10 games that help us survive isolation

Posted May 16, 2020

What do we gamers do when we’re stuck in isolation? That’s obvious – we game. As the weeks drag into months, you may have found – like we have – that some specific video games have acted as a soothing balm to the craziness. They may have provided a healthy dose of escapism, comforted you with nostalgia, or maybe made you try something new. Either way, it takes something special to really cheer us up in the face of all this, which means it’s worth shining a spotlight on the ones that have really helped us through the isolation period. Here are just some of the games we’ve gained a unique appreciation for:

Final Fantasy 7 Remake

I realise this sounds like a conspiracy theory, but Final Fantasy games always come out at meaningful points in my life. Final Fantasies 10, 13 and 15 appeared out of nowhere when I got my PS2, PS3 and PS4, respectively. FF12 released to help cement my reputation as the “Final Fantasy kid” at school. It’s one of the biggest media franchises around, but it’s still close to my heart. It got me through some tough times. And it feels personal because I didn’t meet anyone else who liked the games until well into adulthood.

So, during a time of lockdown and anxiety, it’s as if Final Fantasy came to my aid with 7 Remake. Sure, there’s no online elements, and there’s very little longevity once you finish the story. It’s unlikely to make the cut when discussing games that made a real, memorable impact during this time in history. But, as a kid who loves Final Fantasy, look at that, a new Final Fantasy came out. And the way it plays with established lore, I can spend the rest of lockdown being excited for the next one. – Pedro

The Elder Scrolls Online

eso in isolation

With isolation being disruptive to many a person’s life and schedule, it’s easy to suddenly feel this loss of control. That’s why The Elder Scrolls: Online feels so natural right now. Familiarity with the world of Skyrim is well established for many gamers, and The Elder Scrolls: Online uses some of this world – but in the bigger picture. Where Skyrim is a country, The Elder Scrolls: Online’s Tamriel is a whole world, capturing this and much more. This allowed for a fun world in ESO that felt both familiar and new. Creating a sweet and charming rogue Khajiit character and jumping out into the world of ESO easily feels just like comfort food and a warm hug. 

Sure, like with a lot of MMOs, the story it was telling felt very inconsequential and a bit like errands, but this is the factor most appealing in the current world. With everything so daunting and out of control at the moment, it sure was a delight to have a game with quests that felt like this tangible checklist you could complete in a session. If not for that, players wouldn’t be able to jump into a fantasy world, say hello to some old friends, and hell, maybe even slay some dragons. – Charlie

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Animal Crossing: New Horizons couldn’t have come out at a more convenient time. No longer being able to travel to friends’ houses and to work, my life became a lot smaller when social distancing regulations came into place. Fortunately, ACNH brought two things that have made it indispensable for me during this time. The first is a schedule: the fact that you earn Nook Miles from checking in each day, and how the merchandise in the stores and turnip prices refresh each day, gives a good reason to pick up my Switch to play it for 30 minutes or so each morning. As it becomes difficult to remember which day of the week it is, having Animal Crossing: New Horizons as a constant has really helped.

The other thing that Animal Crossing: New Horizons provides is connection. Players can visit each other’s towns to sell turnips, raid their stores for items and get special goodies from travelling characters like Sahara and Celeste. A group of my friends has made a Facebook group to trade turnip prices and advise our friends if our stores stock something the others might like. Even if we can’t coordinate a time to visit each other, being able to send letters and gifts through Animal Crossing has been a fun way to stay connected with each other and provide a sense of togetherness while we are apart. – Tom

Return of the Obra Dinn

Some people in isolation have found that they suddenly have time for that 60+ hour RPG that’s been on their list for months. But others have found their lives uncomfortably full, leaving little time for those grand adventure games. The Return of Obra Dinn is the perfect game for those with little free time, and serves as a great distraction from troublesome times: a supernatural mystery set in the world of the past.

Your goal is simple: using brief flashes of their memories, you must figure out the names and fates of each unlucky soul onboard the ghostly ship. It doesn’t hold your hand – it demands that you pay attention to every detail, to their actions, voices, and even their crew numbers. That’s the genius of Obra Dinn: you can continue to mull over everything you’ve learned, even when you’ve turned the game off for the day. The game’s not long, though even the most astute of players will struggle to solve all of the game’s riddles in under 10 hours. It’s also a perfect puzzle game to experience with an audience if you or a friend has access to a simple streaming service. If isolation has left you lacking that sense of accomplishment, this maritime mystery is for you. – Edie

NASCAR Heat 4

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To be honest, I have enjoyed my time in isolation, in fact, I had to do the full-on 14 days not leaving the house as I had just returned from overseas when this thing was kicking off. I dug into my pile of shame and played some amazing games for the first time (Chrono Trigger was one) but I also bought NASCAR Heat 4 (twice… but that’s a story for another time) and I never would have guessed that it would have been a NASCAR game that got me through.

You would think driving round and round ovals would be boring, but the controls are so nuanced it requires a gentle touch, creating an experience that requires concentration yet allows you to just drift away to the hum of the engine whilst playing. The career mode has you work your way up from Dirt racing to the Truck Series, Xfinity (2nd Tier) and finally up to proper NASCAR racing, making friends and rivals along the way. I have sunk over 30 hours turning left in NASCAR Heat 4’s career mode and counting. If you are a gamer who likes racers as a genre, this one is definitely worth a look because, it features loads of options, loads of tracks and a soundtrack that is Spotify playlist quality. Guaranteed to keep you occupied for a while. – Kolby

Final Fantasy 14

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This may sound melodramatic, and it is to an extent, but Final Fantasy 14 has been an anchor these past few months. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I am immunocompromised. Right now, even with restrictions lifting, the world is a scary place. And that’s what’s been so comforting about FFXIV; It’s not scary, it’s familiar. The game draws a lot of elements from across the franchise, so for a fan like me, stepping into the game is a little like coming home. In here, compared to the outside world that’s burning down around us, things make sense.

