Catharsis is a purification or purging of the emotions (such as pity and fear) primarily through art — a factor first identified by Aristotle; it can bring about spiritual renewal, and it provides a release from tension.
In other words, it's stuff you do to relieve tension or get stuff off your chest.
Catharsis exists in all media—the term "catharsis" as applied to art comes from Aristotle's Poeticsnote Prior to then, it meant ritually discharging pollution, and appeasing whatever god was angry with you and causing your problems—but for most of history, most people had to watch others suffer and triumph, and they had to use empathy to connect the dots. Now, even the empathy-deprived can experience catharsis — you can suffer and triumph personally through your favorite videogame character. Since it's not in the real world, you will not be breaking any real-world laws, and your character will get extra lives if you mess up the drama. Everybody wins!
This trope is YMMV. Stress relief for one gamer can be frustration for another, even on things that people agree are calming: A 6 on one scale (1 - 10, 10 being the highest) can rate 37 on someone else's. The cathartic experience can also backfire when using human opponents, such as in online-enabled fighting games or first-person shooters, where a string of victories can be ruined by an upsetting loss from another player at the far end of the skill divide.
It's not just violence, either. Many games are just as capable of making you feel warm and fuzzy when you take a constructive option and help the pile of pixels instead. The existence of this effect, with both videogames and other media, is sometimes cited by opponents of banning pornography and violent video games.
Related to Videogame Cruelty Potential. Not to be confused with In-Universe Catharsis, though overlap is certainly possible. Or the webcomic Catharsis, for that matter. See also: Percussive Therapy.
Note that, in Real Life, most psychology experiments suggest that catharsis is not as cut-and-dried as popularly supposed. While cathartic actions do make you feel better at the time — hence their popular appeal — they don't really make you less tense or angry and they don't actually let you "vent off" emotion, especially when you stop doing them and go back to whatever it was you were doing in the first place. Using such actions regularly or frequently will more often than not make you even more prone to stress and anger fits, since it becomes a habit that gets readily associated with tense situations. Or in other words, if you destroy something or punch a pillow to deal with stress, you are more likely to feel stress and will hit or destroy something at an inopportune time.
In the NES game, sometimes it's more satisfying to spend all three rounds walloping on Glass Joe, countering his every attack and letting him hang on by a thread rather than just catch him in his titular glass jaw and knock him out in one shot.
In Super Punch-Out!!, Narcis Prince doesn't let anyone punch his face. Which makes getting in a face shot, then laying on the rapid fire jabs to the face more relaxing.
Store up enough finishers in the latest WWE wrestling game and unload them one after another...especially if it's a wrestler whom you can't stand. Then you can use the create-a-wrestler feature to make anyone you can't stand, give them a pathetically wimpy moveset, and go to town on them by unloading finisher after finisher, letting go of pinfalls just before the 3 count, repeatedly breaking weapons over their heads and releasing submission locks just before the tapout until you feel all better. Wrestling games can be teriffic stress relievers.
With the addition of "Create A Storyline" features, you can not only make the person who you hate, you can write a storyline featuring them and watch your favorite wrestlers insult them to their face, disparage them, and make them cry, then beat the crap out of them, maybe even alongside your own avatar.
You could also use traditionally silent or uncharismatic wrestlers to completely take the piss out of a wrestler you hate that has a fanbase.
After your favorite sports team suffers a demoralizing loss, there's little better than to punish the victorious opponent by putting every last slider in your favor and defeating a simulated version of them 255+ to nothing.
Even better: inserting a virtual version of yourself as part of your favorite team's roster and going to town on the hated rival team.
In early iterations of the FIFA soccer games (one example is the world cup '98 version) when the opposing goalkeeper was holding onto the ball you could scythe him down without the fear of receiving a card. Makes it a little better when he gets booted in the air after saving every shot.
Street Fighter: How many people have felt better after a bad day by putting in the latest game and demolishing whoever was in your way (computer AI, opponent through internet, etc)?
Even better. When playing Street Fighter 4 online, breaking the countless hadouken/shoryuken-spamming cheap-ass players' pattern, and absolutely demolishing them... while usingDan.
Or for a new player finally defeating a more skilled opponent, by spamming the one move you can do.
Ah, Super Smash Bros. What can be more cathartic than using Training Mode to turn whichever character has recently displeased you into your unmoving personal punching bag? How about spawning Smash Balls and mercilessly flattening them with Final Smash after Final Smash?
Mortal Kombat and its Fatalities. Reducing a particularly hatable character into small, bloody chunks can be quite cathartic after a long day.
Same sorta thing for Samurai Shodown and Guilty Gear with their finishers. The former has a Rage System, just perfect for letting off steam.
