It’s Friday night and I’m spending it drinking beers, listening to music, and chatting to Rai, over in the tropical island of Mauritis, and Kylar, who is sat in his flat in Sweden. I’m also running around Azeroth questing for the Horde, or more accurately, my character is. This isn’t how my Friday nights used to look.
My husband has been a big gamer his whole life, from childhood classics like Crash Bandicoot to online story-led games like Skyrim. When I met him he was really into World of Warcraft. I thought it was cute in a geeky way but I didn’t share his fascination; I’d dabbled in games as a kid, I used to love my Gameboy Colour, and had played Grand Theft Auto on my brother’s Playstation a few times. But as I got older I dismissed video games in favour of book and movies. I associated gaming with boys (my brothers liked Fifa, which I thought was incredibly dull), and with nerds. Not the book-reading, revising, really-into-music type of nerd that I was. A different kind that I didn’t understand.
Fast forward a few years and now married with two small children my husband is still into gaming (when he has the time). Once a week he commits to a “raid” after the boy’s bedtime and I either see friends or sit in the other room and hear him chatting and laughing. Every one of my kid’s birthdays we’d get a gift from Mauritius from one of my husband’s World of Warcraft buddies. I used to think it was crazy; we’d never met the guy!
Then the pandemic hit. Suddenly I wasn’t able to go see my friends or family, and I became increasingly jealous of my husband’s online community. I was bored, anxious, and frazzled from occupying the kids all day without nursery, school, or parks. So despite saying for years I wasn’t interested in gaming, I finally dipped my toe into an entire new world. I’ve only been playing World of Warcraft so far, and being entirely new to PC gaming it was a steep learning curve. But I love it. It’s the perfect escapism from the pandemic, its social, and its Covid safe. I speak to people all over the world on Discord, we listen to music, and it feels a bit like being in the pub, only unlike real pubs I get to wear my pyjamas.
During the pandemic I have really missed seeing people and gaming has been a way to connect and chat with other humans without having to break any rules. I’m not the only one – I’m one of millions of people who have joined or re-joined online gaming communities as a way of beating lockdown boredom and isolation. Blizzard reported earnings 50% above analyst expectations, and Twitch, where people watch other people play video games live, clocked five billion hours of viewed content in the second quarter of 2020 alone, an 83% increase from last year. In terms of helping me through this time gaming has been a lifeline to me and countless others. And despite adding “gaming disorder” to its list of addictive behaviours in 2019, the World Health Organisation has actively recommended video games as a way of fighting the pandemic with the slogan “play apart together”.
We’ve been through three lockdowns and our family has had quite a few periods of self-isolation as well, including when I caught Covid myself. By day I was a full time mum, with no support network to lean on suddenly. But by night I was a blood-elf Paladin, questing in magical lands, killing mobs, exploring, chatting, and saving the world. It felt nice to take a break from being ‘Mama’ and become a powerful hero for a few hours. And in a way I guess it helped me feel powerful in a time where in the real world I felt quite helpless, and on the days I felt especially anxious about Covid it helped to forget for a while by killing warlords or joining a group in a dungeon.
So to my online friends – Rai, Kylar, Kat, Josh and the whole guild – thank you. For helping me get my through lockdowns, homeschooling, quarantine and pandemic anxiety. And to all the gamers I will leave you with this; Lok’tar ogar – For the horde!