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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Worn Down by Covid Anxiety? Keep a Handheld Game With You

As of today, summer is officially over. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, temperatures are dropping. Winter is on the way. It’s the perfect time to get outside and enjoy the last few days of temperate weather before the cold arrives. This fall, unfortunately, like the one before it, is different than most. Covid-19 is still spreading, and while a growing number of people (but too few overall) are vaccinated, socializing is complicated. That’s why I pack a Nintendo Switch.


Maybe that needs some explanation. It’s not that I’m playing Spiritfarer while my friends hang out around me. I’m not a monster. It’s just that along with extroversion comes increased anxiety—not just over the practicalities of being safe, but also because I’m out of practice at all of this. Suddenly, social situations seemingly require more energy than they used to and the recharge time is much longer. Having a Switch handy allows for bite-sized moments of decompression in between activities—on trains, waiting for people to arrive. Right now it’s hard to find time to even sit down and watch Netflix for 20 minutes, so having a handheld device provides an opportunity for disconnection in an ever-connected world. It’s become downright crucial.

It doesn’t help that nothing is relaxing right now. The headlines are scary, the pandemic is still raging, school is resuming but in a much different (and more nervous-making) way than it did a few years prior—and this is in addition to all the usual stresses of everyday life. It’s hard to find time to recharge because nothing is restful.


It’s almost baffling that this is the time handheld gaming has become more vital than ever. The Game Boy, like Taylor Swift, came out in 1989; those Coleco football games almost a decade before that. In the 30-odd years since, smartphones have gained the functionality needed for gaming on the go, and yet here I am, with a Switch in my purse. Being able to play Spiritfarer or Cozy Grove is just too necessary. Part of an ever-expanding genre of sweet, quiet games that have come out in recent years, they don’t demand a lot of time or attention. Just enough. Now it’s hard to imagine life without them.

But when my Switch battery runs low, I’ve found that Apple Arcade is also fantastic for this kind of play. Because it’s a subscription-based model, I can drop in and out of games and not feel guilty when I don’t finish something. Alba: A Wildlife Adventure, for example, is the perfect escape as I’m navigating the realities of the world around me.

It can sometimes feel awkward or rude to take a breather from the world, especially if you’re out in public, and pull out a video game (another reason why mobile gaming is a fantastic option—no one looks twice at someone fiddling with their phone). But it’s important to remember that taking a break isn’t a bad thing. It’s not hiding from the world, it’s giving oneself the tools to cope with it. Figuring out how to get by, any way you can, is the most important thing right now. We owe it to ourselves—and each other.

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