12 months ago, the UK government officially started lockdown, signalling an extensive change to day-to-day life for people across the United Kingdom. We were told to work from home, stop social contact and limit outdoor visits. For many, this marked the beginning of a long period of social isolation, and ultimately created a new way of living.
It would be reticent of us to discuss lockdown and gaming without mentioning the pandemic itself. The UK alone has confirmed over 4 million cases of COVID-19, and there have been over 126,000 deaths. Our national health service was pushed to its limit at the peak of the pandemic. Frontline workers put themselves at risk to save and support those in need.
It wasn’t just the virus itself which had a negative effect on people. Feelings of isolation swept the country. A survey by Mental Health Foundation last November found that 24% of UK adults had experienced feelings of loneliness. Generally speaking, 2020 was a hard year for all of us. Fortunately, there was one shared respite, technology.
Whether it was Zoom, Discord or Microsoft Teams, more and more people were logging into video chat services and speaking with friends online. Through weekly pub quizzes and meet ups, we were able to speak with our friends over the internet. The weekly movie night became the weekly video call and movie night. Hopeful romantics had virtual dates over Tinder by cooking the same meal together.
In the gaming world, more and more of us bonded over multiplayer games than ever before. Hordes of people took to Among Us last summer to figure out who aboard the cabin crew was ‘sus’. We built visual representations of our interior design abilities in Animal Crossing: New Horizons and showed them off to friends. More of us flocked to Fortnite, Apex Legends and Call Of Duty: Warzone than ever before. Looking for some escape from the surrounding reality by engaging in intense player vs player battles.
For me personally, lockdown provided the perfect opportunity to delve into a world of games I’d never had the time for - simulators. Amid the lockdown last year, I spent my time between SnowRunner and Elite: Dangerous, two games that can often feel more like jobs than a video game. Having been placed on furlough and eventually made redundant, Elite: Dangerous and SnowRunner provided a sense of routine and purpose that was missing.
Gaming habits across the team at Stealth Optional and our wider site, Gfinity have also changed during the pandemic.
Lloyd C, found himself drawn to games that would offer quick bursts of fun, over titles that demand hundreds of hours of gameplay: “I’ve taken to playing a mix of Destiny 2 and Apex Legends with friends, as well as playing mobile titles like Lol: Wild Rift and Legends of Runeterra when I have some downtime. Being in lockdown with a child under 2 has really just made me invest in games with a ‘quick burst’ of fun, rather than hundred-hour RPGs.”
David C, stuck with a game he had already invested time in, but slightly altered the way he played it: “I just played more Fortnite. But, I started playing duos and squads with my sister as a way of talking to each other. We actually live next door from one another, but she's on the shielding list so I rarely have the opportunity to spend time with her.”
Like many others, Oliver B turned to Animal Crossing: New Horizons at the beginning of lockdown: “Horizons provided me and many of my friends with a chilled out, wholesome environment to gather in when we needed it most. I doubt any other game will ever launch at such a perfect moment in time in the way New Horizons did.”
While it has been a year of unimaginable loss and hardship, it’s also been a year of rediscovering how humans can connect using technology. For many of us, video games provided solace away from the news cycle and barrage of statistics. And more importantly, online gaming created a platform for so many of us to connect through, when we couldn’t physically see each other.
When the time does come for humans to start physically spending time together, I think it's worth remembering how much technology and gaming helped us adapt during this unusual and difficult time.
I still haven’t gone back to my Animal Crossing island since my initial period of play with it. As for my island, it still sits there, untouched, no doubt filled with grass and weeds. That’s how I intend to leave it, standing as a virtual shrine to those first few months in lockdown.