Especially great in MK: Armageddon in which the player gets to improvise a fatality, and is therefore allowed to commit all sorts of atrocities on their enemy before finishing them off. It allowed quite a few to fulfill a very long fantasy of theirs: ripping Goro's arms off and bludgeoning him to death with them.
Of course, the reverse also works. If you're so sick at how evil he is, just put him as your training dummy for training and make him your personal sandbag to make you feel better. Same goes to Relius. Also, for their evilness, it'll be a great catharsis to go online, find someone who uses them, then ASTRAL them.
Ah, RPGS, where your party is all-powerful and can slaughter faceless mooks by the dozen. Alternatively, load up the save file you have in front of a particularly hated boss and beat the crap out of them for a while. For added fun, equip the weakest / strongest equipment you have, just because you're feeling vindictive and want to humiliate them.
Every time you get a backstab, or riposte, you stun your enemy, giving you enough time to recover your health, and watch your damage Skyrocket!
Every time you kill a difficult enemy, or a boss that's been giving you a hard time, Word of God even lampshades it saying he wanted every little kill to practically bring the player to tears of relief!
And once they're dead, they will remain there. Forever a testament to what happened.
This is why the Experimental MIRV is in the game because as we all know, There Is No Kill Like Overkill. Seriously, it only takes 2 mini-nukes to kill the most powerful enemies on normal and this fires 8.
In Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, the majority of your enemies are some of the most despicable scum there is, which makes killing them very satisfying; but by far the most satisfying feeling is utterly annihilating Fiend or Legion encampments.
Or, in Fallout 3, utterly exterminating all of Paraside Falls (the main Slaver base). Even moreso if you bring Fawkes with you.
There are few things quite as cruelly satisfying as playing a game with a New Game+ system and the sort of setup where almost every boss is That One Boss. Just save before whatever boss made you bang your head against a wall the most the first time through and keep beating the crap out of them over and over in the mosthumiliating ways you can think of. Cue Last Scenario.
Remember all those Disney villains who gave you nightmares as a kid? The Kingdom Hearts games allow you to beat the stuffing out of them with a giant key.
Wanna blow off steam in the second game? Go to the Cerberus Cup, where the Drive Bar regenerates so quickly that you can stay in your Drive Mode of choice indefinitely. Go into Final Form, and watch the sparks fly!
Then again, considering it's Terra's face and body he's wearing, you may not end up enjoying it as much as you would have.
PokÚmon. Level 100 + Low level forest area = Ahh...
Alternatively, a level 100 mon against the Elite Four. Enjoy as one all powerful creature beats the crap out of the five toughest opponents in the game and feel all your anger melt away. Nothing will make you feel more badass than that.
It doesn't need to be the Elite Four. In one of the games where you can rematch Gym Leaders, take them on with a high-leveled Pokemon that's insanely weak against their type. There's nothing quite like curb stomping Gardenia with a Swampert or sweeping Pryce's team with a Dragonite. Bonus points if they gave you trouble before.
Mass Effect has catharsis in a lot of the usual ways, but it also has emotional catharsis, where you can feel awesome for doing things ranging from shutting down a sleazy reporter with a heroic speech to just punching her in the face.
Sniping some poor schmuck between the eyes with a tank round.
Most players prefer to stab, cut, maim, crush, burn, freeze, and shock their enemies, much more cathartic than just hitting them.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne and Digital Devil Saga use the Press Turn Icon System. Short version, the number of times the player gets to go per time the opponent does is entirely dependant on skill level: the player can go up to ten times (after a sidequest in Noctune) for every time the opponent tries to pull something and is denied by your party build. Obviously, a game with a mechanic designed to let smart players kick that much ass has to be Nintendo Hard to compensate, and they are. Oh, they are. Players who do something stupid will die: those who learn to work the system will curb stomp their enemies. The feeling of godlike power smiting one's enemies is even better after fighting theDemifiend, and getting to experience what it was like to be one of the demons you utterly annihilated. The protagonist of Nocturne, aka you, the player, is the hardest RPG Bonus Bossof all time. It makes the player feel rather godlike.
The final boss fight of Xenogears is an exercise in pure catharsis just based on who the boss herself is. For roughly 90% of the game, Miang Hawwa manipulates, murders, and eventually genocides her way through the plot, pushing several characters—heroic and villainous alike—into BSODs, removes the second strongest character from the party via a Grand Theft Me, and serves as That One Boss for many players. Near the end of the game, it's even revealed that since she was, for all intents and purposes, the "Eve" of the game's Adam and Eve Plot, and is technically immortal, every disastrous event to befall mankind can be traced back to her machinations in one way or another. So the game lets you beat the tar out of her with your Xenogear.
