2020 was the year I’d work on my backlog of games. I started with thirty-some games, and over the course of January and February, I got through about six or seven. These games ranged from first-person shooters like Titanfall 2 to silly indie games like Untitled Goose Game. I made it the point of my blog: give a focused topic within gaming but also deplete my backlog. Frankly, I need a break from it for now to play pandemic related and somewhat depressing games.
COVID-19 is Causing People to Seek Answers in Depressing Games
COVID-19 is everywhere. Restaurants are only take-out, sports are postponed or canceled, and everyone is social distancing to prevent spreading the disease. A lot of people need complete escapism to something sunny and fun like Animal Crossing. Something that doesn’t touch disease but still gives a place to focus your rage like Doom Eternal also counts. As good as an escape as they are, we still need dark and gloomy games about the end of the world to keep us in touch with reality. We can’t hide from our world’s problems, so we might as well play games about them.
Apocalyptic or depressing games can give an idea of what’s coming. Every time there is a new, global, health scare, Plague Inc, a mobile game developed by Ndemic Creations, skyrockets up the download charts. To win, the player creates a disease that wipes out humanity. Ndemic Creations always directs traffic towards WHO and the CDC because “Plague Inc is a game, not a scientific model…the current coronavirus outbreak is a very real situation which is impacting a huge number of people. We would always recommend that players get their information directly from local and global health authorities.” That’s not to say the game overhypes outbreaks. Their goal was “to be realistic and informative while not sensationalizing serious real-world issues.” People want to know what to expect from COVID-19. Even if health officials are our most informed source, games, especially Plague Inc, relay the general events we can expect to see.
Depressing Games Can Teach Multiple Lessons
We can’t leave the world to die, we still live in it. Quite literally everybody needs a break from COVID-19, but we still need the vital workers. Take Pandemic, the opposite of the aforementioned Plague Inc., where you’re trying to save humanity from disease. Each character has a different role to play such as a scientist, a medic, quarantine specialist, etc. To cure every disease, you need to rely on a bit of luck, but mostly teamwork and coordination. Just like in real life, we need our specialists in these roles to stop the disease. The one thing the game doesn’t do is highlight who maintains society while this is going on: grocery workers, teachers, bus drivers, etc. All of us have important roles to play in a crisis, and when we abandon them we abandon the rest of our team.
We Must Stay in Touch, but We Can Take Breaks
For the record, that’s not to say you should only play those depressing games. Following on me as an example, I’m also bouncing around Sea of Thieves, Destiny, Grand Theft Auto: Online, etc.. We should all be living in self-quarantine, but we still need to socialize and still need breaks from pandemic games. These games are perfect for that; they succeed in other-player interactions. You don’t feel alone playing these games. Just because we should play darker games right now doesn’t mean they’re the only things we should play.
Playing these depressing games keeps reality in check. When I was in high school, I occasionally stayed up until 2 AM playing Skyrim. It was a game that I could dive into headfirst, knowing that I could forget about everything going on in the world and just explore an entirely different world. That’s too much; you need something to keep up with the real world. Maybe a game a bit similar to the real world would help.
This quarantine is hard, but we can’t forget what’s happening right now. It’s easier to come back from gaming to the real world when our games are closer to the real world. There’s no shame in taking breaks to play something lighter, but we should all invest a substantial amount of time into something that reminds us of reality.