“Go to sleep,” someone says. You find your bed, and everything goes black.
When the light floods into your field of vision again, you see the sun rising through your window. It is square. This is Minecraft.
Now that our “real lives” are compromised, UCR students have taken to digital lives as a means of compensation. First of all, we share more and read more of each other on social media. Some of the latest trends, now, are templates and challenges going around to post interesting facts about yourself, or pictures of your childhood. Smacked at the bottom of some of them is the hashtag #quarantinegames, or the caption “until tomorrow” (where the user posts an embarrassing picture of themselves and leaves it up for 24 hours – “until tomorrow”). People are bored, and it shows.
At the same time at UCR, as many societies were forced to drown their plans for the semester, GamesCo has breathed life into the community in creative ways. They have been hosting weekly gaming sessions with online board-, card-, and multiplayer games. Outside of these sessions, too, students play their own games, whether that be binging the Sims for seven hours on end (like yours truly), playing chess against a computer, or slaying enemies in League of Legends. One student organized the set-up of a Minecraft world, for which each student that would like to join pays €0,50 once to keep the server up and running so that they can play at any time of day (or night). Joining the world after a few weeks of its existence is both disorienting and mesmerizing: the structures built are already so extensive. For one, there is an enormous, detailed artwork of our Dean’s head overlooking us all as we rise from our blocky beds each morning and go about our day. A little walk away, Bagijnhof has been built in a swamp. In the main town, there are church-like constructions and villages and even a guesthouse for those poor souls who do not have a home of their own set up yet by first nightfall. And, as is to be expected, there is an enormous penis-shaped house, too.
When making these observations about online student life, I want to make one thing very clear. COVID-19 is a very serious issue, and our university is doing its very best to react appropriately. Just because some of us – including myself – are sitting around in our dorms playing video games and catching up on homework (in addition to stressing out, of course), it does not take away from the fact that people have died; that people are afraid; that borders are closing and that that is a tangible problem for international students. These observations are just that – observations – and aim to do nothing but document what is happening at UCR for those in the future, but also for those who are experiencing it in the present and want to either recognize their own pastimes or discover more things to do while they are so exasperatingly quarantined.
Despite our concerns, thankfully, the goodness in students keeps on shining. Initiatives are being set up to help the ill and elderly with their groceries in a safe manner; Facebook posts are being shared to facilitate a sort of online student-for-a-day Q&A-session; and students from the different big boards at UCR are doing their very best to keep us all safe and the campus locations a clean and healthy place to stay quarantined in.
Ironically, this whole situation seems to have made us more social. We now have the time to talk to each other and really listen to each other and call one another at any point of the day and be able to expect a welcoming response. I received a physical mailed letter in my mailbox today – not from some great-aunt, but from a friend in his early twenties. And it’s not even my birthday!
Through activities such as these – social media-ing, gaming, letter-writing – we have had a chance to connect in ways we never would have otherwise. I never dreamed as a thirteen-year-old that all those hours I spent on playing Minecraft would come in handy in university. Despite the claims to a “social distancing” that is currently occurring, we are simply socializing in different ways. The term “physical distancing” may be more appropriate, or “bodily safekeeping,” or even “not going outside.” Then again, there’s not much of a difference between those and the lives of many gamers anyway – including my high school self.
So who knows? Maybe we’ll all come out of this situation a little more social, a little more enthused to spend time together, because of this collective fear that engulfs us all now. Until then, though, let’s try to live not in fear or isolation, but together, in the pixels on our screens.