We all feel the need to escape at some point in our lives. Even more so in the middle of a pandemic. And, in times like these, when we cannot escape physically, we do it virtually. This is why, if you have been paying any attention to social media, you would have already noticed how everyone has become obsessed with videogames. Particularly “life simulation” ones like The Sims and Animal Crossing.

We are turning to videogames that let us live normal lives.

Interestingly, the videogames that are taking the world by storm are the simple ones, the ones that imitate real life. People no longer want the adventure or fear of games set in fantasy worlds. They seem to already have too much of that in real life, with daily death counts and quarantine measures. Instead, we are turning to videogames that let us live the normal life that we are craving so much in these pandemic times.

The current situation has turned the little village of Animal Crossing into a place full of adventure. It has given us back the things that we have always taken for granted, like going for a walk or hugging a friend.

As someone who has only left their house twice in the past two months, I get that. I miss it too. I understand why even the concept of “outside” seems adventurous. I also miss a more simple life where you don’t have to worry about the health of your loved ones. Sometimes real life is stressful enough. In that sense, videogames have become our tools to ignore the sadness and stress of our current situation.

There are millions of people partaking in this escapism. You only have to look at the numbers.

According to Verizon, videogame usage went up by 75% in the US’s first week of quarantine. Data from Streamlabs shows that platforms like Twitch, YouTube Gaming, and Facebook Gaming have experienced a 20% increase in usage hours across services After the release of Valorant, by Riot Games, Twitch reported that it had reached, for the first time, the milestone of having more than 4 million concurrent viewers on its platform. Data from Comcast that shows how new game downloads have increased by 80%. One of these new games is Animal Crossing: New Horizons which sold more than 2.6 million physical copies in its first 10 days of sale. Another example is Call of Duty: Warzone which obtained 30 million players within its first week of release.

Videogames give us simple things that we can no longer do in real life.

People are not only playing videogames, they’re also discussing them on social media. In March alone, Twitter reported a 71% rise in overall conversation about videogames and a 38% rise in unique authors. In the US alone the numbers were similar: 89% spike in conversation and a 50% increase in unique authors. By far, the most discussed game is Animal Crossing, which doubles the volume of tweets of the next most popular game.

Honestly, these numbers do not surprise me at all.

Videogames have always been attractive because they give users full control. Therefore, their popularity is due to rise in a time of such uncertainty.

Our routine, our normalcy, has been completely disrupted by COVID-19. However, videogames are set in worlds that we can design ourselves and allow us to do the simple things that we can no longer do in real life: go for a walk, hug our friends, host a party – they give us back control over our lives. Moreover, they provide a light-hearted topic of conversation for people to discuss on social media.

Videogames allow our minds to escape, while also creating an online community where to connect with other people. It is no wonder that we all love to play them during the quarantine.

Personally, I have turned to a more old-school game, Stardew Valley, a game where you have to create your own farm. I play at least once a week while calling my boyfriend. Together we make simple decisions: whether we buy chickens or what plants to grow next. It is much easier to do that than talk about the hard questions, like when we are going to see each other again.

I’m quarantined a continent away from my partner and playing a simple and fun game like this one together has helped us with our long-distance relationship.

Although I love Zoom and Skype calls with him and with my friends, there is a point where you run out of topics of conversation. Because we are all under lockdown and no one has any news. And the few news that we have are not uplifting in the slightest.

Playing videogames has allowed me to get a distraction from the real world, as well as a way of spending time with my loved ones, free from conversations about the end of the world. It is not right to forget about what is happening out there. But sometimes it is necessary if you want to stay afloat and hold on to hope and videogames are that buoy.

  • Beatriz Valero de Urquía

    Beatriz Valero de Urquia is a historian, writer and journalist. She graduated from the University of Cambridge in 2020 and spends her time between Spain and the UK reading, listening to musicals and writing her first novel.