As we pass the one-year anniversary of the first nationwide lockdowns in the United States, it’s time to reflect upon the lessons the pandemic has taught us.
Many of us have taken this time to learn tangible skills, as evidenced by the numerous Instagram posts featuring somebody’s latest pasta dish or guitar cover. Others have struggled with mental health, and as such have learned more efficient coping mechanisms to deal with factors that we cannot control.
If there is one skill all of us have picked up, it is the ability to stay connected with those whom we cannot see face to face. We have all added the Zoom happy hour and dinner date to our arsenals for use in long-distance situations. After approximately a year of lockdowns, we will probably find new uses for these tools as we finally return to normal in the coming months.
Our newfound love of these skills may have faded from headlines last April, but there is still one segment of this area nobody seems to be talking about: the use of entertainment media.
While Facetime, Zoom and Facebook may be tools for keeping up with others, it lacks the personal nature of playing a game of Warzone or watching a season of “Attack on Titan” with a friend living hours away. Zoom is made for quarantine, but Xbox Live makes you feel as if you’re not in one. Entertainment media has a way of making us forget truly how far we are from one another, while Facetime can often call attention to it.
Gaming in the Name of Friendship
For a majority of its time as a mainstay in everyday American life, gaming was seen as a waste of time. It was, to many people, seen as something to dump hours of your life into in the chase of a worthless goal. Gamers were seen as the literal polar opposite of social butterflies.
However, the pandemic has proved otherwise. While those who grew up playing video games already know the social benefits of online gaming, the unique situation the virus put many in brought the experience to an entirely new crowd. The Nintendo Switch became the second-highest selling video game system in U.S. history in one year in 2020, as it became the go-to console for those looking to jump into gaming for the first time. Everyone was visiting each other’s Animal Crossing islands and racing each other in Mario Kart. For many, online gaming became the new romantic date or night at the bar.
In these newfound times, video games took on a different role than before. Oftentimes, they were used as an escape — something to take your mind off the stresses of everyday life. Now, games have become a place to, ironically, feel normal again. They’re the only places your friends can “physically” be together. Journalist Taylor Lyles laments this in an article for The Verge.
“This year, video games provided escapism for a lot of people. But for many, myself included, the games I remember most fondly in 2020 were the ones that became social spaces,” Lyles wrote. “The pandemic didn’t make me want to escape; it made me miss my friends and family.”
The real advantage of video games compared to Zoom or similar applications is their dynamism. While calling somebody on Facetime limits you to the dimensions of your phone screen, gaming can place you in infinitely diverse situations with your friends. One moment you’re racing cartoon characters through wacky tracks in Mario Kart, the next you’re struggling to survive in the harsh arenas of Warzone. In a single day of online play, your friends can experience quite literally anything you want from the comfort and safety of your couch. Nothing will replace meeting for a cup of coffee or sharing a drink at your local watering hole, but it’s a suitable replacement given the circumstances most found themselves in 365 days ago.
Streaming Services: Retooled
Much like online gaming, watching Netflix or other streaming services with friends was nothing new at the dawn of the pandemic. Couples binging shows together or friends watching a cliché movie just to laugh at it has been around for over a decade. Alongside gaming, though, watching your favorite T.V. shows with friends became one of the few places you could feel normal.
Twelve million users signed up for new streaming services in the midst of the pandemic — up 71% from 2019. Additionally, over 10 million people have downloaded Teleparty (formerly Netflix Party), a browser extension that allows users to watch a movie or T.V. show on any streaming service with anybody with the plugin. In short, watching shows with geographically distant friends was a key to making it through quarantine.
Instead of a drinking game or card night over Zoom, watching a series with college friends hours away truly made you feel as if everything was back to normal, not like you were just trying to emulate what you used to do. Pairing up Teleparty with a group Zoom or Facetime call was the closest thing many people had to the social gatherings they took for granted B.C. (Before Corona).
Twitch is also an app that countless quarantined people have used to connect with those far away. When sports were suddenly cut out of the entertainment spectrum, Twitch streams were the replacement for those craving a bit of competition. Twitch streamers playing everything from Warzone to NCAA Football 14 conquered the market, and soon these streams became the new meeting places for friends to root for their favorite “team” on a Friday night. The figures for this medium are monumental: Over 1.75 billion viewers tuned into streams in early to mid-2020 — a 50% increase from the first, pre-pandemic quarter of 2020.
New Uses for a New World
As the vaccine rolls out and the world slowly returns to a new normal, it may become easy to dismiss these new skills we’ve acquired as useless. We will soon return to our old social hot spots, negating any need for Animal Crossing dates or anime watch parties — right?
Instead of throwing these lessons away, we can now use them for our everyday lives. Just because the country is opening up doesn’t mean far-off relatives and long-distance friends or significant others aren’t a thing. We can now use these methods to watch a movie with a grandmother who lives in Florida or jump into Warzone with a friend who is studying abroad. Warzone or Among Us streams are still as popular and entertaining as ever, and may be what your long-distance partner and you can watch in place of going to the movies.
Pandemic or not, being able to effectively connect with those we can’t see face to face is crucial. It just so happens that many of us learned how to do it because of one.