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What is “Cozy Gaming?”

It seems that internet culture consistently recognizes the need for coziness, especially during stressful eras. After several years of the Covid-19 pandemic, the need for an oasis of cute and calm has returned in full force through the cozy gaming movement!

Some attribute the popularity of cozy gaming to the release of the Nintendo Switch console and the subsequent frenzy about Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which reportedly increased the number of adult cozy gamers by 6% between 2019 and 20201! The rise of cozy gaming is an interesting and perhaps not so unexpected phenomena. But what is cozy gaming?

in Stardew Valley you can nurture relationships, a farm, and your own family if you want. Plus do it with your friends!

According to the game designer think tank Project Horseshoe, cozy games focus on emphasizing feelings of safety, abundance, and softness2. In a nutshell, cozy games are a bit of a reflection of its community’s desire for a post-materialist world. These games assume that all basic needs (food, shelter, safety) are already met. Instead of fighting for your life in a first person shooter, you’re exploring what life could be without that struggle for survival.

Cozy games often feature low-stress main quests and emotionally fulfilling side quests, such as befriending all the villagers, exploring an atmospheric forest, or growing vegetables for your neighbor. They are usually pretty aesthetically pleasing and have a soothing, atmospheric soundtrack, which gives the player a sense of order and comfort.

Cozy games can play on familiarity to evoke feelings of comfort. They can do this by making seasonal holidays part of their gameplay, implementing common rituals around everyday life, or using universal locations such as a train station or garden2.

In Elden Ring you can rest at the graces scattered across the world and bask in the beautiful Erdtree, a respite from danger

It might be easy to think that any game with these qualities could count as a cozy game. But really, a game’s coziness level is up to your perception. Almost every game has some cozy elements, even a Souls game like Elden Ring2. It would be too stressful for a game to have no respite from a high-stakes questline or constant monsters. After all, games are supposed to be fun!

I think finding unexpected cozy elements in games that are not intended for the cozy audience can be exciting! It feels like there are some universal comforts that tie the gaming community together, whether that be sitting at a campfire to rest after a long day of fighting undead creatures, hanging out with your friends in a FPS lobby, or just cooking some gorgeously animated food.

Unpacking lets you de-stress in a familiar way while you get to know the main character through unpacking her things

What’s your favorite part of cozy gaming? Do you recognize any cozy elements in your non-cozy games? Let me know in the comments!!

To learn more about cozy gaming, feel free to read THIS comprehensive guide to cozy games by Daniel Cook, a member of Project Horseshoe!

5 Cozy Indie Games in Development in 2022

Sometimes, we just need a new game to get excited about! Especially with the rise of cozy gaming and the spotlight being shone on the need for more diversity in gaming, new games can be super refreshing. Here are some cute cozy games by indie studios set to release in 2022 (or very early 2023), with a little bonus game at the end!

1. Spells & Secrets

via Kickstarter

Spells & Secrets is a roguelike indie game by Alchemist Interactive which lets you live out your wizarding school dreams at the Academy of Greifenstein! The story of this game is simple: there was a disaster, and now some of your classmates are missing. You must look for your lost peers by exploring the castle-like school. You have to solve puzzles, defeat magical creatures, and experiment with new spells.

The gameplay for Spells & Secrets seems quite straightforward. You get to play around with your spells and explore creative ways to use them while getting to progress within the castle. Every floor also comes with its own list of optional quests for more experience points! You can level up your character by collecting experience points that you can use to upgrade your character or buy new spells during your forays into the castle. During your dungeon (castle) crawling, you can also find money with which you can buy potions or grenades.

Spells & Secrets can also be played online with a friend in local co-op! This means that you can cast spells on your friends and get up to fun shenanigans together! This game’s release is planned for Summer of 2022 on Switch and Steam! I think I might try to convince a couple of my friends to get it…

To find out more, you can visit their Kickstarter HERE, or add Spells & Secrets to your wishlist on Steam HERE.

2. Aka

via KissKissBankBank

Aka is a hand crafted open world adventure RPG by indie studio Namra Games. It’s about a red panda who retires to his friend’s island after his homeland was devastated by a war. It features an sweet, cozy open world play style and calming gameplay with naps, gardening, and decorating as its main mechanisms.

via KissKissBankBank

At its heart, this is a game about finding inner peace, especially after having been scarred by traumatic events. Aka features gardening, construction, and relaxation, as well as a few yet to be defined minigames. Its quest system is designed to be completed at your own pace so you can explore Aka’s four islands at your leisure!

via KissKissBankBank

To find out more or help fund Aka, you can click the link HERE (link goes to its KissKissBankBank crowd funding page). To add it to your wishlist, you can visit its Steam page HERE! Aka is set to release sometime between Summer 2022 and Spring 2023 depending on their funding!

