Some games have a certain feel to them. For instance, when winter approaches and I’m settling in to hibernate over the holidays, I like to grab a meaty open-world RPG. And for the summer, I veer towards games that offer camp-like experiences.
When my parents shipped me off for two weeks every summer, I got to try a wide range of outdoor activities — many of which can be mimicked pretty well through video games, as long as you know the right ones. So I put together a guide to highlight some of the best digital versions of sailing, arts and crafts, photography, campfire storytelling, and hiking.
What are you looking for?
Arts & crafts Spooky stories Sailing Photography Hiking
Colors Live on the Nintendo Switch lacks the versatility and technical depth of a tablet-and-stylus combo, but it makes up for that in accessibility. This surprisingly robust art app offers the ability to color, paint, share works, experiment, and hone skills through a campaign.
The Jackbox Party Packs are still some of the best ways to liven up a party, but Champ’d Up! from Jackbox Party Pack 7 and Tee K.O from Jackbox Party Pack 3 have the best drawing minigames.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons still has a vibrant community of fans who share patterns over Switch’s online services, working on summer collections and new patio styles for other players to enjoy.
Farming may not be your most traditional version of arts & crafts, but darn if it's not one of the most satisfying.
The Quarry, by Supermassive Games, is a summer camp horror story where players choose the fates of the teen counselors trying to survive a night at Hackett’s Quarry. The inventive story and fun characters make for a fun, frightful romp.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes is by the same developer as The Quarry, with a smaller cast and half the run-time. However, the narrative is more high-concept and culminates in an unforgettable finale.
Mundaun is a hand-drawn horror story that takes place in the Swiss Alps. You arrive investigating the suspicious death of your grandfather, but soon find a deeper and more sinister mystery.
Inscryption is a deeply meta story about stories, and the early acts wonderfully evoke the kind of stories told around a campfire.
Sea of Thieves is a rollicking adventure in a fictional realm where players control a crew of pirates out for gold and plunder. The ship mechanisms and physics headline a master class in atmosphere, and there’s a smorgasbord of adventures for players to explore.
Sailwind is a less lethal take on the sailor fantasy; it’s a sailing sim that focuses on the player’s ability to navigate the ocean and manage their shipments.
Raft is a sailing alternative in a survival game, where players start alone and adrift in the middle of a vast ocean. They have to build a floating home and then defend it from threats like natural disasters or deadly sharks.
No Man’s Sky is a gorgeous game, generating limitless planets for the player to explore. I’ve spent endless hours roaming these alien landscapes with surreal crystalline structures or untamed ravenous flora, pausing to stare out and take tons of photos.
Umurangi Generation puts the player in the role of a courier and photographer, judging their ability to take stylistic snaps that convey a message. The game is set in the “shitty future,” and a creative and fun photography challenge leads into a deeply compelling story.
Firewatch has a tragic narrative and affecting characters, but some of my fondest memories are just hiking through the wilderness, learning the routes, and enjoying the ambiance.
Valheim was a monster hit, and the game’s Hearth and Home update furthers the cozy Viking fantasy. While there’s some danger in this Viking sandbox, there are also chill vibes and lovely cabins to enjoy.
A Short Hike’s summer camp appeal should be obvious from its name. The game offers a charming mountain full of fun characters for players to explore and enjoy in peace.
Nintendo's instant classic hits almost every category on our list, letting you hike, take photos, craft items, and more.