Video games are more accessible now than they’ve ever been. In 2020, you can install Fortnite on your phone, create an account, and be skydiving out of a flying bus in less time than it takes to make a sandwich. A big part of gaming’s overall appeal across its nearly-50-year history has been the pick-up-and-play nature of iconic games from Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog to Call of Duty and Minecraft. In a world ravaged by COVID-19 and economic downturns, escapism is one of the only comforts we can rely on.
Like most other businesses, the world of entertainment has hit dire straits. Film and television productions are being modified on the fly or stalled indefinitely. Musicians and concert venues are scrambling to adopt at-home options for fans starved for live entertainment. Meanwhile, video game sales are breaking records and raking in millions of dollars. As the world stops turning, consumers are proving eager to turn to game consoles to pass the time.
Gaming is accessible and fun, sure; but with accessibility comes options. Do you want to play alone or by yourself? Are you in the mood to game on a home console or from the comfort of your phone? Are you into shooting things, building things, or playing digital party games? Do you have children and are you trying to share screentime with them?
Being a first-time gamer in the age of COVID-19 can feel like a daunting task. To make things easier, Okayplayer spoke with some experts and notable members of the gaming community to get the basics of modern gaming through COVID and beyond.
What current generation video game console should I buy?
Both Sony’s PlayStation 4 and the Nintendo Switch were huge sellers before the pandemic — they boast 108 million and 53 million total worldwide sales, respectively. But lockdown has made them harder to come by. If you’re having a hard time finding a console, Erin Simon, a journalist and livestreamer, recommends you look for Nintendo’s smaller counterpart to the original Switch, the Switch Lite.
“I just bought myself a Switch Lite,” she said. “It’s a little difficult to find Switches right now, but you’re most likely going to find a Switch Lite.”
The Nintendo Switch has become a popular system amid the pandemic, primarily because of the popularity of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Exclusive to the Switch, New Horizons — the latest in the almost 20-year-old Animal Crossing series — is now the go-to quarantine game, allowing players an escape from the stressors of the real world as they build their own island and interact with other people across the world.
“Animal Crossing has had a cult following, and it’s a game that has social components that not only allows gamers to stay connected and to engage virtually, but also it’s not an ‘intimidating’ game for newer gamers who want to play with friends and get involved,” Simon said. “Plus, social media has helped with content, memes and people wanting to sell items….allows them to expand beyond just their group of friends.”
I love to play old school video games — how do I play the classics?
Emulators have become popular among casual gamers looking to revisit the classic games of their adolescence. Programs that allow a personal computer or video game console to emulate another video game console, emulators are often used to play games from the ’80s to the early 2000s.
Although federal court has ruled emulators legal, it’s a contentious topic for gamers and video game publishers, both divided on apps, consoles, and websites that make playing classic games accessible. With that said, there are official mini consoles that are pre-programmed with older games. Nintendo has its NES Classic Edition system that comes with 30 pre-installed games including Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Galaga and others, as well as a SNES Classic Edition system that comes with 21 pre-installed games including Super Mario World, Super Mario Kart, Street Fighter II: Turbo and others. The consoles cost $59.99 and $79.99, respectively. If you’re more of a PlayStation fan, Sony has its PlayStation Classic console that comes pre-loaded with 20 games including Metal Gear Solid, Tekken 3, Final Fantasy VII, and others, that retails for $99.99.
If you own a current gen system but want to play games that came out on its predecessors, you could look into their respective could-based emulation services. For example, Simon recommends Xbox’s Game Pass if you own an Xbox and in the market for something more open-ended. As an Xbox Game Pass member, you have access to over 100 games — among those included are classics like Fable, Gears of War, and Halo — for a monthly price of $9.99. PlayStation also has its own cloud-based emulation service called PlayStation Now, which allows members to stream PS2, PS3, and PS4 games. The price, which ranges from $9.99 to $59.99, depends on the plan you choose. Nintendo does not have its own cloud-based service, but a number of games from the NES, SNES, and Nintendo 64 can be purchased through the Nintendo eShop.
