Since we’re all in social isolation/distancing/shelter-in-place mode, the Sidequest team decided to reminisce about games and social connection: how we’ve used games to foster and grow friendships and relationships in general. (Some of us discuss how we even do that now, all while staying safe!)
What games are better with friends?
Melissa Brinks: Honestly? Most of them. There are a few games I struggle to play around other people—something melancholy and quiet like Kentucky Route Zero, for example—but for the most part, I find playing games with others to be fun. This might be because I am notorious for goofing off in video games and spending more time jumping around than anything, but I also think, like a lot of media, gaming is a good shared experience, even when the game is single-player.
Naseem Jamnia: Yeah, I agree with Melissa. I’ve found that almost all games I’ve played are better with friends. I think the ones that don’t work are those usually not fun to watch, either for story or gameplay reasons. (I don’t think, for instance, Three Houses would be good with friends, unless they’ve also played a Fire Emblem game, maybe—probably because there are few meaningful choices in the game to warrant someone being interested in watching.) But otherwise, who doesn’t love screaming together at a screen?
I think even single-player games can be great with friends. My friend December spent 300+ hours watching me play the Dragon Age franchise, and we became really close throughout that process. Then I watched her play Persona 5, which I think is a killer game to play with somebody else watching/trading off to play. Any game where the story makes you feel things is inevitably a winner for friends in my book.
Zora Gilbert: Melissa and Naseem are CORRECT and in fact “multiplayer” is objectively the best way to play the most coherent and reasonable game franchise on the planet: Kingdom Hearts. I will not explain.
Nola Pfau: None of them. I will only play games with my enemies.
Alenka Figa: I’m glad that people still watch other people play video games, because I much prefer to watch than to play! I’m usually only interested in video games if they’re dating sims, visual novels, or intensely story heavy. When I was a teen, I often watched friends play games like Kingdom Hearts, and now I often watch my partner play random video games. Currently, I spice up the experience by accusing her of being the villain of the story. She’s playing Luigi’s Mansion 3 right now, and in my opinion, Luigi is invading these ghosts’ home and killing them one by one!! Terrible.
The games I like to play most with other people are, of course, D&D or Pathfinder! You can’t play a TTRPG alone, so it feels a bit silly to list here, but collective storytelling with friends is the best. In my longest running game, my vigilante accidentally fell in love with the party’s rogue, and now we’re playing an AU that takes place 100 years in the future, where three of us are playing their kids! The story we’ve created is something I never would have come up with if I were writing it on my own, and it’s been incredibly fun to build ourselves a new playground within the world our GM originally designed.
Melissa: Having played games with Nola before, I am shocked and offended. Also, Alenka, you are right about Luigi’s Mansion 3.
Kate Lyons: Playing games while my partner watches is one of our favorite ways to pass the time together. Whether showing off my arrow-slinging talents in Horizon Zero Dawn or taking her on a walking tour of Thedas in the Dragon Age series, it really helps me enjoy games I’ve maybe played one or two (or three, four, five…) times before. Sure, I know everything Fenris is about to say, but I love sharing that angry, angry elf’s angst with my partner nonetheless.
Maddi Butler: Games have been a social activity for me as long as I’ve been playing them. I have really fond memories of figuring out Nancy Drew puzzles with my mom and best friend and of a different friend helping me beat Kingdom Hearts bosses. So I’m going to agree and say that most of them are better with friends.
Jameson Hampton: I want to echo how fun it is to watch people play, or having someone watch you play! I’ve been playing a lot of Animal Crossing lately and not only have I been enjoying the in-game multiplayer and visiting my friends islands, but me and my best friend have also been hopping on Zoom and I’ll point my webcam at the TV so she can watch me play and we can chat. It almost feels the same as when she would come over to my house to watch me play games!
What games do you find facilitate the best social connections?
Melissa: I don’t think that there is any game that is perfect at social connections, but I have to say that I have had the most fun conversations in Overwatch. Obviously, as a competitive and team-based game, chat is a complete and utter dumpster fire much of the time. But I also had some wonderful conversations with both strangers and my friends while playing, whether through text or through voice.
I also had this with World of Warcraft, but the amount of time we spent together meant there was a lot more interpersonal drama… which I guess is a social connection, but we had a cheating scandal in our guild Ventrilo, we had an unintentional re-enactment of The Guild with me standing in for Codex, and… I could go on and on. Overwatch being fairly quick, with little pressure to stay in a toxic group, meant that I avoided those kinds of arrangements!
Naseem: Besides obvious multiplayer games like Super Smash Bros. and Mario Party—and I am sure exactly 100% of the internet is tired of this upcoming take—games like Animal Crossing really are a lot of fun to play with friends. Any game that allows you to interact with your friends directly, in that sense, is fun. I like being able to see the ways my friends create their islands (villages, in New Leaf) and the ways they lay out their houses. I’ve been chatting with friends I haven’t spoken to in a bit because Animal Crossing gave us an excuse. And it’s strange, but your limited ability to speak to people—you can type in a phrase to appear above your head, but you otherwise communicate a lot with “expressions”—tends to be something really intimate.
