Games have always been a little bit more than a hobby for me. They’re my escape, one of the ways I try to decompress when life becomes overwhelming. To say life became overwhelming last year would be an understatement. Like many of you, I’ve struggled immensely throughout the pandemic. What started off as fear in the early days, evolved into general malaise and bouts of depression as the months went on. The one respite I had was gaming, and the momentary escape from the day-to-day they provided me. So, I figured that for what will likely be one of my last gaming pieces for The Root, why not reflect on the games that were there when I needed them most?
2020 was supposed to be the year I finally did everything I said I was going to do. 2019 was a surprisingly great year for me; I wrote, directed, and produced my third web-series and it was the first time I made something where the final product came out exactly how I envisioned it. Only a couple months after I released it, I began working for The Root, which had been a goal of mine for a long-ass time. (Fun fact: I applied three times for the freelance evening writing job before I got it.)
I always felt like I could do anything I wanted if I just worked hard, implemented constructive criticism, and did my best not to be a dick. It felt like I was finally proving myself right, and all that was left for me to do was pack up my bags, move to Los Angeles, and make a name for myself.
A week before I was planning to move, the 14-day lockdown was declared. Suffice to say my move was canceled, I was still stuck in Arizona, and a future that looked so clear became incredibly uncertain almost overnight.
It was around this time Final Fantasy VII: Remake was released, and the warm nostalgia provided by the game was a needed relief from the perpetually worsening pandemic. I genuinely got emotional when the iconic opening cutscene began and Midgar is revealed in all its 4K, hyper-real glory. Final Fantasy VII: Remake was the perfect game for the moment, as it provided new thrills and familiar highs. Graphically, the game is heartbreakingly gorgeous and really pushed the power of the PS4 to its limits. I was a fan of the more action-oriented gameplay, as I’ve always wanted to play a Final Fantasy game where I could recreate the fight scenes from Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children.
I’m typically not much of a nostalgic person, but in a moment where I had no idea what was ahead of me, Final Fantasy VII: Remake allowed me to briefly take comfort in the past.
I have a pretty tight-knit group of friends. I’ve got six homies who’ve been my day-zeroes. They’ve seen me at my lowest, lamest, and most arrogant and yet they still ride for me, and I’ll always ride for them. We generally make a point to all get together whenever we can, which is already hard now that just about everyone is married, in a relationship, or has a child. In my case, I just have the cutest pup in the game.
The worst part of the pandemic was not being able to see the people I care about. I can stay at home, that’s no problem. Not being able to have the homies over to play Super Smash Bros: Ultimate, go to a dive bar and argue about Star Wars over a couple drinks, or just smoke weed and watch Jakey vids on YouTube was less okay.
So, in an effort to have a game we could all play together, we decided to give the then-recently launched Call of Duty: Warzone a go last May. It was free and had crossplay between consoles, so it was the one game everyone could get down on.
I can genuinely say that me and my friends still managed to make new memories together last year and it was mainly because of this game. Sure, the game is built on duct tape and scaffolding. Sure, it can still run like ass. Sure, I never really got good at the game. But dammit, Warzone will always have a place in my heart because it allowed me to have fun with my friends during a time when that was very, very hard.
I was incredibly depressed late last summer. The handling of the pandemic had been atrocious, there was no real timetable on when vaccines would be available, and having to report on the numerous instances of Black bodies being brutalized by law enforcement or racist, wannabe vigilantes had done a number on your boy.
To put it bluntly: I was not well.
Ghost of Tsushima was a game I had been excited about ever since it was announced. Developer Sucker Punch had long been one of my favorites since the Sly Cooper and Infamous days. It was released around my birthday last year, so I wound up picking it up as a gift to myself. I’m happy I did, as this was exactly the game I needed at the time.
While the story was heartbreaking but engrossing and the sword-based combat was incredibly exciting, those weren’t the things that kept me playing the game. It was being able to ride my horse through valleys filled with beautiful flowers. It was climbing around a gorgeous waterfall to find a hidden shrine.
It was the small, quiet moments that helped me feel a sense of calm in a time that felt more and more chaotic.
At the start of this, I said that this was likely one of my last gaming pieces for The Root. That’s because at the start of August I will no longer be working here. I would like to just say thank you. Yes reader, you. You’ve allowed me to create a space here to talk about all things nerdy. Be it Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the history of Black superheroes, or just the best games to get high to, I appreciate y’all rocking with me through it all. (Editor’s note: We will be so sad to see you go, Joe. Thanks for all the great writing and games!)
I’m sure I’ll be around every now and again. I love talking shit and I got a lot more to say. For now though, I’m peacing out.
See you later, space cowboys/cowgirls.