The Rise in Cosy Games and the Female Developers Behind Them

Victoria Kershaw from Studio Drydock.
Victoria Kershaw / supplied

With more and more women playing games and working in the industry, it’s no surprise that games increasingly reflect a more diverse range of perspectives, especially games about female characters with stories about traditionally feminine values.

According to the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association’s (IGEA) annual Australian Game Developer Survey (AGDS), there was a 42% increase in the number of women working in the industry between 2020 and 2021, and a 297% increase in the number of trans and non-binary people.

Interestingly, there’s also been a rise in “cosy games” in the last few years, which are primarily associated with women developers and players.

Victoria Kershaw from Studio Drydock.
Victoria Kershaw from Studio Drydock

Morgan Pinder, a Deakin University PhD candidate researching video game narratives, says “Cosy games are safe, low stress video games that allow for casual play and the exploration of ideas. It’s a gentle experience rather than an assault on the senses. They are designed to deliver an experience that can be interrupted. The fail state of these games is not immediate, unlike a first person shooter game, and the player may comfortably put the game down without returning to a bloodbath. The social expectations placed on women make this kind of low stakes, incremental gaming incredibly appealing.”

Raelene Knowles, COO of IGEA, says her team has noticed this happening in Australia, especially at independent studios with diverse, predominately female-led teams.

“With more people playing games during the pandemic, we have seen more cosy games enter the space. This is likely due to people turning towards games to stay connected, relieve stress and boredom and in some cases, it may have even provided agency to players — agency they didn’t have during lockdowns and restrictions. A boom in indie games is also contributing to this rise.”

How Do Women Make Games Cosy?

One title that’s made a name for itself in this space is “Unpacking”, an Australian-made zen puzzle game about unpacking the contents of a house which has won numerous awards here and internationally.

Wren Brier of Witch Beam Games, the developer of “Unpacking” says, “Often the focus in games is on violence and fighting. But there is also a different angle to come at things, which is about cultivating relationships, or about farming or organising a home. In games like ‘The Sims’ for example, the audience is more women, because it’s about relationships between characters, organising and making nice homes.”

“[Our game] builds on that. ‘The Sims’ was an unconscious inspiration for ‘Unpacking’. The game has universal appeal, but yes, it is more woman-oriented. On the game’s TikTok channel, the audience is largely women.”

Wren Brier from Witch Beam.
Wren Brier from Witch Beam

“But it’s been really nice to see people who aren’t women relate to the female character in our game. I’ve had comments like ‘Can you make a version where you play a guy?’ But it’s about a specific character who happens to be woman, whose specific life experiences would be different to that of a man’s. Part of her story is being a woman. That story draws a lot of inspiration from my own life and I happen to be a woman.”

Wylde Flowers” by Studio Drydock is another game with a largely female appeal that also took inspiration from “The Sims” — specifically “The SimsFreePlay”, which Studio Drydock’s creative director Amanda Schofield has previously worked on.

Schofield describes the world of “Wylde Flowers” as “bright, colourful, and soft, with no sharp edges, all round corners.” It won Excellence in Narrative and Excellence in Mobile Games at this year’s Australia Game Developer Awards, and was a finalist for Game of the Year and Excellence in Accessibility.

“We set out with the intention to create a game for a predominantly women audience,” says Studio Drydock’s marketing lead Victoria Kershaw. “The team behind it was also predominantly women, so we were able to bring this nuance and representation. We wanted to create a truly relaxing environment through simplifying game mechanics and a gentle orchestra musical score.”

Games as Self-Care

Kershaw agrees that games have been primarily focused on violence in the past. “I feel this has been alienating to a lot of women out there, who just aren’t looking for that experience in their downtime. Focus on self-care and self-soothing has been rising over the last few years. The appeal of [“Wylde Flowers”] is you can escape to somewhere that is soothing and soft, the tasks are simple, the pace is relaxed, you know what you have to do and when, and nothing bad happens. A little oasis.”

Kinder World” is another game with a self-care element. The idea was conceived during the pandemic, after Lauren Clinnick from Lumi Interactive noticed houseplants had become part of a self-care routine for so many people she knew.

Lauren Clinnick from.Lumi Interactive
Lauren Clinnick from Lumi Interactive

“We noticed ‘cozy culture’ had become a big trend. So we wanted to see how houseplant care could be brought into a digital space, and to see if this experience could still offer some respite for a tired mind. Kinder World reflects our vision for a kinder future through kindness towards ourselves and others, which might be considered feminine.”

“Our team is majority women and nonbinary developers with a minority of men, which is very rare in the games industry.”

Built around the evidence-based concept of crowdhealing, “Kinder World” has wellbeing researcher Dr Hannah Gunderman on board to help inform the different activities the player engages in. “Crowdhealing is a new category of games that can create positive, widespread safe spaces and healing among players. It says we can heal by being active members of kind communities, both giving and receiving kindness. A huge number of our players live with social anxiety, just like myself, which can make it hard to experience the wellbeing benefits of meaningful social interaction, so crowdhealing games can offer a new outlet for receiving these.”

Dr Hannah Gunderman
Dr Hannah Gunderman

Cosy games tap into our desire for organisation and productivity, Pinder explains. They’ve been found to help players manage stress and gain a new perspective on real life problems.

“Things in these digital worlds fit into place,” Pinder says. “They turn everyday frustrations into a solvable puzzle and there is something very satisfying and empowering about that.”

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