Culture lockdown: Gaming

Games to help you unwind and connect with friends while stuck indoors

Culture lockdown: Gaming

So before I list the games that I recommend for lockdown I think it’s important I give some kind of rationale to my choices. I’m not necessarily looking for my favourite games or the ones which I think are the most significant (I’ve already got a list for my most significant from the last year and ten years). I’m looking for games you can sit down and get absorbed in whilst we’re stuck inside. I’m going to give a preference to those that you can play solo or with friends (since being able to play with each other online is a good way to stay connected right now) and I’ll try and include games available for a range of platforms and budgets.

Stardew Valley (by Concerned Ape)

Single Player and Cooperative Multiplayer

Stardew Valley is one of those rare games that it is almost universally beloved; with an astonishing 96.45% positive rating on Steam, placing it 9th best-rated game in their library. Not bad when you consider that the whole thing was programmed by one man!

In Stardew Valley you escape from your urban life and office job, and are tasked with taking on your grandfather’s abandoned farm. In many ways, it plays much like Animal Crossing, with an emphasis on farming but also encouraging you to fish, befriend the townsfolk, explore the mines, and try and help the local community. 

Its charming pixel-art and beautiful (and unique) soundtrack provide a wonderful background to a relaxed, yet incredibly compelling game.

  • Platforms: Microsoft Windows, MacOS, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Vita, iOS, Android
  • Price (approximate): £12 on Steam, £6.50 on mobile

Portal 1 & 2 (by Valve)

Single Player and 2-player Cooperative Multiplayer (in the second game)

Portal is something of a legend among people who choose computers as their gaming platform of choice. Released in 2007 and 2011, the two Portal games have aged incredibly well and are easily two of the best puzzle platformers in the genre. 

In Portal you are tasked by a belligerent (and hilarious) AI called GLaDOS to complete a series of “tests” with the - dubious - promise of your freedom and/or cake. In these tests you use your portal gun to traverse the levels: you shoot two portals onto a surface and when you walk into one you exit the other at the same velocity as you entered. From this premise, you are placed in increasingly complicated assault courses where you have to bend physics (and indeed your brain) to get yourself closer to that delicious delicious cake.

Playing Portal is sure to both challenge you and make you laugh along the way as you experience a game that has become a key marker in the history of game development.

  • Platforms: Microsoft Windows, MacOS, Linux
  • Price: Approx £7, £10 for the bundle containing both games

Civilisation (by Sid Meier - All Entries)

Single Player vs AI, or Multiplayer (including hot-seat)

The Civilization games have always been something of a genre-leader when it comes to turn-based strategy. They even coined a phenomenon now observed in game design: “one more turn syndrome”. I’ve waxed lyrical about the phenomenal music of the sixth entry in the series, but I think perhaps part of its broader appeal is its polished gameplay and the sheer fun you can have competing with your friends.

All the entries to the Civ franchise have the same core principle: found an empire, and become a dominant force either through military force, scientific progress, cultural richness, etc.. You can play against the AI or against your friends as a variety of different real-world empires from across history, each with their own specialisms and perks.

The fact that there are more ways to win than simply crushing your foes under the heel of your army (although still a valid strategy) adds variety and complexity to a game that remains accessible and easy to understand, where strategy games can often be accused of being rather impenetrable. 

  • Platforms: Microsoft Windows, MacOS, Linux, Mobile (varies between entries)
  • Price: Ranging from £3 to £50 dependant on title

Cities Skylines (by Paradox Interactive)

Single Player

For those who prefer creative games, Paradox’s Cities Skylines is a fantastic game for losing yourself in both the logistics and creative challenges of building your own city. Building bustling city centres and sprawling suburbs is a challenge that’s easy to grasp and hard to master.

Mods and DLCs make this game even better, so if you don’t object to spending a bit more on downloading some extra content, you can expand your building endeavours to building university campuses, parks, industrial areas, and sprawling transport networks. 

I find that Skylines is a game that is better to think of as a hobby in itself than a single self-contained game. It definitely has the potential to be one of the most expensive options on the list (as with many Paradox games) but how much you spend depends on how far down the rabbit hole you want to go. You can either treat it as a modern SimCity (I refuse to acknowledge the existence of the actual new SimCity for reasons) or as a sandbox to create almost anything you like. This guy has gone so far as to build and program his own assets so he can make a super-detailed dome-city on Mars and it is truly beautiful. I’m not sure he got the memo though that Paradox kinda already made that game...

