8 Video Games to Fake the Summer Vacation You Can’t Afford

Summer is upon us, and like most people you probably want to get away from the stresses of day to day life with a nice vacation. Unfortunately, your broke ass can’t afford it. Maybe you just bought a new house, maybe you’re struggling to find a job, or maybe your latest meth-fueled orgy went over budget. Whatever the reason, you’re staying home this year.

Luckily your old friends, video games, have your back. It turns out you can put together a pretty decent fake summer vacation by playing the right games. Sure, it’s no substitute for the real thing, but it beats looking at photos of past trips and quietly sobbing to yourself.

8. Wave Race

If you can’t afford a vacation, you sure as hell can’t afford a jet ski. Yeah, you could rent or borrow or steal one, but then you’d feel even worse about not owning one when it was time to return it or appear in court. Those who taste the jet ski want more.

Save yourself the anguish and play a Wave Race game, preferably Wave Race: Blue Storm on the Gamecube (the most recent in the series). The water effects hold up surprisingly well, and most of the courses have a relaxing summer vibe. In addition to looking way nicer than some crowded beach full of discarded beer cans and food wrappers, you’re on the water winning championships instead of dodging errant children dogpaddling around. It’s basically the sort of jet skiing you would do if you were a professional and/or a multi-millionaire. Which you’re not, presumably. If you are, congratulations! That’s pretty cool.

The rest of us are only pulling moves like this off in video games.

Also, you can ride a dolphin! Try doing that in real life without getting arrested or beaten to death by the very creature you tried to tame.

7. River King

You might think a simple, timeless summer pastime like fishing would be immune to budget problems, but by the time you factor in the tackle, fishing license, gas to get to a good spot and shark repellant the expenses add up. So unless you’re looking to go all Huck Finn and fish with a stick you should check out a River King game.

River King is a long running series that’s seen 10 entries and various spinoffs, although only four games have made it North America. They mix fishing with light RPG elements and simple stories, essentially making them fishing adventures. Fans of Harvest Moon, the relatively more popular series by the same developer, will feel right at home–the two franchises share a similar graphical style.

River King: Mystic Valley came out for the DS a few years ago, but if you don’t mind the old school graphics you should track down the superior Legend of the River King 2 for the Game Boy Color (or get its predecessor from the Nintendo eShop). The two games practically ooze charm, and in a way the simplistic visuals are part of the appeal.

Note the lack of mosquitoes biting you.

Whichever game you try, I suggest playing it late at night. Lie in bed, open the window to let the warm summer wind in, and be amazed at how relaxing a game about fishing can be. At least until some stupid trout runs away with your bait half a dozen times.

6. The Sims

Some people prefer to let summer vacation come to them. By throwing a BBQ or a pool party you can have all the fun of a summer outing without having to leave the comfort of your home. But it’s still a lot of work – you’ve got to coordinate schedules to make sure everyone can come, and then you’ve got to clean up the post-shindig mess left by your ungrateful guests. And that doesn’t include the huge cost of food and drinks, because the cheapskates you know aren’t contributing anything beyond a bag of Doritos and a six pack of Schlitz Ice. The Sims games take most of the work out of throwing a summer slammer. You can do it at the last minute with nary a cost, and you don’t even have to have real friends!

And nobody will judge your hideous summer wardrobe.

The Sims is a series that prides itself on its vast customization options, so no matter what you have in mind for a party you can make it happen, and with just a few mouse clicks instead of a few long, expensive trips to the mall. Tiki pool party? Done. BBQ and dance-off? Sure. Want to toss the football around on a beautiful summer evening, and then shuffle everyone inside for a good, wholesome sex party? No problem.

Best of all, you’re in total control. That means no drunken arguments and nobody throwing up in your pool – unless you want the awkward hilarity of a failed party with none of the real life social consequences, in which case get the fights started! You don’t even have to put pants on – just try to get away with that at a real party and see how many guests whine about it. You can throw the dream party you never could in reality, because in reality your friends aren’t robots that obey your every whim. Stupid jerks.

5. RollerCoaster Tycoon

Disney World is great, in theory. But after you fly halfway across the country, navigate hordes of screaming children and aggressive mascots, waste a bunch of money on overpriced souvenirs and vomit up the park’s crappy food on Space Mountain, you need a vacation to recover from your vacation. Wouldn’t it be great to be the one building the parks instead of wandering through them like a rat in a maze?

Who’s getting lost on the way to the bathroom now?!

If you have any sort of gaming background at all you should be familiar with RollerCoaster Tycoon, which is either an elaborate theme park simulator or an elaborate torture simulator, depending on what kind of person you are. Either build amazing theme parks you wish existed in real life, or force guests to choose between riding a rollercoaster that might kill them or taking a path over a lake that could vanish and send them to their watery graves beneath the bumper boats at a single click of your cruel mouse.

