the benefits of new experiences. These cosy life simulation titles are super popular nowadays, which isn’t hard to understand given the stresses and strains of real life.

Hopefully, there’ll be a couple of titles mentioned here that could kick-start a life sim journey for you. With that said, if you have any suggestions for games that should be included in a life sim must-play list, let me know in the comments.

For more on gaming, check out this list of indie games for creative writers. There’s also this post on games like Starfield to get all otherworldly with, or this list of open world games to dive into.

super cosy life sim games image shows an image of Disney Dreamlight Valley
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