How do I get into live streaming games?
Streaming has affected every facet of entertainment and video games are no exception. Platforms like Twitch, YouTube, and Mixer have become homes for live streaming over the course of the last five years. Games are the bedrock for several different forms of content: reviews, speed runs, let’s plays, and personalities trying (and failing) to play games. At its best, streaming brings skill, humor, and controller-snapping frustration together for an audience of millions.
For Simon, live streaming is a fun way to expand her reputation as a trustworthy voice. She began her career in traditional sports and music media, but sought to incorporate gaming into her repertoire. She has since taken on writing and broadcasting via the now-defunct Cheddar Esports, as well as co-hosting the Grass Routes Podcast with Brandon Hall.
“When you’re trained in journalism, video games wasn’t a route that was highlighted,” she said. “People really valued my perspective and my thoughts and now that’s been something I’ve focused on a lot more.”
Simon regularly streams a variety of games — from Call of Duty and Overwatch to Streets of Rage — from her Twitch account. Her main setup for live streaming includes a list of technological goodies, including but not limited to:
Sure, it may seem like an intimidating amount of tech, but Simon is reassuring in that the most important elements of live streaming can’t be bought from a store: curiosity and passion. Aside from that, her biggest advice for prospective gamers? Find popular channels and take notes.
“When I first started, I streamed straight from my console and used my Playstation camera,” she said. “Watch those who are better than you and learn what they do well.”
“People assume that to be a gamer you have to be super intense, but you don’t,” she added. “There are layers to it and we embrace everyone who’s passionate and genuine. A lot of people in this community are willing to give out information; it’s all about asking questions.”
Detroit rapper Noveliss is also an avid game streamer. A solo artist and member of the group Clear Soul Forces, Noveliss has always acknowledged his love for video games in his music. When starting his Twitch account earlier this year, Noveliss decided to stray away from popular games dominated by bigger streamers, and cultivate his own lane.
“Fans like to see you doing other stuff outside of making dope music sometimes,” he said.
He gravitates toward games like Mega Man — “My favorite video game soundtrack ever is Mega Man Zero 2” — and Star Wars Battlefront 2 and, like other streamers, doesn’t hide his frustrations when he makes mistakes.
“Not everybody can pick up a game and beat it in a speedrun,” he said. “It’s not always people wanting to tune in to see how good somebody is. It’s dope to connect based on people playing the game just like you do. Like, ‘He struggles at the same part of the game that I do.’ On top of that, it’s funny.”
Noveliss’ setup is similar to Simon’s early setup: he broadcasts straight from his PS4 to Twitch, and speaks through a headset. Being able to settle into a less demanding setup made streaming an easier prospect for him.
“I was so hesitant to get into streaming because I’d see people with these elaborate setups and would think ‘There’s no way I’ll figure out how to do that,'” he said. But Noveliss wasn’t discouraged for long. Now, he has over 100 followers ready to watch him barrel-roll through games of Battlefront.
How do I get into competitive gaming?
Game tournaments are big business. Overwatch tournaments draw enough eyeballs to air on ESPN; SportsCenter is tweeting videos of pro players smashing keyboards. The spread of COVID-19 has increased the collective want for competitive sporting events, and gaming has come in to fill that need for millions.
Although first-person shooters are currently the primary focus, there are other gaming scenes with active tournaments. The fighting game community — commonly shortened to the “FGC” — has a healthy and thriving scene for anyone willing to digitally square up for cash or fun. Yearly tournaments like Las Vegas’ Evolution Championship Series (EVO) and Illinois’ Combo Breaker regularly draw hundreds of thousands of players from around the world to compete in games like Street Fighter and Super Smash Bros. At fighting game tournaments, 10-hit combos and guard breaks are the equivalents of three-pointers and field goals.
