Illustration by Umi Caldwell

Video games prove to be perfect pandemic pastime

Virtual living took on a drastic new meaning as our jobs, education and social lives abruptly transitioned online after the outbreak of COVID-19. The situation has been challenging to say the least. We have not only been tasked with adapting to countless changes, but with developing ways to cope with the immense stresses brought on by the pandemic. We each had to ask ourselves: what do you do when reality becomes overwhelming? 

I suggest you escape to virtual realities in the form of video games. A number of news outlets, from The Wall Street Journal to TIME, have reported on the remarkable increase in video game sales and video game participation in the U.S in light of COVID-19. When “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” swept the nation after its release in March, the Nintendo Switch was sold-out in stores for weeks at a time. Video games have never been as relevant as they are now. As they are both safe and social, gaming is one of the best stay-at-home pastimes during the pandemic. 

Now, I can see the irony in encouraging people to play video games when our lives are, more so than ever, dependent on technology. However, despite common misconceptions, research has suggested that video games, in moderation, can be good for you. A review of several studies on how video games affect the brain, reported on by Medical News Today, found that gaming had positive effects on people’s visual and motor skills, as well as attention span. Theoretically, playing video games could help us adjust to our digital-oriented lives. This was relieving news to me as I grew up believing that gaming would rot my brain (a worthwhile risk). 

Multiplayer video games allow us to socially interact with people without breaching social distancing regulations, as all communication is online. This was the primary way I remained in regular contact with some of my friends throughout the summer. Most nights we would log on to Discord and get lost in various multiplayer games, ranging from competitive first-person shooters like “Call of Duty: Warzone” to co-op survival games like “The Forest,” where we explored a remote island inhabited by vicious mutant creatures. If violent games are not for you, there are many relaxing alternatives, such as the aforementioned “Animal Crossing: New Horizons.” Its popularity can, in part, be accounted for by its meditative effect (spare paying off your mortgage to Tom Nook, the greedy raccoon who runs the island’s store) that many players experience as they design their island and perform satisfying, routine tasks like picking fruit from a tree or catching fish from a river. With endless variety, there is a video game for everyone. 

Gaming on a student budget can be difficult, especially with employment being scarce right now, but there are some lower-cost options. If you already have a gaming PC, Steam’s annual summer sale has lots of games at extremely low prices. Epic Games also offers a free video game every week. For those new to gaming, pcpartpicker.com has builds for as low as $493.75, the Nintendo Switch Lite is $199, and the Playstation 4 and Xbox One are both $299.99. While these gaming systems obviously are not inexpensive, you would be investing in, potentially, years of immersive and interactive fun. 

The common advice to go out and experience the world has sadly lost its sense of immediacy for me, and I suspect for many of us. Go out and experience what world? One with empty city streets? Where a virus runs rampant and the sky is smoke-laden? For the time being, there is not much of a world worth experiencing. I would rather immerse myself in virtual worlds where I can tame a wild horse in “Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild,” explore a society living underwater in “Bioshock” or nurture a farm with my friends in the classic “Stardew Valley.” In these trying times, video games are a digital refuge — a place of comfort and exploration that you can experience with those close to you. Just remember to take a walk now and then.

This article presents opinions held by the author, not those of The Pioneer Log and its editorial board.

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