Killing ridiculously underpowered enemies with the last special moves unlocked, like the Zee Egg and Star Rocket. The fact the former has Mario and Luigi float down from the sky in a badass pose as the enemy gets obliterated in a multi colour flash of light makes it even better.
Using the the Gold/Miracle Badge to freeze time, unloading all hell on the enemies and watching the effects when time starts again. It's very satisfying to watch a monster get hit by every attack at once for something like 99,999 damage.
The Bowser Jr fight, where you get to hijack the Clown Car and chase him down the screen while throwing items at his head. Like a reversal of the chase scenes in the other boss battles, with the bros acting like the 'boss'.
Smashing Earthwake in the head with a hammer in the third boss battle once it falls off the pier, since the entire battle until then has been desperately trying to avoid a barrage of attacks from the boss that gives quite a few people grief.
In Borderlands 2, after you defeat The Warrior, a bloody Handsome Jack starts going on a last, desperate Motive Rant. The game gives you the honor of choosing what weapon you wanna use to shut him up for good (or if you want, let Lilith do the honors).
In general, going back to an early area with your late-game equipment. It's immensely satisfying to be able to vaporize any enemy with a shotgun.
The Tiny Tina DLC has a sidequest where you must defeat Prince Jeffrey, a very thinly-veiled parody of Joffrey. After the "fight" with him, you're told that while you can't kill him since he's just a kid, feel free to "slap the bastard out of him".
Half-Life 2. Sure, you can blast your foes with grenades and rocket launchers, or pound them with a double shot from a shotgun, but the most fun thing everyone loves to do is using the Gravity Gun to pick up stuff and hurl crap at enemies, or pick up larger objects and people and fling those too once the gun is powered up. There is also always the option to smash faces or Headcrabs with the crowbar.
Any of the Left 4 Dead games. Start a round where you have a sniper rifle in the saferoom, but don't leave the saferoom. Just shoot off headshots from the safety of your safe house. The AI director even realizes that you're doing this and spawns more zombies for you to kill.
Alien vs. Predator. Skirmish. Marine-Smartgun. Don't even have to aim. Just press LMB and watch the limbs fly.
What's that? You've played through every Marathon game on each difficulty, and countless fan mods, and think the edge has gone out of the game? Now that you've gotten really good, go back and play through on "Kindergarten" or "Easy" and watch as you effortlessly slaughter Phfor and save the galaxy without breaking a sweat.
Modern Warfare: Few things in life beat flipping that switch or popping open a laptop to unleash a world of hurt on the unwitting fools facing you.
Painkiller: You have hordes upon hordes of mooks and some of the most creative weapons ever to reduce them to Ludicrous Gibs with. Arsenal and enjoyment options include (but are not limited to):
The titular Painkiller - a staff with a crown of rotating blades at the end (jumping with that in a horde of zombies), which can be launched at enemies, either pulling them toward you or shredding them to pieces.
Shotgun/freezer - freezing an invincible monster rushing at you and then blasting it to pieces with the shotgun (or freezing a flying one and watch it drop like a stone and shatter on the ground)
The epic Stakegun - a pneumatic catapult that launches metre-long wooden stakes which can pin enemies to walls, floors, ceilings, support beams and other enemies, combined with a grenade launcher for dispersing that pesky crowd that gets in the way of the above activity (this is the weapon that will chew off a big chunk of your time and you'll love it), or you can impale a grenade on a stake effectively turning yourself into a fully mobile artillery gun which can blow up almost anything anywhere
The famous rocket launcher/chaingun combo, often praised as the most practical gun ever, with one of the hardest but most satisfying activities - propelling enemies into the air by shooting a rocket at their feet, then blowing them apart in mid-air with a perfectly timed second one (seriously, watch a video of this)
The shuriken launcher/electrodriver - turning mooks into pin cushions, frying them, or the combo mode - charge and shoot the whole disc with shurikens which will electrocute everything around it.
Yes, there are days in Team Fortress 2 where things just won't go your way. And then there's the days when you're playing as a Demoman and a friendly Medic gives you a kritzkrieg, turning you into the anti-god allowing you to one hit kill every living thing that dared to spawn on the other team.
Or, in the same vein, playing the same Demo, going against the last point of any attack/defend map that just happens to have a ton of enemy Engineers. Generally, friendly Medics are often looking for a Demoman in these situations, so you're effectively guaranteed to get an Ubercharge. Waltz into the last point, and start laying stickybombs. You have eight seconds of Uber, and eight bombs. Detonate them just as the Uber ends, and watch as the entire enemy sentry-nest goes up in smoke. Then enjoy the worship from your team, because you just won the round in a single motion.
