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Weekend Hot Topic, part 2: How has the pandemic changed gaming?

Animal Crossing: New Horizons – the game of the pandemic (pic: Nintendo)

GameCentral readers describe how their video game habits have changed over the course of the year and during lockdown.

The subject for this week’s Hot Topic was suggested by reader Cray, who asked how the coronavirus pandemic has changed how you play games this year. Since the start of lockdown in March how has your approach to gaming changed and have you played more or less than usual?

Almost everyone said they had played more but while most were grateful for the distraction, they were still all very keen for things to turn back to some kind of normality as soon as possible.

Healthy obsession
I’m sure I’m not the only that is very glad that
Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out when it did as obsessing over that game has kept me sane over the long, strange months. I’ve played the game a bit before but always got bored of it quickly. My girlfriend, now wife, always liked it though so she talked me into getting the new one and well… a second Switch and 300 hours (each) later and I’d say we’ve both enjoyed it a great deal.

It’s pure coincidence it came out when it did but never has Nintendo’s whimsical yet highly crafted style of gameplay been more welcome. The game asks almost nothing of you and yet constantly rewards you for just switching on and seeing what’s changed. Of course you can take it further if you want – we’re very proud of our islands and the fact we have everything like blue roses and all the special items.

It’s been a great way to keep busy and even though it’s all super trivial it’s given us sometime to talk to as we’re stuck under the same roof for much longer than use.

Games are good
I won’t lie, if it wasn’t for video games I’m not sure I would’ve got through the first lockdown or been able to cope with the idea of a second one. My big hope at the end of all this is that the wider world will begin to have more respect for video games and what they can do for people. I expect not. Once all this is finally over we’ll be back to using it as a scapegoat and pretending only maladjusted teens play it.

For now though I think more people than ever appreciate what video games can do for them and how they’re not just fun but thoughtful, instructive, and sociable. If it wasn’t for games I would’ve been doing nothing but talking to the same four people for the last eight months, so yeah. I’d say I’ve been playing more than usual.

Meddling kids
Given what’s been going on I feel the answer to this should be an obvious ‘yes’. But looking at my backlog and what games I’ve beaten over the year so far I can’t honestly say it’s much different to normal.

I think the problem is that with everything that’s going on I feel more distracted than ever, even though technically I should have more time then ever. When you’ve got kids being at home all day is just about the opposite to relaxing you can get.

Obviously I want things back to normal for all the grown-up reasons but I think I liked it better when gaming was just a couple of hours a night when I had the time. Too much of a good thing and all that.

E-mail your comments to: gamecentral@ukmetro.co.uk

Entertainment options
Let’s just say I have been playing a lot of Overwatch and World Of Warcraft over the last several months, even more than usual. It’s been one of the few benefits of all this madness and allowed me to play some games I’ve always to and never got round too.

I’ve loved NieR:Automata and The Witcher 3 but wasn’t too impressed by Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which seemed to go on forever even with all this time on my hands. I’ve also tried indie games that I’ve always meant to and have loved Celeste, Cuphead, and Undertale.

It’s been fun but I wouldn’t pretend for a minute that I wouldn’t rather have everything back to ‘normal’ and just have video games back as a hobby rather than almost my only entertainment option.
Greig Jones

Pandemic fodder
COVID has definitely cranked up my gaming time this year… and not just because of the extra time indoors away from the pub and holidays. It’s really chewed into things like reading and TV time, since gaming requires a different kind of concentration that is much more demanding my mind is less prone to wandering while knocking out a few hours on a role-playing game.

The Switch also has a big hand in this. Obviously it’s handheld nature means gaming is so much easier than on a console hooked up to the TV, but it also makes gaming much more intimate… that gives the Switch a feeling that is similar to something like reading on a Kindle whereas you might say the PlayStation 4 and Xbox is more like watching a movie on the big TV – something that requires more effort, especially in a house-share.

Now, obviously, handheld gaming has been around decades but the Switch is the first time games with the depth and immersion of the traditional console games of the era have been able to be delivered into your hands (the PS Vita got very close with Persona 4G and Gravity Rush but wasn’t quite there on enough games).

