Two years ago, the United Kingdom entered a national lockdown to combat the COVID-19 coronavirus. In an unprecedented measure against a burgeoning pandemic, we were all told that apart from food shopping or exercise, we had to remain in our homes. We’re still not totally out of the woods even now but this week, we’re reflecting on the video games that helped us stay sane during lockdown.
Welcome to the games that got us through the pandemic.
No Man’s Sky
‘From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home’.
Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom – 23rd March 2020
As Tom discussed in his article yesterday, it’s hard to remember now how frightening those initial weeks of the pandemic were. We watched on, helpless and confined to the four walls of our home. The daily death toll became part of casual conversation; comparisons made between this week and last like a change in the weather.
It might seem vulgar for me to talk about the games I played during the pandemic. I count myself lucky that I’ve not lost anyone to Covid. But whatever our circumstance, we all experienced the collective trauma of being isolated from our loved ones. While a lot us turned to Zoom quizzes to stay connected, 62% of the U.K adult population were playing games during the pandemic – a vast increase on previous years.
In lockdown, I sought solace in a little game called No Man’s Sky. No Man’s Sky released in 2016 amongst great hype, receiving widespread media attention for being hugely underwhelming compared to what the developers, Hello Games had promised. Despite this, Hello Games went on to redeem themselves by spending the next 6 years creating no less than 15 major updates and DLCs, completely free of charge. While some players argue that each update shifts further away from the game’s essence, for me, it’s simple: it’s the closest I’ve ever come to fulfilling that childhood dream of jumping into a rocket and blasting off into space.
You start your journey in No Man’s Sky when you awake on an unknown planet, with no memory of how you got there. Using your navigational gadgets, you reunite with your old space ship, which has been badly damaged by the crash and unable to take off again. After diagnosing the problem, you set off across the alien terrain to extract vital minerals and resources with your laser mining beam, in order to repair the ship. Once you’ve crafted the necessary parts, you jump into the cockpit, push the right trigger down on the controller and start the engines. And then you ascend seamlessly through the clouds, pushing higher and higher until suddenly the ground where you stood is a planetary pin-prick amongst the stars. It’s a truly remarkable feeling.
I guess it’s odd that I gained comfort from a game that begins in such solitude. I think part of the appeal is that it gave me a sense of control in a time of helplessness. If I ran out of fuel, for example, I knew that I could land on the nearest planet and use my scanner to seek out Di-hydrogen crystals and Ferrite dust to make some more. Mainly, though, it’s the fact that you have an entire universe at your fingertips, ripe for exploration.
So, in search of a place to call home and set up base, I stumbled upon a flourishing online community of fellow travellers: r/NoMansSkyTheGame – possibly the nicest subreddit in the world. I was wary, at first, to post anything on there – we all know how quickly you can get shot down on Reddit. But my fears were unfounded. These people were happy to help with any noob question I asked, their enthusiasm born out of pure love for the game. It wasn’t long before I was posting screenshots of the new paradise planet I just found, or hitching a ride with a complete stranger across the Euclid galaxy.
Just over a year later, Hello Games released another major update, ‘Expeditions’ which bought together the whole community in a fixed point in the galaxy to embark on a shared mission. Naturally, as restrictions started to ease, I spent less and less time exploring the galaxy, until I stopped playing altogether. Every so often, I’ll be tempted back by the promise of another update but nothing has quite pulled me back in yet. Still, it gave me a world I could escape to where the sky was no limit, and for that, I’m grateful.
Games That Got Us Through The Pandemic concludes tomorrow.