Featured in the two secret levels of Doom II, where the SS Troopers are deliberately placed on the map in groups of four. Perfect for shooting with a Rocket Launcher.
Wolfenstein (2009) has several extraordinarily over-the-top weapons: the Particle Cannon, a particle ray that disintegrates enemies on contact; the Tesla Cannon, an electric gun that sends enemies flying into the air when they're killed; and the Liechenfaust, a gun that fires a ball of energy that eliminates gravity in a small radius and strips any enemy within that radius right down to the bone. These guns exist only to make you giggle while firing them.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2 : Crouched beside a tree with a bead on a running enemy across the map, adjust for distance, lead the target, squeeze the trigger, and watch as the falling tracer round collides with the unsuspecting head.
And then there's Doom. After nearly 20 years, the sound of the shotgun pumping is still the most satisfying thing you will ever hear.
Singularity has the Deadlock plus shotgun combo. (Technically Deadlock plus anything, but shotgun is most brutally effective and fun.) A bubble of stopped time (that doesn't apply to you), plus setting up a point-blank shotgun blast right on each enemy in turn, then waiting for the bubble to collapse. Everything dies in the most fantastically horrible manner all at once. Or, in the final stretch of the game, your time-manipulation device gets powered up so it no longer uses up the energy meter, which makes you the time-controlling god of death that it sounds.
In the wake of September 11 Rainbow Six as the premier tactical shooter found itself hit with one Game Mod after another either centering on a Delta Force mission to kill Bin Laden in the Khyber Pass or focus on The War on Terror in general. Fans even got Ubisoft to submit the bus terminal map for Black Thorn and rework it to the original vision of an airport.
When you arrive in Hong Kong, one of the first things you see is an arrogant boy named Louis Pan, who extorts protection money from a nearby newspaper vendor and repeatedly tells JC that if he wanted to, he could tell the Triads about him and have him killed. It is incredibly satisfying to take him out, and there is no penalty for it (besides Gordon Quick admonishing you).
The flamethrower. There Is No Kill Like Overkill. It may seem over-the-top or sadistic, but there's no denying that it's satisfying to run into a room full of enemies, turn the napalm on full blast and start spraying. It's also hilarious to see enemies like the otherwise-stalwart Men in Black running around with their hands in the air screaming.
This game takes Video Game Cruelty Potential to the extreme, and allows the player to get away with things that wouldn't fly in most other games. You can toss bodies off roofs or into rivers for the hell of it. Tranquilizing people leads to them running around while moshing up and down in pain. You can set rocket-armed security bots on weak NSF enemies, or you can just run through locations causing havok for innocent civilians.
Dawn of War Dark Crusade. Load up the Abandon All Hope map as Tau and ruthlessly crush your enemy...with your own casualties measured in single figures.
Dawn Of War 2. The remote-controlled bombs used by Sgt. Cyrus. They are horrendously powerful and you get to set them right the noses of your unsuspecting enemies and then detonate them at your own discretion, which is guaranteed to give you a majestic feeling of power over death each time. It's like nukes, only you get to use them a lot.
Particularly in the Chaos Rising expansion to Dawn of War 2. Give Avitus the Signum, boost his skills until he unlocks the "Artillery Specialist" ability, and make it rain Death from Above once every sixty seconds. Enemy holed up in a heavily fortified position and armed with heavy weapons? Just have him call down strikes for a few minutes, then walk into the charred and cratered remains of the former enemy position. Try not to trip on any of the Ludicrous Gibs and smoking rubble left behind...
Pick a game in the Total War series. Any game. Now load up a custom battle. Give yourself as many units of elite cavalry as you possibly can and the enemy only masses of peasants. Then turn your horsemen loose and watch them cut through the unwashed rabble like scythes through a field of ripe grain.
Gunpowder siege weapons + a cowardly enemy hiding in the city center = bowling for peasants. There's just something so cheering about seeing a line of enemy infantry launched into the air as a cannonball skips down the main avenue. Especially if your opponent has been rude on the world map, or put up especially annoying resistance on the city walls.
In Rome: Total War, setting up a battle with maxed out Seleucid Armored Elephants, verses Roman Incendiary Pigs, on the Grassy Flatlands. Just send all your elephants right into the center of the Roman Swine, then sit back, relax, and watch flaming pigs fly.
Supreme Commander. "Add unit" cheat. 1000 Mercy guided missiles right over an enemy base.
StarCraft, as well as its sequel. Loading up a game online against one of your noob friends or an easy computer and utterly demolishing them with a Zerg Rush. Good times.
Or perhaps not rushing them, but waiting, teching up and steamrolling the crap out of them with some of the more epic units. (Carriers, Thors, Battlecruisers, etc.) Oh, and the occasional nuke.
