There’s no better way to deal with pent-up feelings than shooting, battling and solving them away
Does anyone else feel like their habits have reached fever pitch in quarantine? Because for lack of a better, less Gen Z response, mood.
It feels like it’s been a good five years since we’ve shuttered ourselves inside our houses and, with such scarce access to the world beyond our front doors, we’ve had more than a little time to bask in our own company. Old habits die hard, they say, and I’ve never felt it quite as much as I have these past nine months. My insomniac tendencies have gotten worse. My propensity to shop online in moments of distress has worsened, as documented by my extensive Shopee purchase history. And perhaps most of all, I’ve continued to turn to virtual games as an emotional coping mechanism.
To set the record straight: I’m no “gamer”—at least not in the context by which most define the term. I don’t have a PlayStation nor a Switch nor a gaming laptop, and it’s been at least a decade and a half since I’ve seen the Game Boy my sisters and I shared. The only actual gaming devices I’ve owned since I was in high school is a PSP that I’ve resurrected twice (unless a Tamagotchi counts?).
However, like a fitness guru loves squats and my mother adores her quarantine plants, we all have our thing. And for me, it’s always been games.
Like every other kid in our primary school class in Malaysia, Tuesdays were my favorite day of the week because that meant two things: computer classes in the air-conditioned, dimly-lit PC lab, and getting to play flash games on Primary Games and Miniclip thereafter. Granted, we all had our flash game phase, but looking back it was more than just a pastime. It was one of the shared hobbies that brought classmates and I closer; the difficult levels of Roll On and Save The Sheriff are the foundations on which friendships were built.
When my family returned to Manila, I fell into Neopets and would continue to play it every summer. Then there was Dragon Fable and AdventureQuest, then Jojo’s Fashion Show, then GitarooMan and DJ Max and Patapon—games that would see me overstaying my welcome in the back of my best friend’s family van after school, cradling a borrowed PSP until my own ride home arrived.
“They’re less about finding new friends and more about keeping my sanity in check.”
Every now and then, I still fall into the charm of the old sites I frequented and games I played, but my twenties have given them a new meaning. I find myself itching for the comforting interference of digital games after a long day of work or listening to the news. They’re less about finding new friends and more about keeping my sanity in check. They’re necessary distractions—occasionally a stumbling block in my productive churn, but usually my preferred form of emotional support.
When I created a new Neopets account a couple of months into lockdown, I was slipping right into the eye of the work-from-home whirlwind. “The past month has been absolutely gross,” was the opening line of my long Finsta rant that month as I poured my emotions into a poorly punctuated caption about how tired work and the government made me. The week after, I logged on to Neopets again, maxing out my three Neopoint-earning attempts at Turmac Roll and Usagi Frenzy like I’d never stopped playing them.
When I was introduced to PUBG, sticking parachute landings and seeing the words “winner winner chicken dinner” felt wildly therapeutic. I played it during every spare moment for months. I effectively drove my sister nuts with the sound of gunshots and grenades but my mind, for the most part, was at peace.
These days, my obsession takes shape in Genshin Impact. I’ve never found myself gravitating towards gacha games (ones where in-game currency earns you randomly virtual items), but it takes me straight back to playing Kingdom Hearts and AdventureQuest—only with better graphics and more interesting characters. The worlds within the game are so beautifully developed and I bask in that fact, knowing that these views are probably the best ones I’ll get to see in a while.
As I fought my way past slimes to clear my daily commissions last night, I had something of a lightbulb moment. There’s a sense of reward that comes with clearing missions and side quests, and it’s exactly what my Type A, textbook Capricorn personality needs. I can help citizens get past barricades set up by hilichurls and battle my way through monster-infested domains. Sometimes, I get past them in one try. And heck, if I can do that, then who’s to say I can’t take whatever real life hurls at me?
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver