It’s time to answer one of the most important back-to-school questions you won’t be quizzed on: What are you going to do to pass the time?
Education is incredibly important, but it’s unavoidable that school comes with lots and lots of downtime. For years, people passed this by doodling, passing notes, daydreaming, doing their homework early, or playing with their calculators. But, now that ADHD is practically an epidemic and since we no longer live in the dark ages, we can use the power of video games to occupy our attention-starved minds.
Whether you’re back in-person (wear your mask!) or still bopping along with the curriculum virtually, these iOS, Android, and Switch titles will give you something to do behind your propped-up textbook during yet another “class discussion” of something boring or repetitive.
If any parents or teachers are reading this, no you’re not. Keep it pushing.
When the Past Was Around
The absolutely jaw-dropping When the Past Was Around is a point-and-click puzzle game with themes heavy enough for an English teacher to appreciate. It’s an emotional roller coaster but not one that will always require both hands and your entire psychological focus, making it an excellent fit for those 10-15 minutes stretches when you’re listening to someone repeat information they’ve already made you read as homework. Available on Nintendo Switch.
Another point-and-click, the murder mystery adventure Tangle Tower will delight players with hilarious dialogue, a fun art style, and enough twists to keep you guessing until its final scene. Sure, there are a few loose ends towards the game’s conclusion, but what murder mystery has ever actually answered for all its plot holes? The genre is about great characters, great dialogue, and lining up a bunch of wacky clues. On these, Tangle Tower delivers in spades. Available on Nintendo Switch and iOS.
A Piffle is a cat-like ball hellbent on helping you smash all the blocks on each level of this game. Piffle’s straightforward mechanics and gentle gameplay loops will find you mindlessly flinging blobs of delight for long, mindless stretches during which your biology teacher will say something disgusting. Plus, thanks to its gorgeous art style, you’ll feel less regret than you do every time you throw an hour at High Heels. Available on Android, iOS, and Nintendo Switch.
At this point a classic, this minimalist strategy title is all about designing the perfect metro map for a bustling city á la New York or London. Its straightforward mechanics and forgiving nature practically scream “play me while waiting for everyone else to complete the day’s assignment.” Mini Metro has stood the test of time for good reason. Available on Android, iOS, and Nintendo Switch.
Ticket to Earth
An original RPG that’s both challenging and rewarding? With gorgeous visuals? And straightforward mechanics? The only thing better would be great characters. Oh wait, Ticket to Earth is all of those things and more. And as for passing time in class, this game alone will sink a week of lectures. Don’t argue: Just purchase it and thank us on Twitter later. Available on Android and iOS.
If your classmates or educators stir up frustration or impatience in you, may we recommend Minimize? With its pastel color schemes and smooth animations, this soothing puzzle game is like a scalp massage for your temper. An excellent choice for any class that includes political debates. Available on iOS.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
An excellent riff on XCOM’s tried-and-true tactical RPG formula, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a delightful way to revisit the Mushroom Kingdom. A variety of difficulty levels, a fun crew (even the annoying Rabbids shine here!), a plethora of weapons options, and some familiar locales add up to an experience even your Calculus professor would *ahem* jump at. Available on Nintendo Switch.
No matter how many games come and go from our phones, RGB Express always maintains its place of honor. Another beautiful puzzle game on this list, this title differentiates itself by using time and speed calculations to simulate driving patterns for various trucks making deliveries in tiny towns. While it sounds simple enough, the mechanic will quickly show you just how much depth it actually has to offer. Available on Android and iOS.
Oh my god is this game a breath of fresh air. Hand-drawn, stunningly designed, and infused with a non-cloying sense of whimsy, Hidden Folks is actually the title that inspired this list, for there is no better title to pour your excess ADHD energy into while still paying attention to whatever is happening in Physics. Available on Android, iOS, and Nintendo Switch.
The Battle of Polytopia
As a turn-based, world-building, strategy game, The Battle of Polytopia plays like a mashup of all the titles on this list. One of the few things Elon Musk and I agree on, The Battle of Polytopia is all about capturing neighboring cities and building out your civilization. Though you won’t want to cite anything you pick up here in Global Studies 101, you can easily convince any parent or teacher giving you side-eye for using a phone during class that it’s, uh, educational. Like Oregon Trail. Or Lemonade Stand. Or SimCity. (Gen X people will buy this argument.) Available on Android and iOS.
Picross is a paint-by-numbers game that has appeared on nearly every piece of technology released in our lifetimes — and for good reason! Its addicting math-based puzzles will burrow themselves deep into your subconscious. Picross S6, in particular, is a feature-rich and attractive edition of the game, perfect for relaxing hours-long sessions while someone reads passages from The Catcher in the Rye in the background. Available on Nintendo Switch.
If you don’t yet own a version of Stardew Valley, I have to ask: Do you like video games? Because this is an absurdly good RPG about a strange, highly customizable rural farm, complete with story depth, daily activities, varied mechanics, and satisfying achievements. If we could go to school in the world of Stardew Valley, we’d find a way to make the tuition payments. Available on Android, iOS, and Nintendo Switch.
Into the Breach
Screw it. Time to be honest. Into the Breach should be taught in schools and by playing it during class you’re, in fact, improving the educational system. As a mashup between a tactical RPG, a dungeon crawler, and a roguelike, the game features nearly every aspect of those genres without compromise — no small feat. The story itself is about mech and aliens and the apocalypse and, while it’s delightful, its gameplay is so satisfying you almost don’t care what it’s about. Available on Nintendo Switch.
Endlessly imitated but never duplicated, Threes is an addicting, original puzzle game about combining multiples of three. The game, which doesn’t hang its hat on a visual theme like candy or Disney IP, is all the more impressive for how thoroughly it will hold your attention armed only with addicting gameplay mechanics. An excellent choice for anyone looking to pass five minutes or five hours. Available on Android and iOS.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a life simulator — if your life was adorable and rewarding and gentle. Though the franchise has been around a while, the latest entry is easily Nintendo’s best thanks to its massive library of outfits and items. Although we’ve been known to dump whole days into it, the game is best experienced in short daily bursts with the occasional deep dive into building and designing. This makes it an A+ entry on a list of games to play during school. Available on Nintendo Switch.