Or even better than the occasional Nuke: build as many nuke silos/ghost academies as you can, fill them all with nukes, set them all to a control group so you can have them rebuilding and launching nonstop, send in a few dozen ghosts and turn the map into a nuclear wasteland.
Dominions 3. Effortlessly crushing AI enemies despite crippling cheater advantages because you know the magic system and they don't never gets old.
Dungeon Keeper II: You can slap your minions around to make them work faster, or if you're feeling particularly vindictive slap them to death, toss them into the dungeon and let them rot, hurl them into the arena to fight for your amusement (If they survive you get a more powerful creature out of the deal), and. then there's torture chamber. Then you have the heroes, which once incapacitated you can send to be tortured until they break and join your cause... And then slap them around like you do your minions. Then, for those with a less sadistic side, you can take control of one of your own minions and cruise around your mighty sprawling dungeon, viewing it from their perspective and marvel at all you have accomplished. There are a lot of ways to unwind while playing this game.
Total Annihilation has flying transport units that can "transport" enemy units, especially if they're AI.
Rise of Legends is good for a teched-up steamroller in most missions, which is especially satisfying after a main mission with a gimmick. But on the more positive side of things, there's something special about a mission where you've been pounded heavily for a while, then get a long enough break for the "downtime" songs to kick in - the Vinci song, "LenoraLongAmb" (Lenora Long Ambient), is a lovely, relaxing piano piece.
Command & Conquer: Generals: Play on a city map against multiple easy AI, build up 50ish superweapons shoot them all at once. Nothing quite compares to the joy of blowing up the entire screen with 100s of nukes, 1000s of scuds or waves of unending lasers.
This was actually done in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, load up a game with the opposing force one of the Soviet Middle Eastern allies or Nod terrorists and go to town in a Curb-Stomp Battle. On the other side of the fence play as different factions of the GLA to simulate the strife in the Middle East or even fighting against the invading Zionist forces.
Especially cathartic in the Gundam editions, due to robot limbs flying all over the place and lots of explosions. There is nothing more cathartic than unleashing a Wave Motion Gun from on high and seeing several hundred Mooks explode in waves.
Even more so in 3 when taking over a field causes the mooks in that field to explode in a chain reaction upon the slightest hit.
Now there's a One Piece edition. Feel like punching the ever-loving tar out of Crocodile? Or Lucci? How about Akainu? Koei's gotcha covered.
Dynasty Warriors Online: item grinding is rarely ever an exercise in catharsis, but in DWO it's one of the most common ways to grind. start up a battle in an unoccupied area, maybe get a few friends so it doesn't drag on, and then start smashing faces in until you find all random drops for that battle. you have minimum risk of dying, and you have the freedom just to watch mooks scatter.
Drakengard is this; why not take a dragon and just rain hellfire against giant phalanxes of troops that are completely powerless to hurt you? Or if you so wish, hop down and singlehandedly slash through the innards of thousands.
Ninja Gaiden 2 for the Xbox 360 was almost entirely That One Level and That One Boss, but if you managed to beat it you could restart from the beginning with all the upgrades you'd accumulated. Cue a 5-second slaughter of entire rooms of formerly-infuriating ninjas.
The God of War series started that back in 2005. Along with costumes to allow extra health, or infinite magic, as well as looking silly (there is no way you can feel stressed when you're watching a cow swing its milk jugs around to whack skeletons). With the second, however, the second playthrough gave you the Blade of Olympus. The weapon that shoots Sword Beams, can suck out the souls of enemies and is a massive game breaker in your hands as soon as you begin the game. And the third game lets you take down titans.
The Mark of Kri has unlockable arenas, the first of which only sends basic, melee-attack-only enemies at you, all of whom die instantly and spectacularly with the use of the game's ultimate weapon. Not only can you rack up over 50 kills per minute, but your acts of violence will leave the survivors of them to run from you in horror.
Condemned and its sequel Bloodshot. Both games consist mostly of picking up pipes, nail bats, bottles and sporting equipment and beating the ever loving crap out of anything that looked at you funny. Without weapons you had punches, kicks, headbutts and vicious environmental kills; including but not limited too: Curb stomps, slamming heads in doors, throwing people into TV sets, hurling them off the side of buildings, and best of all, curb stomping them into a filthy toilet.
The Force Unleashed is God of War with Force powers. So feel free to hit an enemy with your lightsaber, then zap him with lightning and throw him into a bottomless pit.
The PC version of Devil May Cry 4 adds the unlockable "Legendary Dark Knight" difficulty, which can be described as "Normal with lots of enemies." Once you get a bit of practice, it becomes surprisingly cathartic to just carve a bloody swath through hordes of baddies.
