Jeffrey Walker hasn’t played “The Legend of Zelda” since middle school. Video games stress him out. “I don’t like to lose,” Walker, who is 30 and works for a freight forwarding company in Atlanta, told The Daily Beast.
Things changed once he started working from home and social distancing to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus last week. “At this point, I’m having anxiety about the world ending,” Walker said. “So I might as well play some video games.”
He joins the record number of Americans revving up their Nintendo Switches, XBoxs, or Discord chats in an effort to combat boredom and quiet their ever-growing fears of dread.
“I couldn’t escape hearing about the stock market and my 401k crashing,” Walker said. “Social media isn’t doing it for me; I’m getting frustrated at people who aren’t talking [the coronavirus] seriously. Video games are giving me refuge.”
Steam, a video game distribution service and forum, reported a record number of 20 million users last weekend, likely due to those staying home. Just four days after the release of “Call of Duty: Warzone,” 15 million people sat on their couches to duke it out on the multi-player game.
You’ve seen the viral videos of Italians singing to each other on balconies while the country is on lockdown—no doubt many of their roommates were back inside playing Fortnite. Telecom Italy reported seeing a 70 percent surge in internet traffic, much of it due to online gaming.
Just a dozen or so days ago many people—like this writer—prided themselves on having enough of a life offline to not need video games. Today, I sit before you (and a Nintendo Switch) unwashed and unsure of the last time I brushed my teeth, but very proud of my Mario Kart skills. I do not know what day it is, but I remember spending the golden hour of sunrise running a bustling burger joint in “Overcooked,” even as restaurants close down in New York.
Despite all odds, GameStop remains open. There are over 5,000 stores worldwide; Vice reported some stores lacked adequate cleaning supplies, with some employees being asked to bring in their own. According to a memo obtained by Kotaku, the retailer told staff on Thursday that it should be considered “essential retail,” like grocery stores and pharmacies.
A representative for GameStop declined The Daily Beast’s request for an interview, but sent a statement from Gary Riding, the SVP of store operations. Starting this weekend, store opening will be delayed by two hours, and door delivery is being implemented.
Along with that, only 10 customers will be allowed in to follow CDC recommended guidelines of keeping a 6-foot distance between other people. Somehow, this will be implemented in checkout lines, which are not typically known for spaciousness.
“GameStop is working diligently during this unprecedented time to provide our customers and associates with the safest environment possible,” Riding’s statement read. “Like many businesses, we are implementing changes to our retail operations so that we can be there for our customers as they are looking for sources of normalcy in their life during this stressful time.”
For his part, Walker wasn’t going to risk going indoors to buy a Nintendo Switch. “I went to order it on Amazon and I had it in my cart, but by the time I hit refresh, it sold out,” Walker explained. “It was going to be two weeks to come. Same for Walmart dot com, and this was two days ago. Target had one in stock. I’m frustrated at people who are still going out, and I didn’t want to be a hypocrite, so I did a drive-up. I didn’t have to interact with anybody.”
Nintendo Switches cost around $300. Walker says his helps when it’s time to log off. “I didn’t know how to mentally create work/life boundaries, so this is starting to help. Last night I played for about two or three hours.”
How much of a dedicated gamer he becomes is yet to be seen—Walker’s not sure if he’ll keep up the habit once the pandemic has passed. “Who knows? I’ll find some games I get addicted too, sure,” he said. “I’ll probably appreciate it more once I can have people over to play party games again. I look at those party games and wow, they seem fun. Maybe I’ll have people over to play once this is over.”
Charli Adams, 22, is a singer-songwriter based in Nashville. With concerts cancelled, she’s stuck at home with her roommates for the time being. She watched her friends go out last weekend, but decided to “be cautious” and self-isolate. With one exception: she ran to buy a XBox to help pass the time.
“I went to Best Buy with my gloves on, it was my only outing,” Adams said. “I was like, ‘All right guys, hook me up with whatever I need for the next few months. They gave me game packs, and I got the last XBox. It was on sale, so I saved 200 bucks.”
She plays The Sims, a simulation game, while her own life is on hold. “I’m going out to the library and shit on my Sims game, and I’m realizing how pathetic it is,” Adams said. “I can’t go to the park in real life, so my Sims are going to go dance in the park.”
One of her purchases was “Halo 5: Guardians,” a first-person shooter game. “I’m trying to avoid playing only violent games,” Adams said. “In Halo, you shoot aliens. It’s like, at least I’m not killing people. I’m trying to keep my mental state OK, because these games are crazy.”
Growing up, Adams never owned an XBox but would play computer games. “It was fetishized, girls being gamers,” she said. “But now everyone’s like, do what you gotta do. Everyone’s on the same page [with self-isolation], so they’re more welcoming [of women] now.”
Adams doesn’t have a headset, so she can’t speak to the other players online. But she can hear them. “I hate to mute it, because some of the people are like, mad Doomsday-ers,” she admitted. “They're conspiracy theorists, like a Reddit thread. Or I’ve heard a lot of people telling stories. You’ll be shooting aliens and then [someone’s] like, ‘Dude, my grandma’s sick.’ It’s crazy. People are connecting.”
One game Adams hasn’t tried yet is “Pandemic,” where players try to fight the global spread of four different diseases. “I’m really curious about it,” Adams said. “Do I dive in? Will this make me more freaked out? There are some games where you’re preparing for the worst. It’s interesting, because this could happen, you know?”