All work and no play is a sure-fire recipe for burnout. But if you’re like me, you don’t have the time, patience, or dexterity to immerse yourself in challenging, epic, super-intense video games.
Luckily, there are plenty of casual story-driven games that can serve as quick diversions during the workday. Here are four of my absolute favorites, each of which can be played in bite-size sessions whenever you have a few minutes to kill.
As its title suggests, Unpacking is a game about . . . unpacking. Hear me out!
There’s something strangely peaceful about taking little virtual books out of a virtual cardboard box and placing them on a virtual shelf.
You start small: unpacking what appears to be your college dorm room; then as you proceed through life, the unpacking goes from your small apartment to your larger apartment to your house—complete with kids’ toys.
You can breeze through an unpacking session in a few minutes, making this a great option for between meetings or—gasp!—during meetings.
Unpacking costs $20 and is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One.
In Lake, you take on the role of Meredith Weiss, a thirtysomething software executive who returns to her lakeside hometown of Providence Oaks for two weeks to cover her dad’s mail route.
Yes, this is a game about delivering mail, but you’ll interact with a colorful cast of characters along the way and proceed through a rich story where your decisions ultimately affect your relationships, your career, and whether you decide to stay in Providence Oaks or return to the big city.
The town itself, centered around a beautiful lake at the foot of towering mountains, makes for a breathtaking delivery route, and the soundtrack is downright lovely. Playtime is divided into days, each of which takes about 10 to 15 minutes to complete. Lake costs $20 and is available for PC and Xbox One.
Firewatch is the most intense of our non-intense games here.
You play the role of Henry, taking a break from real-life problems to hole up in a Wyoming watchtower as a fire lookout. Each day, you’re tasked with checking out various anomalies, each of which unravel into an increasingly mysterious whodunit.
The story itself is pretty good, but the scenery steals the show here. You’re surrounded by majestic mountains, yellow-orange sunsets, and as much nature as you can handle. As with Lake, gameplay is chunked into days, with each day lasting about 10 to 15 minutes.
Firewatch costs $20 and is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
I’ve sunk a whopping 360 hours into my all-time favorite quick break game, Stardew Valley.
You play as a character who escapes life as a cubicle-dweller for a soulless corporation—notice a theme here?—to take up life on your late-grandfather’s farm in the quaint town of Stardew Valley.
From there, the world is your oyster. Spend each day helping out the townspeople, fishing, mining, or—heck—even farming. The visual style is reminiscent of the 16-bit days of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, and the soundtrack deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.
Each in-game day lasts between 10 and 15 minutes, and if you can stick to just playing one session at a time in between meetings, you’ve got far more self-control than I do.
Stardew Valley costs $15 and is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. The mobile version costs $8 for iOS and Android.