Playing through the pandemic: How video games have offered us an alternative way to communicate.16th April 2021
Video games have been lambasted in the past for their supposed violence or that they were just pointless and time consuming. However, during the pandemic, video games have allowed us to stay connected. Two people and their experiences with online communication and how they have still celebrated the important moments in life through pixels and a screen.
Animal Crossing became one of the biggest selling video games of 2020, selling 31.18 million units. While the long-anticipated sequel to Nintendo’s franchise garnered hype on its own, another reason for the high sales could be by being released in the midst of a pandemic. Where many were forced to stay home the idea of escaping into an island with your friends encouraged the basic video game novice to pick up a Switch and give it a try.
Many people have used games like Animal Crossing to celebrate weddings, graduations and birthdays that were cancelled due to the pandemic.
Kaytlin Blackmore, an avid gamer, discussed how Animal Crossing and Minecraft allowed her to celebrate her friends’ birthdays. She said: “For a lot of us, it’s our 21st birthdays, which of course normally quite a big thing. So, it very much turned into Animal Crossing birthdays or Minecraft birthdays stuff like that where we decorate our little islands or what have you and be like “Oh, happy birthday we’ve made a surprise party for you.” Which, you know, it’s not the same but it’s still got that weird air of special though, because you wouldn’t normally do it. I think whilst normally if somebody said: “I’m going to throw you a birthday party on Animal Crossing.” You might be a bit like: “That’s not great, can we maybe do something else?” But in this instance, it was like: “Oh my God, that’s amazing. You’ve done what like, you’ve decorated your island for me?” and it’s brilliant.”
Lynette Steel is also another gamer who has thrived during the pandemic. Steel, like many others last year, celebrated her 21st Birthday through Animal Crossing and she used the game to spend some time with her mother. While it does not compare to going out for a celebratory meal at a restaurant she did enjoy having her own celebration in the game. She also joined Facebook groups that had similar tastes in games which has led to lasting friendships. Steel said: “ I joined a few Animal Crossing groups on Facebook and found that everyone was really friendly. I have made some lasting friends that I speak to outside of gaming. It really helped during lockdown because I am a very social person and I started to miss speaking to new people. Since I spent a lot of my time on Animal Crossing anyway it made sense for us to play together on there, which made everything seem a little more personal.” Steel also met someone through an Animal Crossing trade and hopes to meet with her as soon as it is safe to do so and now counts her as a close and supportive friend.
Blackmore also got to be a part of other important memories such as witnessing someone who she met through gaming become a father during the course of the pandemic. “We met this guy, and it was through Overwatch, and it happened because his online gamer name was the name of the band that me and my boyfriend likes. We were like “We know this guy’s cool. We’re going to message him.” This guy was like, “Oh my god, I found people like me.” and then he was like, “Oh, do you mind if my girlfriend plays?” Course not bring her on in and then it just kind of went on from there where we ended up following on Instagram, adding him on social media. So, now he’s a good friend of ours and all the way through he’d been saying that. “My girlfriend’s pregnant, we’re going to have kids soon.” Then the other day, it was like, “Oh, my kids been born.” So, we’ve been sent pictures of this guy’s child and it’s like “Wow, like we didn’t even know him going into this.” Now we know his girlfriend, we know his family. He’s had a kid.”
Blackmore spoke about how gaming has also helped her experience milestones such as being offered a job. She said: “At the start of the pandemic my boyfriend had just started a new job and our bosses also had a PlayStation. So, they asked if we would play with them and I’ve managed to get a job out of it. Because they’ve been our basically our best friends. So, we managed to like, branch out with all of these people in the company that we just joined. So, that was amazing and supposedly getting a second job out of it as well, which is awesome.”
While Steel thinks her gaming experience has been mainly positive due to it being a way to relax and destress she does mention that it can make her procrastinate with in game and real life tasks “I struggle with motivation when I have a particularly big in game task or real life things to do where I find it hard to put the game down so the tasks don’t get done. Then I start to get stressed because I am uninterested in playing but I feel committed to play a little longer. I have been working on managing my screen time a lot more to reduce these feelings but sometimes I find that they can happen quite easily.
Despite playing games with her friend group constantly, Blackmore believes that because they are not allowed to see each other, the ability to still be connected makes the online meet ups all the more special. “We’ve done these things a billion times before, but because we weren’t allowed to see each other in person, it just made it that bit more special.”