Work From Home is a new vertical dedicated to life and culture in the strange and unprecedented situation of self-quarantine that many of us are dealing with right now. From what to watch to how to get a fit off and how to not think about anything, this is our guide to the great indoors. For updates on the spread of Covid-19 and how to keep yourself safe and informed, consult WHO and the CDC.
Covid-19 is here, and if you're doing your part to flatten the curve and limit the danger this infectious disease poses to humanity, you're following government orders to stay indoors. Nearly all non-essential businesses and schools have followed suit (by choice or by executive order), shutting their doors for an indefinite amount of time, severely limiting contemporary social structures.
The human spirit, however, presses on, and if the species' innate wants, needs, and desires can't be lived out in the real world, well, we have video games to bring a simulation of a fulfilling life indoors. By design, simulation games give players the option to take on tasks and responsibilities they likely never would in real life, such as farming, building roller coasters, and delivering goods.
And just as it is in real life, the point of most (if not all) simulation games is to find meaning in the pursuit, so in between spending meaningful time with family, reading all those New Yorker issues you've been putting aside, and fixing up your house, we've compiled a list of 10 games that will allow you to live out a fulfilling life virtually.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
The latest installment in the beloved Animal Crossing series releases this Friday, March 20, and it could not come at a better time. A real-time social simulator, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the fifth main series title and sees you take control of a character who moves to a deserted island after purchasing a vacation package from sneaky and arguably exploitative Tom Nook.
Unlike past versions, which had players join an existing community as the sole human, New Horizons sees players create a community from scratch. This premise ultimately becomes the goal of the game as you sell goods and craft items, while the introduction of a new progression system helps keep things moving at a brisk pace.
Like all Animal Crossing games, getting acquainted with a familiar anthropomorphic cast and developing a community are far more rewarding than they look on paper, turning mundane tasks into rewarding little victories. Local and online co-op gameplay is supported as well so you'll be able to interact with a real community while engaging with a virtual one.
Early reviews for the game are in and they demonstrate nothing short of universal acclaim. If you own a Switch (as you should) and are self-isolating to contain the spread of Covid-19 (as you should be), Animal Crossing: New Horizons is an absolute must.
The Sims 4
The Sims series has been around so long it hardly needs explaining. For those who have never toyed around with the franchise, however, now's a better time than ever to start living your virtual life through a Sim.
The fourth and most recent edition of the life simulator released in 2014 and since then a whopping eight — yes, eight — expansion packs have been released, alongside "stuff packs," "game packs," and simply free updates. Each release has improved the amount of content available to play around with, resulting in a well-rounded offering that keeps things relatively realistic compared to other entries on this list.
You'll get to send characters to work and school, have them do chores around the house, play games, go on dates, learn to cook, and much more. Basically, you'll get to vicariously do all the things you wish you had the time to do under normal circumstances with the comfort of knowing you're not out in the actual world spreading actual diseases.
Harvest Moon: Light of Hope
Although not the best game on this list, Harvest Moon: Light of Hope is the latest installment in the famed Harvest Moon (now known as Story of Seasons) franchise. The original Harvest Moon released for SNES in Japan in 1996 and is the originator of the farm-simulator genre, while Harvest Moon 64 arguably perfected the form.
Harvest Moon: Light of Hope made the cut for all those people that have fond memories of previous iterations and want to dive back into a series they're familiar with. This version is set in a harbor town with the straightforward goal of bringing a lighthouse back to life. Like all games in the series, players can raise crops and grow livestock, while looking out for the character's personal well-being through gameplay mechanics like entering a relationship, starting a family, buying animals, and helping fellow villagers with simple tasks.
If you grew up on any of the previous Harvest Moon games and don't feel like entering a different video game universe, Harvest Moon: Light of Hope will easily see you through some stir-crazy days at home.
Speaking of Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley is a more recent farm simulator that's a must during these days, weeks, and possibly months of isolation ahead. Available for macOS, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation Vita, iOS, Android and even Tesla Arcade, you get to bring the outdoors in with a premise and storyline that is very much like the Japanese series it's inspired by. Think a quaint, challenging, rural life.
If you're big on latest-generation games but never had the chance to play Stardew Valley, don't let the 2D graphics turn you off. Like other games on this list, the experience slowly becomes rewarding and even comforting as you turn an abandoned plot of land into a bustling farm, complete with fruits, vegetables, and livestock.
The entire game, from the visuals to the concept, is a throwback to simpler times, something we're all quietly hoping for right now.
