Some call it a hoax. Others say it’s no worse than the common cold. But make no mistake: the covid-19 pandemic is very, very real. If you don’t believe the mountain of scientific literature, the army of medical professionals, the frontline reporting from countless reputable sources, the firsthand accounts, the secondhand accounts, the politicians, the activists, the advocates, and the entire fact-believing public writ large, hey, maybe you’ll take it from an intrepid video game blogger. I recently went through a bout with covid-19. It’s real. And yes, it sucks.
(Our colleagues at Gizmodo have been on top of the covid-19 pandemic at every turn. See all their essential coverage here.)
Last week, one of my roommates (I live with three other people in Brooklyn) displayed symptoms of the virus that has killed a quarter-million Americans and hospitalized many more. Sure enough, 14 hours later, he received a positive covid test result. The next day, I developed an identical set of symptoms. That was of little surprise. The night my roommate first felt like shit, we’d played several hours of Borderlands 3’s couch co-op in all its awesome, PS5-enhanced glory. Given what we know about covid-19 transmission—how it’s spread through airborne particles, and how you’re most at risk when you sustain at least 10 minutes of contact while less than six feet from someone with symptoms—my roommate’s diagnosis was more or less a personal timebomb for me.
To be crystal clear, I haven’t sought out a test for myself yet. For the good of my neighbors and fellow New Yorkers, I really shouldn’t leave these four walls to go get one yet. And by “shouldn’t,” I mean “putting others at serious risk to confirm something that’s certainly true just for the sake of my own sanity is an indefensibly selfish move.” New York City is allegedly sending a batch of rapid tests to my apartment. They’ve yet to arrive. But, to lift the words of the New York City Health + Hospitals contact tracer who conducted my first phase of remote monitoring, “Yup, it’s pretty clear you have it.” (There’s also the daily NYCH+H monitoring survey, which reminds me, bright and early every morning, that “because [I] have covid-19,” I’m restricted to my home for a 10-day period, pending the total abatement of symptoms.)
In many ways covid-19 has been unlike any cold I’ve ever had. If you were to find yourself with a similar case of symptoms—a mild one, all things considered—here’s what would happen.
It all starts with a pang in your skull. And this isn’t just any headache. Rather, it’s a forge-heated, temple-immolating razor that’s somehow both a cluster and a migraine. One might get a sense of how Axehead—the bit player from Assassin’s Creed Valhalla who’s exactly what his name implies—feels. Even worse, it’s pervasive in a way you can’t really do much about. Recall the spring, when a string of alerts cautioned against taking ibuprofen while inflicted with covid-19. French authorities issued a warning. As did the World Health Organization. Both were eventually recanted, but c’mon. Redacted or not—six months removed or not—would you really take the chance on something that was once up in the air? The one thing we know for sure about covid-19 is that we don’t fully understand it yet. (Anything with acetaminophen, like Tylenol or standard-issue cold and flu medicine, is fair game. You just don’t get the anti-inflammatory benefits you’d get with ibuprofen.)
You might also be floored by the aches. Of course, every cold and flu has some degree of full-body pain. None compare to those of covid-19. Picture exercising every single muscle in your body beyond the point of exhaustion. Then you throw a massage on top of that—not a professional parlor massage, but one from your friend who’s “really good at massages” yet has no clue what they’re doing and, instead, falls back on inhumane levels of pressure and, look, you’re just too polite to stop them, so you’ll put all 900 ligaments in your body through some serious discomfort because you’re a good friend. Oh, and then you fall down the stairs. That’s what covid-19 aches feel like.
There’s also the unpredictability. You may feel completely fine one hour. The next, it’ll hit you like a ton of bricks. Many common sicknesses work like a bell curve, where you’re under the weather for a bit, and then you’re not. This one works more like a sine graph. You’re fine, and then you’re not, and then you are, and then you’re not, and then you are, and then you’re not.
And that’s on top of the other de rigueur cold symptoms: the sleepless cough, the bone-deep chills, the sinus congestion, the over-100ºF fever, the fatigue, and the incessant, incandescent rage at your federal government—for failing to implement any proactive protections against a pandemic, for neglecting to take any reactive steps once it swelled out of control, and for turning a blind eye as lives were shattered in every corner of the country.
All told, I’ve experienced seven days of unmistakable symptoms. Two of those days extremely sucked. My cough endures and I still have some residual congestion, but I’m otherwise on the up and up. I’ve certainly been more sick. I’ve also been less sick. The key factors to keep in mind are that I’m in my twenties, I’m in fairly good health, I’m blessed with a strong support network, and I don’t have any comorbidities.
In other words, I’m one of the lucky ones.
For every person like me, there’s another who loses 50 pounds while intubated for six weeks. There’s another who spends two months on an intubator, only to require assistance—from three people—standing up afterward. There’s one who experiences hallucinations, one who feels joint pain so fierce he can’t lay down, one who describes the chest pressure like “an anvil.” Another may spend two weeks in an intensive care unit, experience a cardiac event, and ultimately leave with a significantly reduced lung capacity, returning home to an apartment full of oxygen machines. Another might see their extended family come down with the illness, watching helplessly as 10 loved ones develop a frightening batch of symptoms.
More broadly, an estimated four out of five covid-19 patients report a loss of smell or taste; those symptoms can sometimes stick long past a negative test result. Others suffer acute kidney failure, alongside blood clots and severe shortness of breath. You learn about those who are considered critically ill, and the staggering rates of death such a diagnosis bears for at-risk populations, particularly the elderly. You read the stories about those who get better, who seemingly make it out of the woods, only to take an unexpected, tragic turn and pass away.
