Games we play to feel normal after lockdown

After months of lockdown, champing at the bit to be let loose into society and spend time with other people in the flesh, it’s now kind of weird to be around people again. Trams provoke anxiety, packed shopping centres have some people looking for the exit, and others just aren’t quite comfortable hosting parties like they might have in the Before Times.

Socialising with friends again can cause more anxiety after lockdown. Credit:iStock

A little social anxiety after spending a year being told we might accidentally kill our parents if we stood too close to others is not surprising. It’s also common to feel awkward around others, like you’ve forgotten the intricacies of in-person social interaction, not to mention that you and your friends may have grown apart in the last year, each isolating in different circumstances.

While I wish I had some magic advice that would make it all easier, I’ve been working from home for my entire career (14 years) and frankly I started out a bit weird and awkward. But there has been one thing that’s really helped me come out of my lockdown-associated anxieties and start socialising again: taking the things that helped me through and inviting friends to join me.

Games of both the video and board varieties were what filled my time after I discovered I wasn’t cut out for jigsaw puzzles over 2000 pieces. I already played a lot of games Before Covid, but my habits changed to include more couch co-op – when you play with someone sitting next to you on the same console, as opposed to online multiplayer – and less competitive board games, and now I associate those genres with safety and comfort.

The global shortage of Nintendo Switches suggests I wasn’t the only one using that particular coping mechanism. Two-thirds of Australians were already playing video games before the pandemic, and I’m willing to bet that number grew significantly in 2020.

Perhaps the way out of this post-lockdown weirdness isn’t to force ourselves to be who we were and enjoy the things we used to.Credit:iStock

There’s a big venue in Melbourne’s CBD that is chock full of consoles, arcade machines and board games, with high enough ceilings and large enough rooms that I’m not worried about airflow. It’s there that I’ve found myself more comfortable to start seeing groups of friends again in a way I wouldn’t want to in my tiny apartment.

There are board game cafes popping up all over Victoria in this post-lockdown world, and I think it’s because other people have also discovered that it’s just not viable to go back to the way we were before. The idea of going to a crowded gig and getting covered in the sweat of strangers makes me feel ill.

But playing a well-sanitised game with those friends I missed so much is wonderful. Perhaps the way out of this post-lockdown weirdness isn’t to force ourselves to be who we were and enjoy the things we used to, but instead take our new hobbies and experience them with actual people in a public venue.

Alice Clarke is an award-winning freelance journalist, producer and presenter.

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