I just got back from my first real vacation in two years, a big old fashioned family trip to Disney World. It ruled. Since we were all safely vaccinated and masked if necessary, I experienced the thrill of the theme park and the social bonding that felt like distant memories were wonderfully brought to life. Annoyances like rude guests and long lines also pleased me, because they were proof that, yes, I could interact with other people again. Remember it?
The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. Millions of people in America and abroad still need to be vaccinated, dangerous varieties need to be contained, and even those who are vaccinated need to behave safely. Even so, things feel more normal now than they have been for months, which has led to some thought. As I looked back on the past year in quarantine, I realized how much my favorite pastime kept me going even when the world collapsed. When real vacations became impossible, video games were the only option I needed.
Pyramid of needs
I’ve already written about how Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Ring Fit Adventure got me through the start of this nightmare. It’s amazing how perfect these two Nintendo Switch game releases were for an event that no one could have foreseen. With Animal Crossing, I left my apartment and built my own island home full of lovable animal neighbors and absolutely no deadly viruses. Playing in bed in handheld mode turned my mattress into a swaying hammock.
After a full day of Animal Crossing, Ring Fit Adventure pulled me out of my pretended island laziness and pumped me up for a real workout. I couldn’t go to a gym, but when I felt guilty about sitting on a couch and playing video games non-stop, I cheered Ring Fit Adventure and its RPG drills into workout routines.
These games responded to my immediate basic needs: stay healthy, stay healthy. However, as the plague dragged on, my desires became more complex and numerous. Fortunately, the multitude of games I played during the pandemic addressed these issues in their own way.
end of the summer
The pandemic stole months of our lives from us, our precious limited time on earth. While on vacation, I spoke to younger cousins who were denied real freshmen college due to virtual learning, and I got mad on their behalf. I am fortunate that I have not had a major impact on my job or my health. Even so, hanging out outside this summer brought home to me how much I missed that feeling last summer. These video games did their best to fill the summer vacation void.
Miitopia let me create cute little virtual avatars of my friends and family. Together we embark on casual RPG adventures that are as action-packed as any pre-pandemic weekend here in NYC. New Pokemon Snap got me into photographing pocket monsters in natural settings so tangible that I could swear I was there. The lush little jungles of Pikmin 3 looked just as lifelike. Super Mario 3D All-Stars gave three classic Mario games, including Super Mario Sunshine, an HD facelift. The tropical island vibe, while far from a perfect game, made for a quaint vicarious vacation.
Speaking of Mario, with no real sports to play or watch, I turned to video game sports like the chaotic Mario Golf: Super Rush as well as the brand new dodgeball game Knockout City. Skateboard games strike the right balance between arcade sports action and summer chill sessions. The standout Tony Hawk Pro 1 + 2 that came out during the gaming pandemic and now that it’s on Nintendo Switch I can play in real skate parks that are theoretically open now. As an extreme sports game, Wave Break isn’t nearly as good. Even so, its mix of boat stunts, machine guns, teddy bears, and extremely neon-colored 1980s energy caught my eye.
It turns out that a pandemic will infuriate you, especially a pandemic made exponentially worse by criminal right-wing politicians and their selfish, idiotic supporters. I spent so much time in the pandemic, so angry, but rationally I knew there was nothing I could do. I could only update vaccine websites that many times an hour. So when I needed a place to safely vent that frustration, video games were there.
At first glance, Maneater seems like another summer game. But you don’t play as the unsuspecting beach goers; You play as the hungry shark that eats you. Now available on Switch, nowhere is safe from your underwater carnage. In the meantime, if I wanted to hunt monsters on my Switch instead of being one, Monster Hunter Rise finally got me to see the light when it comes to this polarizing franchise.
Also available on Switch is the Destroy All Humans Remake and the Doom Eternal: The Ancient Gods DLC. When real life turns to hell, games about slaughtering senseless crowds who stand in your way are just the ticket. Despite its AAA graphics overhaul, Destroy All Humans has some bugs from the 2005 era, such as poor rules and structure of open world missions. But it’s also a game where your spaceship rules death from above while your alien character makes a Jack Nicholson impression. Doom Eternal is still too tough and complicated on its own, especially in the DLC. But the shooting, ripping, and tearing by demonic forces remains unmatched, and it’s a particularly impressive AAA switch port.
After all, Boomerang X is a shooter game where you use your versatile, trusty projectile to shoot down waves of enemies from the ground and in the air. The fast-paced skirmishes are reminiscent of classic id software games like Doom and Quake, but with soaring verticality thanks to dizzying high arenas and endless air strikes.
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We can’t pretend the pandemic never happened. It still happens! Closing our eyes and refusing to learn from them would be a big, big mistake. It would guarantee a worse disaster in the future. We need to accept what happened, deal with it, and determine the actions to be taken in response. How can we protect the world? How can we do better? The video games that stuck in my mind the most during the quarantine are the ones that asked these forward-looking questions.
Sky: Children of Light was a provocative, award-winning game on mobile devices a few years ago. Now on Switch, the latest art object from the makers of Flow and Journey feels even more forward-looking. As your softly glowing character floats through beautiful floating landscapes, leave messages for other real online players. You don’t even have to use words. Express how you feel with cute little gestures. With virtual life turning all our previous social patterns upside down, this MMO envisions deeper, more spiritual forms of mass and yet personal communication.
Down here in the real world, our environment is filthy and devastated. Street art culture is the voice of powerlessness to make itself heard against the forces that suppress it, an extreme pandemic mood. In the alternative cartoon world of Sludge Life, you stroll around a polluted island, talk to workers, watch protests and spray graffiti on bathrooms. It’s cute but easy.
Umurangi Generation is not a much longer game now, but it is full of political significance. In this left-wing Maori photo game, you document lively young people trying to live the best and most entertaining life possible, while the authoritarian government still fails to stop a threat that is going to end the world. It’s too real, especially when you’re using the Switch like a physical camera in handheld mode. There are also giant jellyfish monsters. Play this and Disco Elysium to completely radicalize yourself.
Single player self-sufficiency
Video games won’t solve all of your problems. If the pandemic took a huge toll on you (which is totally understandable), see a doctor, see a therapist, get involved in political organization, or meet up with friends and family in the safest possible way. When your next vacation is far away, video games can be the getaway you need. Hit start and create your own happiest place on earth.