Dealing with lockdown.

Developers praise their communities, their player base, fans. “We are thankful for having the most dedicated fans on the planet” is normally the line they use. A lot of game marketing is to give the players the idea that this is for them; “we did this for you, the fans”. Players like to feel that something is being created specifically for them, it makes them more likely to buy the product. Which is an upside for publishers because people buy the product, but on the other side it creates entitlement. The player is given the idea that this is for them, so they want it to be exactly how they want it. Games almost never have a good community, within the game and outside. Games that are built for working together become games of people competing against their own team for a score, metas exist and everyone has to follow it.

Overwatch praised their fans for being dedicated, which is really a nice way of saying abhorrent, because that’s what their fans are. Even if you want to play the game casually and have fun you will most likely be degraded for daring to enjoy the game you bought. The community is not about bringing people together and having fun, it’s about winning and creating a toxic environment. So many games try to create a community about caring and working together but never do because of that entitlement and they mainly cater to people who don’t want to be better for others. Smaller communities that are better do exist, they are full of people that care about the game in multiple ways and are more inclusive. Community is important, but a community that is built to uphold toxic views isn’t important and that is seemingly the only community games can create.

A game that has been a very odd experience is last years Death Stranding, as having only finishing it at 3 am on the day I’m writing this piece I’m still very unsure how I really feel about it, even though having not stopped thinking about it. Regarding its story I don’t think it’s anything noteworthy whilst I did become more into it towards the end. The actual gameplay part of traversing the world delivering packages was sometimes very tedious, but a lot of the time quite relaxing in a way. Space is important, a rock has the chance to trip you up if you aren’t careful, you can slip down a slope and come crashing down, you can’t just jump up a mountain like in Skyrim. This all might sound unenjoyable and I think a better word for it is engaging, fun is too broad of a term that it’s pointless to say if something is fun or not because everyone has a different definition. I pay attention to the world I’m walking through because it can affect you in different ways and that is something a lot of other open world games rarely catch.

The most interesting thing about Death Stranding is the online aspect. There is no co-op or multiplayer where you’re against others, the online exists as a way for players to aid each other and make the world less treacherous. Where so many games ask you to fight against others Death Stranding asks you to think of people beyond yourself and it surprisingly works. Every structure is designed to aid you but it also aids every other player that might encounter it, a bridge is used to traverse between rivers that would otherwise cause you to lose cargo. The idea is not to ask “how will this benefit me the most?” it’s instead “how can I put this in a place that will most benefit others?”, when I placed a generator it wasn’t to just recharge my battery, it was to be the most effective place for others too. Where did I need it most when it wasn’t there for me and will it benefit others? There’s a strong sense of community even though you never meet anyone else that’s playing the game, everyone does really help each other and makes the experience all the better. Building a motorway and for you to receive thousands of likes because others appreciated that you built it is a rewarding feeling and only makes you want to continue building. It’s one of the only games that achieves having players come together to give each other a better experience and it’s odd that a pandemic had to happen for me to see that. Coming together at difficult times and building a community is vital.

Like many others, games have been a comfort during the pandemic. They give to a chance to go back to that feeling of walking down a crowded street without the fear of getting too close to others, to explore without worry. To experience doing a job without panicking because you began coughed when you got back home. It’s weird to miss exchanges with people you didn’t know in a shop, but I miss it. There’s a lack of intimacy and obviously it’s all for a very good reason but it still means I can miss it and do I miss it. It’s been easier to manage over time, but that’s not without reason, my friends and I have all made steps together to make the experience less lonesome.

Firstly, a game I’ve been playing to go back to those feelings I talked about. I think Hitman 2 (2018) is an incredible game and is one I’ve recently gone back to experience all over again since it’s been some time since I last played. There is a really strong sense of place of each location you explore, the scale of the locations and the depth of them is amazing, there is something to be found everywhere. It’s one of the strongest games in the AAA scene to utilise space. I had to buy the pack that allowed me to play all the Hitman (2016) levels through Hitman 2 because I wanted more locations to dig into. My favourite location is Miami for the reason of how it’s a place I’ve never been too in the world and that I’ve never been to a racing event. It’s busy, there’s so many people that can be fitted into one space because of technology the developers had access to this time around and it feels so nice to just be able to walk through a crowd. I sometimes just boot up the game to explore that level and even watch the race itself, even Hitman needs to take a break and enjoy the sites. It’s stress relieving and allows me to experience a place I don’t know I’ll ever be able to experience.

Each location in both games give me a lot of comfort in different ways. There’s the comfort I’ve already talked about, the replayability of the games and the loop is so engaging. Your first attempt at a mission will most likely be you exploring and making strategies up as you go along; however, as you continue to play you’ll learn targets patterns and create plans. It’s highly engrossing, surprisingly the game based around killing the same people in multiple different ways has been one of the more intimate experiences over the months. The way you learn about each character and can get closer to them that way gives that feeling of understanding, somewhat like how you’ve met someone for the first time and get to know them, their likes, dislikes. It’s odd to say that about a Hitman game, but it’s there.

A big way me and my friends have been able to interact over the months has been to stream games for each other over Discord. Before, every so often we’d all go to someone’s home and play games there. It was the sole way we’d all interact outside of University as we all obviously had lives outside of that. We’d occasionally call with each other too after Uni, but never to the extent we do now, it’s almost everyday we’ve all been calling for the past two (2) months. It’s been a great way to still be able to communicate with my friends outside of messaging and allows us all to still be able to have fun together.

A game that we all played together over streaming was Nonary Games 999, not going into the game so much, but the experience of playing the entirety of it with my friends was an incredibly invigorating time. A lot of the time when playing games I’ve longed for the feeling of being able to experience it with others as I thought it’d make the game much more meaningful to me and that experience of playing through every path, getting every ending and talking about it made me realise how good of a feeling it is. What I’d been missing out on. Whilst I do miss them and wish I could be in their presence again, it does make everything a lot more bearable knowing I can still be with them in this way.

If I get a new game I want to play it with them, it’s made me appreciate the medium in a different light. Whereas I’d play something that none of my friends played, I’d never have the opportunity to talk about it. It just sat in my mind and that’s where I’d have to think about it. It’s not as fun not being able to talk about something you enjoy a lot, kinda just have to gush about it and hope someone cares about what you have to say. But being able to stream games with my friends means I’m able to talk about those games, whether it be ones I play or one they play. Recently we’ve been playing some horror games, such as Detention, Home Sweet Home and now Devotion. It’s been the most fun I’ve had this horrible year and makes me appreciate how fortunate I am to have these people in my life. It’s been amazing to be scared with them. My favourite games this year have been the ones I’ve played with them, even the ones I didn’t play myself. Learning more about what the enjoy in the medium, how the play and have fun in their own unique has been the best.

My friends and I have always had a little community I like to think, we all help each other where we can. Support each other however possible. My life has changed drastically since I met them five (5) years ago and I couldn’t be happier to know them. At first when lockdown began I felt incredibly alone due to no internet for a good couple of weeks and none of us knowing what to do with all our new free time. However, after deciding we should all do regular calls and play games together, everything has become a lot better. It makes me want to become better for them and give them the best possible time I can, as they’ve given to me.

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