Has the pandemic changed your relationship with games?

COVID-19 envisioned as a purple-haired anime hacker by the Taiwan CDC
(Image credit: Taiwan CDC)

Has spending more time at home changed the way you play games, or the way you feel about them? Maybe they've become a vital escape, but maybe you're getting burned out thanks to not having enough other things to do. Maybe you've finally got into something huge and time-intensive, or tried a new series or genre. Maybe you just can't look at Plague Inc. the same way any more.

Has the pandemic changed your relationship with games?

Here are our answers, plus a few from our forum.

Division agents carrying guns

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Christopher Livingston: Since I was already working from home before all this happened, I didn't really feel much of a change at first. But recently it seems like I have two reactions to games: either I bounce off them completely and immediately, or I get stuck into them so hard I don't play anything but that one particular game for ages. For a couple months last year I tried game after game and quit them usually after an hour, or sometimes just a few minutes. Nothing felt fun or interesting. Then I started playing The Division 2 and it became almost a daily obsession for over a month. Which was weird because I'd played it when it first came out and it didn't really grab me.

One day I abruptly dropped it and spent a couple more months unable to get into much of anything. Then Valheim came along and I got completely sucked into it. I don't know how much it has to do with the pandemic situation, but maybe I'm just dying to get utterly transported into a world for some escapism that brief distractions simply don't cut it anymore. I feel like I really need to get pulled into something completely to enjoy it at all.

Graeme Meredith: I have to say 2020 was not a great year for me and gaming. Starting at PC Gamer last February, I was coming off the back of a lengthy unemployment period, during which anything that wasn't job-hunting felt like a guilty pleasure I hadn't earned. So then the pandemic comes along and even though I landed this fantastic job... I couldn't face the weight of my backlog along with everything else. Now I'm 'lagging behind' a year or two on some big releases and the global collective of gaming commentators who occupy social media march on without me. I am trying to get back to gaming as a place of comfort though, and I've always been more of a retro gamer, even since my pre-teens. It's just a bit weird to think Final Fantasy 7 Remake might be older than the original is now by the time I beat it.

A Phantasy Star Online 2 character with some very anime hair

(Image credit: Sega)

Steven Messner: I'm in a similar position to Chris where I've already been working at home for years and so not much has changed in my life (and I've long ago learned how to juggle all the thorny issues that can crop up from living and working in the same space). That said, I definitely have noticed I'm falling for games a lot harder than I otherwise would. I've talked before about my passionate love affair with Phantasy Star Online 2 last year, and I feel like I'm just resurfacing after a double dose of Valheim and Loop Hero—both games that I'm quite certain in years prior I might've played for 10 hours or so and then abandoned. 

The other thing I've noticed is I'm craving games that are much bigger recently. Normally my instinct is to gravitate toward smaller games (especially because I often play MMOs which are endless), but over the past year I find myself wanting to get lost in really big worlds that take hundreds of hours to beat. Case in point, I've foolishly resolved to start chewing through the Legend of Heroes: Trails series. It's seven JRPGs that each measure about 70 hours, and something about spending 490 hours playing JRPGs set in one single world is very appealing to me right now.

A Loop Hero Steam card showing the Lich.

(Image credit: Four Quarters)

James Davenport: I've grown to actively resent PC gaming since the pandemic hit. I barely play anything anymore. I'm not in panic mode though. It's a temporary state, probably. Sitting at my desk in a poorly lit apartment all day is inherently not fun—love the job, not my current space though. (Moving in a few weeks to a better lit spot, thank goodness.) And the thought of continuing to sit there as a form of leisure in the same space where I spend stressful, focused hours working? It doesn't compute as easily anymore, mostly because I can't get the usual ambient social protein I did before the pandemic. 

