Seven single-player games for the viral apocalypse

By now, you have probably noticed that there is quite the kerfuffle unfolding around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down most normal aspects of daily life; shops are shut, cinemas are closed, mass gatherings are banned. 2020 is turning out just as the movies I watched in the nineties foretold.

One most agreeable pastime which continues apace, however, is video games. In fact, they’ve never been more popular. Steam recently broke its all-time concurrent player count three times in a week. Nintendo Switch sales have spiked. People are looking to keep themselves entertained while society grinds to a halt.

I’ve seen a lot of suggestions for using games as a way of keeping in touch with friends and family. Playing together, either locally or online, is a wonderful way to maintain relationships and stay sane. However, even now, sometimes you just need to be by yourself. Sometimes you need to focus on you. Sometimes all you want to do is pop Nirvana on the old gramophone, curl up in a duvet and wallow in the crushing misery of it all.

So here’s my alternative list. A list of games to make time fly, with no input from the outside world at all. Seven games to assist my fellow shut-ins with anti-social distancing.

Football Manager

I have already detailed my somewhat complex relationship with Football Manager 2014. The Football Manager games are probably the best, most addictive, most involved spreadsheets ever created. They should be immensely dull, but developers Sports Interactive have hit on a formula which somehow turns all these numbers into an emotive and engaging experience.

At time of writing, Football Manager 2020 is free to play on Steam, as though Sports Interactive is well aware that, for once, people can actually spare the amount of hours that this game will absorb. It’s a remarkably dense game, but it does a decent job of trying to explain itself. Definitely worth trying out, especially if you’re mourning the suspension of the real-life sport.

Football Manager is a ruinous, uncool destroyer of time. It is needed now, more than ever.

The Sims

The fortunate among you will be self-isolating with your loved ones. Kept in the company of your nearest and dearest, these dark days will be lightened by a parental embrace, a sibling’s smile, a lover’s touch – oh god, I’m so alone…

However, many of you will be stuck indoors either on your lonesome or with people you merely tolerate because living alone is too expensive. With Outside-Land forbidden on pain of public shaming, it’s easy to become all too aware of the shortcomings of your current living situation. What better solution to the problem than The Sims?

The Sims allows you to build your dream home from the ground up, inhabitants included. Is your real world bedroom too small? Build a bigger one. Don’t have a garden? Well now you do. Housemate getting on your nerves? Trap them in a swimming pool and watch them slowly drown. In game, obviously…

Civilization

Before COVID-19, the biggest problem with playing a Civilization game was stopping. Well known for its “just one more turn” gameplay loop, play sessions can last longer than some actual empires. There’s always some milestone imminent. Some achievement just out of reach.

It’s also an apt reminder that time is, by its very nature, transitory. Watching your little culture grow from discovering the wheel to flinging nukes around helps to put our current predicament into perspective. This too shall pass.

However, Civ also tells us that things will pass especially quickly if a rival empire discovers cavalry first. Maybe we can’t apply all its lessons to the real world.

Plague Inc.

Ha! Plague Inc. is a game about a disease you see?! A disease that spreads around the world! Ha ha! It’s funny because it’s just like real life! Isn’t that a funny comparison?! Ha HA ha! It’s so meme-worthy! HA HA Ha!

HA HA HA HA HA HA.

DOOM

In these troubled times, some may seek solace in something comforting. A calming experience, to help restore a sense of peace and control. However, I’ve found it much more helpful to channel my frustration and sadness via the twin media of heavy metal and ultraviolence.

I’ve been using some of my free time to make a dent in my game pile of shame. DOOM (2016) was top of the list, especially as the sequel has just been released. It’s glorious. Unburdened by plot, you’re given a plethora of firearms and invited to introduce the endless hordes of hell to the loud end of all of them.

Matched with a ridiculous and rightly lauded soundtrack, DOOM is consequence-free escapism at its best. Wear headphones.

Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley is lovely. It’s a nice, lovely game which has lots of depth which you can just ignore if you only want to grow crops. There’s a nice village you can walk to which is full of mostly lovely people. You can have a good dog, who will always behave. You can grow plants, which give you food and you never have to go to the supermarket. The local shops always have what you need and you can make money just finding and growing things. You can build your own house, and sheds and things. It’s nice.

The Witcher III

I’m aware that if you’ve ever had even the slightest intention of playing The Witcher III, there’s a good chance you already have by now. If not at launch, then perhaps after seeing the Netflix show (you know, the one with the song).

However, have you finished it? As in, really finished it? Every side quest? Every secret? Well if not, then maybe now is your chance. Return to something familiar. Perhaps visit the perpetually sunny Touissant, and recall what it’s like to just walk around outdoors for no reason.

Also, Geralt’s stoic attitude to mishap and misfortune is an example to us all. He rarely expresses more than an annoyed grunt. If really pushed, he will sometimes give a single “fuck”. On the other hand, he’s able to go to the pub whenever he wants… and travel… and have sex on tap… argh I miss the world.


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