I’m a social person. On any given weekend, you can usually find me and my husband hanging out with our friends. Going out to eat together, hosting game nights and movie nights at each other’s houses, spending hours playing Dungeons and Dragons (yes, we’re all nerds), and so on. Having such a large, tightly-knit group of friends like this is something I never really had growing up, and the times I get to spend with all of them is very important to me.
Then the COV-ID pandemic started.
Cases started popping up in Irving, Grand Prairie, Lewisville, even my hometown of Lubbock. Shelter-in-place orders were given out in nearly every Texas county. Grocery stores and retail shops became battlegrounds for toilet paper and bottled water. Every news outlet on the planet tuned into an information overload about the virus.
My weekend plans shifted from social gatherings to social distancing.
Amid all the fear, panic and general anxiety surrounding the COV-ID situation, the separation from friends and family has, for me, been one of the toughest things to deal with. I know any of my friends are only a phone call or text away, but it’s not the same as actually being in the same room enjoying something together, like a card game or a B-grade monster movie. But recently, we’ve found a way to hang out together without ever leaving our quarantines.
The good thing about having a big group of nerdy friends is when you get a new video game, chances are a bunch of your friends are going to get it too. That was certainly the case with Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Nintendo Switch. The premise of the game is this: you have your own private island (an extremely comforting premise nowadays) full of cute animal “villagers,” where you can do whatever you like. You can build & decorate houses, plant flowers and trees, catch bugs, dig around for fossils, or spend the entire day fishing.
You can also invite your friends to visit your island, so long as they all have a copy of the game and an online account. So, for the past few nights, my group of friends have all been going back and forth to each other’s islands, checking out each other’s villagers, helping one another catch rare fish and bugs, even putting on mini-fashion shows at our islands’ clothing shops.
The only downside is it’s a bit difficult to talk to one another in-game. Voice chat is not a feature for this game, and the in-game messaging system is a little clunky has a pretty tight limit on the amount of characters you can use. However, we use an app called Discord, an online server that lets uses set up their own private chat channels, so we can still talk to each other while playing.
It took some fine tuning to get everything up and running, but once we did, it was the most fun I’ve had playing a video game in a long time. I was right back to where I was a few weeks ago. We were just hanging out like any other night, talking about our day, cracking jokes, laughing at each other’s dumb antics and connecting, all through a simple video game about cute animals doing cute things.
I’ve always been fascinated by all the ways technology, and gaming in particular, can be used for good. Especially right now, having ways to connect to your friends both near and far is more important than ever. No matter how far it may come, technology can never truly replace face-to-face connections. But in a time where physical gatherings are more or less forbidden, it’s comforting to know that I can still hang out with my friends, even if it’s just on a virtual island.
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