Conquering virtual mountains: How video games got me through 2020

23 Mar 2021
By Ellie M., Post-grad at University of Glasgow

I’ve always loved disappearing into fictional worlds, being drawn in by my imagination with books or completely absorbed in the visuals of a film. But, this year, I discovered how to actually take part in a story - through games.

I’d never been much of a gamer or, at least, not compared to a lot of people.

Yes, I had a Nintendo DS as a kid and I’d still occasionally crack out my Nintendo Wii for a Mario Kart party. But over the last five years? I’ve probably only played four games all the way through.

That was, until last Christmas, when I received a console that would change the way I spent my evenings, dominate my related YouTube suggestions list, and drive my flatmates mad with Super Smash Bros.

I’m talking about a Nintendo Switch.

Having a current generation console was literally a game-changer for me. Before, I think part of the reason I didn’t play many games was because the ones I had access to were quite old and graphically outdated. They just weren’t as exciting as the ones I saw my brothers playing on the Xbox and I felt like I couldn’t really justify buying one myself with uni work constantly looming in the background.

But, finally, I caved, promised myself that uni work would come first and took the plunge into the world of Mario and Zelda, all based on the philosophy of fun.

Embracing the ultimate escape

Over the year, and especially during the lockdowns, I poured many, many hours into Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Stardew Valley, and yes, I even played a bit of Fortnite (I mean, it is free).

I wouldn’t say I couldn’t have lived without the games I played this year. I’m sure I’d have found other things to do had I not had a Switch. But, actually, I realise now just how fantastic an escape it was when it felt like the world was falling apart.

I certainly wasn’t locking myself away from the world, though. I still think it’s important to know what’s going on, but getting lost in a game was a relief, and it meant I wasn’t thinking about what was happening on a constant basis.

I’ve never been very good at relaxing, either. I found games really helped with that during lockdown because I struggle to just sit and watch something on Netflix - I have to be doing something else at the same time. Honestly, even reading a book these days feels slightly unproductive.

But if I was playing a game? I was watching the story unfold like a film and using the controller to make it happen at the same time. It might not necessarily have been productive, but I felt like I was doing something more than just staring at a screen.

Climbing virtual mountains

Playing games brought a whole host of other advantages for me this year. When we were told to stay at home, I really missed adventuring out to the mountains and going on walks, but Breath of the Wild let me explore vast landscapes and discover snow-covered peaks.

Celeste replicated that feeling of pushing through a difficult hike, with the added sense of achievement when you reach the end, while Stardew Valley let me live out the quiet and tranquil life of a farmer and inspired me to have a go at gardening in the real world when the weather improved.

As for Super Smash Bros Ultimate, it allowed me to channel my frustration and challenge my friends. Minecraft let me create any kind of world I could imagine, and Dark Souls… actually, Dark Souls wasn’t helpful. It’s too hard.

But, to be honest, even the harder games were beneficial. For the most part, I eventually got through them, and that sense of achievement when you finally beat a boss you’ve been fighting since breakfast is brilliant. It definitely made lockdown more bearable.

It was really fun having something to work towards, too, whether it was the next chapter of Link’s backstory (Breath of the Wild) or collecting enough pieces of stone in Stardew Valley to upgrade my farmhouse.

Building connections

One of the best parts of getting into gaming, though, was a real sense of community when I started playing games more often. It gave me something to discuss with other gamers I knew and opened up a whole world of YouTube discussions and Discord servers to join.

Even within the games, most of the other characters also had backstories and motivations and dialogue to interact with (yes, I know they’re not real people, but it was nice to have a chat, nonetheless).

I also found that many of the characters really made me think. Books and films are full of heroes and villains but, in games, you actually become them. You relate to a character and see and act through their personality and motivations.

In fact, I started to see elements of characters in myself or even wish I had some of their traits. This year especially, I think games like The Last of Us Part II, Spiritfarer, and even Among Us have made us reflect upon the world, our relationships, and who we are as people.

More than anything, though, games provided a distraction when I needed it most. They are immersive, full of adventure, and require a good deal of concentration (believe me, I have also played a lot of Tetris this year). They can also provide new experiences, give you a great sense of achievement, and even open up new communities.

If you’ve been on the fence about getting a Switch this year, or any other console, I certainly think it’s worth it. So, as we battle another lockdown, what are you waiting for?

For more tips on how to get through lockdown, don’t forget to check out our health and wellbeing articles right here.

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Crafter, casual gamer, and future forest ranger. I'm Ellie and I graduated from the University of Glasgow in 2021 with a degree in Film Studies and Theatre. I grew up in rural Aberdeenshire and am still trying to figure this ‘adult’ thing out.