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Give yourself a mental break with these 6 soothing video games

Whether you’ve got a few minutes or 20 between Zoom calls, try one of these stress-busting video games that are easy to pick up and play.

Give yourself a mental break with these 6 soothing video games
[Animation: Stardew Valley]
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The only thing worse than wall-to-wall meetings all day is having just enough time between meetings to not get any real work done.

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Instead of cramming in an email or two and rushing into the next video conference call, try using that time to give yourself a quick mental break. Researchers have found that “microbreaks” can help give you a quick reboot by improving your ability to focus, reducing stress, and even increase your overall job happiness.

For an excellent way to shut your brain off for a few minutes here and there, try out one of these excellent pick-up-and-play games.

Stardew Valley

If you stopped reading this list right now and just went and picked up Stardew Valley, you’d be all set.

As the story goes, you inherit a farm in a lovely little town called Stardew Valley and spend your days farming, living off the land, befriending townsfolk, fishing, mining, or whatever else floats your boat. There’s no right or wrong way to play Stardew Valley.

[Image: courtesy of Stardew Valley]
If you’re a knowledge-worker, imagine the exact opposite of your life right now: fresh air, the great outdoors, subsistence living—the whole nine yards.

The game is designed like a throwback Super Nintendo/Sega Genesis port, and each in-game day takes about 15 minutes to complete.

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It’s available on just about every platform out there for between $8 and $15, though I’d humbly submit that the $15 computer versions for PC, Mac, and Linux are worth it if you’re trying to decide.

OK Golf

Sometimes golf games have a tough time splitting the difference between too realistic and too goofy, but OK Golf does a more-than-OK job of getting it right.

It’s a reasonably full golf experience that’s as easy to play as your run of the mill, aim-and-shoot mini golf game. However, it features a nearly endless collection of beautifully rendered nine-hole courses that are each unique enough from one another to keep you coming back for more.

Available on Android and iOS for $3 and $4, respectively, each hole takes about a minute or two to complete—perfect for while you’re waiting for everyone to join the next Zoom call.

It’s Literally Just Mowing

Cold weather got you down? Do you miss the halcyon days of summertime—especially that smell of freshly cut grass after you’re done mowing the lawn?

An almost zen-like experience, the wonderfully-named It’s Literally Just Mowing doesn’t leave much to the imagination when it comes to describing the game. It’s literally just mowing.

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You move along the street from house to house, mowing everyone’s lawn. Each lawn takes a couple minutes, and you can upgrade your mower and spot little animals along the way. It’s a free-to-play game for Android and iOS, so expect some ads and nudges to upgrade if you play often.

Mario Kart Tour

If you’ve never felt the thrill of whipping a green turtle shell at a fellow go-kart racer, there’s never been a better time to get into Mario Kart. And the free-to-play mobile version, Mario Kart Tour, is a rip-roaring good way to kill five minutes.

Available on Android and iOS, it’s got most of the components that make all its console cousins shine. Though because this game is mobile, you can play it with one hand while drinking coffee with the other. But be forewarned: Once you get into a heated race, coffee will be the least of your worries.

Pocket City

Imagine a city-building game that’s rewarding and engaging like SimCity or Cities: Skylines, but easier to pick up and play. That’s Pocket City for you.

Two of its claims to fame include a really nice onboarding experience that teaches you to play the game and a very reasonable price of $3 on Android and iOS, which means no upsells or microtransactions to get in the way of all the building you’ll be doing.

The Oregon Trail (classic 1990 version)

Alright, let’s get serious now. Oregon Trail has been remixed, released, and remade a jillion times but, if you’re like me, you’re looking for the 1990-era classic that made schoolkids the world over rush through pop-quizzes to be first to the classroom computer.

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Playable directly in your browser for free thanks to the Internet Archive, this classic shot of nostalgia still somehow holds up as a blast to play after all these years.

What’ll it be? A banker from Boston? A carpenter from Ohio? A farmer from Illinois? And who’s going to die from dysentery first? Pack up your wagon and head from Independence, Missouri, to the Willamette Valley in Oregon—all before your next meeting starts.