From the giant crystals that dot the landscape, to the job system, to even the story beats, it all feels like a JRPG. Make no mistake, FFXIV is a final fantasy game first and an MMO second. And I’m extremely grateful for that. Its been a lifesaver for keeping in touch with friends too. There’s nothing quite like facing off against hard challenges with good friends at your side. The world of 14 has its hooks in me, and I don’t think I’ll be leaving any time soon. – Hailey

Watch Dogs 2

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One of the issues that gamers have had in isolation is the inability to really focus when playing video games. Times are obviously tough and most are finding that they are going back to old favourites with familiar mechanics. However, if you do want to try something new but are struggling to focus, Watch Dogs 2 may be a good fit. It has a great selection of mini type missions and games which keeps things fresh and interesting. And if you aren’t vibing with a particular mission, no sweat, just exit out and try something else!

Online mode is great for players who like to opt-in and out of multiplayer. It also gives the player the freedom to choose gameplay that fits their play style. Love hacking? The PVP Hacking Invasion gives you the chance to blend in with NPCs and hack the files of another online player. Like to go in, guns blazing? Bounty Hunter sees you team up with the cops to eliminate an online player with a five-star police record. Love being chased? Put the bounty on yourself and dodge other online players and the police. Want to play co-op against other players? You can be matched with a random player and go against another team to see who can be the first to download a selection of documents. Players can also choose to team up with a random player and complete online story missions. Watch Dogs 2 is already a wild ride, but the online modes make it just that bit wilder, and right now in the boring world of isolation, we could all use a bit more of its chaotic and fun energy! – Lisa

Call of Duty Multiplayer and Warzone

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Staying connected in a meaningful way with friends has proven difficult during isolation, but being able to play Call of Duty Warzone and Multiplayer has been a perfect escape for me and my friends. A huge positive for multiplayer is the matches can be short or long depending on the type you choose, so you can always squeeze in a session with your mates. The various game modes on offer allow for lengthy sessions to never get boring, and there are always new modes being added or taken away, so it never gets too repetitive.

Trust me when I say the feeling of coming first in Warzone is exhilarating and worth celebrating. There is an intense excitement to these matches and always plenty of antics to laugh with each other about, so it is best to have a group with microphones to full immerse yourselves. Customisation is here in full force, and you can spend hours decking out your gear to suit your personality, mostly driven by a progression based system. During our matches, we would experience many emotions, but it feels akin to catching up at the pub and enjoying some good old fashioned banter whilst having a chat with friends. I highly recommend at least checking out Warzone, which is free to play, as it provides plenty of opportunities to be strategic to win the coveted first place, or just muck around and have fun. – Justin

Jackbox Games

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Now more than ever, it’s important that we try and stay connected despite our isolation. I’ve never been that big on multiplayer games, but there is one exception. The Jackbox Party Pack series has seen a lot of love over this pandemic, and it’s clear to see why. Most of the games make for easy multiplayer madness, regardless of where you find yourself situated. Most of the games are suited to streaming out over whatever service you like (JBPP1 isn’t as customised for long-distance FYI), be it a private game over zoom, or popping into a public game run over Twitch. All you need is a phone or computer with an internet connection and you’re on your way.

Of course, I can not easily summarise this experience. Jackbox Games has been coming up with all sorts of family-board-game-like multiplayer gems. Some deal in trivia, such as You Don’t Know Jack or Trivia Murder Party. Others are about your ability to deceive, as is the case of Fibbage and Push the Button. All of these make for entertaining experiences for 3-8 players, depending on the game in question. Perfect for a house party, regardless of if you’re in the same house. – Sam

Islanders

Isolation has been causing a lot of anxiety and stress for many. Games that come with gentle music, bright colours, and simple gameplay can really lift players’ moods and mental health and offer people a safe digital space to unwind. One of the games that has provided me with that safe space since its release is Islanders.

Developed by a team of three and released in 2019, this small indie made quite a splash considering its simple premise: you build cities on colourful and procedurally generated islands. While you start a game with only a handful of buildings, you unlock more of them by placing them strategically on the map. You earn points based on the location of your buildings. For example, a house will earn more points when built near other houses, and fewer points when built in an isolated area. Once your score is high enough you move on to the next island, where you start with a new set of buildings and a new landscape. The challenge is to fill as many islands as you can while using your space and resources efficiently. The mechanics are just simple enough to give you a challenge while never creating pressure for players. It’s the perfect way to tune out after a long and stressful day. – Lise

Who says games aren’t essential?

If there’s one thing that’s been proven in this whole mess, it’s that humans need games to live. Sure, we could probably survive without them, but without something to help us engage our minds and hands, things get unbearable pretty quick. That’s why we owe huge thanks to all these games for getting us through these tough times! But which games did we miss? What are some of the games that have helped you survive isolation? Be sure to berate us for missing your favourite in the comments!



About the Author

Edie W-K

If it isn't video games, Edie doesn't care about it. She's been playing games since the N64 era, and only spent enough time away from her 3DS to earn a Bachelor in Games Design from RMIT.