I’ve had my Super Nintendo since I was 7 years old; lately I’ve been itching to revisit all the venerable games of my youth.[1] 

Some people would call this impulse a regression, a side-effect of all the time we’ve spent isolating from each other, but is it so bad? For the first time in ages, I feel like I can play video games without a lingering sense of guilt that I should be “doing more with my time”. Thanks to the livestreaming platform Twitch, I’m learning about the intricacies of gaming to a wide audience, and in doing so I don’t feel so alone.[2] 

When Pokemon Go came out in 2016, I was one of the first people on the bandwagon. I was excited to relive one of my favourite video game franchises in the world of augmented reality. It didn’t matter that my iPhone 4s couldn’t handle the app and kept crashing right when I would catch a Vaporeon on my morning walks, or that the city of Toronto is apparently infested with Drowzees. I was all in.

I recall telling my mom about my excitement for this new mobile game, and her response was immediate derision. “You are too old to be wasting time with such foolishness” is what mom essentially said to me (she would then take to her local newspaper and write about how Pokemon Go was ruining society, but that is a story for another time).

My mother’s sentiment on being too old resonated with me for a bit. I was an adult with a full-time job and bills to pay; perhaps it was a bit foolhardy to be so invested in video games. How could I justify spending hours at a time on a game when there were other, more productive things I could be doing? Working out? Socializing? Learning a new skill? Eventually I put a kibosh on my screen time, my effort to do right by practicing good adulting.

Then COVID-19 hit in 2020; social distancing measures were enforced. Infection rates are high, morale is at a nationwide low, and now, as Canada’s temperatures dip, as we make our way into the autumn and winter months, the dreadful reality is that we’ll have even less of an incentive to go outside and be around people.

Myself? I’m an introvert; under normal circumstances I would prefer to be by myself with my thoughts. But these are not normal times. Months of being cooped up in my home have made me nostalgic for crowds and for the opportunity to literally rub elbows with strangers without having to fear quarantine for 14 days.

Thank heavens for August, when Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockdown released on PC and Playstation 4. An owner of the latter, I quickly became enamoured with the battle royale game. The bright colours, the cuddly, jelly-bean shaped characters, the insane physics, and best of all: the feeling of being in a crowd again.

At first it was good enough to play competitively with 59 other people, pushing and shoving my way to victory so I could earn the elusive crown, the coveted currency of the Fall Guys universe. But then I noticed all the activity surrounding the game on my Youtube feed. There was something satisfying in the schadenfreude of watching other people play with their friends and share in their frustration and elation with each and every round.

In the beginning I would lurk Youtube channels like BasicallyIDoWrk’s that hosted curated Fall Guys content before eventually migrating to his account on Twitch. It’s a real paradigm shift to learn a new social media ecosystem. In the land of Twitch, community is the literal name of the game; newcomers are often welcomed by the streaming host, scripted segments are enacted whenever game or follower milestones are achieved while on camera, and even the emojis – dubbed Twitch emotes – stem from deepcut gaming references and are entrenched into the full experience. I was simultaneously confused but intrigued by it all and was determined to learn more.

I soon discovered I could record my own Twitch sessions with the literal push of a button on my PS4 controller. I dusted off my Blue Yeti microphone, plugged it into my console and began sharing my sessions online.

My audience was non-existent in the early sessions; nevertheless, I still talked through my plays of Fall Guys as though I had engaged fans. It was therapeutic for me, and when the occasional lurker would pop onto my chat to say hi, that was just icing on the social distancing cake.

It was then that I became curious about other games on Twitch.[3]   It wasn’t just modern games on the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch (though I became quite active in searching for streams of Super Mario Bros. 35 when the game launched in October).

All the games of old were at my fingertips to re-experience. The best way to describe it is like participating in a watch party for a cult classic film – in the spirit of the season, let’s say Hocus Pocus. Sure, you may have seen the film multiple times, and may even know certain scenes and songs by heart. But the true enjoyment comes from sharing the experience with others, with viewers who are also familiar with the movie’s beats and catchphrases. It becomes an interactive endeavour in its own right!

The point is, some people get comfort from watching their favourite childhood movies or reading their favourite childhood books; for me, I feel the most at ease revisiting such classics as Star Fox and Super Mario World on the SNES. Even when I’m not playing, the sense of community I get from watching other people play games makes me happy and puts a smile on my face.

So here’s to all those let’s-players, those livestreamers with only a handful of viewers, if any viewers at all. Keep doing what you’re doing –  indulge your gaming habit. We may be in for the long haul, and if that’s the case, we might as well get back in touch with our youth and “get gud” at our gaming pastime.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to stream season 2 of Fall Guys.

Video Clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4cwZJ0byNU&ab_channel=SylvieSoulet