Cosy Games: A roundtable discussion

Cosiness: a state of contentment, warmth, and security. As the pandemic swept the globe in 2020 and 2021, a growing number of gamers sought cosy alternatives to the outside world – which goes some way to explain how Animal Crossing: New Horizons turned a series that has existed for 20 years into a sales phenomenon. In the midst of Covid, Animal Crossing became a refuge, where players could come together in a candy-coloured world filled with friendly characters and low-stakes tasks to complete. Other cosy games came to the fore around the same time: 2021 alone saw the release of such gentle, pleasurable delights as Unpacking, TOEM, Chicory: A Colorful Tale, and many more besides.

Not that gentle, laid-back games are a new phenomenon. Harvest Moon, released in Japan for the SNES in 1996, could be regarded as the archetypal cosy game: it provided a romanticised vision of rural life, with farming, a friendly community, and the changing seasons gently marking the passing of time. In the years since, indie developers have sought to make their own relaxing sims along similar lines: the most obvious being Eric Barone’s phenomenally successful Stardew Valley.

To find out more about an increasingly popular type of game, we poured a mug of coffee and sat down for a virtual roundtable chat with three people who have an intimate knowledge of the medium’s cosy side: Louis Durrant of carrotcake, a British studio currently developing the upcoming gardening sim, The Garden Path; Matthew White, CEO of US indie publisher Whitethorn Games, which specifically focuses on cosy games; and Kennedy, a US-based content creator whose YouTube channel Cozy K aims to showcase the best cosy games around.

What follows is a lively discussion about the appeal of cosy games, the sometimes grim backlash they can receive online, and where the genre might go in the future – that is, if you can call it a genre, of course…


We began by asking Louis Durrant about his introduction to cosy games, and the titles that led him to start making The Garden Path four years ago. “The challenge of creating a cosy game is unique, and that’s what drew me to it,” he says. “I used to play a lot of Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life and that was good fun. But I really found cosiness in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles – I remember that as a kid. You had your own little caravan, and groups of people, and you’d have an adventure, and everyone would party at the end of the year. There isn’t really a game like that anymore, is there? But I really remember feeling that as a kid and I’d really like to evoke that again.”

Designer Eric Barone’s refinement of Harvest Moon’s mechanics resulted in Stardew Valley – one of the most popular farming sims of all time.

Whitethorn Games has so far given the world the likes of Lake, Teacup, and Calico – all gentle experiences that publisher Matthew White says are aimed at a specific type of gamer. “Our original market was older millennials – people who had more disposable money than time,” he explains. “We were aiming at people who wanted three-to-six-hour experiences for $20; they don’t want to spend 300 hours on a game. And it turns out we had a great affinity with the cosy or wholesome games community. Those fit well with the approachability and bite-sized ethos. Calico is probably our best-known game, but we’re really passionate about these experiences because it’s what, it seems, the world needs right now, with how horrible everything is all the time.”

When asked to describe what a cosy game is, White replies that it’s hard to define – it’s “like a kiss,” he says. “I can’t tell you what makes a good kiss, but I can tell you what doesn’t.” White does, however, have three “markers” when it comes to the games Whitethorn publishes: their experiences should all be “approachable, “bite-sized”, and “stress-free”.

“Approachable means that anyone, anywhere, can pick it up and play it,” he explains. “There’s no finger karate or genre knowledge that you need to play the game. Bite-sized doesn’t necessarily mean the game’s short, but when I sit down to play for half an hour to an hour, the time invested delivers a full game loop. It’s a full experience. As for stress-free, I think this is what typifies the cosy bit: we talk about challenging but not punishing players. You can lose, but none of it’s punitive; there’s no ‘game over’, no losing progress or starting over. You respect people’s time, and I think cosy games are about that. Even the adjective evokes this image of cuddling up with a cup of tea. None of us in our lifetimes expect making a cup of tea to be like, ‘Steep me for three minutes, loser!’”

“I think it’s also having that sense of predictability,” adds Durrant. “The player knows where they stand with things, what they can expect, and if something doesn’t quite work, then I think it’s important for the player to see the reason and have that feedback. When you’re playing a cosy game, you want a feeling that actions have a certain weight… Cosiness is a kind of mindfulness, and every action needs to be intentional. When you push a button, you want to feel like something’s happening, and you’re getting feedback. In that sense, you’re getting that predictability which feeds into the cosy feel – because it’s familiar. Nothing’s scary. You have some breathing room for some mystery, some puzzles – but at the end of the day, you always know where you stand. You can pick it up and put it down and you’re always where you remember being.”

Calico portrays its cosiness through softness of design and a friendly community feel.


Durrant suggests that a feeling of ownership is key to a good cosy game: that the items in the game are “mine, I like them, and I know where they are,” he says. “Curation as well, I suppose: a feeling of organisation. Our room may be a total mess, but we go into our cosy game and there’s a sense that things are in order.”

White makes the argument that cosy game design is intentionally “ponderous”. He points out how one of Whitethorn’s most recent releases, Lake, a game about delivering packages in a small American town, encapsulates this pondering via the absence of a run button whereby “every step takes effort, which adds to the atmosphere”.

After Lake’s release, some players asked for quicker modes of traversal – a change Kennedy argues would potentially ruin the game’s pace and world-building. “You’re not going to sprint around the world as a mail carrier, you’re going to walk,” she says. “It’s world construction… there’s characters that feel safe and familiar, colours that are soft and warm, dialogue which indicates that you and your efforts for the community are appreciated.”


