When the COVID-19 lockdown kicked in, I asked folks on Twitter to send me stories of how they are coping with loneliness, and how video games can help. I received dozens of replies describing life-improving play sessions across a variety of games. Here are just a few of them.
Thank you all for sending in your stories. Entries have been edited and condensed for clarity.
“My group of friends mostly play Destiny 2,” writes Manuel, a digital artist from Mexico. “It’s way better than, say, doing a video call. Talking while playing helps to keep the conversations from getting stale. One moment we are talking about how our day is going and the next an NPC makes a comment we hadn’t heard before, which leads to a whole new conversation about the lore of the game.
“There’s a spontaneity that you don’t get with regular catch-up calls. When you are in quarantine, you grow accustomed to hearing the same voices all the time (if you’re lucky enough to be quarantined with someone). Hearing from friends living elsewhere and knowing they are OK, is very helpful.”
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
“One of my friends is asthmatic, so when this all started, I quickly realized I wouldn’t be able to see her in person for a while,” writes Anna from Florida. “She’d been counting down the days until the Animal Crossing release, so I decided to get the game because she was so excited for it and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
“After a couple days of playing, we decided to visit each other’s islands. Since the chat feature on the game is pretty difficult for quickly writing messages, I just called her. We spent, like, two hours just running around on each other’s islands until we ran out of things to do. Eventually we abandoned our villagers, who were just sitting next to each other on a bench, and just chatted about other things for an hour. At some point, I realized how strange yet endearing it was that these two little video game characters that somewhat resembled us in real life were just sitting next to each other in a virtual space as we had a mundane conversation. We couldn’t see each in person, but we could hang out by proxy through Animal Crossing.
“To anyone feeling lonely right now, I’d definitely recommend finding a good game to play. Reach out to people you know and see if they’ve got any similar multiplayer games you could play together. If you’ve got a friend whose been badgering you to try a game they love, now’s a great time to try it out. “
“My twin sister and I have always had issues getting along. I think we were fighting before we were born and now we’re grown up, there’s still a tension there,” writes Andi from Virginia. “But since lockdown, we’ve been slowly talking more.
“We both have Animal Crossing New Horizons, and Sunday we spent over two hours working the Stalk Market selling turnips. We haven’t played a game together for two hours, ever. And the entire time it was pleasant. It felt like a real bonding experience.
“We’re texting more, and not just about Animal Crossing. I’m learning more about her than I have in years and all of that negative air surrounding our relationship feels like it’s falling away. I really hope that after all of this is over, we can continue to do things like this even on a weekly basis, because I’m finally having a chance to have a close adult friendship with my sister.”
Magic: The Gathering Online
“My friends and I have a biannual Magic the Gathering event,” writes Eric from Boston. “We also regularly meet up for tournaments at stores and conventions, as well as casual games on the weekends.
“Now we can’t meet in person, we use Magic the Gathering Online. I made a league of eight friends, we all blocked off time one night to draft, then over the past two weeks we’ve been playing round-robin.
“That league is over and we’re going to start a new one this week. It’s been a fun distraction from the stress; three of us lost our jobs, one of us has a partner who is working as a physician assistant, and one person was self-diagnosed as having COVID. We’re in rough shape, but the feedback from the group is that this league has been the only thing giving our lives a sense of normalcy.”
Jackbox Party Pack
“I lasted exactly four days in quarantine before I decided I started brainstorming ways to hang out with friends,” writes Christine from Baltimore. “I didn’t want to just catch up with people over Google Hangout, because we wind up asking what people are cooking for dinner. It’s good info to have, but it doesn’t require that many updates.
“I’d played some Jackbox games at people’s houses before and watched some streams of them, so I decided to grab Party Pack 2 on Steam and invite my old college friends, who are now all over the country.
“At least two nights a week for the past month, I’ve spent a couple hours after work telling funny lies, flirting as monsters, drawing wild murals, creating funny tee-shirts, and bidding on bad art with some of my best friends. We’re laughing, revisiting old jokes and stories we’d forgotten, razzing each other, and generally just genuinely enjoying ourselves during a weird and unsettling situation. Sometimes it’s because somebody had a bad day and needs a pick-me-up. Other times it’s just an attempt at normalcy.
“We’ve gained a way to recapture some of what turned us into such great friends to begin with. There’s not much about social distancing that I want to continue once this pandemic has passed, and I doubt we’ll still have weeks where we can jump on calls every other day once this is over, but I think we all want to start having semi-regular Jackbox game nights even when our busy lives get back on track. Seeing them and playing games has been the one part of life that’s improved since all this began. “
“My girlfriend persuaded me to get Minecraft to play with her and her friends while quarantine is going on,” writes Olivia from Virginia. “It’s been an amazing way to fight off loneliness and feel some semblance of hanging out in a physical space that we can go to and modify.
“I think it also provides the added benefit of sparking a sense of discovery and control over our surroundings together, by exploring and building the world up. It wasn’t a game I had interest in before this, because it was so intimidating, but having a play to spend time together in was a new selling point to me.”
“I have a group of great friends who play Rust, as well as other games, usually open-world survival and co-op games,” writes John from South Carolina. “Playing these games has really helped us all through this difficult time, but it was a help to me even before the lockdown.
“Before it closed down, H1Z1 was always my game of choice, but it was so hard for me being a solo player. I was a friendly player trying to meet people to team with, but didn’t have much luck. One day I spawned on a hillside and I met a person called Hipster. I don’t know what it was that I said to let him trust me but he let me follow him back to the base (which was a big no-no in H1Z1). There in the base, I met the rest of the group, from all over the world.
“Over the next year, we all played together. We made memories within the community as a whole. We always stuck together making our bases and causing as much trouble as we could on the servers that we chose to base on. We all had a lot of different personalities from different backgrounds. But we were there for one another as we struggled through life’s challenges, confiding in one another like we were lifelong friends.
“In the years since, I’ve met many of the group and we’ve had a lot of laughs, as well as group activities like hiking and playing board games. I have pictures of me meeting everyone for the first time as well as some in-game screenshots of memories we all shared. I’m looking forward to the end of this lockdown, so we can meet again.”
Risk of Rain 2
“All of the people I play online with I know from school,” writes Ben from Missouri. “We all have a Discord together. Even if we aren’t playing games together, we sit in a call talking about anything. It’s great for some of our friends who are going stir crazy staying inside all day.
“Right now, one of the games we’re playing is Risk of Rain 2, which is all about teamwork and finding ways to survive in an increasingly difficult environment.
“My advice for anyone looking to find a group, is to start with people you know already. Discord or Reddit are also great ways to find a good community. Any place where you can find a good discussion about games, you will be able to find good people to talk to or play with.”
Please feel free to share your quarantine online gaming stories in comments.