Just ask Jeannail “Cuddle Core” Carter, a 25-year-old professional Tekken 7 player for Team Equinox. She was introduced to the Tekken fighting game series at the age of five by her father, who remains an active gamer himself.
“Even before that, when my mom was pregnant with me, she would go spend time with my dad in his studio while he played Playstation,” she said. “While he was playing Tekken, she claims I would kick her stomach every time the sound effects were loud enough.”
A veteran of the competitive gaming scene, Carter has more than a few tips for novices looking to sharpen their skills. First, make sure to practice matchups — specific character pairings pitted against each other in-game.
“It’s important to give yourself goals but to not overstress yourself,” she said. “Allow yourself to make mistakes. You’ll lose sometimes but don’t blame anyone but yourself. Spend your energy in the lab, and practicing your matchups and watching other player’s moves.”
For tech and equipment, it’s important to come to a match prepared with a pair of headphones — Carter recommends Astro of Victrix — to tune out a noisy crowd.
“If you’re a sound-based person, you need to be able to hear what goes on inside your game — being able to focus and hone in on what’s going on, especially if you’re new,” she said.
Unlike Carter, who prefers playing with a default Playstation controller, many players prefer large gamepads similar to an arcade machine setup. If stick is your choice, Carter suggests the Qanba Obsidian or the HORI Fighting Edge gamepads. However, she assures that, as long as you’re comfortable, it doesn’t matter what controller you use.
And lastly, you’ve got to remain hydrated and eat foods that keep you alert and energized.
“I wouldn’t recommend anything heavy or greasy. Not for a fight,” she said. “Fruit and grains and things like that really help. Your body is a vessel and you have to take care of it.”
I have kids — what games should I play with them?
Being trapped at home has thrown off everyone’s schedule. For parents, that means being home more often with their kids. If you’re looking for something to do as a family, gaming would be an excellent place to start.
“My husband and I both game, and it’s hard to not engage our son in it,” writer Stephanie Williams said. Williams regularly plays games with her four-year-old son Micah, with his favorite game currently being Sonic The Hedgehog. Amid COVID, she sees it as more opportunities to bond with her child through gaming.
“He’s already gotten past the Green Hill Zone and beaten Dr. Robotnik, which I thought was wild,” she said. Moments not spent playing Sonic Mania together are usually spent with Micah looking over his parents’ shoulders while they play Animal Crossing or Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3.
‘There’s probably been about a 30 percent increase since he’s not at school during the day,” she said. “I’ll be picking up the Switch or turning on Spider-Man for PS4 for a replay and he’s right there like, ‘Wow, you’re doing that again?’ He can either find some distance or watch.”
Noveliss is also a parent who has been bonding with his children — son Jayliss and daughter Nova — through gaming.
“Video games are a bonding thing in my house,” he said. “They’ve already done their school for the day; what else do you want them to be doing right now? It’s about not wanting them to game all day but letting them have fun. They’re living through a pandemic that no one’s ever experienced.”
For new parents looking to introduce their children to the world of gaming, both Noveliss and Williams have tips to share. The former recommends finding a balance between allowing time for games and doing other activities, while Williams suggests introducing them to games you played as a child.
“Kids absorb everything,” she said. “They watch your fingers on the controllers, and you’ll be amazed at how fast they pick it up. It’s bonkers to me that he beat Green Hill Zone and he’s only four.”
Emulators are another important aspect of bonding with your children that can also double as a nostalgia trip.
“I’ve been trying to find an old Nintendo emulator so I can download an old Sesame Street game with Ernie and his rubber ducky that I despised but is pretty educational for him,” Stephanie said.
Dylan “CineMasai” Green is a freelance writer and general geek at large whose work can be found on DJBooth, BET, and Complex, among other sites. He believes that Bow Wow walked so that we could all fly. You can follow him @CineMasai_
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