Of the eight “Playroom Rules” my mother kept tacked up for my siblings and me in our childhood home, one in particular always stood out: “In Animal Crossing: City Folk, no one may send Jack meaningless mail.”
Beyond showcasing the unique brand of sibling rivalry my brother had to endure at the hands of two older sisters (which, apparently, included maxing out his Animal Crossing™: City Folk mailbox to the point he couldn’t receive mail from his in-game neighbors), it’s a good indicator of the major role video games played in my life growing up: Every Sunday that I can remember, I raced my siblings in Mario Kart™ 64 over chocolate chip pancakes, our next-door neighbor filling the essential fourth-player role. Over holiday breaks, we spent afternoons watching my brother play Paper Mario™ or begged my dad to join in for a few rounds of GoldenEye 007 (somehow, he always won). On playdates with classmates, we’d challenge ourselves to make it through a 50-turn round of Mario Party™ before someone’s parents came to pick them up — which, surprisingly, was always more difficult than it sounds.
But it wasn’t just about the games: For me, the freedom to immerse myself so completely in these virtual worlds also played a role in the way I interacted with friends and family in real life. Sure, the Mario Kart sibling tournaments inevitably became less frequent as we all got older and outgrew the family playroom. But still, the world of gaming remained a pivotal community touchstone for me. And even now, in my 20s, my relationship with video games has yet to stop evolving. In fact, over the past year, it’s taken on a whole new meaning in my life. And it’s more central than ever before.
Like so many others, I bought myself a Nintendo Switch™ system at the start of the pandemic with the intent of passing the time playing the Animal Crossing: New Horizons game. Every morning, I would tune into Isabelle’s island-wide broadcast (“Today’s news is that there isn’t any news!”), pull up the weeds that had popped up overnight, catch fish and insects to donate to the local museum, and water every flower surrounding my yellow-roofed home. And the truth is, in a time when my usual routines — commuting to work, running errands, dining out with friends — were suddenly stripped away, all these admittedly mundane tasks became strangely comforting.
From there, I discovered the vibrant world of The Legend of Zelda™: Breath of the Wild, and was immediately consumed by the open-world freedom, the puzzle-based shrines, and the original soundtrack, which still tugs at my heartstrings (or sends me into a panic, if an enemy Guardian is nearby). And after realizing just how much I was enjoying gaming, I decided to take things one step further and give Twitch streaming a try.
At first, I was just hoping to find other like-minded gamers outside of my immediate circle (who could also, conveniently, help me figure out how to beat Ganon). But almost immediately, I fell in love with the platform — and streaming a few times a month for the occasional wayward viewer quickly turned into consistent thrice-weekly broadcasts for a regular, growing community. Suddenly, I found myself with a whole group of people I loved spending time with entirely online, in our own corner of the internet.
Now, just over a year since I first started streaming, gaming has become a cornerstone of my everyday life — especially my social life. I regularly attend (and celebrate) birthday parties on stream, I spend Friday nights playing Pokémon™ UNITE with friends. I plan coffee dates in Animal Crossing: New Horizons with international friends, and we offer one another tours* of our respective islands, or grab a cup of the daily blend at The Roost. And every Sunday, harkening back to my playroom days, I play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with my viewers on Twitch — and my siblings sometimes even join in for a race or two.
The merit doesn’t stop there, though. In lockdown, before I started streaming, I found myself with less and less to say — a feeling that was completely foreign to me as a lifelong extrovert. Call it quarantine malaise or a quarter-life crisis, but at family dinners or while catching up with friends, I heard myself giving bare-minimum responses before deflecting questions to someone else.
But ever since my return to gaming, I feel like I’ve rediscovered my usual wide-eyed enthusiasm for life. And now, for better or for worse, I can’t shut up. Want to talk Easter eggs in the latest sequel to the Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild trailer? Pull up a chair. Want to hear my new speedrunning strategy for beating the Super Mario Odyssey™ game? Let me grab my Nintendo Switch. Want to know how long I’ve spent searching for Pokémon in Pokémon Shining Pearl AND Pokémon Brilliant Diamond? Hold my drink.
These days, my brother and I text each other during every Nintendo Direct, a gaming video presentation, to revel in our mutual excitement over the latest games announced. My parents tune in for (at least) the beginning of every one of my streams, occasionally popping into chat to say hi. The friends I’ve convinced to play certain games reach out with the same questions I once asked my Twitch community (“How do I defeat a Lynel? Where do I find the Master Sword?”). And the circle of people who tune in to my streams each week aren’t there just to watch my gameplay. They’re there to catch up with each other — to communicate — and that’s been the coolest thing to witness yet.
For all those I’ve met and will meet with through gaming, I am forever grateful. Because, as any gamer knows, it’s dangerous to go alone.
*Any Nintendo Switch Online membership (sold separately) and Nintendo Account required for online features. Not available in all countries. Internet access required for online features. Terms apply.