I remember feeling so optimistic on New Year’s 2020. It’s hard to say when, exactly, that optimism was shattered due to the pandemic. Like many with the privilege to do so, I started working from home as much as possible weeks before it became mandatory. Maybe unlike others (or more like other journalists), I consumed a great deal of news. In early 2020 I listened to about four news podcasts daily and read up online. This meant hearing from many sources and various experts to prepare for the worst.
I was scared, not just of the virus but also of losing my job and of changing all aspects of my life. I began using gaming as a coping mechanism more and more. I was lucky enough to review Animal Crossing: New Horizons, granting me access about a month before release. There, I had a small escape, not just in the game but also from the pressure of seeing how everyone else was playing.
At the time, I was the Gaming Section Editor for Digital Trends, which meant I had to manage a team while staying on top of every game release. Covering games for work is truly remarkable, but it can also be tiring and easily turns something fun into something stressful. As nice as it was to have games to avoid reality with, they were also part of the reality that was wearing me down.
As the spring turned to summer, Digital Trends and everyone who worked there had another issue to face. Amid Black Lives Matter protests following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, and others, current and former Digital Trends employees brought up a number of racist or otherwise insensitive actions that had taken place at the company.
A pandemic, protests against an unjust policing and judicial system, and my own company’s internal reckoning meant little time for gaming that wasn’t work-related, escapism be damned.
Still, that involved playing through The Last of Us Part II for two weeks straight, sleeping few hours in that time, before moving on to Ghost of Tsushima. I am unbelievably lucky that this is my job. But it’s still a job, and nothing makes it feel that way more than playing a game until 3 a.m., not because it’s so good I can’t put it down but instead because I genuinely can’t put it down if I’m going to file my review in time.
And then, I was free.
Well, I was laid off.
I lost my job abruptly at the end of September, along with many other talented editors, writers, and producers. I have a great support system, but losing my job and health insurance on the same day in the middle of a pandemic fucking sucked, to put it mildly.
Being without a job made me lose my sense of self. If I wasn’t doing work, then what was I doing with my life?. I’m choosing not to examine what that says about how I value myself or how far into late-stage capitalism we are, but it wasn’t great. Having ADHD, I also feed on structure and getting things done. Without that structure, I quickly began falling apart, becoming a less functioning member of society. My brain isn’t very good at ordering things, so I need to build my life around something solid. Now, I had nothing to organize around, and nothing to make me feel like I had to be organized.
Eventually, gaming became my de facto job. I slowly crawled my way back to games as I found myself needing to fill the time—this time, not because I had to, but because I wanted to have fun.
It wasn’t the same as when I got paid to write about games and lead a gaming section. I was playing what I wanted and checking off the boxes I cared about. I made spreadsheets to collect certain items or creatures in Animal Crossing. I tracked my shrine progress in a new playthrough of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I couldn’t tell you how many charts I had for Stardew Valley.
I know that playing this way likely sounds terrible for most people, but it made me fall back in love with gaming. It gave me a way to get things done besides sending out job application after job application. And it gave me an escape where I could worry about defeating a boss rather than how long it would take to find a job or if my parents would get covid.
For a few hours, I didn’t have to think about any of that and damn if that ignorance wasn’t bliss. Some people who aren’t into gaming don’t get how it can be a healthy coping mechanism. But it was an outlet that brought me joy during a really shitty time.
As we come up on a year since the world went into lockdown, I know that I am immensely lucky. Working at Kotaku has been such a joy already, my parents have received their vaccinations, and I get to write about games for a living. Maybe I’ve learned nothing over the last year because I am once again feeling optimistic for the first time in a while.