I do want to shout-out to games like Monster Prom, too, and Jackbox games. Obviously, those games are made to be multiplayer, but they’re also about the shared experience in the room (or over the internet) as you’re playing them.
Zora: I lied, I will explain the Kingdom Hearts thing. For me‚ though most likely not for everyone, single player games played as a group are actually the best video game vehicle for forming social connections. I hate multiplayer games—I refuse to play anything online, even Journey, and I don’t love competing against friends in games—but I love all gathering in a room and passing a controller around. I’ve grown closer to a bunch of friends over the years through playing and replaying different games in the Kingdom Hearts franchise, and I’ve played KH1 over and over and over again with different people. The franchise’s pretty straightforward gameplay make it easy to talk over, and the general ridiculousness makes it fun to dunk on, but there’s an earnestness that lets us all get genuinely emotional together—all of that is so fun, and I haven’t found anything else that compares.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t talk about tabletop roleplaying games! Shoutouts to Monsterhearts 2 and the group of friends I play with—our first season of that game tore us up and put us back together, and now I can’t think of a group of people I’d rather impersonate moody teens with.
Nola: Tabletop games are definitely very good for this and I’m very jealous of Zora for actually getting a Monsterhearts game going. I have, shockingly, had horrible luck with MMOs—my friends never play the ones I like, I never like the ones they play—but other than that I’m finding that I’m really, really enjoying playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons with friends.
Alenka: You know, I realize this question is aimed at us as adults, but everyone’s responses got me thinking about how the tweens and kids at my library play games together. When you get a bunch of random kids at different ages and with wildly different skill sets together, it’s easy for the older or more experienced gamer kids to ignore or try to push out the younger kids. However, playing a brand new game no one is familiar with can make the experience better! A bunch of kids came to our games program a week or two before we had to close, and they all wanted to play Lego Marvel’s Avengers on our PS4. I have NEVER hosted a program where kids actually played that game, so I had to pull up a tutorial and try to help them out! It was chaos, but it was fun! Even their mom joined in, and at one point we got stuck with Thor on a waterfall and she called her oldest kid upstairs to try and help us.
Kate: This is a bit of a wild one, but some of my favorite social experiences in gaming came in the likes of old shooters like Battlefield 1942 or Battlefield 2. From playing Capture the Flag with flying jeeps or calling cartillery on your enemies after the admins went to bed, the sheer embrace of the ridiculousness of it all with people you were recently trying to violently kill was something I always loved. Games are fun, even the serious ones.
Maddi: Shortly after I moved to New Jersey, my now-fiance and I started playing Final Fantasy X. It took us months to finish it, but it was one of the games that defined his childhood and became important to him as an adult. Final Fantasy X was my first introduction to the series, and it was really special to play it with someone I cared about so much. I enjoy games that are multiplayer by design—tabletop games, competitive video games—but I’ve grown closer with so many friends because of single-player video games. I tend to think a lot about narrative, characters, and mechanics when I play games and find that I connect more with others by talking about what we both love about any given game.
I can think of so many games with thriving fan communities, but I’d be remiss not to mention Kingdom Hearts again here. I think playing it becomes such a unique and unifying experience; I’ll never forget the day I went to pick up Kingdom Hearts 3 at my local GameStop and a huge crowd of people waiting for the game to drop burst into multiple rounds of “Simple and Clean.” It was a connection, however brief, stemming from shared experience.
Jameson: Yeah, I’m going to have to talk about tabletop games here too. I love playing tabletop in general, but it also brings you closer to your friends who you play with. Since I’ve been sheltering in place, I’ve joined two new online tabletop games—one D&D and one Mouse Guard—with some friends of mine from Chicago and Boston respectively. And we’ve been closer than ever since then! Not only do we see each other (virtually) once a week to play, but we’ve also been talking a lot more throughout the week, discussing what’s going on in game, and that has been really nice too! Obviously tabletop games are social experiences, but I think the out-of-character social aspect of having a game that you care about is something you can share with your friends and it can foster really special friendships.
Do you have a group of friends you’ve met specifically through gaming?
Melissa: Yes, in a sideways sort of way! I met Stephani through a college writing club, who brought Joey over to my apartment to play Dread one night, and Joey brought Bailey over to play something that I can’t remember, and now they’ve all written for Sidequest because that’s who I am as a person and as a friend.
Naseem: Where would we be without all of Melissa’s friends?? I definitely have made friends because of Sidequest, if that counts, and our mutual gaming loves. (Nola and I became friends because I think we were the only people around who’d played Final Fantasy Tactics? Maddi and I have bonded through many Last of Us tears.) And I’ve certainly become closer friends with people I’d met in other ways because of gaming. When I started at my MFA program, my cohort would frequently go to a board game bar in town and spend hours playing through a variety of games. That’s how we became friends!