I'm lucky to be in Austin, where I can wander around in lovely open spaces and keep my distance from people pretty easily. But I moved here right when this all kicked off, some cosmically awful timing, and I feel really constrained without the ability to pace out my time between work and gaming with the usual slate of hobbies, social events, and impromptu activities that keep my mental health in check. Pandemic life has been extremely lonely and stressful, and games haven't worked for me like they're working for others. I kinda associate playing games with the feeling of the world closing in on me lately, even though I know it's not my lovely computer's fault. Loop Hero really is trying its best. I'm just not into games right now, and that's OK. I'll come back around. Anything for Elden Ring, y'know?

Mitterand Hollow, the fastest moon in the galaxy

(Image credit: Frontier Developments)

Natalie Clayton: Fortunately, I haven't been hit too hard by the pandemic. I've been working remotely out of bedrooms for a good while, and my co-working space was still (maybe irresponsibly) open up until last December. But that doesn't mean the isolation isn't getting to me, and I've very quickly found I just don't have the energy for singleplayer games these days. More than ever, I've been pounding hundreds of hours into whatever online game can distract me from the abyss. I've latched onto a bunch of regular games groups—tearing my hair out with lunchtime Mario Kart twice a week, Halo 3 custom games on Sundays and some impromptu Elite: Dangerous bounty hunts whenever folks are around (never even minding the TTRPGs that fill half my evenings). I fell deep into MMOs again, if only because it's reassuring to see dozens of other people hanging around Final Fantasy 14's Limsa plaza. 

But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't spending most nights just staring at my game library, bored out of my mind, struggling to muster the energy to fire anything up. As the months roll on, I'm trying to find ways to fill my time with things besides games. I bought an old film camera after falling in love with Umurangi Generation. I started cycling more, and took up skateboarding when the weather was good. Games are good and fun and all, but the pandemic has really stressed that they really can't be the only thing in my life.

A DJ with wild hair, smiling in front of a dolphin strung up to electrical equipment

(Image credit: Origame Digital)

Harry Shepherd: I'm in a similar boat to James. I can trace a severe drop in my amount of time playing games with successive lockdowns. My old flat had a lovely, relatively large space that could accommodate a living and work setup comfortably, but I grew to resent inhabiting the same room for almost every waking hour as the locked-down months wore on.

So while it's a little better in the place I'm living now, my hours playing games took a nosedive. It's lockdown fatigue. I used to treasure rainy days in and cancelled weekend plans, any excuse to spend the day at my desk. Now I realise I took seeing family and friends, even people at the office, for granted. In other words, just like everybody else, I look forward to things being more normal. I just can't wait for plans to be made again, so I can cancel them and stay inside... again.

GTA Online Heists

(Image credit: Rockstar Games)

Phil Savage: Since the pandemic, I've spent way more time using gaming as a social hangout space—resulting in an escalating series of WhatsApp groups containing slightly different configurations of the same handful of people. And while the groups have stayed mostly the same, the games have changed along the way. Mondays started as Apex Legends night, but are currently for working through GTA Online's various heists. Thursdays began as Valorant night, but now alternate between Sea of Thieves, Valheim, Teamfight Tactics, Deep Rock Galactic and sometimes even Tabletop Simulator. And Sundays are for Destiny 2's various endgame activities. Somehow, around this, I've still found time for some singleplayer gaming.

A trio of bendy, blocky dogs in a colourful playpen.

(Image credit: Animal Uprising)

Mollie Taylor: A lot happened to me in 2020—between the pandemic, graduating university, and general life events, it was an incredibly stressful time. I tend to fall back onto games when I'm stressed, and I fell hard. I completed around 25 games in 2020 and dabbled in countless more. I absolutely blitzed through my backlog and ended up putting over 3,000 hours into games by the year was out...  which averages out to around eight hours every single day. It definitely wasn't a healthy way to deal with the pandemic, but it really helped me reconnect with a hobby that I'd largely ignored for a good year or two. 

