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The Value of a Relaxing Game

If the precariousness and uncertainty of the 21st century is getting you down, there are plenty of relaxing games out there specifically designed to provide solace.



The modern world is an incredibly stressful place. Despite constant reminders about the importance of sustaining a good work-life balance, we seem to be spending more time in the office than ever before, for less money. This makes it difficult to pay off our student loans or pay rent, let alone actually buy a house. And kids don’t have it any easier.

Being able to relax and forget about the pressures of day-to-day existence is thus absolutely crucial. For some, this means settling into a comfortable chair with a good book and a glass of wine close at hand, hitting the gym for a spot of vigorous exercise, or listening to a soothing piece of classical music.

As a gamer, however, I find nothing calms my frayed nerves more than a few peaceful hours playing a relaxing game like Journey, Animal Crossing, or Flower; digital retreats that help me forget about my troubles if only for a moment.

The one that’s helped me unwind more than any other in recent times – the one that inspired me to write this article, in fact – is Stardew Valley.

Inspired by the Harvest Moon series, the beauty of this farm/community simulator lies in the simplicity of its idyllic world. Players don’t have to worry about taxes, politics, or the ethics of using chemical pesticides, and can instead channel all of their energy into the highly-satisfying process of transforming an unkempt piece of scrub land into a successful, functioning farm and becoming an established member of the community.

It’s a disarmingly captivating game that delivers the perfect kind of escapism thanks to its charming visual style and ever-satisfying feedback loop which, alongside the core objectives mentioned above, includes a variety of side-distractions such as fishing, mining, and good old-fashioned RPG-style questing.

Ultimately, it’s the ability of titles like Stardew Valley, Abzu, Firewatch, or even something like The Sims’ to transport us to a calmer, more relaxing game environment that makes them so refreshing. Much as I love diving into a colossal sandbox world chock full of activities – whether that’s Final Fantasy VII, Dark Souls, or Skyrim – their sheer depth and complexity can be a little overwhelming if you subsist on an exclusively open world diet.

Now, obviously, spending all your free time in a digital world, ignoring all your real-life responsibilities so you can focus on your Minecraft creations or your latest Planet Coaster attractions isn’t conducive to a healthy, productive life-style either. Find the right balance between the two, however, and, as numerous scientific studies have demonstrated in recent years, there are noticeable psychological benefits to gaming, not the least of which are the positive effects it can have on our mental health.

A particularly interesting paper referenced in a recent article written by author/game designer Jane McGonigal revealed that the regions of the brain associated with memory and motivation – the same two areas that are severely affected by depression – are hyper-stimulated when we game. Consequently, playing can actually help to alleviate the symptoms of the illness and actually make sufferers feel less depressed.

That’s not to say overcoming depression is as simple as playing video games all day every day. As McGonigal has warned in the past, the negative, debilitating symptoms of the condition can be exacerbated if the player uses games to “self-medicate”, avoiding the root cause of their problems by withdrawing into an idealized virtual world, rather than confronting them head-on.

The trick, she says, is to have a particular goal in mind when you play such as “developing your creativity (in a game like Minecraft), learning to solve new problems (in a game like Portal)”, etc. Indeed, research has proved this approach to gaming not only improves a person’s self-confidence, weakening the negative self-perceptions produced by the illness, but it can also make the sufferer more resilient to the horrible effects of depression going forward.

Elsewhere, reports suggest gaming’s impact on anxiety, another extremely common mental health problem that effects an estimated 40 million adults in the US alone, has been similarly positive.

The author of a recent BBC article, for example, discussed the remedial influence superlative graphic adventure Firewatch had on his psychological well-being during an especially severe bout of anxiety, explaining that its engrossing narrative and gorgeous visuals finally convinced him to seek professional help. As someone who has and continues to struggle intermittently with social anxiety, I, too, can attest to the soothing qualities of Firewatch and numerous other titles: Gone Home, Journey, Hohokum to name but three. For all its wasted promise, I find even No Man’s Sky offers a certain easy-going tranquility that can help relieve a troubled mind.

Of course, no one’s suggesting video games are an untapped, potential cure-all for every psychological disorder known to humankind. What is abundantly clear from the scientific evidence and personal experiences of gamers who live with a chronic mental illness, however, is that playing for a few hours each week can and does provide some much-needed respite from the effects of such conditions, helping us to change the way we think, and making us happier people in general.

