It’s Cozy Gamer Season, Here’s How To Celebrate
I select a photo album off a shelf—the blue one—and tap my x button. It opens to a blank page, a memory book ready to be filled. I’m transported to a small child’s bedroom, where a handful of boxes and a few barren shelves are under a loft bed. I slowly, quietly open each box and take one item out at a time, placing a stuffed pig on the bed, toys in the closet, pens on the desk. I am unpacking. I mean, I am playing Unpacking.
I am also cozy gaming.
Maybe you’ve seen cozy gamers on Instagram touting sherbert-colored Switch covers, pastel pink PC builds, and twinkle fairy lights cascading down the walls behind them. As a gamer myself, I’ll admit I was taken aback by the softness of this aesthetic—the world of gaming is often dark, jagged, and menacing. My inner biases lit up left and right; gaming isn’t supposed to be soft, to be “girly.” As a gamer who identifies as a woman, I became a paradox within myself.
Kennedy, the creator behind Cozy Games on TikTok, is one such cozy gamer. She started an Instagram called @cozy.games in 2019. “I love the concept of cozy, and also [I love] games,” she explained simply. “I added my own aesthetic to it—I put how I feel when I game into pictures.”
The account and community grew, full of her minimalist yet playful and colorful images and videos that feel like a warm hug from a friend. Other gamers, who hadn’t quite seen this aesthetic side of gaming represented before, joined in and shared their cozy setups and experiences with games like Stardew Valley, Animal Crossing, and Breath Of The Wild.
But there wasn’t a consensus yet on what to call the community, Kennedy told me, and people wanted a name for what was blossoming—thus, “cozy gaming” was born. (For the record, I asked Kennedy if she coined the term—and yes, possibly was the answer, but all the Google trends line up with her being the originator of the phrase!)
This is not a concept or aesthetic that is full of rules—it’s more subjective and personal than that. Cozy gaming makes you feel comfy, safe, and at peace. There’s no one way that cozy gaming looks because we all feel at home in different spaces, whether they be minimalist, maximalist, brutalist, or absurdist (or post-apocalyptic like my beloved Fallout 76).
As I’ve been scrolling through the hashtags, I realize why the whole concept feels a bit foreign to me; cozy gaming focuses on how you feel rather than who you are or what you play.
And that’s worth thinking about, especially with a hobby that isn’t stereotypically known for its focus on the feeling part of us as people. From an outside perspective, video gaming can appear exclusively violent, competitive, and progress-based—but that’s not true. Games come in all flavors—from combat to farming to a simple short hike. They can also be both beautiful and combative; I know gamers who’ve wept playing Red Dead Redemption 2, an old-west-style shootout game, and The Last Of Us, a cinematically terrifying zombie game.
There’s an undercurrent of stigma in the gaming world that says there is no place for indulging our feelings or engaging our softer sensitivities. At least, that’s what I grew up believing—“real games” were for boys, and girls played “not games” like The Sims, Stardew Valley, and Animal Crossing.
But cozy gaming underscores the fact that the only threshold for what constitutes a proper game is that you enjoy playing it. Kennedy and I discussed the common argument that competitive point-based games take skill, whereas games like Animal Crossing do not. But who is writing that narrative, and what skills are they prioritizing?
“I would challenge people to question why they’re validating some games over the others,” said Kennedy. “What standards in society have led [you] to privilege more action and combat games over games that cozy gamers typically like to play?”
The truth is, I’ve built skill with nearly every game I’ve played: Planning and organization with Harvest Moon, design and household management with The Sims, patience and attention to detail with Journey. I can even point to games as pivotal in my social and emotional development—as important to who I am as a whole person. Gaming helps me calm my mind and regulate my nervous system, connect with my own wants and motivations, and communicate better with people who think differently than me.
So when I saw cozy gaming highlighting and embracing those softer skills, I found myself facing down decades of being told what “real gaming” was and was not. But I think it’s well past time to release those beliefs and get cozy, no matter which game I’m playing.
Here’s my permission to you and to myself this cozy gaming season: Play the games that engage you, ones that connect you to yourself or others. Here’s a fabulous list of soothing games to play when you’re in a mental health rut (thanks to the Cozy Gamer herself!). In addition to these, you’ll find me indulging in coziness while I play games like:
Unpacking for its slow pace and ASMR-qualities.
Katamari Damacy, a game that calls us all out on the clutter we carry—but then turns it into constellations.
Stardew Valley for when I’m on the road, a mobile game that invites me to delight in a single turnip, and to celebrate the accomplishment of starfruit.
Now, while I continue on my Unpacking journey, I slip into what cozy gaming is all about. I’m unpacking my stresses, my worries, my expectations—and also unpacking all of what gaming has to offer me. Cozy gaming is, perhaps, not about the games or the aesthetic at all but rather about intentionally engaging with media that makes us feel good.
So pull up a chair, grab a joycon, and let’s get a little lost in cozy games together.
Emily Torres is the Editorial Director at The Good Trade. Born and raised in Indiana, she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her in her colorful Los Angeles apartment journaling, caring for her rabbits and her cat, or gaming.