For most people, regardless of if they’re introverts or extroverts, quarantine has been a difficult time. People miss one another. They miss the simple pleasures that might have taken for granted. Me? I miss restaurants and bars with friends. But we have technology to help make all of this a little easier. We can video chat with family. We can watch movies with one another. And, of course, we can game.
Gaming has been a crucial element in maintaining an acceptable level of comfort throughout all of this. I’ve played more Dungeons and Dragons than ever, simply because a lot of people I know want something social to do and I happen to be a pretty okay dungeon master. But that isn’t everybody’s thing. It just scratches the same itch as, let’s say, Mario Kart? Mario Kart has a simplicity to it, is on a commonly owned platform, and is welcoming to all levels of expertise. It is very easy to jump online with some friends and goof off for a bit. Perhaps have a couple drinks, chat, and smack talk when someone pulls out the notorious blue shell.
Speaking of drinking, a trend that has risen from quarantine is something called “virtual happy hour,” where a group of friends meet up on a video conferencing app like zoom and just chat and drink. If drinking isn’t your thing, “virtual social hour,” works just as well. But these meetings can be enhanced. Epic Games has developed an application called Houseparty. It’s mostly a way of seeing and talking to your friends but the application allows users to seamlessly move from a hangout into a gaming session. The application features trivia, guessing games, and more.
For people looking to spend a little bit more money, the Jackbox Party Packs are the perfect supplement to your virtual hangouts. They operate well into the realm of silliness and are controlled primarily through a phone or tablet. So long as one person has the game and a way of sharing the screen, everybody can play. Also, like Mario Kart, it is easily understood.
What I’ve realized during quarantine is that video games are offering a simulation of physical closeness. If I invite you to my carefully curated island in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, it feels a bit like hosting a friend. And you can affect my island. We can exchange gifts. It’s a carefree approximation of real life without all the stress. Perhaps this is why the series is especially popular at the moment. Video games can also fuel conversations. A lot of my friends had a lot to say about Final Fantasy VII Remake. Some of the things they said were about the familiarity of the world, and the sensation of hanging out with the fully realized characters. For me, it was a quality distraction from the day to day that just happened to bring me back to a simpler time when I was young and, indeed, carefree.
A game can mean a lot to a person. And a game can do a lot for a group of people. I see people bonding in MMORPGs with a newfound intensity. I see people longing for community and closeness. And I see video games helping people simply be together, in the moment, with one another. When all of this is over, I hope people remember the value contained in gaming. And I hope they remember the importance of play, no matter how serious of an adult you may think yourself to be. Within reasonable limits, it’s healthy.