There are also, for want of a better term, less thoughtful reasons to choose a chill, indie title over the latest AAA blockbuster. Not the least of which is straight-up variety.

With so many divergent, unique experiences available on the market today, focusing solely on first-person shooters like Call of Duty or League of Legends severely restricts a player’s gaming horizon. To cite an example from my own past, a couple of years back I decided to play The Witcher 3, Fallout 4, and Metal Gear Solid V back-to-back. A sucker for an RPG (especially an open world one) I thought this would be an epic experience; a personal celebration of the genre. However, as I progressed through each of these fantastic titles, I found that, although I was having fun, I simply wasn’t as engaged as I knew I should have been. It wasn’t long before I realized I was craving something different.

So, when I finally got around to playing Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin a month or so ago (in case you’re interested, because I missed them the first-time around, I’m playing the Soulsbourne games in reverse order), I decided to partner it with Stardew Valley. The combination of these two wildly disparate games enabled me to keep my frustration at bay whenever I got stuck on one of Scholar’s devilishly tricky bosses or dungeons, and likewise appreciate the full value of Stardew Valley’s restful Arcadian setting.

Alternating between big-budget releases like Uncharted 4 and understated, individualistic indie darlings like The Witness has increased my appreciation for the undoubted artistry of modern gaming too.

Title’s such as Firewatch and Gone Home demonstrate how an original graphical style, evocative musical score, and well-written, well-acted dialogue can complement the central narrative and gameplay mechanics, subtly resonating with the player on the periphery of his or her perception.

I’m far more aware of my surroundings as a result. When I finally played Final Fantasy XV a few months ago, for instance, or whenever I return to Battlefield 1, I notice the little touches that complete the experience: the particle effects and shaking-screen that follows an explosion, conveying the terror and confusion of war in the latter; how Prompto’s photographs literally and metaphorically capture the bittersweet, nostalgic mood of the former.

But perhaps more than anything else in this regard, the very fact that Journey, Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles, Stardew Valley and co. exist at all serves to show us just how far the industry has come since the early days when platformers and tough-as-nails action-adventures ruled the roost.

Admittedly, the titles referenced throughout this article are specific to me and some players will no doubt find the most recent incarnation of Doom far more calming than something as sedentary as Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. It’s highly subjective.

The important thing to remember is that, if the precariousness and uncertainty of the 21st century is getting you down, there are plenty of relaxing games out there specifically designed to provide solace.

Counting Final Fantasy VII, The Last of Us, the original Mass Effect trilogy, and The Witcher 3 amongst his favourite games, John enjoys anything that promises to take up an absurdly large amount of his free time. When he’s not gaming, chances are you’ll find him engrossed in a science fiction or fantasy novel; basically, John’s happiest when his attention is as far from the real world as possible.

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Fantastic Fest 2019: Second Wave Adds ‘Knives Out’, ‘Parasite’ and More




This year’s Fantastic Fest is shaping up with one of the strongest lineups in recent years and if the first wave announcement didn’t impress you, the second wave of films announced today will have you running to buy tickets.

Wave two brings a ton of exciting new titles including Rian Johnson‘s Knives Out, Bong Joon-ho‘s Palme d’Or winner Parasite, as well as Richard Stanley‘s The Color Out of Space and the latest from filmmaking duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead, Synchronic.

This year, Fantastic Fest will also be spotlighting Mexican genre films such as The Black Pit of Dr. M and The Ship of Monsters—and, the festival will also include a sidebar dedicated to LGBTQ+ representation in genre cinema.

Check out the full second wave film lineup below. Fantastic Fest runs September 19-26. Be sure to check back as we will be covering the event once again this year.

Abou Leila
Algeria, France, Qatar, 2019
North American Premiere, 139 min
Director – Amin Sidi-Boumédiène
In the midst of the Algerian Civil War, Lotfi ventures into the desert with his lifelong friend S., who hopes to find and kill the elusive, dangerous terrorist Abou Leila.

The Antenna
Turkey, 2019
US Premiere, 115 min
Director – Orçun Behram
Somewhere within an unnamed city in Turkey, the residents of an apartment block await the installation of their new antenna as ordered by the central government. No one can prepare them for the evil that will be unleashed.

