PCs & Paperbacks: Cozy Grove and gentle genres

PCs & Paperbacks

Cozy Grove and the cult of the gentle genre

By Wulfe


Welcome to “PCs and Paperbacks,” the Raven’s new, irregularly-published column about reading and gaming! We’re going to officially inaugurate the column by discussing Cozy Grove from Spry Fox: a game that requires absolutely no button mashing, but whose hand-drawn landscapes will occupy every inch of your heart, even if it’s growing as cynical as mine.

You play as a Spirit Scout who just wants to help people and earn badges. Conveniently enough, you are on an island haunted by ghost bears with unfulfilled wishes who need your assistance to find comfort in the afterlife. Each bear has a distinct personality, story, and life lessons to share with you, but first, you must have a list of errands to run for them. (This is a great game for the Task List Girlies.) As you connect to the bears and discover more areas for exploration, you get to decorate the island, raise ethereal animals, collect rocks, bake goodies, and have a grand ‘ol time. And while the game does have a natural ending, it became so popular that the creators swung back around and made extra downloadable content with more bear friends to meet!

This game is perfect for beginners who struggle with button-brain coordination. It offers entry-level experience and patiently teaches you how to play, no combat skills necessary. Most importantly, it’s part of a broader movement that’s become known as “cozy gaming” or “gentle gaming.”

Cozy gaming is not a new phenomenon, but its popularity grew radically during the pandemic. That’s not a head-scratcher—the entire point of the genre is comfort. If you do a quick Google of, “What is cozy gaming?” and scan the results, you’ll see words like fall, tea, and curling up on the couch crop up. At a time when everyone was locked indoors and plagued by endless and seemingly cosmic terrors, we all needed some relief. With a March 2020 release, the cozy island-life simulation game Animal Crossing: New Horizons was perfectly poised to offer a balm. And boy did it.

Nintendo Switches, the console the game was released on, yielded doubled profits in March 2020 compared to March 2019, and they were briefly hard to come by. According to Makena Kelly in an article for The Verge, “Nintendo sold more than 40 million copies of [Animal Crossing], nearly four times as many as the previous edition. During this time, creators like Cozy K, aka Kennedy, were racking up millions of views on videos of Switch consoles snuggled up next to blankets and candles, veiled with Lightroom presents more commonly seen on lifestyle-branded Instagram grids.”

From there, the cozy gaming phenomenon has only continued to grow. I would encourage you to read all of Kelly’s article if you’re curious to learn more. She offers astute analyses of the rise of the genre, pointing out that cozy games “share a common vibe wholly separate from the cis-male, RGB streamer setup that’s become analogous with gaming culture.”

The parallels we can draw between cozy gaming and literary genres are, likewise, fascinating! Even many avid readers aren’t aware that the book industry boasts its own “gentle genres.” I certainly wasn’t before I started working at the Raven. Founded in 1987 as a mystery store, we’ve maintained a strong dedication to the genre. As a result, we still boast a small but mighty section reserved for cozy mysteries.

In a cozy mystery, anything potentially unsavory happens off-stage: sex, violence, murder, gore, and even cursing. These days, cozy mysteries are often packaged as twee mass market paperbacks with playful covers and punny titles like Cheddar Off Dead, but they date back to the Golden Age of Detective Fiction in the 20s and 30s. If you ever need a belly laugh or a pick-me-up to distract you from your malaises, a good cozy mystery will not let you down.

Fantasy and science fiction genres have likewise experienced a cozy Renaissance. R. Nassor has an engaging article on Tor.com called “Sixties Fantasy Sitcoms and the Rise of Cozy Fantasy,” in which she says: “Although ‘cozy fantasy’ as a category wasn’t in widespread use before 2022, the subgenre has seen an undeniable uptick in interest among fantasy readers… Your exact definition of what constitutes cozy fantasy might differ from another reader’s, but we can generally agree that books that earn the label tend to spark warm, ‘cozy’ feelings with relatively low stakes, spinning feel-good stories that center community building or maintenance (so family, found family, and/or friendship).”

