Updated: May 2, 2020
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)
I haven’t gamed much these past months, focusing instead on editing my manuscript while stuck inside during this pandemic. Yet, despite my own absence from virtual worlds, gaming is alive in my house. We are, after all, a family of gamers—all of us, that is, but one.
Laughter floats down the stairs from my daughter’s room interrupting my writing, and I smile as I hear the voice and laughter of her friends mingling with hers, friends who have been to my house many times since their middle school days. They are seventeen now. And now, though I hear their voices, their laughter, so close, they are not in my house. How could they be, social distancing is in full effect.
How, then, are they chatting and laughing as if they are upstairs having a sleepover? Recall my daughter’s recent foray into gaming via Animal Crossing. She is fully immersed. They are fully immersed. Nintendo’s highly anticipated Animal Crossing: New Horizons not only became one of Nintendo’s bestselling releases in U.S. history, placing it among A-listers such as Mario and Zelda, it has become something much more during a time of crisis.
The cutesy big-eyed avatars have broad appeal that traditional fantasy MMOs do not. As my previously non-gaming daughter said to us at dinner, “I’ve got to get to a party. This isn’t that geeky Zelda, Dungeon and Dragons stuff you guys always do.” I refrained from pointing out that we also had parties and games in these “geeky” MMOs and that these game types are cut from the same cloth.
The debate over which is geekier aside, what’s important here is Animal Crossing’s magnetic appeal to the masses and its ability to provide an outlet for socialization. My daughter, her friends, and teens and people around the world just like them, are meeting in the game world to hang out and chat like they would at home. They are laughing, talking, joking, and giggling about boys. They are creating flyers and throwing parties while advertising their unlocked exclusive NPCs. They are having fun, and they are staying connected. All of this is possible through video games.
Video games often get a bad rap because when people think of games they think of something meant for children. Something that should be used for a short period and put away because it holds little value. This often comes from an inability to define what exactly constitutes a game and a lack of education on the breadth and depth of understanding of video game culture. We tend to devalue video games not because they are entertaining, but because we think of them as childish.
Video games teach us about life and how to live together in society. In our current situation with its demand for social distancing, virtual worlds are uniquely adapted to meeting our needs within these exceptional constraints. Video games have social value, and for a species that is inherently social, during a time when we are forced to be apart this shouldn’t be clearer than now.
To my daughter and her friends: Game on ladies. Stay connected. Be virtual. Be social. Be human. And to those who insist on telling you that video games are childish—be a child.