3. Critter Crops: Mystery of Mullery Mansion

via Kickstarter

Critter Crops is an adventure rpg and farming sim by the women-led SkyReach Studio. In this adorable yet spooky game, you play young Sylvey, who has been banished from her hometown for being a witch. You move into an old, haunted mansion in the abandoned Mur Mur Town to start your new life. You soon realize that not everything is quite right in town, and you set off to explore the island with the help of your Critter Crops! Sylvey’s magic helps you grow unusual crops: little critters that can help you explore the island!

via CritterCrops

As a witch, you need a Grimoire, so you get to choose from 3 different books to help you learn spells from different schools of magic. As the game progresses, you get to know your Grimoire on a more personal level. You also get to make friends with other outcasts around the island and invite them to join your town! According to some of the images, it also looks like there is a cute messaging app to keep in contact with your newfound friends (and maybe access new quests)!

Critter Crops looks super adorable. I love the hand drawn style; it makes the game so unique and gives it a personal touch you don’t see often in games. Critter Crops is set to release by the end of 2022. If you want to support its creation, you can find it on Kickstarter HERE, or add it to your wishlist on Steam HERE!

4. Ages of Cataria

via steam

Ages of Cataria is a town management sim with a little twist: it runs in real time, and the focus is not only on building the best village, but getting to know and shaping the lives of your villagers! Villagers live life spans of 7 real world weeks. Instead of just assigning them tasks like in other management sims, they also have unique personalities so each villager will need special attention!

via Kickstarter

Ages of Cataria is also (optionally) multiplayer, so you can trade with your friends in other villages around the world. Your village can domesticate animals and even find rare mythological creatures, build unique buildings, improve your villagers’ skills through minigames, and explore the lives of your villagers through text-based stories!

via Kickstarter

Third Pie Studios’ vision sounds like the perfect game for me. What do you think? You can find out more about Ages of Cataria HERE (link goes to its Kickstarter). To add it to your wishlist, you can visit its Steam page HERE! Ages of Cataria will also be available on Switch! Ages of Cataria is currently set to release in June 2023!

5. A Garden Witch’s Life

images via A Garden Witch’s Life

A friend of mine told me that this game is the most “me” game he’d ever seen. A Garden Witch’s Life, by Freetime Studio, begins with a premise not unlike many other cozy favorites: You’ve lost your job and moved from the city into a a small town. Your new home? An old witch’s house.

You settle into your role as the town’s new resident witch, and get to work gardening, collecting resources, making potions, and befriending the townspeople. A Garden Witch’s Life features adorable art and a whimsical world with an ancient mystery to explore. The NPCs look super lovable too, and the game emphasizes that it’s okay to sometimes take a break!

I’m pretty excited about this game. A new world to explore! Plus, you can pet the animals!!! You can find out more about A Garden Witch’s Life HERE (link goes to its official website). To add it to your wishlist, you can visit its Steam page HERE!

Bonus:

via itch.io

Planturi! This game is actually a student thesis project, and won’t be released on Steam as far as I understand, but it will be available on itch.io! Planturi is a game in which you take over your late parents’ flower shop and unravel the mystery around their deaths. It has a strong environmentalist stance, and features elements such as crafting, gardening in your greenhouse, and repairing your parents’ shop, which was destroyed by a mysterious explosion. With an intriguing storyline, adorable art, and engaging gameplay, Planturi really seems like it’ll be a 10/10!

You can support their Kickstarter HERE, or visit their itch.io page HERE!

Let me know what you think!

I hope you’ve found some games to get excited about over the coming year! Let me know in the comments if you’re interested in any of these games!

7 Emotional Indie Games to Make You Feel Something

Pretty much everyone experiences grief and instability at some point. For those of us who project onto video games and use them as conduits for our feelings, games about navigating grief and heavy topics can be extremely cathartic. I’ve been really on an emotional game kick lately, so here are some powerful, moving games that I’ve shed probably a few too many tears over, and a few that I can’t wait to cry over!

1. The Last Campfire

Via thelastcampfiregame

Let’s start off with a new game! The Last Campfire was released in 2020 by Hello Games (the same creators of No Man’s Sky). It is an incredible, atmospheric adventure game in which a little ember got lost on their way to the campfire. It’s a melancholy yet sweet game that touches on themes like depression, self worth, and finding one’s place in the world. You play as the lost Ember on a journey to find the last campfire. Along the way, Ember solves puzzles to help other lost souls find hope and the resolve to go on.

The game has a really somber, yet intriguing atmosphere. I was really impressed by several scenes in the narration, especially at the beginning, when Ember first gets lost. The visual storytelling is truly strong with this one.

The only part of this game that I personally don’t like is the audio narration that you can’t turn off, just because as a personal preference I do not like frequent verbal audio in games. It’s not a dealbreaker, and the game is still a complete gem. The narrator does do a good job of setting the tone and she has a calming voice, so if you do like narration, then this would probably be a strong plus for you.

Overall though, this game was definitely worth it. Visually, this game is gorgeous. Playstyle-wise, it’s simple and sweet; you can even play with just your mouse if you want. The soundtrack is moving, and the little sounds that the miscellaneous characters, including a little worm, make make finding The Last Campfire a truly immersive and engaging experience.

2. Spiritfarer

via ThunderLotus

I know, I keep talking about Spiritfarer. But really, it is the BEST cozy game. It is calming, there are no urgent or stressful objectives, and if you have an hour or two to kill, this game does the trick every time. Spiritfarer is about Stella, who has taken over Charon’s duty of ferrying the dead to the afterlife. We learn that Stella is a much more personal guide than Charon, as she truly helps lost souls find their peace before moving on.

Spiritfarer will play your heart strings like Stella plays her cute Everlight guitar. I’m only about 25 hours into the game and I’ve already cried half a dozen times (but in a good way!). Spiritfarer’s story is compelling; The world is beautiful and big, and the characters have incredible depth. The game features plenty of fun minigames, town management mechanics such as designing and upgrading your ship, cooking, and an well thought out world. Each character has their own backstory and reason for being the way they are, usually related to their own traumas and life events, which Stella helps them explore and overcome.

Spiritfarer has a lot of my favorite qualities in a casual game: fun minigames, sweet dialogue, social commentary. But my favorite part is that it has cooking!!! There are about 105 unique recipes in the game that you can discover through dialogue or through mixing and matching ingredients in the ship’s kitchen! I love a game with good food, and Spiritfarer is the first in a while to check that box for me!

3. Zoombinis

via Steam

Zoombinis is a bit old and nostalgic. I remember playing it before I even started grade school. But don’t let that dissuade you! It’s a game about a group of craftsman refugees whose home country has been taken over by an invading country. The social allegory is blunt: they have to leave because otherwise they will be imprisoned or enslaved, and it is up to you to help them on their journey to their new home by solving puzzles and minimizing your losses along the way.

“Why,” you might ask, “are you suggesting a children’s logic game as a beautiful emotional ride?” Well, first of all, I love this game primarily for nostalgia’s sake. Other zillennials might have similar nostalgia. But even if you’ve never seen this game before, it really attaches you to each Zoombini. They might look like a faceless blob, but at the beginning of each game, you design and name every individual Zoombini. It really attaches you to the little guys you are responsible for, and losing a Zoombini or having to leave one behind can be devastating.

Even though I think this game is also fantastic for adults, it must be kept in mind that this game was made for children, so it features a relatively calm and simple gameplay style. But there are several difficulty levels for the puzzles and it can be challenging even for adults! The Zoombinis must traverse a dangerous swamp, scurry past sneezing bridges, and put together pizzas to please demanding trees. It’s a good brain teasing game with a feel-good, satisfying ending. Especially if you can get all the Zoombinis past the border in one piece.

4. Outer Wilds

via Mobius

Outer Wilds is a archaeological time loop mystery in space. You are a new space cadet, and for some reason your solar system is trapped in a time loop in which it is inevitably destroyed. You set out to find other members of the space program in hopes of discovering the mysteries of the time loop. Along the way, you explore the solar system and uncover mysteries about an ancient civilization that left technological clues in the ruins of other planets.

This game is best played with a controller, which is a large part of the reason I haven’t finished it to the end (I don’t own one). Not because it’s unplayable without one, but because I want to savor it and get the best experience possible.

Even though I’ve only played for a few hours now, I will recommend this game until my last breath. It feels eerie (in the museum on the starter planet, Timber Hearth, there is a head that moves of its own accord every time you re-enter the room), and I’ve been told one of the planets hosts a jump scare, but that only adds to the mystery. The world is handcrafted with immaculate detail, so there seems to be an unending host of little secrets to uncover about this strange, doomed solar system. If you love comprehensive world (solar system) building, a detailed story, and uncovering the secrets of an ancient, maybe god-like civilization, Outer Wilds is sure to be a must-play for you! It definitely is for me.

5. Games I haven’t played, but I’m excited for

There are a few games that I think will be really beautiful and moving, but that I haven’t been able to play yet.

1. Rakuen

via Project Rakuen

Rakuen is a top-down RPG-style game about a little boy who is in the hospital with a fatal illness. He asks his mom to read him a story from his fantasy book, and gets transported to this colorful fantasy world with his mom. On his quest to ask the Guardian of the Forest to grant him his wish, he helps other patients in the hospital work through their grief. This game seems to feature lots of puzzles, beautiful character building, and an ominous secret deep within the hospital. I can’t wait until I can play this game!