If you’re like me, playing the original game is a throwback to the slow days of childhood summer vacations. If you’re not interested in nostalgia, RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 is a great modern update of the series. You could also play RollerCoaster Tycoon 2, if you’re one of those people.

4. Tropico

If Disney is the go to vacation for families, tropical islands are the go to vacations for young couples and groups of friends looking to get trashed, neither of which can afford the flights and, in the case of the latter, the legal and medical bills after you get drunk and coldcock some Jamaican dude for refusing to do Bob Marley karaoke with you.

Much like RollerCoaster Tycoon lets you oversee a theme park, the Tropico games let you oversee a banana republic (or a pirate island, in Tropico 2). Your goal is to build an island economy, balance your interests between rival international powers and line your pockets by funneling state funds to your offshore Swiss bank account. Oh, and you can improve the lives of your impoverished citizens too, if you want.

More absolute power, no sunburns!

As “El Presidente” you’re free to hold fair elections and put your people first, but you also have the capability to rule with an iron fist, throwing dissenters in prison and spreading propaganda far and wide. Which do you think will be more satisfying when you’re playing this? Because the lush beaches, swaying palm trees and shimmering crystal waters of your Caribbean dictatorship are the closest you’ll get to the real thing. You’ll also enjoy the series’ trademark humor, especially the digs at snobby and slobbery American tourists. Laugh at them. You’re better than them.

3. Endless Ocean

For animal lovers, a trip to an exotic destination like the Galapagos Islands is pretty much the perfect vacation. Being able to witness hundreds of rare animal species in their natural environment sure beats going to the zoo to watch the monkeys fling crap at each other. But it’s not cheap, and that’s where Endless Ocean comes into play.

Endless Ocean and its sequel, Endless Ocean: Blue World are scuba diving games that task you with searching for marine life and underwater salvage. The plot is light and the difficulty non-existent – Endless Ocean focuses on open-ended exploration and learning about the creatures of the sea.

Try petting a whale at SeaWorld and the only thing you’ll learn is how fast their security guards can throw someone out of the park.

You can encounter a huge range of marine life, some of which can trained or added to an aquarium. In addition to all the animals you can dive through caves, trenches, shipwrecks and other features that would take half a dozen real scuba vacations to find. You can also take underwater photos and find sunken treasure, among other tasks.

Endless Ocean is gorgeous, serene and almost hypnotically relaxing. If you’re looking for an action-packed game you couldn’t come to a worse place, but since when were summer vacations about anything other than kicking back and forgetting your worries? If nothing else, they’re great games to turn to after you’ve died a dozen times against some twitchy shooter boss.

2. Animal Crossing

When some people get away for the summer, they literally get away for the entire summer. Whether it’s a beach house on a party island or a remote cabin in the woods, there will always be those who believe the warm months are best spent in a completely different location.

Of course, even if you could afford a summer home, you can’t skip four months of work to go enjoy it. At best you can get a week in a timeshare where the previous occupants partied it into a vomit-filled mess. Luckily, the Animal Crossing games let you enjoy a summer home without any of the costs. And it works, because if you spend all summer playing a video game instead of seeing your friends and family it’s like you really did go away for the season!

Although apparently even on your fake vacation you’ll be sadly alone.

The Animal Crossing games see your character moving to a little town populated by anthropomorphic animals. The games take place in real time – power it up at 6:36 a.m. on July 17th and you’ll be looking at a mid-July dawn and some irritatingly chipper neighbors.

That means you can enjoy both virtual versions of real summer holidays, like July 4th, as well as Animal Crossing-exclusive celebrations. And there are all sorts of summer activates to enjoy, both organized (fishing tournaments) and impromptu (gardening, bug catching). The latest game in the series even makes you the mayor. So while your rich neighbors retreat to their summer abodes and deal with arbitrary bylaws, you can retreat to your basement and shape your summer home the way you see fit. Plus you might live next to a giant talking hamster, so hell yes.

1. Psychonauts

If you’re reading this article you’re probably past the age where you’d head off to summer camp. But maybe you have kids you want to get out of the house for a few months, or perhaps you want to relive the glory days with a summer camp for adults. Either way, unless the camp you have in mind is Kamp Krusty, it’s out of your budget. Now, the summer camp you attend in Psychonauts may not be a traditional summer camp, but don’t tell me you wouldn’t attend a camp for children with psychic abilities if you had the chance.

Welcome to Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp, where you roast marshmallows with your mind.

After all, did your childhood summer camps teach you telekinesis, invisibility, clairvoyance and other mental skills that you’d use to enter the twisted psyches of your campmates and defeat the evils that ailed their minds? That’s a rhetorical question. I hope.

In addition to the action and puzzle-solving, you’ll get to engage in more traditional summer camp fare, like exploring your summer home, making new friends and getting a crush on a cute girl. And thanks to the game’s hilarious script, you’ll enjoy doing all of it. Beats eating crappy pancakes every day and learning to weave baskets with a bunch of awkward weirdos, doesn’t it?