Zooming back in, you may be wondering, “Why, Wulfe, in this vast landscape of cozy media, have you chosen to zero in on Cozy Grove?” Simply put, this silly little ghost bear game is a stand-out. it’s one of the first cozies that hasn’t made me feel like this:

“How can that be?” you may ask. “Isn’t cozy gaming all about kicking back and relaxation, not sheer p a n i c? Technically yes, but it’s my personal theory that people who play Animal Crossing are masochists who love being bullied. The premise of the game is you’re being exploited by a capitalist tanuki landlord. if you don’t play the game for a week because you have oh, I don’t know, real-life responsibilities, you are punished with unsightly weeds popping up all over your island and disappointed villagers.

Cozy management games like Spiritfarer can be similarly harrowing. I was once bold enough to believe that I could play Spiritfarer while I let my dinner simmer on the stove. Alas, while I tried to make popcorn, tuck a hedgehog into bed, drive a boat, water some trees, shear some sheep, and collect berries all in five minutes while in-game timers were blaring at me, my IRL dinner burned. My digital popcorn could not help me then.

On the other hand, Cozy Grove allows me to bring peace to dead bears and to my own soul simultaneously. I can wander absently and nothing—no creepy villagers, no weeds, no blaring timers—are going to harangue me. I once stopped playing for over a year and when I came back, nothing had changed. I slid right back into the story where I left off. A semi-transparent menu at the bottom of the screen reminded me of all of the controls, and the quests panel told me precisely what I needed to do next. It took me all of five minutes to pick up steam again.

Cozy Grove is also notable as it limits your gameplay. Every twenty-four hours, new tasks become available which typically take between 30 minutes and an hour. If you don’t finish your tasks for the day, the same ones will be available the next day with nothing new added to your plate. You are empowered to explore at your own rate, in a way that feels controlled. At the very least, you won’t get blurry screen eyes and find yourself foaming at the mouth over side quests until the sun comes up.


Screenshot from my playthrough of Cozy Grove. Please ignore the fact that I am terrible at layout and decided to put all of my animals right by my tent because I didn't want them to get lonely.

Any literary accouterment to Cozy Grove should embody its patient, unhurried tenderness and the depth of its self-reflection. Here are the books that I’ve either loved or have on my TBR that I think pair perfectly because, trust me, you’ll want to pick up a good book after you spend your daily 30 minutes hanging with your dead bear buddies:

Bookshops & Bonedust by Travis Baldree

I don’t have concrete proof, but I’m fairly certain Legends & Lattes launched the cozy fantasy craze with its release in early 2022. What I can prove is that it’s incredibly popular. So far, it’s been nominated for Hugos and Nebulas and a Goodreads Choice Award, and I cannot keep it on the shelves in the Science Fiction and Fantasy section of the store. While I haven’t read it yet, I did enjoy an advance review copy of its prequel, Bookshops & Bonedust, forthcoming this November. There are some action scenes, but the story largely focuses on making improvements around a small-town bookshop. Just like Cozy Grove explores the nature of loss and emotional connection, Bookshops & Bonedust is a bittersweet and nostalgic love letter to the people who are in our lives for a short time, but who change them forever.

Shady Hollow by Juneau Black

If my earlier descriptions of cozy mysteries enticed you, here is a great jumping-off point to explore the genre! Vera is a fox reporter who has recently moved to Shady Hollow. When a local toad is murdered, she decides to start in on the case. This book almost fits the prompt too well. Between Shady Hollow and Cozy Grove, you’ll get your fill of cute anthropomorphic animals. 

 

The Cat Who Saved Books by Sōsuke Natsukawa

Translated from Japanese by Louise Heal Kawai, The Cat Who Saved Books is full of animal companions and touching reflections on the meaning of stories and community care, just like Cozy Grove. A cat takes a struggling high school student on fantastical excursions to rescue abused books. We read the tale and have all of the warm fuzzies. Absolute perfection.

