Coping with Covid: crafting convivial online communities can help

Gaming had always been a solitary hobby of mine before we entered a global pandemic. Sure, I had dabbled in the solo queue of Overwatch a few years ago, but as an 18-year-old woman on voice chat, I’m sure you can imagine how that often went. But back in the UK’s first lockdown in 2020, one of my favourite art criticism sites The White Pube put out its very first video game review. Gabrielle de la Puente had written the most beautiful essay on Santa Monica Studios’ 2018 God of War and how gaming had been a saviour for her in lockdown. After reading, I quickly reached out via Twitter, suggested rather upfront that we should be friends (hey, life is short!) and we ended up talking about the game for nearly two hours over Zoom. 

Following our conversation – and prompts from The White Pube’s collective readership asking for a massive game of Among Us – Gabrielle created a Discord server; a space we lovingly call ‘The Game Pube.’ The server has since grown into a tight-knit and wholesome community, with channels for specific games, sharing art, opportunities, a book club, and more. Most importantly though, I have it to thank for making me finally feel comfortable in online gaming communities.

Queuing up for a competitive Overwatch match alone once terrified me, but now that I have a group of friends to play with it’s something I actually look forward to most nights. We can have a strategy, communicate well, and cheer each other on when someone gets Play of The Game. Outside of the games, though, these people have genuinely become some of my closest friends. Some I knew vaguely through Twitter or mutual acquaintances, now we chat about our work, our day, our families, and we’re even planning a classic Zoom quiz soon so we can actually see each other.

If it wasn’t for The White Pube and the community I have found on their Discord, I don’t know how I would have coped this past year. Like so many of us, my whole life is now lived through a single screen. I’m doing my two jobs on my computer, writing emails and organising projects, and I’m also trying to finish my degree remotely – somehow managing group assignments and industry briefs from one corner of my bedroom. But now, like the classic meme, I can switch from bad screen to good screen with just a single switch on my cheap Amazon HDMI splitter and join my friends for some rounds of Dead by Daylight. We can fix some generators and run for our lives from Michael Myers or Pyramid Head and try to forget that we’re all living through some of the worst years of our life.

We’re all jumping between hobbies to find a distraction from the unprecedented historical event we’re all living through – whether it’s banana bread, sourdough, knitting, podcasting, or Animal Crossing: New Horizons. But I’m sure it’s not just me who can safely say their social battery is almost non-existent. I want to reach out to friends, sure, but I can’t take another call that goes something like “How are you doing?”, “Not bad, just taking each day as it comes, you know?”, “Yeah, yeah, same here.” We have literally nothing to say, we’re all just doing our best. But to hop on a call to talk team composition as we try and move a payload or take an objective? It’s so much easier. So I guess this is a thank you letter of sorts, to The White Pube, Overwatch, Dead by Daylight, and the friends I made along the way. It will be over one day and we’ll come out the other end of all this – the silver lining is that we’ll still have the communities that we’ve built to cope.

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