2. Bear’s Restaurant

via Odencat

Bear’s Restaurant is a narrative game in which you play as a newly hired cat in Bear’s critically acclaimed restaurant in the afterlife. You are responsible for serving customers their last meals, and helping them recover their memories in preparation for the afterlife. I am excited for this game because it reminds me a little of Spiritfarer, but perhaps even more in-depth because of how short it is. One reviewer on Steam, katamaris4ever, mentions that it’s only about a 2-hour long game. In spite of the game’s short length, I don’t doubt that Bear’s Restaurant deals with tragedy, loss, and grief in ways that will impact me for a long time after I play it.

3. Gris

via Nomada Studio

Gris tells the story of girl who is struggling with painful life experiences. The game conveys her journey through her negative emotional state through changes in her dress, beautiful atmospheric scenery, and little puzzles. It’s a calm game focused on the main character’s emotional growth, without player death or stressful situations. I desperately want to experience this game, if only because of the serene art style and gameplay.

Are emotional games your thing?

I’ve definitely been having an emotionally high stakes past few months. Maybe you have too. Do you enjoy playing emotional games like these ones? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments!

A Taste of the Past: An Indie Game about Grief (Review)

I’ve been playing a lot of melancholy, “in your feels” narrative games lately. A Taste of the Past, by Sondering Studio, is a quick 30-minute walking sim that’s free on steam! It’s packed with emotion, which is what drew me to it. In this free, story-rich game, we play as a Chinese-American teenager, Mei, who just lost her mother: the typical emotionally distant Asian-American parent who works hard to provide her children with the best life.

Mei Meeting her Grandparents | Source: Steam

When Mei falls asleep on the train, she ends up on a train filled with her ancestors, who help her work through her grief through reassurance, reminiscences, and (most importantly) her mother’s food. This game is really the definition of short and sweet. It only took me 20 minutes to complete, but I cried through every minute of it.

With the recent hit of the Pixar film Turning Red, I think this game will strike a chord with the millennial and older Gen Z Asian-American community especially. We’ve been getting a lot of deep and relatable entertainment lately, and I love it!

This cute indie game is simple but gorgeous, from the soundtrack to the color palette. And while it is truly an Asian American story about connecting to your heritage, the feelings it conveys are universal. Maybe I’m just on a melancholy game kick, but A Taste of the Past is a relatable masterpiece and it would move any audience. (Also, did I mention that it’s free on steam?)

Do you play narrative games? I didn’t like narrative games before I played Silence by Daedalic Entertainment (But I’ll make another post about that one soon!).

4 Affordable Ways to Make Your Student Room Super Cozy

Some student rooms or dorm rooms can look pretty bland and (dare I say?) cell-like. It can be tempting to leave it without a lot of decorations, particularly if you’ll only be there for one year. But it’s hard to hang out every day in a place without a homey vibe. Here are a few simple ways to make your student room cozy on a budget.

1. Fairy Lights

Photo by Dzenina Lukac from Pexels

Some people say fairy lights are childish. Maybe they are. But they also create really sweet lighting in your room, especially if you get warm or colorful lights. You can get battery powered lights for super cheap in your local Target, or if you want you can also get really long plug-in lights at any store that sells Christmas lights. They’re available on Amazon for just $9! I would say you could spend $10-20 on lights like these, and the effect is completely worth it.

2. Candles

Photo by jrydertr on Pixabay

For more warm lighting and cozy feels, you can always light a few candles. They always make me feel calmer and meditating on a candle flame can be a good winding down ritual at night time too! Somehow, candles make your room feel warmer and more welcoming.

3. Mirrors

my favorite corner of my room (and my favorite mirrror!)

Now that you have fantastic lighting in your room, you can add some mirrors! Mirrors will reflect the light and make your room feel brighter. Bonus points for pretty mirrors that add a little personality to your new home!

4. Plushies

Some plushies I brought from home ❤

Another thing that some people think are too childish for Real Adults. Plushies can instantly make a place feel lived in and loved. So don’t leave your favorite childhood plushies at home when you move out! Take a couple with you and set them up on your bed so your room feels a little softer and more familiar.

5. Add some color!

Photo by Matheus Bertelli from Pexels

Many dorm rooms are monochromatic and lack anything colorful. To make your room less monotonous, put some wall decorations up! You can use tacky putty like this one to hang posters or small artworks so you don’t damage your walls. This is also a good opportunity to shop small and purchase artworks from small businesses! Some of my favorite art shops include Toshia and Tiffany Tan Art! They have beautiful and adorable, colorful and fun art styles!