I’m one of the lucky ones.
So, what’s an errant illness have to do with video games? Easy: I spent my quarantine doing what every self-respecting gamer does while laid up: I played a ton of video games.
When my roommate first showed symptoms—and when I shortly showed them, as well—the apartment agreed: The two of us would stay in our respective rooms as much as possible, in order to best protect our other two roommates, who, to date, have yet to experience even a single cough. In practice, this meant spending around 23 hours a day in my room. Happy Thanksgiving. (Now that my symptoms have largely simmered, I’ve since resumed venturing into the living room and kitchen.) What else to do other than play video games? I’ve already finished Emily in Paris. And I’m trying to savor The Bold Type’s four deliciously sappy seasons for as long as possible.
I’m still working my way through Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, an interactive Renaissance Faire that simply does not end. Seriously. It’s so much game. Were I not confined to a single space for 23 hours a day, finishing it would be a difficult proposition. (I also gave my word to Kotaku’s Zack Zweizen that I’d make it to the credits, so he can have someone to geek out with over whatever bonkers stuff happens in the end. Bear with me, Zack!)
I started 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. One question: Why are all the characters naked when piloting the robots? I seem to have clicked through the exposition there. I’m sure it’s reasonable, I’d just like to know, is all.
I played a lot of Hades, the best game.
But I spent most of this stint playing Destiny 2: Beyond Light. On day one, my roommate and I bandied about some multiplayer games we could both pick up to pass the time. Star Wars: Squadrons was off the table. (“Dude, you can’t even fly a Tie Fighter in Battlefront,” I said.) As was Marvel’s Avengers. (“The campaign’s the only good part.”) Why not Destiny 2? The annual expansion just came out, and it’s available as part of the Game Pass library. We both played it on PlayStation 4, a few years ago, but the cross-platform character transfer is seamless. Dusting off our old characters and moving them to Xbox would take no more than a minute. It’s a competent shooter, if not exactly transcendent, and at the very least would be a suitable way to pass the time.
Turns out, Destiny 2 is the ideal sick game. Yes, the shooting is tight as a guitar string, and the traversal is smoother than a dolphin. But that’s not the main draw for a bedridden gamer. Destiny 2 demands a level of commitment that’s almost impossible to give alongside daily responsibilities. New players might have an easier time taking it all in, especially with the “New Light” starter mission. Returning veterans will have to go through the time-consuming process of reacquainting oneself with the 4,571 proper nouns that comprise Destiny’s hilariously reductive solar system.
I played the game a little after launch, but sat out the subsequent expansions. Jumping into Beyond Light meant re-learning all about the Darkness, the Light, the Traveler, and, wait, Cayde-6 is dead now? Can’t everyone in this world get resurrected? Man, I liked that guy. (Kotaku’s own lore explainer prevented me from being completely lost. Still, jumping into Destiny 2’s bananas plot can throw anyone for a loop, no matter how prepared they are.)
The core gameplay of Destiny 2 has clearly changed since I last played, too. I don’t recall having so many stats back in the day. Now, I’ve had to learn all about Mobility, Resilience, Recovery, Discipline, Intellect, and Strength, and what those figures actually mean for my Hunter. I started up at a Power level of 1050, higher than I recall, but was summarily devastated to learn the hard way that some of my favorite weapons couldn’t level up past 1060. Even though I read about it before playing, the soft Power cap of 1200 also caught me off-guard. Took me a minute to figure out how to push past that. And this is to say nothing of the countless Shaders, Ghost shells, bounties, Triumphs, weapon mods, armor mods, spaceships, Sparrow designs, ammo types, gear tiers, and game modes I’ve had to learn (or re-learn) about.
There’s so much stuff to sink your teeth into in Destiny 2. Confusing or not, every hour with the game has meant internalizing something new. That’s more than I can say for most other time-sinks.
But, as my colleagues Ash Parrish and Ethan Gach have both noted, there’s indeed a pronounced emptiness to moment-to-moment action. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is. You’re going through the motions, grinding out better gear, which, in turn, gives you better gear that will then give you better gear. You’re playing the same missions ad infinitum. Destiny 2 is a cycle, one that makes you wonder what the point of it all is. I’m more than happy—thrilled, even—to play into this cycle during an extended period of downtime. I can’t say for sure whether or not that interest would hold during “normal” times.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the requisite moralizing. Please wear a mask whenever you’re in public. Please practice social distancing. If you go out to a bar or a restaurant, bundle up and sit outside (and actually outside, not in one of those “streeteries”). Consider bunkering down for the holidays. We’re so, so, so close to the other side of this.
Two major firms, Pfizer and Moderna, have vaccines on the brink of distribution. The Food and Drug Administration is currently weighing Pfizer’s for approval. As reported by the New York Times, Moderna asked the FDA for emergency approval just this week. If both are approved, up to 22 million Americans could receive vaccination by January with little holdup. Once a vaccine receives the rubber stamp, doses will be sent out within 24 hours. Shots will of course first go to those most at risk—hospital workers, frontline employees, the elderly, others in long-term care—but experts estimate the wider public will be able to receive vaccines as early as May or June of next year.
That’s the best-case scenario, an outcome that only happens if the vaccination period rolling out in the coming weeks goes off without a hitch. U.S. officials have dropped the ball at nearly every level. The federal government has repeatedly failed to pass an essential stimulus package. Local governments—here in New York, for instance—have shuttered schools, which are demonstrably more safe than most public locations, while refusing to close gyms, which demonstrably aren’t. It’s clearly up to us to carry the baton over the finish line. If you need motivation to hole up in one place, video games can help. Take it from me.