COVID-19: Getting into Gaming

Some titles to enjoy while “social distancing” is in effect

As the novel coronavirus shuts down cities across the world and millions are left stuck at home for who knows how long, one way to stay entertained is through video games.

Indeed, Valve’s gaming platform Steam is breaking records every day, hitting 22.6 million concurrent users this morning, a 20% increase over the pre-pandemic record. GameStop even deemed itself an essential business for a couple days, presumably to rack up some profits in the last-minute scramble for video games.

With all major sports cancelled and the fate of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics uncertain at best, it might be time to turn to the screen. For those unsure where to begin, here are some suggestions to get you started.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Switch)

Released this past Friday (3/20), the charming new installment in Nintendo’s Animal Crossing series has already sold millions. The game is a sim that puts you on a deserted island where you farm, fish, and furnish a lively settlement of cute anthropomorphic animals. Your primary goal is to pay off debt from the businessman for the “vacation package” that is your new island, but the game has a definitive open-ended sandbox feel to it.

Unlike paying off debt in the real world, New Horizons is lighthearted and joyful. From the music to the graphics to the generous compliments and rewards for completing mundane tasks, the game is designed with a bright mood in mind — a welcome break from the ongoing pandemic.

Tomb Raider (PC/Xbox/PlayStation)

Square Enix is offering the 2013 remake of the classic action-adventure for free on Steam through Monday (3/23). Following Lara Croft as she weathers through her first expedition on the island of Yamatai, the game creates a compelling character who must survive through the grueling trials posed by the cursed island. The game has some serious horror aspects though, so stay away if you have a weak stomach.

Despite being a couple years dated, the graphics are fantastic. Lara Croft looks stunning as always, but the real magic is in how real the survival feels, from carefully animated injuries to hunting food with a bow. There are still tombs to be raided, but they are supplements to a critically acclaimed storyline.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PC/Xbox/PlayStation)

Widely considered to be one of the best RPGs ever made, CD Projekt Red’s behemoth of a game offers a hundred hours of gameplay as the witcher Geralt of Rivia. The combat is realistic and varied, and you have extensive options in forging equipment, leveling skills, and interacting with characters. While you decide between Triss and Yennefer, you journey across countries (and even worlds) to find Ciri and defeat the Wild Hunt.

While being the third installment in a series, there is no need to play the first two. Though, beware of spoilers if you are watching the Netflix series. There are also two DLC’s for further exploration: Blood and Wine and Hearts of Stone. Lastly, the in-game card game Gwent is dangerously addicting.

DotA 2 (PC)

The MOBA (massively-online battle arena) is probably best known for The International, a week-long tournament whose 2019 prize pool was over $34,000,000. Like its cousin League of Legends, the game pits two teams of 5 heroes against one another; each side tries to level up and take the other team’s base. While the learning curve is notoriously steep, self-isolation is the perfect time to grab a few friends and try it out — it’s also completely free!

Aside with the main mode, there are dozens of custom games created by enthusiastic developers (of which League has copied at least one). You can also watch streams (pros, tournaments) on Twitch. A word of caution: DotA 2 can easily eat up thousands of hours — I myself am around 3000 hours in.

There are, of course, a myriad of amazing games out there to play, and these are but a few. Each game has its own community of players, and most players are supportive and welcoming. In this time of pandemic-effected social isolation, we are quite fortunate to have this form of entertainment — one that has taken great strides since even just a decade ago.

Trader by day, aspiring polymath by night.

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