How Casual Gaming Saved Us During Quarantine
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It isn’t entirely uncommon these days to hear people say “we can’t stop living,” in response to the pandemic, quarantine, and social distancing measures. The trouble is, I don’t feel like I’ve stopped living. Sure, I feel inhibited, but there are plenty of things I can do around my home, even if I can’t go to the theater. I can, as I’ve written, play fitness games to keep in shape. I can play regular games to occupy my mind. But I recognize that not everybody likes those two things. But there are a lot of games and while some of them are needlessly condemned as “casual,” I think it’s crucial to reevaluate these games in a new light. When a large group of people are staying home to stay safe, casual games can help bring them together. This is important for introverts and extroverts alike.

So, what do I mean by casual games? The term has changed a lot over the years and it is almost as though the goal posts have moved. At one point, a “casual game,” might have been something like Farmville. At the same time, Harvest Moon didn’t share the reputation. Animal Crossing, though? Jury was still out. Now we look at games like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing: New Horizons, two fully realized games that can eat away hours upon hours, and the definition of “casual gaming,” becomes less clear. And, perhaps, less important. I would argue that most of the games considered “casual,” are actually just accessible because a lot of the people I know who are playing these games are playing them in very hardcore ways.

t’s awesome that more people are getting into gaming, and, while it’s unfortunate that these circumstances are what led to these new found loves, there’s perhaps room to express gratitude for the existence of these games in the first place. Walking around and talking to anthropomorphic villagers in Animal Crossing somehow has an element of normalcy to it. There’s a purity and a freedom. And getting an island all pretty so you can show off to guests? Well, that’s extremely relatable. I did that kind of thing in the “before times,” back when I was still having people over.

Of course, it’s not all just about Animal Crossing. A lot of people have taken to hanging out with their friends in events they call “zoom happy hours,” or other names in a similar style. It can be great to hang out and talk to the people you miss and, sure, a drink is nice, but sitting around and ruminating on how awful things are is only cathartic for so long. Bonding often happens with play and novel experiences. Thankfully, plenty of games can be played easily over video chat and are accessible in such a way that almost anybody’s friends can play them.

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My first recommendation is the Jackbox Party Pack series. These are some of the first games people started playing. All people need to play is a mobile phone or tablet and a way of seeing the screen. With “screen sharing,” features being common in most video chatting services, that is more than easily accomplished. These games are designed to get people laughing, and encourage creativity. A lot of them also put communication and socializing in the forefront. Epic Games also had a range of games contained in their Houseparty app, which had familiar guessing games, charades, and trivia. It was a good way to just chill and goof off. I also recommend Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes which is a game where one person interacts with a screen which has a bomb on it and another person looks at a pdf that describes different bombs and how to describe them. Through communication, the two players (or more if you want), work together to figure out which bomb they are trying to defuse before it goes off. It’s chaos, but it’s a lot of fun.

There are a lot of games like this out there. A lot of boardgames have been updated with digital versions. Spyfall is such an example, and if you google it you will find a website where you can play a game of guessing and deception with your friends that works perfectly over video chat. Virtual Tabletop software has made a lot of roleplaying games and board games a viable option, even when all the players are hundreds of miles apart. Then there are typical online games like Mario Party or Mario Kart that a lot of people can easily get into because of the easy controls and the familiar characters. It’s unclear how long any of this will last, but hopefully developers keep coming up with new ideas to bring people together to game, no matter the distance between them, because that is something that will likely always be important. Hopefully that is something we take with us when all of this is over.

Benjamin Maltbie
Benjamin Maltbie

Writing Team Lead
Date: 09/17/2020

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