These days the gaming industry spans a wider spectrum than ever before, catering for the billion or so gamers unique tastes from all around the world. While some people enjoy the pulse pumping energy of a battle royale, or the time consuming black hole that is the Sid Meier’s Civilization franchise, there are a group of gamers who just want to kick back and enjoy a wholesome gaming experience to unwind. Whether it’s planting crops, taking a hike or unpacking from a move, wholesome games come in all shapes and sizes.
Just what makes a game considered to be wholesome? Generally, something that is wholesome is considered to be linked to both physical and moral well-being, which is not something often associated with video games. Well, these days video games cater to more than just entertainment, supplying good feelings and relaxation as well through adorable characters and heartwarming adventures. But, wholesome games can be more than just cute looking aesthetics and characters, the core of the wholesome genre is in creating what could be considered a ‘wholesome’ experience for the player.
Source: animal crossing
These kinds of games also tend to have a more casual atmosphere to them, with less of a time commitment than most triple A titles on the market and gameplay with very low skill level requirements. Very few wholesome genre games involve violence or guns, instead having players pick up a trowel or complete fetch quests for inquisitive neighbors. Most games tagged under wholesome are usually a mix of quirky, comical, cute, relaxing or down right absurd.
The wholesome genre can be dated back to the early 1990s, just in far smaller numbers than today. Old classics such as Harvest Moon and Nintendo’s original Animal Crossing on the retro SNES and GameCube are some of the oldest examples and are considered to be the original wholesome games. Since then, a splattering of games throughout the industry have fallen into the category, some of which may surprise you. Technically, even Katamari Damacy on the PlayStation 2 falls under the wholesome genre category, even if the whole point of the game is an on the nose allegory for capitalism and consumerism. A wholesome genre game can have some darker undertones, as long as the overall gameplay is still relaxing or satisfying and rolling up items with a giant katamari is indeed satisfying.
Source: katamari damacy
Over the years the genre has evolved, expanding beyond the villager and farming simulator space and expanding into a whole bunch of topics. Some focus more on aesthetics as a main point, such as Journey and ABZU from thatgamecompany. Others use the strength of the writing as a focal point, with games like the Frog Detective series and Later Alligator being side splittingly funny. Party games have also jumped into the trend, with Overcooked and Moving Out falling under the genre umbrella thanks to the task based nature of the games and cartoonish graphics. A large proportion of the genre use cuteness as a main selling point, such as Frogsong and Bear and Breakfast, overwhelming players with levels of cute animals and soft colour pallets to create a sense of comfort and wholesomeness.
That being said, both the villager and farming life simulator settings are still staples of the genre, with the recent Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Stardew Valley considered to be the new titans of the wholesome genre. The overwhelming success of both of these games has helped spark new life into the genre, bringing wholesome games into the spotlight across the industry. Many games have since tried to replicate the success of these titles, such as the Story of Seasons series which is the modern renaming of the Harvest Moon franchise, but none have come close. Instead, indie developers have started putting their own twist on the classics with titles such as Ooblets and Cozy Grove standing out amongst the slew of villager/farming simulators on the market. From the intense dance battling Ooblets or spiritual caregiving featured in Cozy Grove, the wholesome genre scene is ever evolving.
Many of these games were created based on what the developers saw or experienced in their day to day lives. Many of the developers grew up playing games like Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon and have used their new skills to recreate the aspects of these games that they themselves loved and combine them with the world around them. In an interview with the Verge, Adam Robinson-Yu the creator of A Short Hike spoke about how some trips inspired the game. “I went on a road trip with some of my friends and we visited Yosemite, we went to Mount Glacier, and stuff like that. The feeling of hiking in the woods… I was really into those trips, and I didn’t realize how much I loved just going to a mountain and hiking up it… I don’t think A Short Hike really ended up being what I thought a hiking simulator would be, but that was the inspiration.” Whether it is the cozy feeling of a campfire or the serene quiet of a mountain hike, some part of the developer lives inside these games.
Source: a short hike
There is even a community dedicated to the genre. The wholesome games community was launched in 2019 by games developer Matthew Taylor as a Twitter account and has since grown experientially. In just a few short years the community and social media following has expanded to include fans of the genre and independent developers. Earlier this year as a part of the digital E3 showcases, a Wholesome Direct was broadcast online, featuring over 70 games from independent studios from across the world. The 1 hour long presentation included exclusive footage, developer interviews and game announcements. This direct helped put of a lot of previously unknown titles and studios on player’s radars.
Wholesome games let players escape the stresses of modern day life and experience a world filled with warmth and kindness, usually featuring adorable friends and family who support you through your digital life. It’s not hard to see how wholesome games can be appealing to players, especially considering how endearing each and every one can be. While some people may find solace in first person shooter games at the end of a long day, there is nothing wrong with kicking back and doing some digital weeding to wind down.