YPulse’s Subculture Series shares deep dives into some of Gen Z and Millennials’ ever-evolving list of subcultures. Our research shows how these gens thrive off of connectivity and find solace in niche communities (and there’s a lot of them). While some involve fandoms they love, others involve deep trends and highlight bigger cultural shifts. This month, we’re taking a look at the cozy gaming subculture and how young women are driving new trends within this fast-growing community.
The majority of young women are gamers—and they’re driving the cozy gaming subculture
YPulse’s Gaming report shows 95% of Gen Z and Millennials play video games in some capacity. And they’re gaming constantly: more than half say they play on a console weekly or more often, and more than 60% say they play mobile games weekly or more often. The popularity of the video game industry has surged over the last few years—and the market for female gamers has increased especially so. Our research shows 91% of Gen Z and Millennial women play video games and they’re most likely to play mobile games: 52% tell us they play mobile games weekly, but over a third (37%) are still playing on a console weekly.
Since the pandemic, there’s been a growing number of female casual gamers who play to destress, unwind, and partake in a healthy escape from reality—and often choose non-competitive games like Animal Crossing. After all, young people play video games to relieve stress and escape the real world. While the majority of female gamers may not play competitively, they are still identifying as gamers and engaging in challenging, thought provoking, and strategic games they feel should be represented just as much as esports and warfare. In fact, 68% of young female gamers agree that brands should pay more attention to gamer culture, especially given how much its evolved with branded metaverse experiences and the gamification of entertainment like Netflix’s Triviaverse going mainstream.
Cozy games let players relax and unwind
While Gen Z and Millennial men tell us shooting (Halo, Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Overwatch) and adventure (Red Dead Redemption, Assassin’s Creed, and Grand Theft Auto) games are the top two categories of games they like to play, Gen Z and Millennial women tell us they like to play puzzle (Bejeweled, Candy Crush) and role playing (The Sims, The Division) games the most.
The popularity of these games birthed the cozy gaming subculture, a trend that has blossomed into its own recognized genre. These kinds of games encourage players to take things slow and enjoy the cozier things in life, hence the reputation for being cozy games. Also known as wholesome games, they typically offer a slower story pace and a more relaxed style of gameplay. And while games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Harvest Moon, and Spiritfarer have existed for quite some time, they’ve only recently established themselves as a separate genre. Now, there’s an entire cozy tag on Steam and even an entire industry event, Wholesome Direct, dedicated to showcasing new games annually.
Some of the most popular cozy games exist on mobile, Nintendo Switch, and PC. Dexerto listed the best cozy games for 2023 which include: Stardew Valley, an open adventure style game focused on farming with quests, character engagement and multiplayer capabilities; Cozy Grove, similar to Animal Crossing and based around an ever-changing island with a detailed storyline; and Disney Dreamlight Valley, which features Disney characters and lets players design a village, home, and character, all while completing quests. The Gamer named their “top 15 games to cuddle up on the couch with” and placed Unpacking, a block / puzzle game filled with relaxing repetition perfect for de-stressing, at the top. For Nintendo Switch players specifically, Screenrant placed Lemon Cake, a game that lets players take over a rundown and abandoned bakery that is haunted by a helpful / friendly ghost, at No. 1.
Cozy gaming social media content goes beyond the actual gaming part
Cozy gaming has moved beyond the games themselves, just as the larger video game space has over the internet. Players have begun to take their love for cozy gaming and channel it into other forms, making use of some of their favorite platforms like Twitch, YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram to create a variety of unique cozy gaming-related content. These platforms brought together a community of gamers obsessed with comfort over competition. Dedicated content creators are dishing out streaming, video making, and other forms of content like sharing videos on TikTok to discuss, play, and share their love for the genre.
On TikTok, the hashtag #CozyGames currently has 876.9M views and the top videos listed all come from Gen Z and Millennial women. Some of the most popular creators include @cozy.games (335.5K followers, 7.6M likes), @gamergirlgale (155.8K followers, 4.2M likes), @maisyleighs (426.0K followers, 6.7M likes), and @cozysimespy (73.0K followers, 2.1M likes). Each of these creators posts cozy gaming content that is consistent with the word “cozy.” Not only do their videos show off their favorite games at the moment, a big part of the videos themselves have to do with the overall aesthetic. For example, videos titled “Cozy Game with Me” showcase young women wearing fuzzy sweaters, sipping on coffee / matcha lattes, snuggling a blanket in their gaming chair, and starting up their game with warm, ambient lighting all around. Lo-fi music plays in the background and the comments section is filled with comments like “super cozy vibes!” and “super cozy! I need more moments like this in my life.”
Much of the cozy gaming content on social media highlights players’ setup, whether that be in a comfortable chair as they play mobile games, or in a wildly aesthetic office space. The hashtag #DeskSetup on TikTok has 3B views, and while most of the content consists of minimalistic desks, lamps, and wall art, cozy gaming content is sprinkled throughout. This subculture is all about the gaming atmosphere, which is why most cozy gaming desk set ups include pastel-colored keyboards, Elloven monitor stands from IKEA, essential oil diffusers, colorful lighting, and an arrangement of cute knickknacks and succulents.
Any brand can appeal to the cozy gaming subculture
Just about any brand can tap into this subculture. Matthew Taylor, founder of the Wholesome Games brand and online community, told The Verge that “these players have always existed in the industry. It just doesn’t normally cater to those folks,” and gaming brands don’t have to be the only ones to reach them. Cozy gamers are always looking for the best accessories to complete their setup, which means home décor brands can advertise their products to this niche community. Plus, you won’t catch any cozy gamers wearing jeans, so fashion brands can appeal to these young consumers through loungewear and comfy matching sets. When you look up “cozy gaming aesthetic” on Amazon, there’s practically a cozy gaming starter-pack that includes everything from lighting and clothes to cute cable ties and mouse pads. Even CPG brands like Oreo are partnering with cozy gaming influencers to show off snacks perfect for cozy gaming—proof that subcultures are not as niche as some brands may believe.