Stepping into a VR space is often more intense than playing a regular game with a mouse and keyboard: blasting enemies in a VR shooter means twisting and turning on the spot to find your foes, while VR horror games are guaranteed to give you nightmares.
But being fully present in another world is also a chance to banish your real-life worries for a few hours. Whether you’re looking for a regular chill-out space or you need to de-stress after a hectic week, here are 14 of the most relaxing games you can play on your Rift and Vive. If you're yet to go VR, here are the best VR headsets. We're also keeping a list of the best VR games (relaxing and otherwise).
Developer: Sean Tann | Platforms: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive | Link: Official site
A psychedelic particle simulator that spawns hundreds of thousands of tiny dots that move and wobble in time to any music you’re playing on your PC. You can manipulate them in satisfying ways, pulling them apart or wrapping them around black holes—our favourite tool is a giant sphere that you can whack them with, sending them flying in all directions. It’s a great stress buster.
You can twiddle with sliders to change everything from the effects of gravity to the “particle jigglyness”, which changes how things move and react. It even has a lava lamp mode: if you want to get trippy, turn it on and lie on the floor, looking up at blobs of goo gently bobbing up and down.
Developer: Google | Platforms: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Windows Mixed Reality | Link: Official site
Google’s Tilt Brush is the ultimate canvas for 3D art. It has 48 different brush types, so you can mix paint with streaks of light, ribbons of electricity and pillars of fire. It’s endlessly flexible, and each brush has an accompanying mellow sound effect.
Even if you’re a terrible artist, being able to produce 3D drawings that you can walk around and view from all angles is a serene, surreal feeling, even if it’s just a few mid-air lines. It’s a powerful way to show off the power of VR to friends, too.
If you want to be blown away, you can browse a Google-curated gallery of artwork created in Tilt Brush here.
Developer: Funomena | Platforms: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive | Link: Official site
In Luna, you poke and prod at miniature terrariums, placing fantastical plants and trees. You can bend their branches and change their colour to your liking and, at some point, a little bird that acts as your guide will chirp in approval, opening the next level. It feels magical: each tweak is accompanied by wind chimes or a guitar strum, and the levels vary from shipwrecks to a gentle stream running through a forest.
It’s a short game, and a repetitive one—after each level you’re asked to re-arrange dots in the sky to create a specific constellation, which is pretty dull. But the charm of its levels and the novelty of being able to walk all the way around them will see you through to the end.
Guided Meditation VR
Developer: Cubicle Ninjas | Platforms: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Windows Mixed Reality | Link: Official site
A tool for practising various meditation techniques in relaxing VR spaces. It’s still in Early Access but it’s practically fully-featured, with 27 environments—from beaches to mountain lakes, each with ambient sounds—and more than 16 hours of guided meditation on tap. You can pick whichever voice you find most relaxing and change the length of each session to fit your schedule.
You don’t even have to meditate if you don’t fancy it: you can just explore the environments at your own pace while listening to music, or turn on ‘motion mode’ to float automatically through its vistas.
Euro Truck Simulator 2 and American Truck Simulator
Developer: SCS Software | Platforms: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive | Link: Official site
SCS Software’s Truck Simulator series is hypnotic enough with a regular monitor—but looking at its vehicle cockpits through a VR headset is downright mesmerising. You sweep along the motorways of Europe or the USA, transporting goods to various depots and warehouses and ensuring you obey the rules of the road. Being able to glance out the sunroof or window to see the world gliding past gives you a real sense of place in its world, and while the monotony might bore some people, it’ll soothe others.
You can’t download a VR-specific version of either game, but instructions on how to get them working in VR are here.
Developer: Framestore Inc | Platforms: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive | Link: Official site
If you only have a five-minute window, booting up Lumen is a quick fix for calming down. After a quick breathing exercise you’ll step into its bioluminescent forest and use your gaze to grow trees from the forest floor, directing your view to stimulate their branches. You can also adjust the colours by looking at the aurora in the sky. You don’t need your hands, so you can play it a comfy chair (don’t be surprised if you’re ready to doze off afterwards).
Developer Framestore worked with a Stanford scientist to ensure Lumen was as relaxing as possible, and are currently testing it in a hospital as a tool for helping children prepare for difficult surgery.
