By Sky Luna Eda Serafica

When my mom asked me what the last “offline” game I played was, I came up blank. The last time I had played a game without a device was way back in Grade 4, playing “ice-ice-water,” Go Fish, and racing our wheelie school bags down the long ramp in school. For most of us, the only time we played traditional games like patintero and tumbang-preso was during our PE classes and Intramurals.

But that was years B.C. (before COVID), when classes were face-to-face, and we actually had to get out of our pajamas to attend. With the pandemic and with kids mostly indoors and just with their families, has the concept of playing changed?

Online video games as coping mechanism

Gaming and the online communities surrounding it are not new. They have become an integral part of the younger generation’s lives even B.C. Like most things D.C. (during COVID) when many of my generation live online, gaming serves as a safe coping mechanism for cooped up kids. Whether through playing games, watching other people play games, or using the games for academic means, gaming serves many purposes.

In the pandemic, friends can’t meet up to toss a ball around

or draw together in real life.

So, we toss a ball around and draw in Minecraft!

It’s not all fun and games though. Pediatricians have raised issues about exposing young kids too early to digital technology. Some parents though say that games are cheaper babysitters, and caregivers can finish chores if kids are given screen time. My mom was frustrated when schools like mine required iPads as main teaching tools when she wanted to delay my being fully digital and wired until I was 50 (okay, 30). With gadgets required when I was in Grade 8 even B.C., what turned out to be weekends-only screen time became every day. As for teachers? Well, some of them are gamers themselves.     

There’ve also been many concerns about people being addicted to online games even B.C. Some reckless students cut classes and spent all their allowances on in-game coins or new games. Many dedicated gamers choose to grind and play rather than study and rest, their cameras showing eyebags bigger than their allowances. It got so bad that many areas in the Philippines had local ordinances that regulate the use of internet cafes, especially the ones close to schools.

The games that save our sanity

With the pandemic wreaking havoc across the world, more and more kids have taken to using games to unwind and have fun in the comfort of their homes. Assuming their internet can handle it, that is. (PLDT and Globe I’m looking at you.)

Sky Serafica’s online character in Minecraft, with bees.

One of the most popular games at the moment is Minecraft, a sandbox type game (meaning it’s a game where you have all the freedom to do whatever you want, no quests or rules stopping you) that allows players to join “worlds” by themselves, with friends, or with people from all around the world. Except the worlds in this case are just like real life, but made of blocks.

Being able to play online with friends from anywhere at any time is more convenient than what my mom calls as the “offline” games she used to play when she was younger. In the pandemic, friends can’t meet up to toss a ball around or draw together in real life. So, we toss a ball around and draw in Minecraft!

Schools use gaming to recruit applicants

There are several joinable servers that allow people to play community-designed games with friends against other people across the world. Due to the Online Distance Learning (ODL) setup, many schools and universities have used Minecraft to showcase their campuses rebuilt using blocks.

During our Grade 11 orientation, University of Sto. Tomas (UST) showed a trailer about how they used Minecraft for a virtual campus tour trailer rebuilding the entire school in blocks, minus the flooding and traffic. UST’s graduating batch of 2021 never got to march on the stage in real life but the UST Minecraft Team gave the graduates the next best thing.

UST’s Arch of the Centuries in Minecraft. (Screen shot from UST Minecraft Team’s Freshmen Recruitment video in YouTube)

UST hosted virtual graduations that still gave the students the feeling of walking onstage except that instead of them, it’s their virtual character acting like them. Graduates even got to virtually cross under the historic Arch of the Centuries. The Manila Bulletin uploaded a short clip showing the UST Minecraft graduation, receiving good feedback from students and causing me and my classmates to express our excitement on Twitter. The Minecraft Team also got threats and bashing from well, non-students. Can’t please them all. 

Online communities become lifelines

At the moment, there are a few things that make Minecraft even more interesting, even to those who don’t play the game themselves. One of these is the Dream SMP (survival multiplayer), a multiplayer server with content creators who roleplay as characters in the world. They roleplay or act like live actors in a theatre, but through their virtual characters. The content creators design and invent their video-game-selves into whatever they want, anything from an anarchist pig to a ghost with father-issues who has a fox child with a salmon (these are real characters, don’t ask.)

The roleplay on the server has a predetermined plot and the content creators act out their lines and actions while live streaming on Twitch (a live streaming platform primarily for gaming) to hundreds of thousands of viewers (I’m talking 650k+ live viewers). These viewers watch these streams as if they are live theatrical performances, complete with screaming in the chat, and by screaming, I mean TYPING IN ALL CAPS!!!

The viewers of these content creators then form online communities, uniting over a shared interest in Minecraft roleplay (or any game really). As the pandemic continues to keep kids home, these online communities give the younger generation the socialization and friendships that they have been lacking. The streams give them something to look forward to and from these streams, fanfiction, fanart, and videos take form, giving people an outlet to express themselves and relate to people with similar interests.

Are we losing touch with the real world?

What “real world?” Most things are online now, whether you like it or whether you like it very much. In this pandemic, young people who were born into technology are thriving, and everyone else needs to keep up to survive.

The boundaries between the online world and real life are blurring. In an anti-vax rally in London, gamers quickly spotted a “L’Manberg” flag among the protesters. What was funny was that L’Manberg is a fictional nation that is part of the plotline in the Dream SMP. Due to the large audience that the roleplay SMP has, anyone googling “freedom flag” will come up with the L’Manberg flag. L’Manberg waged a revolutionalthough unsuccessfulagainst the tyranny of an evil oppressor (the evil oppressor in question is a green and white smiley blob).

Someone in the rally must have just googled and printed the flag without checking its origins or what it symbolized.  Someone also might have used the flag as a joke or subtle way of ridiculing the rally especially as it was conveniently under a “Trump 2024” flag (note that the Dream SMP creator leading the revolution is not exactly pro-Trump). As soon as the SMP fans got wind of the rally through a twitter reply by one of the content creators, the fandom was summoned. The tweet got more attention from news media, showing how the real blurred with the online.

What girls say

Many of the younger generation would appreciate it if their online classes were held on Minecraft instead of purely on Google Meet or Zoom. Vernice Martin, a grade 12 ABM (Accounting, Business, Management) student says, “I think I would be more invested in the world rather than the lesson being held in Minecraft, but it’s an interesting way to hold special events, just like what they did for the UST welcome walk for new students on their first year.”

Another student from HUMSS (Humanities and Social Sciences) who prefers to remain anonymous says that, “It would feel more like real life, being able to see our teachers move around and being able to interact with our classmates, rather than just a mass of profile photos in a meeting. Being able to play games with your classmates is pretty fun, too. It makes us closer and gives us a bonding experience outside of class meetings.”

Are games gendered?

Despite it being the 21st century, there are still some sexist, racist and homophobic wastrels out there, and many thrive in the gaming industry. The sexism is mostly targeted at female content creators showing that gaming and online communities still have a long way to go, and I could go on and on about this topic, but I’m reserving that for my thesis.  

I myself use games to simply have fun by myself and with my friends, but recently I have started mixing two of my hobbies together, writing and gaming. I write scripts and short stories, then act them out in Minecraft, similar to how the Dream SMP does roleplay, but my scripts tend to be more on the satirical side. This allows me to use my anger at social injustices and other frustrations, and turn them into a creative output. It’s a healthy coping mechanism sprinkled with a few screams here and there that startle the bejesus out of my grandparents. WWW