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First-person shooters don’t need to be violent to be fun

From power washing to ranching slimes

An image of a power washing gun being pointed at a playground slide. Most of the playground is covered in grime, but there’s a strip of the slide that has been cleaned with water. Image: FuturLab/Square Enix

Dear Polygon,

I recently had a health issue that, for lack of better words, put my fight or flight instincts onto high alert. I’ve pretty much had to re-teach my body what things are normal stressors and that not everything is trying to kill me. Games are generally a point of release and relaxation for me (except when they’re so intense that I catch myself slowly moving from the couch to pacing in front of the TV - but that’s a good thrill usually). Unfortunately, high stimulation environments like playing games are still bit too much [for] me still. I tried playing GT7 and my adrenaline kicked in so hard that I had to turn the system off and go for a walk just to cool off.

I’ve been able to play less action packed games such as Pokémon SoulSilver and Sword without any issue. Today tried picking Miles Morales back up and felt my body go less crazy than when racing, but still only felt comfortable for about a 20 minutes session, which had a bit of cutscenes in it. So I ask, is there some kind of recommendations for easing myself back into the action?

Glitch in the Matrix

Hi Glitch in the Matrix! First off, I’m sorry you’re dealing with that. That sounds like a jarring and maybe scary change to experience, and I hope I’m at least able to help you with some solid recommendations. The good news is that I think I have a good batch of options that will feel engaging without spiking your adrenaline.

I see that you’ve played a lot of shooters. As a person who isn’t always into violent games, I’ve really appreciated just how much the genre has diversified over the past few years to include different sorts of mechanics and aesthetics that aren’t violent or stressful. I have three recommendations for you, share from most to least chill: PowerWash Simulator, the Slime Rancher series, and Neon White.

Let’s start with PowerWash Simulator.

The game allows you to, and this comes as no shock, simulate the experience of using a pressurized power washer. Basically, you point your power washer and clean random shit like cars, playgrounds, or homes. You wield this nozzle like a gun — but your enemy is dirt. There are different levels, and harder jobs will not necessarily be more technically difficult but will take more time and attention to detail, or will just be larger overall.

There is nothing quite like the feeling of using a highly pressurized jet of water to clean off a layer of grime, with its crisp lines revealing the colorful swings and slides of a playground. Playing PowerWash Simulator irons out every possible wrinkle in my brain with its steamy, steamy goodness. It’s great on its own, but also an entertaining way to relax after playing a particularly stressful game. Also, it’s available on Xbox Game Pass, so you can go and download it now if you subscribe to that.

A group of pink spherical slimes getting sucked into a gun in slime rancher Image: Monomi Park

Then there’s Slime Rancher and Slime Rancher 2. In these games, you suck up various slimes as you explore a colorful, whimsical world. I like it because there’s an enormous map to explore, ranging from caves to erupting volcanoes — and each area has a different species of slime that lives there. It’s really cute to see the big, squishy slimes get vacuumed up into your character’s little vacuum pack. Arranging them into their pens can be a bit tedious, since they easily bounce out of place, but it’s a relaxing game for anyone who wants a shooter where you spend time collecting, arranging, and harvesting resources. It’s on Xbox Game Pass as well.

Finally, Neon White would work well if you’re looking to kick the level of action up a notch. The game is a high-difficulty speedrunner and shooter that requires exact use of various special powers to complete levels quickly and correctly. It’s about going fast, and getting gold and ace medals requires precision. Despite this, it’s the chillest shooter I’ve played in a long time.

Jumping through one of Neon White’s levels. An illustrated demon is in the bottom left corner of the screen. The level is shown in 3D graphics. The floor looks like water, and the building in the foreground looks complex, with many pillars. Image: Angel Matrix/Annapurna Interactive

The game is great at getting me into a “flow state” where I’m acting on instinct and not thinking too hard. Other games prompt an adrenaline rush when the stakes feel high. With Neon White the risk stays relatively low, since each level is so short and you can restart them very quickly. “Messing up” just means repeating a minute-long (or even shorter) level. The levels pull you into a dreamy world of platforming precision, and will transport your brain in mere moments, so I highly recommend it.

Before I go, I’d like to toss in a few honorable mentions: If you don’t want a shooter, you could also try Neon White developer’s completely different game, Donut County, which is a weirdly relaxing game about swallowing an entire town up with a hole. If you try and like PowerWash Simulator, you could try House Flipper, which allows you to fix up a home; the two play similarly.

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