I don't think I've ever beaten a game since I had a GameCube.

When I first landed on Isle Delfino, my main priority was to finish the tutorials. I had to complete it before I could wander around the plaza pretending to buy fruit. We spent a lot of time in Kirby Air Ride but never raced each other. We would argue over which virtual sky-rise belonged to our color Kirby before treating the game as if it were a life-sim, riding our racers around town, and acting out absurd social dramas between our squishy, round characters.

These games were not intended to be self-guided. Before reaching the games' limits, they gave just enough freedom to encourage a few hours of total immersement.

Although open-world games with low stakes and minimal violence have existed for decades, it wasn't until recently that they became a genre all of their own, referred to as "cozy" or "wholesome" games. The mechanics and goals in games like Stardew Valley, Ooblets, and CozyGrove may vary, but they share a common vibe completely different from the cis-male, RGB streamer setup that has become analogous with gaming culture. They want you to take your time and not compete.

These players have been around for a long time.

These players have been around for a long time. Matthew Taylor is the founder of the Wholesome Games brand and online community. It is possible that there are people who are hardcore Animal Crossing fans. There are more games in this space that they can enjoy and get more out of.

My social media feeds filled up with people who were dedicated to the games after the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. More than 40 million copies of the game were sold by Nintendo. During this time, creators like Kennedy, who goes by the name Cozy K, racked up millions of views on their videos of Switch consoles next to blankets and candles.

The games industry has continued to grow even as countries have opened back up. More than two years after the genre took off online, the number of searches for "cozy games" peaked this November. On PC, Steam identifies games that fall under it's own "cozy" rubric, and in the fall, Spry Fox, an independent games developer, was bought by the online streaming service.

It wasn't seen as a viable source of income for these companies before. Kennedy said in a December interview that they needed to be putting money into the project. In terms of game development, this space has taken off.

There were a lot of searches for "cozy games" this November.

A Little to the Left is a game that is based on organizing a bookshelf. They can be picked up and put down at a player's leisure. The menial chores that players are tasked with aren't pressured to be completed in a specific time frame. It is rare for a player to lose.

Major developers have begun to add more cozy elements to their games. There were two open-world Pokémon games this year. Players are encouraged to explore the carefully crafted environments and hold cozy picnics with their pokmon friends. The games aren't nearly as open-ended as other Nintendo titles, but have been welcome additions to the series.

Dragonflight features a new crafting system and a number of cozier quest lines compared to previous World of Warcraft releases. At the beginning of Dragonflight's campaign story, players are forced to sit down next to a dwarf and listen to his charming life story before they can continue on in their quest to save Azeroth.

The sudden virality of the cozy gaming trend is likely the result of a combination of factors. Rather than creating the trend, social media gave it a name and made it more accessible.

Being able to find creators that felt like I could hang out in the space and watch them was important in making me feel like I could be a part of the gaming space.

According to the World Economic Forum, the gaming industry is expected to be worth more than $320 billion by 2026, with most of the revenue coming from consumer spending in social and casual games. Facebook's parent company, Meta, changed its name this year in anticipation of growing consumer reliance on gaming. Instead of the welcoming and fanciful environments of Stardew Valley, Mark Zuckerberg's metaverse features a soulless world of virtual reality office meetings and designs that should have died along with the console.

Many metaverse-championing megacorporations have arrived too little too late to a scene that is mostly grown due to the love and care of the community that built it. Tech giants only started paying attention to cozy gaming after they became a market.