Anyway, that has led to me sitting in the garden on a summer’s evening, on the sun lounger, cranking out dozens of hours on the gaming Kindle. I’m one of the few Switch owners that isn’t a Nintendo acolyte, I own Zelda: Breath Of The Wild and Super Mario Odyssey of course (they’re the best games on it) but they’re long mined for entertainment.

Fortunately it has still been cranking out the third parties and indies, especially last Christmas where massive role-playing games The Witcher 3, Divinity: Original Sin 2, Pillars Of Eternity, Ni No Kuni, and Dragon Quest 11 S got released in the run up to the holidays – perfect pandemic fodder. Then factor in modern classic action games like Alien Isolation, Astral Chain, and this year’s ports of Bioshock and I’ll likely be covered over the lockdowns we’ll no doubt be stuck in over 2021.

Return to retro
The problem with this year is that you’ve got plenty of time to play games but I at least have been too worried about how things are going to spend too much money unnecessarily.

That’s led me to dig out my old Mega Drive and PlayStation and go on a bit of a retro binge. It’s been a lot of fun too. I’ve particularly enjoyed replying Silent Hill, the original Resident Evils, and Metal Gear Solid. It’s also made me wish again that Sega would work out someway to make a modern day Shinobi.

Catch up on every previous Games Inbox here

Time well wasted
Lockdown has seen me increase my gaming time by a huge margin. For the last 10 years or so I’d pick up about six games a year, predominantly single-player games with a 10-20 hour campaign, with maybe one of them being a Walking Dead/Life Is Strange type game that I’d play through with my wife.

Since March however, as I work at home and my wife doesn’t, that’s given me two or more hours a day by myself to fill with… something. I’d always planned to get a Switch and Zelda at some point so my initial thought was that lockdown would be the perfect time to do that, however everyone else had the same idea and Switches were gold dust back then!

So I finished what I was playing (Dishonored 2, on the second, high-chaos, playthrough – great), played something I probably wouldn’t have had time for otherwise (Devil May Cry 5 – disappointing (for me)), and had a nice couple of evenings with the wife with Oxenfree (great).

Things really kicked off in May though, when my brother suggested playing through a full F1 season with some mates. This involved me having to buy an Xbox One first! Having never played online before this came to dominate everything, with lots of weekday late afternoon/early evenings spent racing randoms as preparation for the highly competitive main event at the weekend. 2020 has been dire for sure, but this has been a major highlight for me, and has been a great way of socialising.

I did eventually pick up Zelda (the wife being able to acquire a Switch and Animal Crossing in the interim) and played though most of that during a week off, and also Lonely Mountains: Downhill, which was loads of fun for 10 hours or so. And the Xbox also came with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, which I’ve not touched yet.

In terms of what’s changed… I’d probably not have picked up Devil May Cry 5, but still have picked up Oxenfree, and I’d have waited until near the end of the Switch’s life to buy one and Zelda. I might now get Bayonetta 2, now that I have a Switch, and with Devil May Cry 5 not having scratched that lockdown-induced itch.

It’s also been quite good fun having all three current gen consoles and being able to compare them. I’ve noticed just how much better the Xbox One controller is compared to the PlayStation 4’s, particularly in terms of feedback. In F1 on Xbox you can tell which of your four tyres is most worn just from the vibrations, which is not the case with the DualShock. The PlayStation 4 does boot up a lot quicker though.

Also, I’ve read these pages since the Digitiser days, and contributed on occasion (a handful of letters/emails a year, and a Reader’s Feature on the rebooted Tomb Raider trilogy once). However, I’ve had the time and inclination to contribute more frequently recently, which has been nice. Keep up the good work.

E-mail your comments to: gamecentral@ukmetro.co.uk

The small print
New Inbox updates appear every weekday morning, with special Hot Topic Inboxes at the weekend. Readers’ letters are used on merit and may be edited for length.

You can also submit your own 500 to 600-word Reader’s Feature at any time, which if used will be shown in the next available weekend slot.

You can also leave your comments below and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter.

MORE: Weekend Hot Topic, part 1: How has the pandemic changed gaming?

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