How do you decorate your spaces?? Do you have other tips and tricks to make your space homier and cozier? Let me know in the comments!

Just a Little Life Update (February 2022)

hi guys it’s me !

It’s been a while since I blogged about myself! I think the last time was when I first started this blog in 2019. I’ve come a long way since then! I’ll make this a short and sweet update of the last few years!

I ended up going to university in Belgium for Social Sciences with an emphasis in Communications, and now I only have 2 semesters left! It’s been rough, trying to stay on top of things, learning how to be a Functioning Adult in a different country, and trying to work part time as an au pair and babysitter.

Soon after my first semester ended, I became an au pair for a wonderful family and lived with them throughout the first year of the p*ndemic. It wasn’t ideal; I think we were all struggling with our mental healths and finding a new balance with everyone being home all the time, but we made it work. Belgium had quite strict lockdown rules at the beginning, and I really felt cooped up. I barely left the house even to go shopping, and I kept my sanity by making a really close-knit group of friends at school. We often got together for dinner to cook food from home and spend time with each other, and (luckily) we all avoided getting sick during that year.

In the spring of 2021, I left my au pair job a few months early to fly home and help my family out during a rough time. I leaned heavily on certain video games like Spiritfarer and My Time at Portia while at home that spring and summer. I was in a bit of a rut during that time, so the days passed slowly, but now that I look back on it, it feels like I blinked and it was suddenly the next school year (this year)!

It’s pretty exciting to be so close to getting my degree. It feels like I’ve been in school for forever. Knowing that I only have 2 semesters left now is making me restless. I’m going to start posting on this blog a little more consistently to keep everyone updated. I want to focus more on having a cozy lifestyle and my hobbies, like gaming. But I’m super excited to start this next stage of my blog here!

10 Replay-Worthy Video Games That Hard Carried Me Through 2021

If you grew up on video games like I did, there’s a good chance that you might turn to them when you need a little pick me up. I don’t know about you, but I definitely needed a pick me up quite often in 2021. Here are my favorite games from 2021!

1. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Screenshot of Link I took during a cutscene

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was my favorite game as a child and it still might be, but unfortunately I don’t have a Wii(U) and it hasn’t been remastered for Switch yet. Instead, Breath of the Wild provides enough nostalgia to be calming and enough new-ness to be exciting! With its in-depth story telling, fun mechanics, and epic open world, I don’t think this game will ever bore me. Zelda: Breath of the Wild has over 100 quests in total, and hundreds of secrets! This critically acclaimed game really made my year, and the anticipation for Breath of the Wild 2, set to be released this year, is enough to make me try for full completion by the end of this year!

2. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Screenshot by me

Another game I’ve been playing for years and years: Skyrim. It reached its 10 year release anniversary in 2021, and it’s still a game I come back to over and over again. I’ve been playing it on and off since its release in 2011, and in spite of the relatively long intro, it never fails to entertain me and take me back to simpler times, when dragons at the watermill were my biggest worries.

In this wildly popular RPG, there are several classes to choose from, although I still haven’t explored all of them. My favorites are assassinate and destruction mage; close combat is a little scary for me, so I like to embrace the Dark Brotherhood and attack sneakily from a distance so no one can see me, especially in the Dwemer Ruins. When I do quests, I often switch to being a mage, burning and shocking my enemies to complete my quest relatively unscathed.

3. The Sims 4

Screenshot by me

I only recently got into Sims 4, and my wallet is definitely not happy with me because of it. But this game is really a game for escapists. Making a little family with their own story, redesigning all of the houses in Willow Creek, and creating a new town from the blank slate of Newcrest can really take up a lot of time. But it can be so satisfying to see a story play out just the way you had it in your head, to make your little Sim become successful even while you’re stuck at home feeling deep in your heart like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill every day.

(Disclaimer: if you do start to feel too much like a certain cursed hero, playing Sims probably won’t make you feel better. It would probably be helpful to break up your schedule so your day doesn’t feel so bland, and if you ever feel hopeless, there is no shame in asking for help!)

4. Stardew Valley

Screenshot by me

Stardew Valley! Another critically acclaimed “cozy” game! This calm farming game by Concerned Ape boasts a rich storyline, fantastic characters, and plenty of secrets and side quests. You can explore the valley, take a trip to the desert, and defeat the monsters in the mines, all while romancing your favorite villager (or if you play your cards right, more than one!) and maintaining your farm. It’s a fun game for all player levels, with simple mechanics and fantastic top-down gameplay.