While not exactly a life simulator, Death Stranding has become eerily prescient in its depiction of a post-apocalyptic wasteland — or at least a wasteland's feeling of isolation.
The game received mixed reviews upon release, and as a courier tasked with delivering goods between existing colonies, it's easy to see why. Death Stranding has far less of the stealth and action tactics that define game designer Hideo Kojima's magnum opus, the Metal Gear series, but in true Kojima fashion it's a work that pushes the boundaries of what video games are capable of.
Death Stranding's strength lays in its ability to keep players engaged just long enough to make tiny key decisions worthwhile. Should you save time and blast through an enemy camp or take a safer, longer route around the mountains? It's choices like this that make the game a slow-burner, revealing itself in stages instead of all at once.
If you're up for a bit of tedium and letting your mind wander to the possibilities of an absolute worst case scenario, Death Stranding is in a class of its own.
RollerCoaster Tycoon: Deluxe
Throw it back to your childhood with RollerCoaster Tycoon: Deluxe. While there have been other installments in the series, none quite captured the magic of the original, and thanks to Valve's game distribution service Steam, you can run the game that started it all (with the added bonus of two expansion packs) on any Windows PC.
The premise is so simple that it's communicated as concisely as possible in the title: you develop and run a theme park, building rides and attractions for guests to enjoy, get sick on, or downright refuse to ride. The game can be approached a number of ways, from setting out to hit all the main goals — like improve a park's value, attract more guests, or maintain the park rating— to more creative and sadistic ways, like building rollercoasters that launch thrill-seekers to their deaths.
It's a fun bit of escapism that'll let you get your creative juices out, while bringing you back to a time where the only pressing question was how much to charge for entry.
Two Point Hospital
Healthcare workers are on frontlines across the world right now battling an invisible enemy, and while Two Point Hospital could never capture the nuance of what it's like to toil under life-or-death conditions (nor does it claim to), it does give players the satisfaction of doing everything it takes to save lives.
Two Point Hospital provides some much-needed comic relief within the world of healthcare, tasking players with alleviating illnesses and eliminating diseases like "Light-Headedness" (where patients have lightbulbs for heads) and "Pandemic" (where patients have pans on their heads).
Originally released for Linux, macOS, and Windows in 2018, console versions for PS4, Xbox One, and Switch were released just a few weeks ago, making Two Point Hospital the perfect game to escape the seriousness of what's going on while learning a bit of medical jargon and doing your part to reduce the risk of contagion.
If you've heard of Dreams but still have no idea what it is, you're not alone. It's less game than it is game engine, and in that sense it's a simulator — and so much more than that. Dreams can really be anything you want it to be, whether you want to build your own games, write music, or create films.
Put simply, the game celebrates creativity in every form. Central to this conceit is the community and the people that have gravitated toward Dreams in the few weeks it's been out is unlike any other digital social space. Once a player (creator?) uploads an asset to the server, someone else can download it and remix it to suit their needs. The end product is a canvas that's constantly being reworked, giving each person a chance to build something truly unique.
While you might not be virtually walking in someone else's shoes in Dreams, you absolutely will be putting your creativity to use in a way you've never done before in a video game.
Another entry on this list that's known far outside the video game world, Minecraft exploded on the scene when it was released in 2011 by Swedish video game designer Markus Persson. Since then it's gone on to become the single best-selling video game of all time, popularizing the sandbox video game genre, many elements of which have made their way into subsequent games.
Like a few others on this list, it's not a simulation in the strictest sense of the word. It does, however, give players the ability to create, modify, or destroy the environment around them. It's simple enough for new and young gamers to get into, and because of those simple mechanics and the game's open-ended nature, it's as good a game as any for this period of isolation without an end date.
Super Mario Maker 2
Last but not least is yet another game that puts the creation of the game itself in the hands of the players. Super Mario Maker 2 takes the most iconic video game franchise of all time and lets you do pretty much whatever you want with it. The goal, if there is any, is to create levels using building blocks from across the Super Mario series and publish them online for others to play.
Assets from some of the best games in the franchise are up for grabs here, including selections from Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, New Super Mario Bros. U, and a newly introduced Super Mario 3D World. It's nostalgia and the future rolled up into one and it makes for an endlessly exciting and creative experience.
Sure, it's another loose interpretation of the word "simulator," but during these times of uncertainty, Super Mario Maker 2 gives you the opportunity to play around with your favorite video game characters while marveling at others' ideas and letting your own creativity flow.