Prince of Persia (2008) is extremely soothing, thanks to its smooth, free-flowing parkour platforming and breathtakingly beautiful environments.
Psychonauts. The kaiju parody Perspective Flip known as Lungfishopolis. You play the role of the monster, while in a crowded city that has perfectly breakable buildings. What's more, if you go in there again after the plot happens, said city is due to be demolished. You do the math.
Along with Ruleof Funny, this has got to be why you can use pyrokinesis on squirrels in the camp. Raz himself seemed to acknowledge this trope both in Sasha's Shooting Gallery ("Shooting things is fun and useful!") and Waterloo World ("I can set wood on fire with my mind, you know.") to a wooden game piece). The second is kind of justified, given the day he'd been having...
Star Wars: Episode 1 for the PSX gives you the ability to slice Jar Jar to ribbons with your lightsaber in the second level.
In Jak II: Renegade, you can take a break from the Nintendo Hard missions and just drive around the city in your hovercar at ground level, reveling in the screams of the annoying civilians and evil guards as you send them flying. If you like, you can also easily knock hoverbikes out of the sky with a well-timed love tap and watch them explode. If the fancy takes you, you can also turn your machine gun or BFG on the surrounding vehicles and pedestrians.
This is the reason the final level of Distorted Travesty is so awesome. After massive Difficulty Spikes, Nintendo Hard platforming, and an extremely difficult boss who's a challenge even on Easy Mode... the last level grants you Super Speed, regenerating health, and platforms that rise up to prevent you from falling into Bottomless Pits. It sounds anticlimactic, but it is a fantastic way to blow off all the stress and frustration the previous level likely instilled in you. (And the very end ratchets up the difficulty again, so it's not entirely without challenge.)
The Super Sonic form in the Sonic the Hedgehog games. At least, the ones that let you use it in normal levels. Turning into a spiky ball of golden death and tearing up one of the early zones is incredibly satisfying.
Through the series, it is common to see Dr. Eggman fly away after each boss fight. Some games allow Sonic - sometimes under the player's control - to destroy the Eggmobile at the end, which could be deadly to Eggman if people in this series didn't have immunity to fall damage.
In Copy Kitty, a game that focuses on unique and powerful weapon combinations, there's nothing more stress-relieving than activating both the infinite ammo and invincibility cheats (which is no easy feat to begin with) and wreak havoc on your personal That One Boss.
If you can tolerate that AI, though, it can be just as satisfying to create your dream theme park, with rides and attractions to cater to every taste, set admissions and rides to downright reasonable prices, then watch all your visitors have the time of their lives.
Deleting the fence around the lion exhibit in Zoo Tycoon, or just picking up the lions and moving them out into the giant crowd of people watching the friendly cats play. The horrified screams as your poor guests futilely try to run in terror are as soothing ointment to a wound.
Or dropping someone into the exhibit full of orca whales.
Or, even better, dropping someone into the Tyrannosaur and Velociraptor paddocks if you have the appropriate expansion pack. Jurassic Park recreation, anyone?
Dwarf Fortress. If you can stand losing, often, and learn to play the game well, rigging up horrible deaths for all involved can be quite calming. Had a bad day? It's remarkably easy to flood your entire fortress and sit there watching the buggers break down as they flee the ever-rising watery death.
Alternatively, go to adventure mode, train up wrestling, find a humanoid enemy (giants are good), and systematically cripple every joint in their body before throttling them to death.
Harvest Moon is surely near the top of the list of games inducing catharsis through sheer calming energy. Living on a beautiful farm waking up each day to tend crops and feed animals and then leisurely walk around the town talking to people you are befriending? Could anything be better to wipe away the stress of a busy day?
In a similar vein, the Animal Crossing games can be unbelievably cathartic if you've had a stressful day, especially as you usually have fewer obligations than tending a whole farm like in Harvest Moon. Just take a stroll round the town to the tune of that ultra relaxed music, saying hi to your friends, maybe doing a little fishing or catching bugs.
If your GM is aiming for this, you can make some hilarious memories of burning down a forest when you're supposed to be a protector of Nature, giving an enemy a death without a drop of dignity (using his head as a hat, for instance), and several more incidents of Crossing the Line than you can shake your finger at.
DROD, the most action packed puzzle game in existence. Slaughtering hordes of overgrown roaches, hunting down goblin after goblin, or meticulously cutting apart a gelatinous monster, all while outsmarting the room layout. Blood, guts, and the satisfaction of hard earned victory.