However, hidden just below the surface of this cute story about a cubicle worker who quit their job to work on their late grandfather’s farm is a darker and more mature narrative that even long-time players are still finding out. Stardew Valley also hides an insightful commentary on the drudgery of corporatism and the gradual urbanization of small towns that happens every day in real life. This is another game that I will definitely be playing for many years to come.

5. Minecraft

Image by Egnez from Pixabay

Another game I don’t think I will ever get bored of for very long; I’ve been playing Minecraft since it was a simple browser game with only a few block types. I remember begging my parents to let me buy it once it monetized. I even made a presentation about how it would help me with my geometry and critical thinking skills to convince them. Eventually, they conceded, and it was one of my favorite games for years. I have fond memories having Minecraft LAN parties with my siblings and making my first online friends via Minecraft servers in middle school.

Things haven’t changed much. I still play with my friends and siblings, and my building skills have improved a lot. I’m not sure how helpful Minecraft actually was for my math skills, because I still have a hard time doing the simple math required to make a house geometrically correct the first time, but Minecraft is still a great game to stretch my creative muscles while also having some nice social time.

6. My Time at Portia

Screenshot by me

I spent much of my free time during the summer playing My Time at Portia before eventually getting busy and forgetting about it for a while (I should really start playing it again though). I originally started playing it to pet the dog for one of my friend’s youtube video ideas. He didn’t end up using the clip, but the game was worth it.

Set in a post-post apocalyptic nation, Portia, the player is a builder who helps the town grow, carefully avoiding mistakes that caused the apocalypse in the first place. It has wonderful commentary about pollution and is decidedly solarpunk. The player spends a lot of time gathering resources, which makes the game a bit more grindy than I’m used to playing, but the storyline and relationships with the townspeople that the player must build up to advance make the game worth playing. The cute animation style, well-written storyline, and loveable characters are what will keep me going back to this game.

7. Neopets

Screenshot by me via Neopets

This early 2000s game celebrated its 22nd year in 2021. I don’t know many Gen Z-ers or young Millennials who didn’t play Neopets at some point. Now, since the Flash apocalypse (aka Adobe Flash End of Life), there are significantly fewer mini-games on Neopets, and actually my most favorite mini-games have succumbed to whatever terrible fate awaits outdated Flash mini-games. But Neopets is still a satisfying hit of nostalgia. Just visiting the Soup Kitchen to feed my poor starving neopets or visiting Jhudora’s Bluff to have her scorn me for not bringing her her quest items in time gives me the shot of serotonin I need to eventually motivate me to finish my homework or make dinner or whatever Important Task it is I’m avoiding.

8. Spiritfarer

Screenshot by me

Spiritfarer is another game I played quite a lot over the summer. The summer of 2021 was a difficult one for me. It was a tumultuous time for my family at home and I was having a rough time in isolation in Belgium, so I returned home to help out around the house as much as I could. It was the longest period of time I had been home since I moved out in 2018, so there was double the amount of adjustment, both in re-finding my place at home and with the necessary conflict in my priorities between the house, my school, and my mental health, which was already suffering when I came home. Spiritfarer did so much to keep me emotionally stable during that time.

Spiritfarer is another calm, cozy game where you play as Stella, who takes over the role of Charon, the ferryman of the dead. This game tackles grief and other feelings that come with death, and it’s really beautiful. I haven’t finished it yet, but I know that when I do come to another rough place in my life, this game will be there for me. It feels like a warm hug.

9. Divinity: Original Sin 2

Screenshot of my 2 undead heroes from my solo run

Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a top down, semi-open world, semi-turn based tabletop style RPG. One of my friends got me into it and I have been obsessed ever since. You play a character of one of 4 races, or an undead character, to try to figure out what went wrong in the highest ranks of their theocratic government and stop what seems to be a genocide on Sourcerers.

Maybe it’s the depth of the story, or the sheer variety of choices available that make it fun every time, or maybe it’s the number of class combinations you can try out that make Divinity so fun. But in any case, this game is exciting to play alone or with friends. The world is well made, the quests are interesting, and there are dozens of ways to play this game, save the Sourcerers, and become Godwoken.

10. TFT

Screenshot of a level 2 Hextech Piximander

Teamfight Tactics is a relatively new strategy game by Riot Games. It feels like a trading card game mixed with a board game, where you collect the League of Legends champions and pit them against each other on a board. It seems quite complicated if you watch it, but once you play it it’s so fun. Plus, there are insanely adorable Tacticians to choose from and, at least at lower levels, TFT doesn’t have the toxic player environment that League of Legends is so infamous for! This is the only Riot game I’ve played that I will play alone, and trying to find the best combinations for all the champions is very fun. The newest set, 6.5, comes out next week on February 16! It’s all very exciting and I’m really glad that Riot finally came out with a game that is possible for more casual play.

