Listen, the world is in the midst of a horrifying crisis and because of that, we're low on cash and high on time. Why not make the best of a bad situation and buy something you need? Something of real value. Something that lasts. No, not shelter and rations! Video games!
If we're being entirely honest (and since it's the end of the world, why not?), we need to be upfront about the fact that we are all just large mammals seeking our next dopamine fix. Which is one of the many reasons god invented video games before abandoning us. To help you pass as much time as possible, here's a collection of games you can buy once and play forever and ever (or for at least as long as they keep your brain hostage.)
When you're done, check out our games you can finish in a day.
Craig Wilson: Look, you can play either of the Alto games, Alto’s Adventure or Alto’s Odyssey, forever... but if you’re going to pick one, it should be Odyssey. It takes the best parts of its progenitor — chasing llamas, ripping bunting by grinding, nailing backflip after backflip — and adds to them. Odyssey switches a snowboard for a sandboard, lets you bounce on hot air balloons (!), and adds the ability to wallride over chasms. Most importantly, though, it’s not only incredibly calming — theoretically, it’s infinite.
Sure, there are technically only 50 levels. But each of those has three goals within it, which means there are 150 achievements to manage in total, the last few of which can prove surprisingly challenging and time-consuming. But, once you’ve managed them all, there’s plenty of life to be had from the game yet.
First, you can always reset the achievements and do them all over again — I’ve done that more than once because they were no less satisfying on a second (or even third) pass. Second, there’s “zen” mode, which dispenses with things like run-ending obstacles or power-ups and urges you to don headphones, the better to enjoy the massage-parlor-esque soundtrack.
Whichever mode of play you choose, because the course is procedurally generated, the option to play for the rest of time — if such a thing were possible and you didn’t need to eat, sleep, bathe, recharge your device, or interact with your family once in a while — exists. The digital scenery will change as you slide through it, the days will slip into twilight, night and back to dawn again, and for a minute or an hour, all will feel right with the world again.
Matt Wille: Maybe this is an obvious choice, but yes, I could play Stardew Valley forever. Let’s start with the fact that I can call it a day and go to sleep for the night at any time. I would keep playing just for that luxury.
I’m also a sucker for the game’s classic aesthetics. Often my brain is buzzing too much to go for something realistic. Even on the worst of days those little pixelated plants and the game’s quiet, repetitive music is soothing.
I also love that, unlike its cousin Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley doesn’t penalize me for taking time off. No matter how long I’ve been away, it’s always easy to slip back into my overalls and get back to watering my cauliflowers.
I’ve racked up the most hours of play on the PC version of the game, but I keep a copy on my Switch, too. In case of emergencies.
Call of Duty: Warzone
Edgar Alvarez: The popularity of Fortnite and Apex Legends basically forced Call of Duty to make its own battle royale game, Warzone, and I’m glad that it happened. Don’t get me wrong: CoD’s campaign and online modes have historically been great, but the franchise certainly needed a breath of fresh air. That’s what Warzone is, a free-to-play, non-linear game that you can have a blast playing alone or with your friends online.
I prefer to show up to Warzone with my own squad, as it’s easier to figure out a plan to be the last team standing. Solo mode on Warzone’s battle royale is also entertaining but, during a time when we’re already practicing hardcore self-distancing, the last thing I want to be doing is playing video games alone. The best thing is that Warzone doesn’t mean I have to spend money on a Battle Pass — even though I do — to be good at it. Even if you don’t make any in-game purchases, you can still have a good time and win games here and there.
Ray Wong: Before there was Super Mario and Angry Birds, there was Pac-Man, the legendary dot-eater and ghost-slayer. Pac-Man 256 (named after the original game's infamous 256th level, which glitches out and becomes unplayable) is an isometric spin on the arcade classic. You navigate a 3D, 8-bit version of Pac-Man through an infinite, vertically scrolling maze as the four iconic ghosts (Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde) try to corner and kill you.
The twist, however, is that you can arm Pac-Man with a variety of power-ups like a laser, tornado, fire, and bombs to vanquish the ghosts. With 20 different kinds of power-ups to unlock and equip Pac-Man with, there's literally no round that ever feels the same.
Pac-Man 256 is free and available on every platform (iOS, Android, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, macOS, and Linux) except, weirdly, the Nintendo Switch.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Ryan Houlihan: You knew I was going to say it. Animal Crossing is having something of a moment right now, bringing the right mix of Stardew Valley, The Sims, and dating simulators together to create the perfect escape vehicle for a captive populace. And yet, Animal Crossing itself pre-dates all of those franchises. There's something so comforting and familiar and joyous in this game, where you can build, collect, make friends, and generally goof off on a beautiful island populated by anthropomorphic animals that love you back. There is no ethical consumption under capitalism but Tom Nook tries his damndest.
Evan Rodgers: Downwell is a mobile game released all the way back in 2015, and guess what? I’m still playing it! In this lo-fi looking game you are a little dude who literally goes down a well. Be warned, though, the game is unbelievably hard in a way that I personally like. You jump around trying to boop some enemies on the head and avoid others, all while trying to navigate an ever-increasingly hazardous environment.
I’ve gotten as far as the second level and I’ve never made it any further. That might seem pretty frustrating to some, but Downwell is a game that I know will always be there for me. I once spent several hours waiting for help in an emergency room lobby in the middle of the night, and you know what kept my mind off the situation? Downwell.
Cheyenne MacDonald: This game is the spookybitch™ answer to the better-known and beloved Stardew Valley (see above). Seriously, it’s basically a clone, but instead of tending your farm, you’re maintaining a graveyard. It is delightfully boring in that you can simply walk around and make small talk with the villagers — or the feisty beer-guzzling skull that acts as your guide — and take on little tasks as you please. This makes it the perfect title for zero-commitment gaming and a just great way to feel like you’re doing something without actually doing something. Of course, you can play it properly and complete each of your duties at a competitive pace, but why would you? My only gripe is that you’re stuck with the one character — a little customization would be great. You get used to him pretty quickly, though.
Kick back in the morgue, pretty up some graves, and relax a little — you deserve it.
Joshua Topolsky: Look, you’ll never be good enough at Tetris to think you don’t need to play more Tetris. The game is old and the basics have never changed, but what’s good about it is still so, so good. I was recently teaching my daughter Zelda to play and I realized that it truly is a game that makes your brain work overtime. At a moment when it feels like days can drag on and weeks are an entire month, something so stimulating and so basic is very welcome. Plus, now you can play it with rad designs and great music in VR, which is not something any of us ever thought Tetris needed. And yet.
No Man’s Sky
Joshua Topolsky: I’ll be honest: I have not played No Man’s Sky very much. The reason? It's always felt too huge. Too vast. Overwhelming. But that’s sort of the point of the game, and of this list, and one of the things that makes its continued-play value so compelling. Now that we're all trapped indoors and have nothing else to explore, doesn’t the idea of going out — into whole new worlds — sound pretty good? Suit up, fix your ship, and lose yourself in discovery.
Joshua Topolsky: Dead Cells is probably one of the greatest video games ever created. It’s also one that is both relatively easy to play, but hard to master. The Roguevania side-scroller is endlessly playable because you never quite feel like you’ve tried every weapon combo, explored every crevice of the landscape, slain every enemy, or gone on a long enough spree. When you’re in the “flow” of Dead Cells it feels like nothing else matters — and anything that takes my mind off the outside world is okay in my book. Live. Die. Learn. Repeat.