2020 in Review: Videogames and Friendships

In my childhood, I was never deprived of the entertainment that videogames can offer. However, given the number of hours my peers spent on videogames after school hours, my parents found two ways to combat me from doing the same. First, they purchased my a Playstation Portable really early on, as soon as it came out. Second, we only purchased games once a year, and I was allowed to buy two. Third, the PSP was hidden away from me during school-time, and I had access to it only during holidays – of any kind. Finally, I was not allowed an upgrade. So no PS2, PS3, or anything else. That kept me away from playing with my friends and playing for hours beyond what I was allotted. I was never really good with videogames that were competitive, enjoying storylines a lot more. Some time around Grade 9 I was allowed to trade-in my PSP for a PS3, but it came at a time when I couldn’t really enjoy it, so I moved on from it pretty quickly. That didn’t mean I stopped enjoying videogames. I’d still play when I went to my friends’ houses. Even when I didn’t have my PSP as a kid, I’d be able to play Runescape for a couple of hours with my friends each week, and when I visited their houses, their PS2 was fair game.

As a consequence, I think my relationship with videogames was less personal and more community-based. I also don’t think I developed a particular attachment for them; but I did follow along to all of the conversation surrounding them because of my interest in technology and the way my friends described games.

I rediscovered videogames at the end of last year. When I went back to University, I decided that it was something I’d continue to do, to switch off from anything related to making applications or doing University work. Videogames found a place on my OneNote, highlighting my commitment to being entertained by them. Then COVID-19 struck. I relocated home. For the first week, I didn’t play too much at all. I was very focused on figuring out to live alone at home, how to operate stuff, and what all the precautions advised by the Government meant for me.

At some point in the second week, I think I realized I was freer than I had ever been, and at some point, the amount of information around the pandemic meant I needed a switch-off. My school friends, who realized I was in Bengaluru now, reached out and added me to a gaming group. 2020 has been a strange year, and for a large part of it, despite having a community around me, and my parents and family a video-call away, I know I was physically quite alone. This was a deliberate decision, but there were some days where I wondered why there was so much quiet around me. Although we played every day, it was those days that made me most grateful for my school friends and videogames. My house was filled with a cacophony of sound that made me feel like I was in school again. Even when I wasn’t playing I could just watch the others play, or chat with them on our discord server while they gamed away.

So that’s the first thing that’s changed. I’ve recalibrated my view toward videogames and toward friendships I established in school.

Let’s talk about videogames first. Even though I enjoyed them, I’d rationalize how I didn’t experience them myself so much by thinking about how I was spending my time in a better way, insofar as I was always doing something I would have been doing anyway instead of playing videogames. In that position however, I wasn’t ever in a position where I could consider the value of videogames in a fair, objective way. My decision was based entirely on my limited experience and exposure to limited games, and how I emotionally felt – that it was better to be outside playing sports or such, or studying. Through the pandemic though, I changed that. My parents really couldn’t say anything because I did need a switch-off.

So, here’s a couple of things I now recognize about videogames.

Videogames improve your fine motor skills. I read several scientific papers, and it definitely appears that there’s a positive correlation between playing videogames and motor skills. They also improve your cognitive abilities in terms of being able to process novel pieces of information and adapt quickly. This, I think is particularly true of action and first-person games.

Videogames improve your communication skills, particularly where you play team games. You learn how to say things quickly – in shorthand.

Videogames allow you to experience things that you wouldn’t ordinarily get to experience. I played a lot of F1 2020, Football Manager, FIFA 2020. None of these things: being a racing driver, a football manager, or a football player are things that I see myself being able to do in real life. I do not possess the skill-set or the financial backing. I possess the passion, and the desire to learn, which I can put into effect in videogames, and derive joy out of. Flight Simulator also, for example, allows you to satisfy the aviation geek inside you. I can’t replace that.

Finally, they are fun. That’s been the biggest, biggest change in my perspective toward videogames. I still am terrible at videogames, but even when I lose, I find myself having more fun than so many other things I do with my time. Therefore, when it comes to making decisions about how to spend my time – if I’m trying to decide how to have the most fun with a block of time, there are times now where I would genuinely choose videogames, and be very comfortable with that.

I learned that I’m somebody who enjoys sports games – and arcade games, the most, followed closely by story-line based games and role-playing games. Which is why Runescape is still a favourite. First-person action and shooting games I will play for my friends. I will always be terrible at them. I don’t have the patience to spend hours improving my skill.

What I also witnessed this year that deserves conversation is how videogames became a place where fans of a particular sport were brought closer to real-life players. F1 drivers were playing F1 2020 and struggling in places, which was hilarious for us. Real-life football players started playing FIFA more because they had some more time off.

Now I’d like to talk about my high school friends. I loved them at school. After school I know I struggled with our relationship. We weren’t in touch as much, and initially I didn’t understand how or why we went from talking to each other for eight hours a day to less than eight hours across months. I don’t think I was mentally ready for that. It took me a while to recognize how busy we had all become, and then it took me a lot longer to accept that there were times we’d be in the same city and be unable to see each other. At some point, I began to ask myself if as individuals, we were likely to be friends if we had not gone to school together.

My answer was, I don’t know. I can’t say, because so much of our friendship stems out of the circumstances in which we were introduced. It is difficult to displace that an look at our relationship.

However, what I do know is the reality of things. We were introduced under a very specific set of circumstances. All of us ended up at the same school. We shared five years together. I wouldn’t replace those five years with any other set of people I know in my life; nor would I replace this set of people with any other combination of people.

Acknowledging that, what I’ve learned is that our lives and our circumstances are going to change throughout life, but the fact that we went to school together is not something that any of us are going to be able to escape. Our friendship is therefore not conditional or predicated on anything else in our lives, because any condition to our friendship has already been fulfilled. We’ve shared the experience that we were meant to share with each other. We got to spend five years together, which is a substantial period of time in any of our lives – right now, it’s close to 1/5th of mine. We became close in those five years. That’s not going to change irrespective of anything that happens in our lives.

What that led me to realize is that the relationship we shared then is one that’s trapped in time. None of us can erase that. So if we’re in touch or not in touch, we’re all school classmates at minimum. We’re people who’ve seen each other at our most childish. That cannot change. What’s clear to me, therefore, is that unless circumstances change in our individual relationships significantly, we’re going to stay friends for our lifetime. I’m so pleased to be able to cherish that, acknowledge that, and accept that, finally.

That’s allowed me to let go of a lot of the hurt I felt when I visited Bangalore and wasn’t able to meet too many of them. That’s allowed me to let go of the momentary joys I used to feel when I’d get a message from them out of the blue; especially because I was in a different city. It allows me to be more at peace with our relationship – and just appreciate it, instead of doing anything else.

It’s been beautiful.

The best thing it did was that it pushed me to reach out to as many of my school classmates as I could, to say hello. To enquire, honestly, how they were. The thing the pandemic made clear to me is that I shouldn’t be waiting for anyone else. If I want to speak to someone, I’m going to reach out to them and ask if we can chat.

My school friends responded to mothers’ request to be in this insane birthday video she made for me this year. I got to spend time and see several of them before I moved to the UK (one of them came home in the last week before I left); and I still chat with them frequently because this group now exists.

I will appreciate and cherish all of this. I will cherish each one of them. By extension, I’m going to cherish and appreciate every single relationship I develop henceforth. My perspective on the smaller stuff has changed. Having the opportunity to know another individual in any capacity is a blessing because it’s an opportunity to see the world through a different pair of eyes. That’s something I’m so grateful for, and something I have only my school friends to thank for.

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