Catch & Release
Developer: Metricminds GmbH & Co KG | Platforms: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Windows Mixed Reality | Link: Official site
Fishing is, depending who you talk to, either an idyllic way to spend an afternoon or a frustrating waste of time. If you’re in the former camp then Catch & Release is worth a shot. You slowly row a boat on a lake, stop when you’ve got a good feeling and cast your bait. All that’s left is to enjoy the view—the mountainside environment is very pretty—and wait for a nibble.
You can even upload music files to play on your radio to help pass the time, or gobble down a VR sandwich that you’ve brought along in your lunchbox. Chris enjoyed his time with it earlier this year: read his thoughts here.
Developer: MarineVerse | Platforms: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Windows Mixed Reality | Link: Official site
In this simplified version of real-life sailing, you can forget your troubles while weaving through a set of fictional Caribbean islands, watching the sun rise and set on the horizon. If you want, you can race against other players online—but it’s at its best when you’re cruising through shallow waters without a care, listening to the sea lapping against your boat and watching beach-side villages glide past.
Now is a good time to dive in, because its first DLC, which transports you to a lake in the Japanese mountains, is out later this month.
Nature Treks VR
Developer: John Carline | Platforms: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Windows Mixed Reality | Link: Steam
A true walking simulator about trekking around 15 different beaches, forests and meadows while listening to calming music. You have lots of options for how you move, our favourite of which is by swinging your arms at your side—it doesn’t work all the time, but it genuinely makes you feel like you’re on a relaxing hike.
You’ll find 60 animals on your travels, and you can throw orbs to make trees and flowers grow, or to change the time of day. Developer John Carline says each level has been designed to evoke a specific mood—but all of them chill us out.
Developer: Vitei Backroom Inc | Platforms: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive | Link: Steam
At its most basic, it’s about chucking paper aeroplanes at targets, but its mystical levels make it much more rewarding than that summary sounds. Hitting the right targets will cause trees to spring from the ground and colour to erupt in sections of its world, and you’ll hear the rumble of gongs and the tinkling of bells in every arena.
Throwing the paper aeroplanes feels smooth, and after you’ve released them you can guide them lazily towards their target by moving your handheld controllers. It’s not a challenging puzzle game—but that makes it all the more relaxing.
XING: The Land Beyond
Developer: Vitei Backroom Inc | Platforms: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PC | Link: Official site
A meaty adventure game on a set of floating islands in the sky. It’s one of the best-looking VR games we’ve played, and its gentle puzzles, piano music and poetic narrator make it a pleasant place to wind down.
The difficulty ramps up towards the end, but you’ll get a good three hours out of it before that happens, and there are never any enemies or time limits to deal with. Even when it gets tough, its streams of running water and the breeze swishing through the trees will keep you level-headed. .
Minecraft can be a stressful game, especially when the sun goes down and the zombies and skeletons come out. But if played in a certain way it’s like a massage for your mind: its randomly generated worlds throw up countless spots to set up your perfect home-from-home, whether overlooking a beach or nestled in rolling hills. If you turn on creative mode then you don’t have to worry about the monsters, or you can just set up a stable base and sleep through the night,
Once you’ve started breaking blocks, causing resources to pop out, it’s hard to stop, and in VR your cursor will automatically snap to the block you want to hit, so you can look around at your surroundings while you mine. It also has some of our favourite music in gaming, and the gentle ebbs and swells of its piano soundtrack can really play with your emotions.
Developer: Myron Software | Platforms: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Windows Mixed Reality | Link: Steam
Deisim is a no-pressure god game about plonking down resources and watching villages expand to become bustling towns. Your subjects aren’t a demanding bunch, and most of the time you can sit back with your feet up and watch them go about their business.
Occasionally, you’ll have to lay down some spells or extra terrain to help them out, and you’ll also have to deal with heretics attacking settlements. But that’s as easy as picking them up, giving them a shake and then lobbing them off the map—a good way of letting out some aggression.
Developer: Gaugepunk Games | Platforms: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Windows Mixed Reality, PC | Link: Official site
Rolling line perfectly captures the joy of tinkering with a massive model train set, but its VR features, including the ability to drive trains from inside the lead carriage, make it even better than the real-life hobby. It has a few base sets that you can start with, one of which is modelled on New Zealand’s stunning south island, but you can easily tear chunks off and slot your own scenery in, or download custom creations from the Steam Workshop.
Planning out your vision and making sure your routes align requires some thought, but stepping back when you’re finished and watching your trains run through mountain tunnels and over bridges is utter bliss.