  • Platforms: Microsoft Windows, MacOS, Linux, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch
  • Price: £23

Minecraft (by Mojang/Microsoft)

Single Player or Multiplayer

Minecraft really needs no introduction, and it is one of those games that seems perfect for escaping from being cooped up indoors whilst the lockdown goes on. Whether you just want to build and explore a world on your own with only your wits and a pickaxe to conquer your surroundings, or whether you want to have fun making something cool with friends, Minecraft can facilitate. 

I think part of Minecraft’s appeal is that the world, and indeed the game itself, is very much in the hands of its players. Every block (well, nearly) is mineable and changeable and placeable. The entire world is able to be picked away at and reformed however the player wants. In some particularly old servers, this has led to crazy almost surreal terrain around spawn as players waged war on each other. 

More significantly though, the mutability of the game world also translates into a mutability of what people use the game for. It’s easy enough to go through the usual Minecraft game progression of mine deeper, get better gear, go to the Nether, go to the End, win the game. However when you look at what the community has done with the tools given to them I think the true sandbox nature of the game reveals itself. From the Hunger Games-style mode that might have helped kickstart the entire battle royale genre, to the library containing records of suppressed information from countries around the world, fighting to uphold freedom of information, Minecraft offers a world in which the players have total creative freedom and total control over how they build their worlds; perhaps a sensation we need now more than ever.

  • Platforms: Microsoft Windows, MacOS, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Vita, iOS, Android, Java, FireOS, WiiU, Nintendo 3DS
  • Price: Varies Massively, approx. £16

Baba is You (by Hempuli)

Single Player

Baba is You is a slightly mind-melting puzzle game where tiles create rules which dictate how you can interact in the game world. One example would be three connected tiles saying WALL IS STOP, which prevents your character from moving through walls. By disconnecting a word from that statement, you will find your character can now move through the walls as if they weren’t there because they are no longer STOPping you. 

If you find that lockdown is leaving you a little bored and understimulated, Baba is You promises to provide a truly head-scratching challenge, whilst also cleverly challenging many of our assumptions about game design in the process.

Platforms: Microsoft Windows, MacOS, Linux, Nintendo Switch 

Price: £11

Terraria (by Re-Logic)

Single Player or Multiplayer

Terraria is often described as a 2D Minecraft but that feels incredibly reductive. I wanted to try and offer some very different experiences for people on this list and I think that Terraria’s unique elements more than justify a place. Like Minecraft, you have a seemingly infinitely mutable environment in which you can explore and adventure in. However, I find the adventure that Terraria offers is more compelling in itself than its 3D colleague. 

Where Minecraft effectively gives you a sandbox and essentially tells you to do whatever you like, Terraria does than but then offers you a much more crafted gameplay progression, where your advancement feels meaningful and the challenge scales satisfyingly. Minecraft feels more like a sandbox game and Terraria feels more like an adventure, or a journey.

Which brings me to the other reason I mention Terraria here. As of the time of writing, the final update for Terraria before Re-Logic dedicate themselves fully to other projects (hopefully Terraria 2) is due to be released, and it promises to add a frankly ludicrous amount of additional content as a free update in a game that already only costs a couple of coffees. Terraria is obviously a passion project for Re-Logic and it shows, with the outpouring of positivity from its players making this the 4th highest-rated game on Steam. 

  • Platforms: Microsoft Windows, MacOS, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Vita, iOS, Android
  • Price: £7

Factorio (by Wube Software)

Single Player or Multiplayer

Factorio successfully cornered a very specific niche in the gaming market, a niche that I think the current situation might make even more appealing to many. 

In Factorio you, an engineer, are dropped in the middle of an alien world and tasked with finding a way off, using nothing but your ingenuity and a LOT of automation. You start collecting wood, coal and iron ore by hand, but soon you have a bustling collection of power cables, conveyor belts, assembly lines, smelters and furnaces, assemblers, all helping you to put together the necessary components to build a rocket to escape from the local wildlife – which has taken very aggressive displeasure to all this pollution you have been putting up into the air in your attempt to leave.

