I’ve been staring at a blank page for a while, not quite knowing how to start this. It’s not normal is it? I mean, at this moment, things aren’t regular. Most of us are currently under some unusual restrictions about how we live our lives. The phrase ‘Social Distancing’ is something that 99.999% of us had never even heard until a few weeks ago, and now we’re living it. I know that for some of you out there in other countries this may have been your reality for a while but here in the UK we’re just getting warmed up. And yes I’m going to talk about videogames, but before I get to that (and why that’s important) I want to cover the basics:
We’re doing this because of a new virus. It’s something that most of us don’t have to worry about but it makes a small, yet significant, percentage of people really sick and, even with medical care, sadly there’s a small percentage of those people who aren’t surviving. The problem is not the percentages, but the actual numbers. As far as we know nobody has any immunity, so when you scale those numbers up there will be thousands of people who will need specialist hospital care to survive – something that our health system (or indeed any health system) is not designed to cope with. This means that if we just let it pass through the population unhindered, thousands of people who could survive this with the right care won’t be able to simply because of the huge burden on the system.
This is where ‘Social Distancing’ comes in alongside increased hygiene and cleanliness. By dramatically reducing the contact we have with other people, we slow the rate of infection through the population giving our medical services the best chance to save the most lives.
… And the big thing to remember is that this is a sustained effort. To be effective we’re going to need to keep these measures in place for months.
It’s going to be tough. I know that we’re all worried and unsure about the virus itself, the plethora of ways it’s impacting our lives, and what the future holds. We need the support of friends and loved ones, but for many, the idea of getting this support through a phone-call, messaging service, or video chat is new and strange so it’s up to those who are more comfortable with this technology to lead the way and set these things in motion. Likewise it’s going to be all too easy to feel isolated and uncomfortable so we all need to start doing things now to keep some normality in our lives wherever we can: reconnect with a hobby (or take up a new one); get back to that pet project you’ve been putting off, take care of that DIY you’ve been meaning to do, or just dive right in to your chosen form of escapism be it film, book, TV… or game…
For me it’s gaming, and it looks like I’m not alone; online services have been reporting huge surges in player numbers since social distancing measures were introduced. As gamers, there’s also the chance to help those who maybe don’t play at the moment, but are curious, or suggest it to people who are looking for a new form of entertainment now that their normal pastimes might be off-limits to them. In short let’s be good ambassadors for our hobby because a Friday evening with nothing but a controller and a big bottle of IrnBru might be your idea of heaven but it’s new territory for many. So, whilst we all need to be supportive to each other in the community, I just want to run down some of the ways you can encourage your non-gaming friends and relatives get involved if they show an interest.
Not everyone is going to have a console or gaming PC available, but that’s OK; we live in a time where many people have tablets an smartphones capable of playing games. The great thing about this is that the list of solid ports and titles on mobile devices is ever increasing and often they have intuitive touch-controls that are familiar to people who use these devices. Better yet, many games have social aspects, or are digital versions of much-loved board games that allow for remote play. Got an elderly relative who loves scrabble, set them up on a game of words with friends, or one who loves Carmageddon, yeah, that’s on the play store too!
So many people think that gaming is all about headshots and flossing, but there are some superb couch or online co-op titles out there. The Lego games, Unravelled 2, or Overcooked are just a few that spring immediately to mind. There’s a good chance you’re going to be self-isolating/social distancing… in pretty close proximity to the other members of your household. Try firing up some co-op gaming for the evening and see how it goes down!
So you’ve got someone in to an online game of something, now what? Well, start speaking to them! Voice chat isn’t difficult to set up, many games have it built in, or just fire up Discord which pretty much handles everything for you. The point I’m trying to make is that we might want to talk to people, but struggle with phone conversation. Playing a game loosens that up, it gives you both a focus and hopefully something to have some fun with. Remember, if they’re new to a game, don’t just run off and let them figure it out, talk them through it, that’s what you’re there for.
Recommend Something to get Lost in
One of the great things about gaming is getting lost in another world and whilst I’m no advocate for running away from your problems, a the moment I think we could all use a break from reality. Games cover almost every setting and genre you can think of; single player titles weave intricate stories and place the player in crafted worlds to explore and enjoy. Think about your target audience, ask them about what films, books, settings they like and recommend something suitable for their experience and tastes.
Not everyone is going to want to play, but some people may enjoy experience a game through your eyes. Streaming for PC is pretty straight forward and even consoles don’t take too much technical setup. Bring a friend or family member along for the ride and talk to them while you do it. Tell them all the great and small things that you love about your favourite title, take them to alien worlds, back in time, or to a completely different timeline.
If in Doubt, Go Retro!
Even the most unassuming of characters have often become hooked on a game in the past, try asking them about it. It could be Manic Miner on the ZX Spectrum or TMNT on NES, or about a billion other games, but with the current trends in classic consoles, ports, re-releases, or good ol’ fashioned emulation most games are within everyone’s grasp. Let’s face it, there’s nothing like a big dollop of nostalgia to help people relax and send them back to a trouble-free time.
So yeah, I know playing a few video games with your loved ones isn’t going to make all… this… go away, but you know what, it might just help. For an evening, or a couple of weeks, or even an hour huddled around your phone playing JackBox. It might just help.
Wherever you are, and whatever your situation; stay safe, act on the best information you have, and look out for each other.