Bonus: League of Legends

I am admittedly not the biggest fan of League of Legends. The environment is toxic, playing without a full pre-made can be really scary, and there’s a high learning curve. But if you can find a good group of friends to play with, especially those who have already braved the flaming “necessary” to pass through to become a good player, this game can actually be really fun! I spent much of 2021 tentatively dipping my toe into this game. While I hold out hope that the League community will become less harmful in the future, in any case, I’ll just stick to my friends.

What are your favorite games?

Games are really personal and can become an integral part of a person’s life. Did I miss some of your favorite games? Do we have some of the same comfort games? Comment down below what games you keep going back to no matter what!

5 Ways to Take a Break from the US (Getting tf out without the commitment)

With the dumpster fire that the US is right now, it might be nice to dream about moving somewhere with fewer social problems, more reasonable leaders, and at least better health care. But moving is expensive and, even worse, it’s often a long term commitment. Here are a couple of relatively cost-effective ways to leave the US for a little while if you don’t have a degree or a lot of money, provided other countries open their visa process to US citizens.
(Disclaimer: Moving and traveling during a pandemic can be dangerous. Please follow all health and safety regulations during this time. Also, this is not legal advice. Please do your own research if you end up deciding to take a long trip and need a visa!)

Picture Credit: Element5 Digital on Pexels

1. Au Pair
As an au pair, you should basically be an older sibling, or an extended relation who’s around to help out with the kids. You get your living expenses paid for and also receive a small “allowance” each month. I think this option is the most accessible, especially to young people with childcare experience.

You don’t really need anything but your passport, some documents for a visa (can include a background check), and a flight (although your host family may agree to pay for some of the travel cost), although the requirements vary by country. This is a pretty chill way in general to get out of the country and have some new experiences. Many people au pair during a gap year, but in some countries you can be an au pair until the age of 30! Unfortunately, this job is generally not available to married people or people with children, although I’m sure you could look.


Some helpful websites for more information include:
aupair.com
AuPairWorld
GreatAuPair
Another great resource to learn more is Au Pair, Oh Paris, which is an au pair community created by au pairs for au pairs!

2. Study Internationally (Full Time)
This one has a relatively high initial cost. You need some kind of financial guarantee, whether signed by a guarantor or by way of blocked account to prove you have enough money to not starve while you’re studying in a foreign country. You also need to have a job or enough money saved up to actually live while you’re studying, and you need to be able to pay tuition. However, tuition outside of the US is relatively inexpensive, and can be as little as $4,000 per academic year! Plus, you can even au pair while studying (which is what I’m currently doing) and have your living expenses paid for while you save a bit each month.
Here is a more in depth guide by the NY Times to getting an international degree!

3. Study Internationally (Part Time)
Another great way to study internationally is to enroll in a language course abroad! Many countries have language schools specifically to teach foreigners, expats, or international students the country’s native language. Costs of courses vary wildly depending on the country and the type of course you want to take, and, of course, you’ll also have to account for living expenses!
You can find more information about language schools in different countries at GoOverseas!

4. Volunteer Abroad
While untrained people voluntouring abroad in the global south simply to feed a savior complex or for likes on Instagram is definitely not it, volunteering in a way you can help is always a good way to spend your time! Volunteering abroad might not be possible for a bit due to current travel restrictions and obvious current health risks either, but it’s always nice to dream! You might be able to volunteer with a tourist visa, since you won’t be getting paid. Tourist visas for US citizens are generally up to 3 months (if you’re in Europe, that means 3 months within the Schengen Area, not within 1 country), so it’s a good way to take a very short break. If anyone knows any ways to get a visa for volunteering for a longer period of time, please leave some info in the comments!

You can volunteer at a farm, to help someone with renovations, volunteer in a cafe, or to be a housemate who pays rent by helping with kids or doing chores. This is normally a way to travel for cheap, since you don’t “work” very often and you generally don’t need to pay for most living expenses as a volunteer (although it varies depending on the volunteer work), but it works to take a break from your home country as well.

Some resources about volunteering abroad can be found at:
WorkAway
WWOOF
HelpStay

5. Teach English Abroad
I saved this one for last because this one usually requires a bachelor’s degree and/or a TEFL certificate. Teaching English abroad is a relatively simple job to get, which results in a lot of underqualified English teachers. I wouldn’t recommend this path unless you are actually interested in teaching and have experience teaching English, just because kids in foreign countries deserve quality education like everyone else. However, aside from that, teaching English can be a very rewarding job!

The most popular English teaching jobs are in Asia (especially East Asia) and Latin America. Asia is popular because English teaching jobs in countries like South Korea, Vietnam, and China pay relatively well and will allow you to put away some money each month for savings. People often go to Latin America to teach because of the rich culture and travel opportunities!