This is a game about planning, logistics, organisation, and creative problem-solving. It might all sound a little bit too much like work at a distance but once you start playing you very easily become transfixed by all the moving parts of the machine you have built to help you escape this world. 

Platforms: Microsoft Windows, MacOS, Linux

Price: £21

The Five Nights At Freddy’s Series (by Scott Cawthon)

Single Player

With all the existential dread that the coronavirus has brought to us while stuck inside our homes, why not replace it with some old fashioned traditional horror and scares instead?

With strategies that are simple to learn but hard to master, this indie horror game series is great for a stressful but fun jumpscare experience. All seven games involve similar mechanics in a variety of different settings, and there are VR and AR versions too.

As well as the core games themselves, FNAF has spawned one of the most interesting fan-investigations of hidden lore on the internet at the minute. Every game release, Scott Cawthon will tease and hide hidden lore details in the code of his website, in hidden details in the game itself, in posters – basically everywhere. Even if you’re not interested in the games themselves, but are of a sleuthing persuasion, you might find a lot of enjoyment scouring Reddit and Youtube for theories and discoveries about the world of this game series.

Thankyou to Charlotte Hooker for this suggestion

  • Platforms: Windows, MacOS, iOS, Xbox One, Playstation, Switch, Android
  • Price: some £4, others about £6 and a few are free

Red Dead Redemption (1 & 2, by Rockstar)

Single Player (with multiplayer elements)

The Red Dead Redemption saga constitutes some of the finest storytelling in modern videogames. Rockstar’s attention to detail (sometimes almost too much) is legendary and these games are a key part of that history.

Unlike the other games, which I have mostly put forward as a way to unleash a player’s creativity or wits, or as a way to spend time having fun with friends, I recommend this game like I would recommend reading a good novel or watching a really good TV series. It’s a game that puts the story front and centre, with visuals and a soundtrack that make it feel like you are playing out your favourite spaghetti western. It’s also one of the few open-world story-led games that actually lives up to its premise. You can goof off and do cowboy stuff in the middle of the open world, go exploring with your horse, hold up the local general store, get drunk in the saloon, whatever you like. 

Thankyou to Tom Inniss for this suggestion

  • Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Stadia
  • Price (approximate): £35

Equilinox (by ThinMatrix)

Single Player

Equilinox describes itself as a 'nature simulation game', but it's so much more. You get to be the architect of a new world, planting your different biomes, adding animals and evolving new species. Although as a zoologist I admit some of the evolutions are completely inaccurate, it's nevertheless really fun when you get to turn your chicken into a squirrel! The graphics are really satisfying, being simple and slightly blockish but with great clarity and enough personality to keep you engaged. For the price Equilinox is really reasonable, a perfect lockdown game as it's so easy to while away a few hours creating your new world whilst also being soothing. It gives you complete control at a time when we don't have any, and to me that's really comforting. It doesn't take long to get the hang of it, and the personalisation of every feature from the colour of your plants to the names of your creatures gives pretty endless possibilities for what you want to do with your world. 

Thankyou to Bea Kerry for this contribution

  • Platforms: Steam
  • Price: £7.50
Header Image Credit: Photo by thiago japyassu from Pexels

Author

Christopher Hill

Christopher Hill Contributor

I am a musician, musicologist, and music journalist. I did my BA in music at the University of Oxford.

Recent posts by this author

View more posts by Christopher Hill

1 Comments

  • Dominik Betts-Nicholson

    On 18 May 2020, 13:26 Dominik Betts-Nicholson commented:

    Hi Christopher,

    I'd just like to mention how great your article was, and how it will help me with the oncoming weeks of the lock down. I've already played a wide range of video games, but now you have added a few more to my bucket list! I'd especially recommend Terraria, as it is a fun 2D game with lots of rewards you achieve by moving up the ranks and rarity of the games materials and equipment. Thank you again and I will for sure try Red dead redemption 2.

Post A Comment

You must be signed in to post a comment. Click here to sign in now

You might also like

The Way I See It

The Way I See It

by Voice Magazine

Read now