Design by Erin Ruark

December is a magical time of year when the weather gets colder, blankets and sweaters come out of closets once again and families reunite to spend quality time together. It also happens to be incredibly stressful. Between gift shopping, traveling and interacting with people you haven’t seen since last year’s insanity, holiday breaks can quickly turn into a stressor. If you’re looking for escape from the chaos that comes with returning to your hometown, here are some games to settle in with for a little tranquility during the most wonderful time of the year.

“Pokemon” Palooza  

Not only is November the season of giving thanks and chowing down, it’s also the season of Pokemon. Mainline entries in the series have been coming out in the September to November range since “Pokemon Red and Blue” released in North America in September 1998. That makes the following cold, dark months prime time to pick up a copy of a “Pokemon” game. What better time to cozy up with some childhood memories and jump into the brand new remake of 2006’s “Pokemon Diamond and Pearl”? Enjoy the wintry sights of Snowpoint City and Route 216 while you feel the joys of beating gym leader after gym leader. 

“Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl” is simple enough for everyone to understand, so it’s perfect for casual gamers or those looking for something to wind down with. It’s exceedingly charming, too. Who hasn’t been dreaming of hugging Piplup in 3D for the last 15 years? If returning to your childhood home isn’t nostalgic enough, hopping into the Sinnoh region is sure to bring up warm feelings.

RPG Roulette 

Sometimes, holiday breaks and trips home can feel far longer than they actually are. Role-playing games are an exciting black hole where the rules of time don’t apply, as evidenced by the hundreds of hours I have in JRPG “Persona 5 Royal” and strategy RPG “Fire Emblem: Three Houses.” RPGs are the best when it comes to fleshing out an immersive and expansive world. They also give the player plenty of choice, whether that’s picking from dialogue options, deciding what stats to boost or simply wandering anywhere in the world in the case of games like “Skyrim.”

Sure, “Skyrim” is a massive meme at this point, but the snowy trails of the northern tundra can feel just as familiar as the side streets of your hometown. Plus, with the new additions in the Anniversary Edition, there’s more to dive into than ever before. RPGs are a big commitment, but once they grab you, winter break boredom will subside. Before you know it, it’ll be spring break and you’ll have the tea party dialogue for each “Fire Emblem” character memorized, and you may have at last reached the final boss of “Persona 5 Royal” … maybe.

Lackadaisical and Lovely Life Sims

Simulation games are magical, customizable experiences, and there are so many great ones out there, but these are three you can’t go wrong with: comfort juggernaut “Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” indie-darling “Stardew Valley” and the originator “The Sims.” Each game has seasonal holidays, so if your family is boring you with their fifth consecutive hour of local cable television, hop onto “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” to bring a Snowboy to life or go ice fishing at the “Stardew Valley” Festival of Ice. It’s comforting to watch the seasons change around you in these virtual worlds, where winter only lasts for a couple of real-life days of gameplay and nobody can yell at you to shovel the driveway.

“The Sims” was my ultimate escape growing up, and with new holiday items coming to “The Sims 4” it’s the perfect time to jump back in. It’s easy to stress out when your plans are at the mercy of your family members, so take some time to relax in a world that’s entirely designed by you.

Metroidvania Madness

There is no better feeling than finally beating a boss you’ve been attempting for hours, or solving that cryptic puzzle that’s been haunting you for days. Recently, I’ve developed an obsession with the “Castlevania” series, and with plenty of games like “Metroid Dread,” “Hollow Knight” and “Ori and the Will of the Wisps” released somewhat recently (within the past year and a half), there is an excess of Metroidvanias to choose from. 

If you, like me, love a head-scratching puzzle and somewhat challenging combat, this is a genre to sink your teeth into during those long winter nights. That precious feeling of accomplishment is rare during winter break, as I lay in bed until the clock reaches the afternoon, but at least I can say I’ve defeated Dracula himself. Metroidvanias each have unique aesthetics and fantastic music as well. With so many out there, there’s bound to be one that calls to you, like Gothic action, dark sci-fi or a colorful fantasy forest.

Mountains of Mario

The dreaded moment has finally come — your name echoes across the house as your family wonders where you’ve been successfully avoiding them for the past hour. For those times you absolutely have to participate in family bonding, there are plenty of family-friendly games at your disposal, courtesy of Mario himself. “Mario Kart 8” is a prime example — everyone can get in on the fun, the track variation keeps things fresh, and even the most visibly displeased of your distant cousins will show their competitive side. However, 2021 has brought us back to classic “Mario Party” with the deceptively simple “Mario Party Superstars” and returned us to peak party game weirdness with “Warioware: Get it Together!”

Mario is the great equalizer of the video game world. Everyone knows the famous plumber, and his games are consistently some of the best-selling of all time. If anything is bound to bring you together this holiday season, it’s this Italian fellow with powers. Even my grandma is a fan of Mario games, both old and new, so I know that we can enjoy these games together in those all-too-brief visits for winter break.

Daily Arts Writer Harper Klotz can be reached at