My situation isn’t unique. The last time that I gave my 10-year old brother a hug, rustling his hair for the sole purpose of annoying him, was back in February.
Even then, it was a brief visit back home, as I was planning to come back “as soon as I get the chance,” which I remember telling him before going through the airport doors, distracted by the worries over final deadlines, exams and submissions.
Regardless of whether you have to board a five-hour plane journey, which was the case for me, or a one-hour train ride to reach your family home, distance doesn’t discriminate; it makes us all equally crumble under the heavy weight of saudade that it carries.
Gaming, however, rises like a bridge amidst the abyss of solitude, immersing all ages into its expansive digital universe.
The decade-long age gap between my brother and I has always manifested itself in our polar opposite attitudes towards gaming. As you may have guessed, I’m the one with close-to-zero interest for the animated landscapes and digital adventures.
My experience in gaming is limited to watching my Sims refuse to wash their days-old dishes, indulging in the girly fantasy of Barbie games, almost always getting caught by police in Need for Speed, pretentiously taking part in Wii Sports all while hating actual sports, and secretly playing the LEGO games, even though they’re made for six-year-olds.
For the reason of the very limited range of games I’ve played in my life, I accept my brother teasing me and expressing his shame about this in that jokey sibling way. Games mean everything to him, and they used to mean almost nothing to me. Yet, I’m not questioning the peculiar hobbies of Generation Alpha, which my brother belongs to, as while the interests that we obsess over change, the pattern of addiction never does.
If my brother lived in the body of a 10-year-old boy in the 16th century, he would probably spend all of his days fighting imaginary soldiers with a wooden sword. Today, he also fights fictional enemies, the only difference is that his battles exist inside his smart phone rather than the worlds of his own mind’s making.
Even if I, as a proud Gen Z, entertained myself differently back when I was 10, today I tend to throw the perception of differences between us out the window and program my adult mind into viewing the world through his eyes.
He hasn’t seen his busy university student sister for almost 200 days. He is neither part of the social media craze, so he can’t just scroll through my latest updates, nor does he share the love for phone calling that our parents have. How then does he spend quality time with his only sibling, who now seems so unreachable?
For this reason, since 2020 has turned our daily routines upside down, I’ve been in a perpetual chase after the sensation of being close to my little brother for him not to worry about my well-being. Thankfully, the technological fruits of the 21st century help trick my brain into thinking that he’s right next to me, and I pray they do the same for him.
Knowing his passion for Roblox, it was my time to be his student while he played the role of my mini mentor, as he accompanied me, a rookie, navigating my way through the blocky realms.
While we spent hours having fun in the simulator games and chatting about the ridiculously hard missions using the online chat tools, being able to interact with his online avatar has filled in the emotional hole that comes with long-term separation.
I could ‘see’ him, I could run and fight alongside him, I could ‘speak’ to him, I could ‘witness’ his wins and support him through the in-game challenges; to my socially deprived brain, that has been enough.
The boom in gaming during Covid-19, therefore, only seems like a natural occurrence to me.
Nielsen, a global data analytics organisation, has shown that the lockdown saw a 28% increase in gaming in the UK, with the highest rise being in the U.S. (46%) since 23 March 2020.
Not only that, but a number of game companies such as Zynga and Activision Blizzard launched the #PlayApartTogether campaign back in March together with the World Health Organisation, aiming to promote the following of safety guidelines through special in-game events, rewards, activities and exclusive offers.
For those with an innate love for gaming, the past months have been a time to dedicate their energy into their favourite pastime. For those previously disinterested like me, it’s been a way to teleport through the computer and mobile screens to the living room floor of my home, on which I once sat and watched my brother shout with excitement as he’d defeat the boss in one of the countless games he has on his phone.
Learning how to play my brother’s favourite games has also taught me that sometimes, the most effective way to rest from the hardships of reality is to slash our way through computerised battles with the online avatars of our most precious allies fighting by our sides.
Technological advancements, including games, exist to turn the impossible into possible. If to the people from 100 years ago that meant getting to drive flying cars, to me it meant finally being able to fulfil that instinctive desire for such a simple, yet so rehabilitating connection with my number one gaming hero, my little brother.
Image credit: Katerina Vyurkova