Games, of course, are not just lonely experiences. Although I am a huge fan of single player games, and my first memories of playing are dominated by a solo experience (thanks, slow internet connection), the social aspect play adds yet another dimension to our experiences and memories of them. Whether it is the competition of an intense shooter (I have fond memories of nights of 2003 unreal tournament in a dorm), a cooperative puzzle game, or just chatting with friends in a world shared for miles, we deepen gaming memories further by sharing them with others.
This is something that I have particularly enjoyed during this last year of playing during the pandemic. Looking back a year ago, through the anxiety, the uncertainty, the fear of the first blockages, it is a strong, hopeful and joyful memory of playing.
My weekly play time with friends from top school across the country, which had been dominated by noisy games of Rocket league, had turned to the epic RPG Divinity: Original Sin 2. Luckily everyone was working remotely and safely indoors, so we suddenly had more time than ever to play together. A game that I thought could easily take us over a year started to fly.
In the game, we could be the heroes (often awkward and inadvertently dangerous for innocent townspeople), controlling our destiny, saving the world, and taking action. We had a whole world to explore and learn history, magic and combat to learn and perfect, and many new characters to talk to. Time passed, tours were canceled, but we still had our gaming sessions several times a week.
Original sin 2 will forever be associated in my memory with a tragic and deadly pandemic. Thinking about it will remind me to be inside, to learn Rt values, to worry about my parents, to count my blessings to be safe. But it will also remind me of everything that constantly ignites in the game world, laughing at my character’s utter failure at any persuasive conversation, turning enemies into unhappy chickens, planning elaborate combat tactics, and (eventually) Winner.
Thanks to the magic of a shared game, we could stay connected, distant at our desks and sofas but side by side while casting spells. Games have always been a way to connect, and this has been highlighted during a pandemic, when physical distance is needed and social proximity is sought after. Over time, there has been a clear advantage in being able to Feel not alone while being safe alone. We can create great memories to help weather the long storm.
Most recently my gambling breakout turned into virtual reality. I thought it would be years before I played VR games; it always seemed to be the future. After spending most of my time indoors, aside from essential things like shopping, it was a revelation to put on the VR headset. I was transported to an open world, my ceiling disappeared and replaced by a clear sky in the distance. I was no longer in my small living room, and the feeling of a new space made me believe in technology instantly.
Again, there is this strange mismatch between a new and enjoyable experience with the horrors of the larger circumstances of the world. And maybe nothing embodies the privileges I have right now better. I will never forget my first (literally) steps into VR, just as I will never forget why it suddenly became so appealing. While VR is an escape, maybe as much as anything, it doesn’t erase other memories.
Rather, he weaves them together in a new way. This memory doesn’t make all of the time I spent indoors during the pandemic just a blur, doesn’t let it be neatly wrapped up in an attempt to forget about it. Instead, it gave me unexpected joys in a dark time. The game has helped me stay healthy and present, in a way that seems like the complete antithesis of trying to use it to escape. Games don’t make me forget but, on the contrary, help me remember.
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