I've calmed down and fallen back into a bit of a lull again, but that's OK. I've found recently I'm having much more fun with games that I can play in short bursts like The Sims or Wobbledogs. It's also encouraged me to venture out of my singleplayer bubble and start gaming with buddies a bit more. I recently picked up Rainbow Six Siege as an opportunity to kick back with my friends, have some fun and stress them out with my absolute horseshit shooting skills. It's been a blast, something I think I'll continue doing in a post-pandemic world.

Side-on portrait of Rainbow Six operator Ela

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Fraser Brown: I used Year One of The Plague to finish nearly 50 games; it's probably the most I've ever finished in a year. I'm very bad at finishing games unless I've got a review deadline, so it felt great to actually follow through for once. I've also been using them to socialise a lot more, and I've got a bunch of regular groups for both videogames and tabletop roleplaying, so I've really relied on them to keep me from fully cracking. 

Unfortunately, I'm kinda getting a bit sick of them. It's not the games, really; it's that I spend pretty much all day and night, seven days a week, staring at various screens. I need to go somewhere, with someone, and do something—none of it virtual. I'm starting to associate screens with the pandemic, which can only be a bad thing. 

Phasmophobia - a lit Ouija board

(Image credit: Kinetic Games)

Morgan Park: I play games as much as ever, but since the pandemic, I'm constantly on Discord with friends I used to only talk to in-person or in a group chat. We play, watch, and listen to whatever together on a nightly basis. Ironically, I've never spent more time with them than in the past year. This has also slightly changed my taste in games. We tend to favor anything multiplayer or inherently sharable, like Phasmophobia or Overwatch. I don't spend as much time with singleplayer games that I have to pay close attention to because friends are usually talking over it while I stream. I'll duck out when I'm really engrossed in something, but there's a greater beauty to chatting with friends while playing a game that thrives in its silence like Death Stranding.

A witch hunter stands in a field

(Image credit: Fatshark)

Jody Macgregor: I've got a semi-regular multiplayer group again for the first time in years. My old group used to play Borderlands 2 and the first Vermintide, if that gives you an idea when it was. Now I've got a group who meet up on Discord to play Vermintide 2, Deep Rock Galactic, Left 4 Dead 2, and recently a bit of Dakka Squadron. 

I'm still playing singleplayer stuff as much as ever too. But while I'm not feeling burned-out on videogames, after running a weekly D&D game via videoconference for months I'm thoroughly sick of roleplaying. Something about the way RPGs translate online fried my brain, and I need a good long break from that.

From our forum

badman: I think I'm getting back to my 90's self. Last couple of years, like a lot of other gamers, I found myself having little patience understanding and learning games. Numerous times I started a random Battlefield game: you can hop in and out, it's quick and simple. But now, because of the pandemic, I have more time. More time means more patience, so here I am learning how to fly the F18 in DCS. It's back to the roots and I love it. Never knew I missed these kind of games.

bh3bh3: Nah. I have more time now than going outside on a trip since it is better to stay at home rather than going outside and have a chance of getting this COVID.

An elf Gray Warden from Dragon Age: Origins

(Image credit: EA)

mainer: Not really, although this past year (2020) I found myself re-playing a lot of older games. I replayed all 3 Dragon Age games, the ME1-3 Trilogy as well as ME Andromeda, modded another run for Skyrim, started (and still going) a playthrough of both Baldur's Gate 1 & 2, and am also modding for another run at Fallout 4. Part of this is being at home more, part of it is being a bit more nostalgic & having more time to think and reminisce, and part of it is that nothing new really caught my interest. There's BG3, but I'm not quite ready to jump into early access there, and CP2077 which clearly isn't a finished game, so that's about a year away.

Jody Macgregor
Weekend/AU Editor

Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games. He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun, The Big Issue, GamesRadar, Zam, Glixel, Five Out of Ten Magazine, and Playboy.com, whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was about the audio of Alien Isolation, published in 2015, and since then he's written about why Silent Hill belongs on PC, why Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is the best fantasy shopkeeper tycoon game, and how weird Lost Ark can get. Jody edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and he eventually lived up to his promise to play every Warhammer videogame.