 

Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

This darling picture book was one of my mom’s favorites from her childhood, and she passed her love of the story onto me. Sal and her mom go to pick blueberries on Blueberry Hill, but Sal isn’t paying attention, and she wanders away and ends up trailing after a bear momma. Meanwhile, bear momma’s little one has wandered off and begun following Sal’s mom. Despite the big animals with claws, the stakes are low and the beautiful contrast of human and animal parenthood is heightened by the deep blues and warm yellows of the illustrations. If this isn’t a cozy read, I don’t know what is. I still return to this one as an adult and recently indulged in the Blueberries for Sal Cookbook. I’m looking forward to an evening off where I bake pixellated food in Cozy Grove and then bake something I can actually eat out of the cookbook.

The Tea Dragon Society by K. O’Neill

I first read The Tea Dragon Society in its webcomic days. Now, you can find it sitting happily on the children’s graphic novel shelf at the Raven in physical form. Much like Cozy Grove, the illustrations boast soft and rounded shapes, chibi-style character design, and a color palette that can only be described as comforting. In the pages, you’ll find a tale of friendship and belonging, of blacksmithing and tea dragon-ing. It’s entirely approachable and delightfully charming.

 

 


 

Staff Pick Badge
Bookshops & Bonedust (Legends & Lattes) By Travis Baldree Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9781250886101
Availability: In stock at our distributor’s warehouse; will be at the Raven in 3-10 bus. days! More at ravenbookstore.com/ordering-faqs
Published: Tor Books - November 7th, 2023

An Instant #1 New York Times, USA Today, and Indie Bestseller
A Barnes & Noble Best Fantasy Book of 2023
An Amazon Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Book of 2023

When an injury throws a young, battle-hungry orc off her chosen path, she may find that what we need isn't always what we seek.


Staff Pick Badge
Shady Hollow (A Shady Hollow Mystery #1) By Juneau Black Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780593315712
Availability: In stock at our distributor’s warehouse; will be at the Raven in 3-10 bus. days! More at ravenbookstore.com/ordering-faqs
Published: Vintage - January 25th, 2022

The first book in the Shady Hollow series, in which we are introduced to the village of Shady Hollow, a place where woodland creatures live together in harmony—until a curmudgeonly toad turns up dead and the local reporter has to solve the case.


The Cat Who Saved Books: A Novel By Sosuke Natsukawa, Louise Heal Kawai (Translated by) Cover Image
By Sosuke Natsukawa, Louise Heal Kawai (Translated by)
$18.99
ISBN: 9780063095731
Availability: In stock at our distributor’s warehouse; will be at the Raven in 3-10 bus. days! More at ravenbookstore.com/ordering-faqs
Published: HarperVia - March 14th, 2023

AN INDIE NEXT PICK!

From the #1 bestselling author in Japan comes a celebration of books, cats, and the people who love them, infused with the heartwarming spirit of The Guest Cat and The Travelling Cat Chronicles.


Blueberries for Sal By Robert McCloskey Cover Image
$8.99
ISBN: 9780140501698
Availability: In stock at our distributor’s warehouse; will be at the Raven in 3-10 bus. days! More at ravenbookstore.com/ordering-faqs
Published: Viking Books for Young Readers - September 30th, 1976

What happens when Sal and her mother meet a mother bear and her cub? A Caldecott Honor Book!


Blueberries for Sal Cookbook: Sweet Recipes Inspired by the Beloved Children's Classic By Robert McCloskey Cover Image
$14.00
ISBN: 9780593580400
Availability: In stock at our distributor’s warehouse; will be at the Raven in 3-10 bus. days! More at ravenbookstore.com/ordering-faqs
Published: Clarkson Potter - June 6th, 2023

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • Enjoy 30 sweet blueberry recipes in this beautifully illustrated official cookbook based on the beloved children’s classic Blueberries for Sal.


The Tea Dragon Society By K. O'Neill Cover Image
$19.99
ISBN: 9781620104415
Availability: In stock at our distributor’s warehouse; will be at the Raven in 3-10 bus. days! More at ravenbookstore.com/ordering-faqs
Published: Oni Press - October 31st, 2017

The Tea Dragon Society is the two-time Eisner Award-winning gentle fantasy that follows the story of a blacksmith apprentice, and the people she meets as she becomes entwined in the enchanting world of tea dragons.

Winner of the 2018 Eisner Award for Best Publication for Kids
Winner of the 2018 Eisner Award for Best Webcomic
ALA Rainbow