Games, of course, are not just lonely experiences. While I’m a big fan of games to one player, and my earliest game memories are dominated by an experience for a player (thanks, slow internet connection), the social aspect play also adds another dimension to our experiences and memories of them. Let it be the competition of an intense shooter (I have fond night memories of Unreal Tournament 2003 in a dormitory), a cooperative puzzle game, or just chatting with friends in a world shared across several miles, we deepen even more the memories of the game by sharing them with others.
It’s something I especially enjoyed during the last year of play during the pandemic. Looking back a year ago – through the anxiety, uncertainty, fear of the first few locks – it’s a game memory that stays strong, hopeful and joyful.
My playing time once a week with friends from graduate school on the other side of the country, which had been dominated by strong games of Rocket League, had turned to the epic RPG Deity: Original Sin 2. Luckily for everyone to work remotely, and safely indoors, we soon had more time than ever to play together. A game that I thought could easily take more than a year to start flying.
In the game, we can be heroes (often bumbling and unintentionally dangerous to innocent citizens), in control of our destiny, saving the world and acting. We had a whole world to explore and learn history, magic and combat to learn and perfect, and lots of new characters to talk about. Time passed, visits were canceled, but we always had our game sessions several times a week.
Sin original it will forever be associated in my memory with a tragic and lethal pandemic. Thinking about it will remind me to be inside, learn about Rt values, care about my parents, count my blessings to be safe. But it will also remind me of everything that constantly explodes in flames in the game world, laughing at the complete failure of my character in every persuasive conversation, turning enemies into unfortunate chickens, planning elaborate battle tactics, and (eventually ) succeeds.
Through the magic of a common game, we could stay connected, away from our desks and couches but side by side. Games have always been a way to connect, and this was highlighted during a pandemic, when physical distance is needed and social closeness is desired. As time went on, there was a clear benefit of being able to feel not just while staying alone safely. We can make beautiful memories to help weather the long storm.
More recently, my game escape has become virtual reality. I think it would be years before I played the games in VR; it always seemed the future. Having spent almost all of my time inside, except for essential things like shopping, it was a revelation to put on the VR headset. I was transported into an open world, my roof torn apart and replaced by a distant clear sky. I was no longer in my little living room, and the sense of new space made me believe in technology instantly.
Once again, there is this strange disagreement of a novel and a pleasant experience with the horrors of the greatest circumstances in the world. And maybe nothing better embodies the privileges I have at this time. I will never forget my first (literal) steps in VR, as I will never forget why it suddenly becomes so attractive. While VR is an escape, perhaps as far as it can be, it doesn’t erase other memories.
Rather, they intertwine them together in a new way. This memory doesn’t make all the time spent in the pandemic just a blur, it doesn’t let it be wrapped up properly in an attempt to forget. Instead it gave me unexpected joys in a dark time. The game helped me stay healthy and present, in a way that seemed like the complete antithesis of trying to escape. The games don’t make me forget but rather help me remember.
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