Escaping to virtual worlds: the beauty of video games in lockdown

29.04.20

Over the last few weeks, many games developers and publishers have been hammering home the idea of #PlayApartTogether. The aim of the movement is to encourage individuals to connect with friends via the artistic medium of video games during this period of strict isolation. Which is definitely more interesting than staring into your cereal for hours on end.

But video games aren’t just a great way to connect with your community. While we’re all struggling with the challenges of lockdown, this is also the perfect opportunity to use our free time to escape. Because that’s exactly what a video game can offer. Leaving behind the monotony of your isolation routine for a few hours, they allow you to adventure through vast landscapes, meeting characters and having experiences that allow you (The Player) to gain a true emotional understanding of the fictional worlds.    

As a grade-A nerd and an experienced 3D video game artist/developer, I felt that this would be the perfect opportunity to immerse myself in the artistic narratives, both old and new, that are uniquely expressed in the active settings of video games. With permission from my girlfriend, a well-fed and happy tortoise, and a bowl of freshly-cut fruit salad, I fell back into my sofa and began my gaming marathon focusing primarily on narrative genius.

(Don’t worry I won’t spoil any of the following games for those of you eager to experience them.)

Firewatch

The first game on my list was Firewatch. This game is a beautiful artistic marvel that uses various hues of orange and purple to express a clear passage of time throughout the game’s storyline. Playing as a newly-assigned Firewatch employee in a national park, you traverse this grand and occasionally surreal exaggerated landscape, unravelling the history of the world around you whilst also coming to understand and respect the blight of the main protagonist. With a well-written narrative and pure and heartfelt character development, this certainly is an experience that will tug on anyone’s heart strings.

What Remains of Edith Finch

The second experience I delved into was a masterclass in world building and development of exaggerated yet realistic 3D art, What Remains of Edith Finch. This game will not be for everyone due it’s linear nature, but if you can move past having your hand held by the experience, you will be greeted with a sincere and pure narrative that truly was an artistic love letter written by its developers. Throughout the game, you traverse an abandoned and derelict home with a key desire to understand the house’s old inhabitants. Every room, corridor and walkway has been filled to the brim with information, family photos hang on the walls, diaries left open on bedside tables; each bedroom feels more like a museum detailing all of the intricacies of the individual it used to belong to. At any point during your playing experience, you can just pause and stare at the digital world around you; there is so much beauty within the intricate details.

Bioshock Infinite

From a slow but deliberate world, I then moved into a fast-paced outlandish extravaganza known as Bioshock Infinite. This experience presents the player with a fictional land in the sky known as columbia, a truly beautiful 3D interpretation of an exaggerated neoclassical society akin to that of 1912 america. Throughout the inspired yet hostile landscape, the player truly becomes immersed within this fictional world from the past. Without spoiling any of the main narrative beats, I can say that this is an experience I return to time and time again due to it’s raw, unrelenting dedication to the creative vision and ideology set out by creative director, Ken Levine. This truly is a must for anyone keen to experience the Reservoir Dogs of video games.

The Last of Us

Approaching 6 o’clock I decided to enter a world that is slightly too-close-to-home given the current circumstances, The Last of Us. The game is a photorealistic power-house that presents gorgeous snow covered forests one second and in the next is able to seamlessly transition to a post-apocalyptic Boston. In the midst of a zombie apocalypse, the player takes the role of Joel, hardened over time, this character has become a walking-dead professional but is instantly disarmed when a teenage girl named Ellie is put into his care. As you experience this world through their eyes, you truly begin to feel a real human bond developing between them – that, paired with Naughty Dog’s dedication to developing unpredictable story beats and a gorgeous real-time environment, truly makes you care about these characters and believe wholeheartedly in the environment they inhabit. This is definitely an experience that everyone should check out if they wish to understand how truly human video games can be.

Lastly, for a great time with friends, I strongly recommend the blocky world of Minecraft. Minecraft lets your imagination run free and has let me and all my mates have a great time building castles together over microphone.

And that’s it. I spent all day digitally sightseeing and I don’t regret it one single bit. Video games are unique in being able to make us feel emotions and experience narratives in a way that passive mediums could only dream of. Although in my marathon list above I primarily focussed on narrative adventures it is important to remember there is something for everyone in this medium, if you fancy driving big rigs across Europe, Euro Truck Simulator has got you covered. Or if you wish to wander through a hand painted world as a creature of light possibly try out Moon Studios, Ori and the Blind Forest. 

I hope that this spoiler free list of my time and my passion for interactive mediums has inspired at least a few of you to give these artistic beauties a go during your isolation. Now if you need me you will find me in the insane virtual reality world of Half Life: Alyx.

Remember to stay home and stay safe!

#PlayApartTogether