Most of us could point out a cosy game when we see one. So could it be considered a genre in its own right? White certainly doesn’t think so. “I don’t think it’s a genre,” he says. “You have a game like Lake, which is kind of an adventure game, you have Calico, which is a café simulator, and then you have more formal games like Stardew Valley, which is a farming game with clear objectives. Even things like Boyfriend Dungeon is cosy – and that’s a dungeon crawler! So, it isn’t genre-limited.”

Lake allows players to escape into another person’s leafy reality.

Durrant adds, however, that “something seems to bind” all these disparate games together. “When we’re asked to think about cosy games, we say similar things,” he says. “There’s a running current through them which brings up specific, yet different games. I couldn’t tell you what that ‘thing’ is; there’s so many different mechanics and styles.”

However you class cosy games, it’s inarguable that gentle sims like Animal Crossing have really come to the fore in recent years. So what role did the pandemic play in the rise of these sorts of experiences? “I think it was on its way before Covid-19,” White says, “but cosy games became something that we needed during the pandemic. Many of us were so locked away from society – Covid really placed community, the outdoors, and other humans in the centre [of discussions]… I feel like cosy games had a moment during Covid, specifically Animal Crossing right at the beginning. So I think now, cosy games perhaps have more fans than they did, so it certainly helped. But I think that undercurrent has always been there, at least in the USA. The world wasn’t great before Covid… and cosy games are a reaction to the immense pressure the world can put on you.”

Kennedy nods. “As a content creator, this is why I got into [cosy games], why I’m now part of this community. It was people looking to occupy their mind [via] escapism. It was both people reconnecting with gaming, who had forgotten about it as a hobby, and people who’d never touched gaming before.”


When talking about cosy games, it’s easy to consider the environment which surrounds their creation as similarly wholesome. One of the fundamental indicators of a cosy game is that they tend to be more inclusive in terms of representing gender, sexual identity, race, and disability. As White points out, however, creators of such games don’t escape some of the less positive discourse which often surrounds the video game industry as a whole. “Our game Calico is made by a two-person team: a man, Andrew, and a woman, Kells. Kells is unapologetically hyper-cis feminine. So, she likes to make extremely feminine games… and we were absolutely dragged on Twitter for caring to advance a narrative that was for someone [in particular].”

“It’s why I try and stay off Twitter,” says Kennedy, when White asks whether she saw any of that negativity. “The discourse can be running around in circles and shouting into a void. It’s so interesting to me because, as a woman of colour, I would take anything that isn’t just what we had before. I don’t care if it doesn’t fit my exact experiences, I’m happy to have it. I understand wanting a bit more of a defined experience, but I think asking for that when it wasn’t the developer’s goal to begin with is kind of weird… Who are you to tell them, ‘No, this should be your goal instead’?”

Concept art, showcasing a nature-inspired colour story, natural materials, and fauna for The Garden Path.

“You also get these comments like we’re greedy and chasing a trend to get money,” White continues. “That’s a really common narrative you see in Twitter feeds and Steam forums. ‘Oh, another one of these cosy games. I guess the indie dev needed to make a quick buck’. And I think a lot of that is fundamentally not understanding how long and difficult it is to make video games.”


A somewhat different issue with cosy games came up during our discussion: something called ‘toxic positivity’ – a type of game that’s too reliant on trying to make the player happy. Curiously, the happiness paradox states that when happiness is the goal, it’s rarely achieved. Rather, the act of accomplishment brings forth both joy and happiness. Durrant suggests that some cosy games “are almost upbeat to a point of there being absolutely no downtime – there’s no sadness, no whimsy.”

As a contrast, White points to 2016’s That Dragon, Cancer – a narrative-driven story about a father losing his child – and notes how the game was always framed as happy, despite knowing as a player that the situation would be immensely sad in moments.

Cosy workstations equal cosy content for Kennedy of Cozy K.

Adds Durrant: “I feel as a developer, there’s a responsibility to not just provide an escape but to also show a reflection of the real world. When constructing the world and the forest, I wanted it to feel like a forest. Trees where it’s not you hit it three times and it’s down and you get three bits of wood. I wanted to show that things do rot and die, and that’s how a forest is. I didn’t want to present this cereal box imitation, because to me the game is about the garden, it’s about the forest – and that is how I wanted to approach it. But I think there’s value in that, where people spending a lot of time in the game learn something from the experience and come away with, hopefully, another way of seeing their world.”


As our coffee mugs were almost empty, and our chat neared its end, conversation turned to the future of cosy games. With the pandemic seemingly on the wane, is our collective affection for less stressful experiences on the slide, too? “I don’t think it’s going anywhere,” White says. “One of the nice side effects of the cosy game community is that a lot of people who had a different idea of what games were are now making games, and many of them are making money making them.”

“I hope that gaming goes in the direction of being a common household thing which everyone does,” says Kennedy. “I think cosy games will be an easy entry point for many people because they tend to be more relatable – a slice of life. And I’ve been seeing that a lot, people saying ‘I didn’t even know there were games where you could just cook or decorate or whatever’. So, I hope it continues that way because gaming is a great hobby.”

“I wonder if games as a service will come into this, because you get a lot of cosy games where you pick it up for a little bit and then put it down,” Durrant concludes. “There’s this trend of almost wearing a game like a coat or something, something which defines you. But with a lot of cosy games, I know I would like my game to be a secondary game – people are using that term more these days. I’ve got my main game and then I have my downtime, secondary, game…But it’s certainly interesting [seeing] cosy games evolve. Personally, I’m keen to watch that space.”

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