Lemmings - There comes a time in which there's nothing more soothing than discovering the most fun and artistic ways to set them up for when you activate the Nuke button. Maybe you want 100 packed into a tiny area, so that you can make an explosion so powerful that you can cleave through steel plates. Maybe you want to see the perfect timing for when explosions go off compared to when they start counting down. Maybe you want to see if you can properly time the explosions to make art out of the remaining parts of the level. Or maybe you just want a virtual storm of confetti to celebrate your birthday. Regardless of which it is, you know you're in for some fun when you hit the button and hear that pleasing "Oh, no!"
Portal 2 gives you a pure, concentrated dose of sweetness at the ending: hearing 'Cara Mia' as you ascended to the surface.
Games like Grand Theft Auto (III and onward, at least). Two words: Pedestrian Bowling.
One more word: Trainer. Although the games are fun to begin with, a whole new level of wanton destruction can be added by taking advantage of the numerous options game trainers provide.
And the cheats! Hammer in a flying car cheat, switch to some epic music on the radio and take off into the air. At 88 miles an hour.
Alternately, in versions where the flying car cheat effects everybody, activate it and get in trouble with the cops, then drive off on a motorbike. You'll be periodically treated to police cars helplessly careening off into the air, effectively re-enacting a car chase from The Blues Brothers.
When the map starts to split up into areas that are either military controlled or plague-infected, there's an uncommon amount of fun to be had in stealing someone's identity (along withthe rest of them), proceeding to go into the red zones, and promptly playing what amounts to Double Dragon 3D: Zombie Edition.
The Spiderman 2 movie game. Half the game's fun is using Spidey's abilities to defeat mooks in the most painful ways you can come up with. Using webbing to continually pull an enemy into the air for flying punches, even after their health is gone. Webbing a crook to a lamp-post and beating the snot out of them for as long as you like. Doing the latter after slamming them into the ground with webbing about six times (an actual combo). Slinging them into the nearest body of water or off the nearest building. Punching them in the kidneys over and over before throwing them into another crook. Swinging them over and over around your head for use as a living projectile/shield. Shooting webbing into their eyes and watching them stumble around in a blind panic. And best of all: pile drivers off the Empire State Building.
Just swinging around the city is good for relaxation.
Bully. Added catharsis for young players due to the school setting, and added catharsis for the rest because every single NPC has a unique name, face and identity, so if a certain character gets the better of you, you can track him down specifically —not simply a random lookalike— and beat the shit out him for it later. And for those who were bullied by preppies, you can now shoot one with a potato gun and run.
The simplest and arguably most satisfying aspect of Bully is the ability to tackle boys and drive your knee into their junk. Their reactions are priceless.
You tell me that using the Keys to the City pack in Crackdown, spawning thirty oil barrels, spawning cars, and then driving cars into the mountain doesn't make the adrenaline rush, especially as you toss a single Limpet Charge into it and walk away with the camera facing you.
Assassin's Creed II, especially during the Carneval in Venice. Randomly shoot your gun off in the middle of a crowded square, poison a passing soldier and toss coins at his feet and watch as the poisoned guard starts swinging his sword around tossing guards and civilians alike into the canal, use people as fall cushions after a nice session of Le Parkour and punch the crap out of those annoying bards. There's a lot to do in Renaissance Italy.
Minecraft. Play the regular mode and plant a ton of dynamite all over the place and make yourself a safe spot high up in the map, just floating there, with a block of dynamite ready to fall upon hitting it, and save the map. Load it in survival mode and wait for a few mobs to form, then hit the dynamite to turn on the timer and make it fall to the earth. The explosion can be so big that even maximum fog won't save you from the lag, but the resulting aftermath? Worth it.
If you get frustrated while playing Just Cause 2, no worries! Travel to the right military base and steal an armored car or a heavily-armed helicopter! Hook mooks to cars and drag them along! Flip cars over during high-speed chases! Hook mooks to a jumbo jet or a military fighter! And so on.
Mount & Blade, from firing a hail of arrows with your troops while defending a castle to riding down infantry while heavily armored shrugging off blows, provides a lot of this.
There is a particular amount of entertainment to be had in the sequel, Warband, which allows you to still do things like chase after looters. The introduction of a weapon which can only be described as an extra-long baseball bat with nails in it lends newfound hilarity to the idea of chasing down peasants and clubbing them senseless with said weapon. Or you can get a literal plain old stick and whack them about the head with that too. If you're really bored and winning the game, there's always the good ol method of finding a belligerent drunk, getting into a fight with him, and simply laughing off his puny sword with your Lordly Plate armor that needs a warhammer to damage, then you punch him over and over.
Saints Row plain and simple, for added fun, create a character to use cheats, and abuse them. The Third is even better with this- wanna utterly annihilate your foes with an airstrike, or a tank, or a VTOL equipped with lasers and missiles? It's got you covered.