Teaching English abroad is definitely an option that requires a much more research and preparation in terms of time and money, but it can be rewarding to get out of your country to learn, teach, and experience a completely new culture and ways of life.

You can find more information about how to teach English abroad at:
TEFL International
Premier TEFL
TeachAway

5 Ways to Practice Self Care When You Don’t Feel Like It

credit: Madison Inouye via Pexels

Self care is difficult lately. There’s no time, motivation, or energy to take care of yourself while there’s a pandemic, natural disasters all over, and civil rights movements sparking up around the globe. On top of that, we all have our own obligations and responsibilities to our job, education, family, kids, friends… the list goes on. But self care and self love are more important than ever in tumultuous times like this. Here are 5 simple ways to take care of yourself and reconnect even when you don’t want to.

1. Take a Media Break
I know, this is in every self care handbook out there. But I don’t just mean social media, I mean all media, especially the news. We receive so much information every time we open our news app or our social media accounts, and a huuge part of that is all about all the injustices and disasters going on in our communities and world. While it is important to be informed and active citizens, all that information, sadness, and anger can really take a toll on us. Not to mention that the pressure social media inherently puts on us. Many of us care a lot about the world and can be deeply emotionally affected by news, and want to be good allies and activists for movements that we care about. We can feel pressured to constantly advocate for our passions, and feel exhausted by all of it. It’s okay to take a break, even if it’s just for a few hours or a couple days.

2. Set Aside Time for Yourself
Our lives are so busy! We all have so much to do, and there’s never enough time to do it. Especially now, with many of our lives being turned upside down, our schedules torn up and spat out by the whirlwind of Covid19, lockdowns, and business closures. Everything can feel so hopeless, like you need to constantly do Things in order to be worthy of rest. But you’re always worthy of rest, even when you don’t finish all of your tasks. Set aside an hour or two during the day to just sit, journal, scroll on Pinterest, do yoga, watch an episode or two of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Whatever you like to do to calm down and stop thinking about all the Things you have to do.

3. Get Yourself Ready for the Day
Many of us are now spending the majority of our time at home, especially people who are working at home because of Covid restrictions. It can be really tempting to stay in your pajamas all day, not shower regularly, and forget to brush your hair and teeth. But I promise, getting dressed and ready when you get out of bed will make you feel way better and be more productive. If you really don’t have the energy to take a full shower or get fully dressed, at least wash your face and tie your hair out of the way. Hopefully this can make you feel fresher.

4. Drink Water, Eat Fruit and Vegetables
This is kind of a no-brainer, but it might be hard for you if you struggle with lack of motivation or you hyperfocus. Drink water as much as possible, even if needing to pee can be a little inconvenient when you’re in the middle of a project. Water will help you stay refreshed and can being properly hydrated can even stop you from having weird cravings (if you get those. I know I do)! Eating fruits and vegetables, even ones that have been frozen, can help fend off that groggy, gross mouth feel that we sometimes get in the middle of the day, or when we’re really hungry. Plus, they’re good for your brain!

5. Move Around
Working out is hard, it’s annoying, and it’s boring. And if you’re like me, it’s probably one of the last things you think about when you’re studying or working at home and you start to feel frustrated and tired. But low-intensity work exercise has been shown to actually make you less tired and boost productivity, and one study suggests that yoga helps make people less stressed out.

Taking care of yourself is the best way to get stuff done and be the best, most productive you. Self care often gets put on the backburner because we don’t consider it to be “productive,” but we really should emphasize it more and take care of ourselves as often and consistently as we can!

Affordable Sushi in Brussels: Makisu Restaurant Review

Pre-lockdown sushi

It’s hard to find affordable sushi, and even harder when you’re student on a budget in a big metropolitan city in Europe. So, you can imagine my delight when I discovered a budget-friendly sushi option with 4 restaurants in Brussels! There is one in the city center, one in Cimitiere D’Ixelles, which is a trendy student neighborhood by VUB and ULB campuses, and 2 nearby Flagey, which makes it pretty easy to get to one of them when you’re desperately in need of sushi.

But Makisu isn’t only sushi; They offer sides like miso soup and edamame as well as donburi bowls, including their salmon avocado bowl and their chicken katsu bowl. My favorite part about Makisu though, is that they allow you to design your own roll or bowl, so you can put whatever you want into your meal! While this option is slightly more expensive, it’s the best when you really need a California style sushi roll with mango and unagi sauce.

The best part is that, after a short period of closure at the start of the lockdown in Belgium, Makisu has reopened for takeout and corona-safe dining. You can order online for any of their locations, and they usually get your order ready pretty quickly! This is definitely my favorite restaurant in Brussels so far.