Today, Mediatonic showed off one of the levels for Fall Guys’ upcoming fourth season. The new stage, “Skyline Stumble,” looks quite fun with its gravity-based hijinks and bean-sized pinball bumpers—but it instilled in me an invasive, immovable thought: Man, we’ve really been doing this for a while, huh?
Last August, Fall Guys took the world by storm. Thanks to a streamer-based marketing campaign and a month as one of the “free” PS Plus titles—where it went on to become the most downloaded PS Plus game ever, by the way. It seemed like everyone was talking about Fall Guys, and for good reason. Fall Guys served as a bubbly distraction during a moment where it felt reasonably okay to be enraptured by bubbly distractions.
Fall Guys is still here, and I’m now less sold about its power as a bubbly distraction.
As bad as it is now, the covid-19 landscape was very different last summer when Fall Guys came out. On August 4, 2020, the game’s official release date, New York’s rolling average hovered at less than a tenth of what it is today. It remained so for the rest of August and through much of September, before ticking above 1,000 again on October 1, 2020. The pandemic, of course, never abated, but for a solid two months, one could see the other side.
It’s not so easy to feel that way today.
In New York City, where I live and where Kotaku is based, we’re in the throes of an enormous second wave of the pandemic. By most measures, despite a steady uptick in vaccinations, it’s worse than the first wave that initially wracked our city last spring. According to the New York Times covid-19 tracker, New York state currently averages more than 7,000 reported cases of covid-19 per day, many of which are reported from the five boroughs. Six weeks ago, in the middle of January, that figure topped 16,000, higher than it ever was last spring. You can chalk the number up to all manner of variables—including an increased testing apparatus and fewer restrictions—but you can’t wave away how staggeringly devastating it is. (Much of the rest of the country faces similarly devastating situations. You’ve no doubt read the stat that more than half a million Americans have died as a result of the coronavirus, a figure we should never, ever let those in charge during this time live down.)
There’s also the less-discussed but no less important mental health toll on the public writ large. In August, I knew some people who, against all odds, were thriving in the new work-from-home framework. They appreciated the solitude, the lack of daily pressures like commuting, and weren’t exactly social butterflies in the first place anyway. Plus, here in New York—and in other parts of the country—it was deemed relatively safe to gather in small groups outdoors, at parks and cafés and restaurants that followed social distancing guidelines. Compared to the oppressive, sub-freezing temperatures of the past few months, in August, one could actually tolerate sitting at a picnic table for hours on end. It was no replacement for the “Before Times,” but it surely helped.
Today, I don’t know a single person who can reasonably say they’re in a better place in terms of mental health compared to where they were at the start of this thing. You wake up. You move to the couch. You move to the dining room table. Every day is the same, and it’s getting to a breaking point. I’ve felt it. I bet you have, too. We’re all more irritable, more anxious, more depressed—just so done with it.
It’s not just in your head. For a recent feature in The Atlantic, special-projects editor Ellen Cushing spoke to a series of mental health professionals, all of whom detailed the ways extended lockdown is legitimately changing how our brains work. Long stretches of grief, stress, boredom, and depression can have an erosive, detrimental effect on the psyche.
I certainly didn’t wake up today thinking Fall Guys, of all fucking things, would be the thing to kickstart this train of thought. I didn’t consider Fall Guys to be the ruler by which I would measure how damn long we’ve been stuck in a criminally mismanaged pandemic. Maybe it was a result of hearing that irresistibly catchy theme music, which functioned as a de facto theme song for my downtime last summer. But man, we’ve really been doing this for a while. On March 20, 2020, New York implemented its first statewide shelter-in-place order—coming up on a year to the day.
At least we get seven new Fall Guys levels soon.