The Black Pit Of Dr. M
Mexico, 1959
Repertory Screening, 82 min
Director – Fernando Méndez
Two doctors make a pact on behalf of science: Whichever one dies first will return to share the secrets of the afterlife. This pact will not end well.

USA, 2019
Texas Premiere, 80 min
Director – Joe Begos
While trying to complete her latest painting, a starving artist facing a lack of inspiration spirals out of control in a blaze of blood-soaked, drug-fueled glory.

Blood Machines
France, USA, 2019
North American Premiere, 50 min
Director – Seth Ickerman
The wild sequel to the Carpenter Brut music video, Turbo Killer, shoots you into a turbulent psychedelic adventure of galactic hunters tracking down the soul of a spaceship set to a killer synthwave soundtrack.

Butt Boy
USA, 2019
World Premiere, 100 min
Director – Tyler Cornack
Writer/director/comedian Tyler Cornack’s Butt Boy introduces us to Chip, a middle-aged man whose first prostate exam stirs feelings deep inside leading to an addiction that can only be shown to Fantastic Fest audiences.

Climate Of The Hunter
USA, 2019
World Premiere, 90 min
Director – Mickey Reece
The “Soderbergh of the Sticks,” Mickey Reece, returns to Fantastic Fest with his 27th feature. Two beautiful sisters vie for the affections of a man who may or may not be a vampire.

Color Out Of Space
USA, 2019
US Premiere, 111 min
Director – Richard Stanley
Unimaginable terrors befall the Gardner family after a meteorite lands on their front lawn in Richard Stanley’s entrancing, horrific adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story.

Iron Fists And Kung Fu Kicks
Australia, 2019
North American Premiere, 107 min
Director – Serge Ou
From the Shaw Brothers to The Matrix, this wild documentary tells the story of how kung fu films conquered the world from the 1960s to now.

Knives Out
USA, 2019
Special Presentation, 130 min
Director – Rian Johnson
In attendance – Director Rian Johnson
From acclaimed writer, director Rian Johnson comes Knives Out, a fresh and modern take on the classic “whodunnit” mystery genre.

The Lodge
USA, 2019
Texas Premiere, 108 min
Directors – Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala
Five years after Goodnight Mommy stunned Fantastic Fest audiences, Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala are back with another disturbing psychological twister about a brother and sister spending Christmas with their shadowy soon-to-be stepmother.

The Long Walk
Laos, Spain, Singapore, 2019
US Premiere, 115 min
Director – Mattie Do
In attendance – Director Mattie Do
An old Laotian hermit discovers that the ghost of a road accident victim can transport him back in time fifty years to the moment of his mother’s painful death..

2014, USA
Repertory Screening, 65 min
Director – Stewart Thorndike
In attendance – Director Stewart Thorndike
After the loss of her child, a young woman begins to suspect that her neighbors might be part of a satanic cult and that she might be their next target.

A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
USA, 1985
Repertory Screening, 87 min
Director – Jack Sholder
In attendance – Actors Mark Patton and Kim Myers
Jesse (Mark Patton) is the new kid on Elm Street and Freddy Krueger might not be the only monster in the closet in this much discussed but under-appreciated queer horror classic.

Austria, 2019
US Premiere, 90 min
Director – Karl Markovics
In a retirement allotment in Vienna, a crabby 91-year-old finds both himself and his humanity when he hires an Afghani refugee to help him in Karl Markovics’ remarkable and poignant third feature.

South Korea, 2019
Texas Premiere, 131 min
Director – Bong Joon-ho
Bong Joon-ho’s seventh feature — about an unemployed Korean family conning their way out of their basement apartment — is a roller coaster ride of laughs, gasps, horror, tears, and perfection.

Belgium, 2019
North American Premiere, 97 min
Director – Tim Mielants
Patrick is not having an easy time. First his domineering father passed away and now his favorite hammer is missing. Before the day is out, Patrick’s search will lead him to discover answers to the questions he didn’t even know existed.

Phil Tippett – Mad Dreams And Monsters
France, 2019
International Premiere, 80 min
Directors – Gilles Penso & Alexandre Poncet
After their documentary Creature Designers – The Frankenstein Complex, French journalist Alexandre Poncet and filmmaker Gilles Penso deliver an in-depth, sad, and beautiful documentary about the stop motion and VFX artist Phil Tippett, a man who changed the landscape of visual effects in film.

