From bread making to home improvement and everything in between, people are turning to a number of different hobbies during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the most notable trends has been a rise in gaming. Video games, especially online multiplayer titles, have provided some people with an escape, entertainment, and most importantly, human connection during the pandemic.
Gaming during the pandemic
“I started to play more [after COVID-19] because all of my friends would just hang out online instead of in person more often,” said Dalhousie University student Geoff Belcher in a message to the Dalhousie Gazette. Belcher, a third-year computer science major, has been playing video games since he got a Nintendo DS Lite at age six. “Sometimes we’ll play a game to play the game, and sometimes we’ll play a game just to do something in the background while we talk about what’s going on.”
Simulation games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which came out in March 2020, have become quite popular during the pandemic. Dal student Erin Grant, an English and media studies major, is a hardcore gamer who’s been playing the Animal Crossing video game series since 2002. She bought New Horizons before going into quarantine and has since clocked more than 600 hours on the game. The tasks (fishing, gardening and more) are simple and practical, mimicking real life interactions. The game’s online cooperative mode lets people across the world play together.
August 2020 saw the release of Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout, a chaotic, neon-hued battle royale filled with minigames and obstacle courses.
“Fall Guys is pretty fun because it’s really accessible as a party game,” writes Belcher. With cute characters and a bright colour palette, these games provided a relaxing or fun bit of escapism for a world whose future looked dark and uncertain.
A rise to success
Today, Among Us has arguably become the defining game of the season. Though it was first released in 2018, it’s seen a surge in popularity over the past few months. The multiplayer elements and simple tasks of Animal Crossing and Fall Guys remain in this game, but the tone and context are totally different. Among Us is an online multiplayer game where a group of crewmates on a spaceship are being picked off one by one by hidden murderers called imposters. (Think Clue meets Alien.) Your job is to work with your fellow crewmates and figure out who the killers are, or if you happen to be on the murderous imposter side, you kill everyone else before they can correctly identify you.
Internet personalities like Sodapoppin, Pokimane, Ninja and PewDiePie, who all stream themselves playing video games on YouTube or Twitch, likely helped drive Among Us to greater popularity by highlighting the once relatively unknown game for their established fan bases.
“[Streamers] 100 per cent made it big,” said Grant in an email to the Gazette. In the same email, he sent a link to a stream with gamers Disguised Toast, Corpse Husband, MrBeast, and Jacksepticeye. “I cannot even imagine how many people watched. I watched Corpse Husband and he topped at 275,000 concurrent viewers at one point.”
Belcher agrees. He believes Among Us “didn’t have a massive player base until Twitch streamers started playing in front of like 10,000 to 60,000 people.”
Household names outside of the gaming sphere are fans too. United States House of Representatives members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar achieved the sixth highest all-time viewership on Twitch with their Among Us stream. While it was definitely an effort to engage younger voters, it also popularised the game to non-gamers who had tuned in for the politicians.
A large part of the game’s success is due to the fact it’s incredibly easy for beginner gamers to pick up on. There are no complex crafting mechanics or sniper-like aim necessary. Tasks are point-and-click, and moving around the top-down platformer setting is intuitive. It’s also free on mobile and around $6 for PC, devices common in most households.
“[The price makes it] very accessible for casual gamers,” writes Belcher.
Plus, customisable gameplay options can be changed to the player’s liking and keep long sessions from getting stale. The game’s ease of play and affordability make it an easy option for newcomers looking to try their hand at the often intimidating world of gaming.
A little too relatable
Aside from its accessibility, Among Us also stands out for its real-life similarities. Maybe early in the pandemic we wanted to frolic in the sunny spring weather à la Animal Crossing, or recreate our childhood summers with Fall Guys, but the mood has changed six months later. With only roommates, partners or family members to keep you company, sometimes it feels like you’re trapped in outer space and no one can hear you scream. Just as normal outings like daily commutes or grocery shopping have become very dangerous, every interaction in Among Us feels rife with potential danger. You never know which supposedly friendly crewmate could be your downfall.
Though Grant plays Among Us with friends, she says she loves the power of being a murderous impostor.
“I killed someone in cams once, ran away, then came back and the room was full, but no one saw the body so I reported it. . . I like knowing I got away with stuff,” she writes.
COVID-19 and the ensuing emergency lockdown has changed almost all of our habits for better or for worse. But games like Among Us have provided many with an effective way to express their frustrations and anxieties, or at least escape from them for a while.
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