We are not even a full month into the new year and it feels like the energy from 2020 has basically rolled over. For me, last year was a huge blur. I remember key events, voting, and popular games that were played. A few games that really stood out and seemed to hold it down for us were Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Among Us, and Genshin Impact. Interestingly enough, these three games have three completely different vibes. It’s almost as if they were mental benchmarks for our headspace all throughout the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nintendo launched Animal Crossing: New Horizons on March 20th, 2020. The timing couldn’t have been better considering the first of the stay-at-home orders had been issued in many states. We didn’t know what was in store for the rest of the year, but the first month of exclusively staying inside was painstaking and we all sought a second life where we could simply go out, wear fun clothes, and see our friends.
In a state of frustration and uncertainty, many of us found solace in Animal Crossing: New Horizons because of the complete creative control and full customization we had over islands. Instead of lamenting in our dim reality, we built a new one — a reality that was isolated from the pandemic (you’re literally on an island in who knows what ocean).
While Among Us released on June 18th, 2018, it didn’t pick up steam until about August 2020. By August, we as a collective were angry and exhausted. Summer 2020 was fiery, to say the least. With the death of George Floyd in May, the summer was filled with protests all around the world, becoming the largest unifying event/protest in history. Fire like that doesn’t die out quickly.
Among Us and the energy needed to participate in the game was a perfect match for the energy a lot of us had carried during the summer months. The rules were pretty simple. There are imposters on your ship, they are murdering your crew, you have a set of ship tasks that need to get done, and all the while you need to find these imposters before they kill you all. The game’s themes of justice, using logic, and working collectively coincided effortlessly with the themes we saw reflected in our own society.
Genshin Impact debuted on September 28th, 2020. This game was heavily marketed in New York City, with subway advertisements that went above and beyond posters. Subway car interiors were decorated with Genshin Impact characters, clearly indicating that the developers wanted this to be the next big quarantine hit.
Genshin Impact, similar to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, is an open-world RPG (role-playing game). It’s based in a mystical world that not only allows you to wander its breathtaking landscape, but also challenges you with small quests along your journey. Open-world games have been quite popular recently given the locked, restrictive landscapes of games’ past. September was the six-month mark for the pandemic and stay-at-home orders, and just like we saw with Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the quarantine that lasted longer than anyone has anticipated had us yearning to explore and experiences new places.
We are two months short of the anniversary of the start of the pandemic. It’s bittersweet, but I think a lot of us are starting to find our routines and our rhythms through it all. We may not need games to distract us from our current reality anymore, but it is interesting to look back at how we all connected with these few games throughout the year. It’s a comforting reflection and reminds us all that while last year was lonely, we were not alone in our feelings and headspace.