The Platform
Spain, 2019
US Premiere, 90 min
Director – Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia
In attendance – Director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia
Somewhere in the future exists The Platform, a vertically tiered prison where the upper levels have access to exquisite food and the lower levels fight for survival. Level assignments are random, but how long can a prisoner’s luck hold? One man is about to find out.

1977, United Kingdom
Repertory Screening, 78 min
Director – Norman J. Warren
Jessica and Josephine find more than their relationship at stake when they’re chosen by a shape-shifting alien as his target for an observational study.

Scream, Queen! My Nightmare On Elm Street
USA, 2019
US Premiere, 100 min
Directors – Roman Chimienti & Tyler Jensen
In attendance – Directors Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen
More than thirty years after its release and his departure from Hollywood, Mark Patton (star of A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge), sets the record straight on the famously queer horror sequel in this fabulous, surprising, and eye-opening documentary.

The Ship Of Monsters
Mexico, 1960
Repertory Screening, 81 min
Director – Rogelio A. González
Two Venusian women and their robot servant are on a mission to find suitable candidates to repopulate their planet. Soon their ship is filled with bizarre specimens from across the universe, leading to an adventure like no other!

USA, 2019
US Premiere, 96 min
Directors – Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead
In attendance – Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Two paramedics find their world ripped apart when they start encountering deaths linked to the otherworldly effects of a new designer drug called Synchronic.

Trampa Infernal
Mexico, 1989
Repertory Screening, 77 min
Director – Pedro Galindo III
In Mexico’s most notorious unseen video-era masterblast, a crew of toxically masculine bear murderers runs afoul of a forest-dwelling war veteran wearing a mannequin mask and Freddy Krueger glove. Entertainment ensues!!

The True Adventures Of Wolfboy
USA, 2019
North American Premiere, 88 min
Director – Martin Krej?í
Suffering from hypertrichosis — which covers him with animal-like fur — Paul knows he’s not like other kids. But a seemingly random package from his estranged mother will send him on a journey of self-discovery alongside extraordinary characters.

The Vast Of Night
USA, 2019
Texas Premiere, 90 min
Director – Andrew Patterson
A rural 1950s radio DJ and a telephone operator uncover a strange signal that could change everything in this stunning science fiction debut feature.

USA, 2019
World Premiere, 92 min
Director – Joe Begos
In attendance – Director Joe Begos
In the near future, a new drug called Hype has turned America into a war zone. The addicted are more mutant than human, and they’ve set their sights on assaulting a VFW post in Joe Begos’ star-studded latest.

USA, 2019
World Premiere, 71 min
Director – Jack Henry Robbins
In attendance – Director Jack Henry Robbins
This bizarre retro comedy, shot entirely on VHS and Beta, takes us back to when 12-year-old Ralph, over one formative week, mistakenly records home videos and his favorite late night shows over his parents’ wedding tape.

Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, 2019
US Premiere, 98 min
Director – Lorcan Finnegan
When young couple Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) drive out to a maze of temptingly affordable houses in the suburbs, they find themselves unable to leave.

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Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Antlers’ Gets a Mysterious Trailer




Fox Searchlight has released the first trailer and poster for Antlers, a rural horror film about a small-town Oregon teacher (Keri Russell) and her brother (Jesse Plemons), the local sheriff, who discover that a young student (Jeremy T. Thomas) is harboring a dangerous secret that places the entire town in danger.

Director Scott Cooper and producer Guillermo del Toro have teamed to adapt a short story from Nick Antosca, the creator of the criminally underrated horror anthology series Channel Zero. Not much is yet known about Antlers other than Fox Searchlight, now owned by Disney, has scheduled the film for a 2020 release. Rounding up the main cast is Graham Green, Amy Madigan, Scott Haze and Rory Cochrane. Watch the trailer below.

Antlers Movie
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Be Excellent to Each Other with these Awesome ‘Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ Figures

“History is about to be rewritten by two guys who can’t spell.”




