Communities that game together stay together

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Don’t cross these animals. Bago Games Via Flickr

Bridging physical distance

Since the announcement of COVID-19 as a pandemic, many media outlets have already made the connection between the spread of the virus and the crisis of capitalism. The pandemic and capitalist structures are unavoidably connected, and it’s clear to a growing number of people that the goal is not “getting back to normal” after the quarantine ends – rather, it’s creating a “normal” that is sustainable and humane for all. Working towards this new tomorrow will require us to unpack capitalist logic: ideas about who “deserves” wealth and why, which workers are “essential” and “skilled,” what security really means, and what things are really important to contribute to society. A cornerstone of the logic of capitalism is a compulsive drive for productivity, one that tells us if we aren’t working for a boss (even if that boss is ourselves), we aren’t being human.

We need to push back against this idea often, especially while many of us (those who are not still very much working on the front lines) are working from home. As the editor of Jewish leftist publication Jewish Currents, Arielle Angel,  wrote this week, the distinction between home and work is already all but dissolved in our culture, and in many ways quarantine is making us neglect ourselves more, not less. So instead of feeling perpetually guilty that we aren’t working as much as we could if not quarantined, we can take tangible steps towards collective, care-based activity, and not individual work with the time we have. In the five or so days the quarantine has lasted so far, for many other students I know this has meant an activity that most people think of as “doing nothing”: games.

The first quarantine project I took on when things started closing down – one that I’m currently patching together with the help of UR Pride – was a weekly online Dungeons and Dragons group, geared towards those who usually hang out at UR Pride’s SPACE centre. For 2SLGBTQ+ youth, spending time with like-minded peers is essential, and isolation is a serious mental health risk. Having an online group that can replace game nights, events people can no longer have in person, fights isolation and creates routines for people to keep. Everyone knows their own communities best, and it benefits everyone when we actively make time to have fun together.

Roll20 is an online platform that you can use to play DnD with your own online campaign, if you’d like to learn. Learning to play DnD is a very fun project on its own – there are some great videos that explain the game step-by-step (how to play DnD is a fruitful YouTube search), but I also very much recommend learning it from a friend who knows how and making it into a virtual hangout. Of course, as I discuss in another article in our arts and culture section, many students are using Animal Crossing right now to have goals and routine, to stay social, and to find a peaceful place to go every day. Another big recommendation for groups are the Jackbox Party Pack games 1-6, which can be found on Steam – you can use Twitch, or a screen-sharing video conversation on Skype or Discord, to play these games with your friends. They are a ton of fun and make an instant party; I know they’ve gotten me closer to the feeling of hanging out with friends that’s hard to go without.

The key here is not to avoid interacting with the world by losing yourself in a game. Rather, games can act as excuses to socialize, and tools to help us connect with each other when things like physical contact and easy conversation aren’t as easy to come by. Building networks of friends and neighbours is a critical first step towards caring for each other in other ways, and the more you play together with others, the easier it is to trust each other through harder times. I’ll finish off this piece with some other games and hobbies I recommend to “waste time” – remember, if it made you feel a little more ready to take on the world, it’s never a waste of time. No matter what the bosses tell you.

Games to Play:

I am once again recommending Stardew Valley (hours of gameplay, plus co-op options! On Switch or PC.)

The Sims 4 is currently on sale for about $5 on Origin! There is so much free custom content and so many mods out there to explore.

When I asked some students about games they used to relax and cope, one of them mentioned Neopets! Yes, people still play it (I hear the economy is a wreck now) — I’m sure it still has its appeal. Why not see how you and your friends’ pets are doing and compare notes? Or your Webkinz, for that matter?

To search for games: Itch.io has tons of indie titles with lots of tags to search with, many of which cost less than five dollars. Supporting independent developers and artists during this time is always a good idea, if possible.

Lastly, this one isn’t a game, but it’s my go-to whenever I want to do something fun; the SCP Foundation Wiki is a collaborative project full of horror/sci-fi fiction, the best entries of which are some really incredible writing. If you like what you read, consider writing for the Wiki too! Anyone is able to contribute.

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