Zora: Missy, that story is so funny to me because the same thing happened to me with… Kingdom Hearts. A friend I met in high school introduced me to the series and we bonded over it as I played and cried through Kingdom Hearts 1, 358/2 Days, and Kingdom Hearts 2, and then through a group chat with her I got closer to her stepsister, and because of that I went to Carnegie Mellon University for college, and a board game (among… other things) club at CMU is the reason I’m friends with my main crew now. So. Thanks, Kingdom Hearts. (And yes, a bunch of them have also written for Sidequest at this point too).
Nola: I may be a rarity in that I have not brought a bunch of writer friends to Sidequest. I did push Kell to write, but to be fair, she was already considering it, and tipping people into things they’re thinking about is kind of a specialty of mine. That said, gaming did lead me to Sidequest, and thus to friendships with so many people here! Missy and I don’t get to hang out nearly enough for my liking, but I’m glad we’re close enough to visit at all—you know, when there’s not a quarantine going on.
Alenka: I was going to say that I also haven’t brought a bunch of friends to Sidequest, but I basically harassed Kate into writing here before I was a regular Sidequest writer, so… oops! At this point in my life, most of my closest friends are people I met or got to know better through Pathfinder. Kate and I met because her girlfriend—who is also a librarian—recruited me to their Pathfinder game, and almost three years later we’re all a pretty tight-knit friend group! The GM who ran my first ever Pathfinder game, or TTRPG of any sort, is now my romantic partner. Hahahahahaha. Also, two of the friends from that first game got engaged and had all of their “D&D friends” in their wedding parties. This is just my life, now!
I’m counting friends I’ve made through Sidequest because I’m truly grateful to know you all.
Kate: I like to joke that my entire social circle is librarians—the entire Pathfinder game Alenka mentioned is played and run by some manner of librarian, myself excluded—but it would be just as accurate to say it’s defined by TTRPGs, as well. Almost everyone I regularly socialize with I met either playing a game, bonding over our favorite actual play podcasts, or we only maintained our prior relationships by playing a regular game together. It’s only been emphasized since entering social isolation. Other than my mother and delivery drivers, I’d be hard-pressed to think of too many people I’ve spoken to out loud outside of a game of Pathfinder or D&D.
Maddi: I agree with Naseem! I’m counting friends I’ve made through Sidequest because I’m truly grateful to know you all.
Jameson: Aw, y’all are making me feel all sappy! I’m so happy to know all the folks at Sidequest too! But honestly almost ALL of my friends I’ve met through gaming! My entire friend group from college, who I’m still really close with, I know through F.U.S.I.O.N., my school’s gaming club. Now that I’ve started doing big LARP events, I’ve got a whole new group of friends from that. And the local group of friends I met from my local board game cafe. And I met my husband playing Vampire: the Masquerade! Whew, I really am a nerd.
Naseem: Welcome to the fold, Jamey.
What is a unique social situation you’ve been in because of a game?
Zora: I have had multiple shabbes dinners at multiple peoples’ houses because my friends and I decided we needed to marathon games. I am not Jewish (but I am very grateful for the hospitality).
Nola: Running a tabletop game instead of traditional holiday activities has become a kind of hallmark of my life? I would rather sit around a table and play something with friends than I would do any of the usual stuff. This is especially handy for holidays that… kind of suck, on a cultural level, like Thanksgiving.
Alenka: Ohmigosh I love that, maybe I’ll get my friend who hosts Queer Shabbats to consider a tabletop-gaming-themed shabbat someday! I would say that the aforementioned wedding was pretty unique? We didn’t play any tabletop at the wedding but Pathfinder is what brought us all closer together as a group. Without it, I don’t think I’d necessarily have been in someone’s wedding party.
I also went to a gaming-focused Halloween party full of lawyers because my partner is now in law school. We played Codenames, and I learned that, yes, law school is full of lots of misogynist pricks, but gamer lawyers are mostly pretty dope? That’s a generalization based on a very small sample size.
Jameson: Haha, I’m also going to talk about weddings!! At our wedding, almost the whole group of people that we play Vampire with attended—which was a big deal, because they live all over the country and some of them we had never actually met in person before.
Also, my character in that game had gotten married a few months before me and we had run an in-game wedding that was pretty dramatic. Somebody showed up to object, there was a magic duel, the whole nine. But naturally, with my real wedding coming up so soon after, our friends made a lot of jokes about interrupting my wedding to challenge me to a magic duel. So I’d say getting dressed to get married and muttering under my breath, “They better not disrupt my actual ceremony to make a Vamp joke I’m gonna be so mad at them” was a pretty unique situation to be in! (Luckily, no magic duel gauntlets were thrown down until we were well into the reception!)
Also, our wedding favors were customized dice with our initials and wedding date!