Since its release in 1989, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure inspired a sequel (Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey), a Saturday morning cartoon, a comic book series, and launched actor Keanu Reeves into movie stardom. And now, three-plus decades later, Bill and Ted are getting their own scale collectible set courtesy Sideshow and Blitzway.

This is your chance to own the friendly duo in one go! The work put into creating these high-end figures is truly astounding as the figures capture the look of a young Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves just as we remember them. If you have $399 to spend, they can be all yours.

Check out the photos below along with the official press release.

Bill and Ted are two high school buddies who dream of becoming international rock stars. Their hilarious time travel adventure is depicted in the amazingly audacious comedy Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

It’s like having them pop up right in front of you, with their iconic fashion and elaborate accessories. Besides, the iconic props are designed to let you reproduce a variety of wonderful scenes from the movie.

Be excellent to each other and travel to the past through the exciting story of Bill and Ted!

The Bill & Ted Sixth Scale Collectible Set specially features:

Highly detailed likeness of Alex Winter as Bill S. Preston Esq.
Highly detailed likeness of Keanu Reeves as Ted “Theodore” Logan
Newly designed and developed male body with over 30 points of articulations and flexible soft arms
Two (2) Newly designed and developed figure stands
Twelve (12) interchangeable hands (total for both) including:
Two (2) pairs of guitar hands
Two (2) right blow fist hands
Two (2) pairs of open hands
Two (2) right good fortune hands

Costume for Bill:

One (1) purple pattern shirt
One (1) graphic t-shirts
One (1) pair of blue jeans
One (1) pair of pattern underpants
One (1) pair of striped socks
One (1) pair of canvas shoes

Costume for Ted:

One (1) blue jacket
One (1) black vest
One (1) graphic t-shirt
One (1) pair of graphic shorts
One (1) pair of inner training pants
One (1) pair of striped socks
One (1) pair of canvas shoes

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Watch the Creepy Trailer for ‘Little Nightmares 2’: Six is Back and She has Help.




One of the biggest surprises to come out of Gamescom 2019 so far is the announcement of Little Nightmares 2, the sequel to the puzzle-platformer hit horror game developed by Tarsier Studios.

While the first Little Nightmares has you take control a character named Six while avoiding instant death as she traverses alone amongst the depths of a dungeon, the sequel will give her a companion named Mono, who must accompany Six throughout her terrifying new journey.  

Little Nightmares was one of our favorite games of 2017 and so we can’t wait to get our hands on the sequel. In our review, James Baker wrote, “Tarsier Studios have created a wholly original concept to a horror genre that has leaned more towards thriller before anything else, bringing its roots back without relying on jump-scares and needlessly-gory shocks. Just like hide-and-seek, Little Nightmares captures the fear of being caught, albeit in a creepy, macabre style.”

Little Nightmares 2 will be released sometime in 2020 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One.

Watch the trailer below and if you are a fan of the first game, we recommend reading this article that dives deep into the meaning behind Little Nightmares.

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NBA 2K20’s Story Mode Gets a Stunning Trailer




NBA 2K19 features to date, its strongest MyCareer mode with the aptly titled, “The Way Back”, a fascinating look at the culture behind college basketball recruiting. The story mode was well received by critics and fans everywhere and in our review, we called it, “an incredible achievement that conveys the fabric of modern American life, aspirations and incidentally, sports, in close-up and at length”.

NBA 2K20 which will be released in less than a month, promises to include an even better story mode, and while we haven’t played the game yet, we have plenty of reasons to think it might be. Not only does it feature an all-star cast with top-tier talents such as Idris Elba and Rosario Dawson, but the story mode – entitled “When the Lights Are Brightest” – is being produced by LeBron James’ Springhill Productions, the same company behind the upcoming Space Jam 2.

NBA 2K20’s latest trailer, which debuted Monday during Microsoft’s Inside Xbox show live from Gamescom in Cologne, Germany, give us a good idea of what to expect. We get a glimpse at Idris Elba and Rosario Dawson in action as well as the rest of the supporting cast which includes Thomas Middleditch, Mark Cuban, Ernie Hudson, Lamorne Morris, Scottie Pippen, and Jaleel White!

The NBA 2K20 demo will go live on Wednesday, Aug. 21 and will allow players to create a character and get a head start on MyCareer. Any progress made will carry over to the full game, which will be released Sept. 6 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One.

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