The Third is even better if you have the Respect upgrades. Specifically the ones that grant immunity to bullets, fire, explosions, ragdolling from said explosions, and fall damage. You're now immortal. Find the nearest survival mission and have a blast.
Male Voice 1:Man, this is therapeutic!
The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction is sometimes called Prototype's predecessor. There's nothing quite as satisfying as cruising around the city on a skateboard you made out of a bus, or the fact you can use a lamppost to work on your golf swing, using people as the balls! Sadly, if you advance the story enough, the game starts to punish you with Demonic Spiders for your wanton destruction.
In L.A. Noire, you can wreck the painstakingly recreated 1940's L.A. while driving around in your equally beautiful recreated car.
Katamari Damacy. There's just something calming about pushing around an unstoppable ball of death.
Godhand. The credit song even lampshades this with the line "The Godhand helps me work out my stress!".
Main game giving you fits? Go to the practice ring and beat on the dummy. You take no damage and can use all the Reel/Roulette/Wheel Moves you want.
Ratchet & Clank, especially in regards to New Game Plus, where you can annihilate anyone in your path with the RYNO 5. This particular model is a multi-barreled minigun with a missile launcher wrapped around it that plays the 1812 Overture during sustained fire.
The Torture Game 2. Someone piss you off? Use the face creator feature and import their face onto the torture subject, then go to town on them with the various weapons and torture instruments.
Plants vs. Zombies: the Zen Garden, in which there are no zombies. The most unnerving moment in it is not having enough money for a record player. Also, the later stages of an easy-difficulty daytime survival game, as you watch zombies amble onto your spike rocks to fall from a hail of burning gatling pea ammunition.
Flat Out 2, Simcade, which provides a number of highly satisfying ways to run into other cars Available modes are Race (heavily-themed courses with a large amount of scenery to demolish at very high speed), Event (smaller track, usually designed for extra speed or with a calculated chance for collisions), Demolition Derby Exactly What It Says on the Tin, or Stunt (use a jetcar to get up to speed and then launch the driver through the windshield for things like High Jump, Darts, etc). When in a suitable mood for completely wanton devastation, the Wreaking Havok that this game provides is highly enjoyable.
It's more-or-less safe to say that part of the draw of the Super Robot Wars games is giving you the ability to blow up certain villains that a lot of people don't really like. The visceral explosions when they go up certainly don't hurt, either. The effect is tripled if the villain in question is a Karma Houdini.
The Hitman series, especially Hitman Blood Money. Going back to earlier missions with fully upgraded weapons, you'll wish there were more people to kill.
Are you dissatisfied with Homestuck's recent turn of events? Are you tired of Vriska and wish she could get her comeuppance? We feel your pain.
Frustrated by traffic? Spent hours in 2 MPH rush hour? Annoyed at people cutting you off and then driving slower than you were? Rejoice, for there is Burnout, and there's Traffic Checkingnote ramming into same-way, non-competing cars from behind to send them flying, which can be weaponized against opponents and there is Crash Modenote deliberately smashing into heavily-congested intersections to trigger the biggest, explodiest crashes and there's Road Ragenote a game mode where you can keep driving endlessly as long as you keep smashing opponents into the scenery and there are Aftertouch Takedownsnote if an opponent takes you down, you can steer your wreck in midair to try to crash it into them as payback. Word of caution: you probably shouldn't go out and drive in real life for a while after a good session of Burnout.
Journey was designed specifically to invoke catharsis. It's short, there's not so much as a line of dialogue, and the story is as minimalistic as it gets, but by the end, you will be downright tired from the emotional wringer it puts you through.
Ōkami is another non-violent example. Your heart will soar every time you cleanse a cursed area and see beautiful flowers and clear water wash away the evil.
Being the captain of your own Cool Starship (be it a Federation ship, a Romulan warbird or a Klingon bird of prey) in Star Trek Online is incredibly satisfying, especially when it allows you to kick the asses of a huge variety of enemies from the TV series and movies. There's also a lot of warm feelings to be had during missions where you can find a diplomatic solution (and often reap the benefits of your actions later in the game), or get to work alongside a characters such as Worf, Tuvok, Tasha Yar and even members of Captain Kirk's crew.
Arguably the single most satisfying moment in the game comes at the end of the mission Surface Tension, when, thanks to the actions of both you and the current Enterprise captain, the Federation and the Klingon Empire make peace at last, vowing to work together to bring down the Iconians once and for all.
Non Video Game Examples
Bully Beatdown. Watching bullies get their asses handed to them by professional MMA fighters is quite satisfying.
The Purge: The government instituted the event named The Purge for this reason.
Most people have something they do when they're stressed- be it listening to music, working out, whittling, whatever.