Close up of my Gaming Keyboard

The Year Gaming Levelled Up

For many in my generation, video games have always been part of our lives. Growing up with early Nintendo consoles, Gameboys, Playstation 1, 2, 3 and Xbox 360s has left many of us with fond memories of thrashing our siblings at Mario Kart. I’ve been what could be described as ‘a bit of a gamer’ since I was probably around 12 yrs old. Yet I’ve often had a bit of an odd relationship with gaming, it’s easy to sink more time than you really should into it and it’s long held a bit of a stigma as a lazy, anti-social and unproductive hobby — so I’ve often beaten myself up a bit over playing regularly. However, in the past year with many nations across the world suspended in different states of lockdown, gaming has become a salvation to not just us usual gamers, but many of those that might’ve viewed us with those stereotypes.

When 2020 began, I made the decision to leave my gaming PC at my parents as I packed myself back up to return to university for my final semester. It was a hard decision to make; On one hand I wanted to have that comfort and online friends to turn to for the evening after working on my final degree project. Yet, on the other I knew what I was like, I’d be too tempted to load up a game instead of getting on with other, more productive tasks. It felt like a good decision to begin with, I spent more time focussing on my work. I also went to more university social events that I previously might’ve skipped due to the social anxiety of just getting myself out the door away from the temptation and ease of gaming instead. I’m glad I did, because little did I know at the time that those would be my last chance to attend those type of events at university. However, I did miss gaming and ironically the social aspect of it — playing games with friends.

Now I’m sure you know what happened next, we’ve all lived through it for roughly a year now. I woke up on Monday 16th March 2020, reluctantly climbing out of bed and heading to shower ready for another day in the university computer labs working alongside course mates on our final projects. I picked up my phone as I ate my breakfast, going to check the latest on this rapidly worsening pandemic and I saw the email — University was closing effective immediately. Personally, I felt a sigh of relief at this news, the news was scary and just like playing video games instead of going out, deep down I wanted to be able to hide from it. However, when I saw the news and began to pack up my stuff to head home to my family, I thought I’d be back after Easter. I remember collecting my work from uni and bidding farewell to my friends with “who knows, maybe I’ll be back later this week or after Easter, see ya soon!” — oh how wrong was I.

The next day, back home with my PC waiting for me, I jumped on to Discord (For those not sure, it’s like Microsoft Teams for gamers). Joining my friends’ call to their surprise felt so comforting in such a weird time. Hearing their welcomes, their care as I explained why I was back before jumping back in to our usual — playing games and laughing together. As the days turned into weeks, the weeks turned in to months, and now the months have turned into a year, I have realised a greater respect for the power of video games.

I have made some of the best friendships through video games. I met my best friend online over 8 years ago playing Call Of Duty Zombies. As a complete coincidence, I started playing with someone who turned out to live just 30 mins from me and has since become a friend for life. He’s not the only one, I’ve met many people online over the years from all walks of life, all over the world, that’ve had an impact on my life. That’s the power of online gaming, it’s not just a waste of time, it’s a social platform more than anything. In the past year I have formed more friendships that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. From another friend who lives 30 mins away, even with a mutual friend on Facebook, to a group of Swedish guys who I would’ve never had a chance to meet without us all playing Bungie’s Destiny 2. I owe a lot of the past year to Bungie, they made a game and a world that all of us love, but more than that, they made a platform to form some of my most cherished friendships during a time where a global pandemic was locking us away from most social contact.

Video games teach social skills, history lessons and teamwork. In November last year, with those 5 friends we tackled the World’s First Raid Race on Destiny 2 — a huge 6 player puzzle and combat experience racing against teams around the world to be the first to beat it. We spent in total around 16hrs that weekend working together to beat it — as 1 of 5312 teams to finish it within the first 24hrs. That’s no easy feat, not just in our game skills but our teamwork and it was the most rewarding experience we’ve done in gaming.

Gaming is an entertainment platform. It can become a detriment if it sucks you in to too much distraction from your real-life but, that’s just like any hobby, activity or past-time. I hope this past year has shown the world that gaming isn’t all that the stereotype makes it out to be. It’s a powerful social platform, certainly more powerful than the likes of Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. During a pandemic it has been a lifeline for myself and many others as a way to stay in touch with friends and escape from the constant worry of the world around us. So, as the world hopefully emerges from the pandemic this year, let’s not let the stereotype creep back in and tarnish a wonderful platform with negative connotations.