Is Starfield a Cozy Game?
Like approximately six million others, I have spent the past few days exploring space, mining for ores, and seeing ecstatic visions while touching odd pieces of metal. In other words, my free time has been consumed by Bethesda’s Starfield. It's a project that has been worked on at some level for roughly a decade. I’m glad to say that it has been worth the wait, too. There is an RPG itch that we all seem to get every few years that only a Bethesda game can scratch. They are in top form with this release and should be commended on a staggering achievement in game development.
However, I’m not here to be a fanboy. I’m here because at BetterPlay, we think a lot about how games impact a player's mental health. We also think about cozy games and why we believe they intrinsically lend themselves to stress relief and lower anxiety.
As I’ve been playing Starfield, I’ve noticed that - more than any other Bethesda game prior - it’s essentially a massive AAA cozy experience. Which is odd. Most cozy games come from indies like us. Sure, maybe Disney Dreamlight or Animal Crossing could be considered a higher profile cozy. Compared to the scope of Starfield, however, those games pale in comparison. Admittedly, the designation “cozy” is very elastic and subjective. I’ve even heard a few people even say horror games like Resident Evil are “cozy” for them.
That’s not what I’m referring to when I say cozy. I’m talking about games that feel like a warm bubble bath when you play. They feature worlds that you want to inhabit, characters that become like real friends, and mechanics that are engaging but not too stressful. Sure, Starfield doesn’t have a pastel color palette, cute characters or a twee soundtrack. And yes, if you choose, you can rain bullets down upon a band of galactic pirates while zooming by on a jet pack.
However, try telling me Starfield is anything but cozy when I’m roaming a planet scanning frost reeds and cataloging elements or creating a nice living area for my shipmates at the local spaceport. Given the high focus on player agency in the game, it can be just about anything you make of it. But STILL - given settlement options in Fallout 4 or the virtual flâneurs found in Fallout 76, and now with the abundance of cozy gameplay elements found in Starfiled, Bethesda might be leaning into this genre a bit. And that makes sense. More and more people turn to video games for relaxation and these elements are relaxing in a more direct way than most.
But does Bethesda know that these elements can have a profound impact on a player's mental health too? Beyond just being a conduit for the self-care of relaxation, especially when done with intentionality, cozy games can really have an impact on mental health. Why do you think games like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing got us through the pandemic?
That’s what BetterPlay Studios is all about. We’re digging into these mechanics and partnering with mental health experts to put some serious intentionality into how they can impact our players for good. We believe that games can be every bit as polished and fun as Starfield and what is currently the “haphazard” impact of lower stress and diminished anxiety could be made all the more potent with a bit more TLC from the onset of the development. And the best part? Not one iota of fun needs to be sacrificed. Games using cozy mechanics to purposefully impact your mental health can still be great games. That’s our mission and focus.
So next time you are out scouring the universe for Constellation, take a minute to soak it all in and imagine a frontier in mental health and gaming that is as exciting as the limitless expanse of space awaiting your next grav jump.