This is an opinion piece and, while not necessarily focused on gaming, I felt it was timely and something that needed to be said, especially in the wake of COVID-19.
We have arrived at an interesting time in history. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and now TikTok have changed the landscape of human existence from one where we as cultural inhabitants primarily look out for our families, our neighbors, and friends and their welfare, into one where narcissism reigns and ego dominates the hearts and minds of our world population.
For the last decade, no matter where one turns, you find a "Social Media Influencer." Although there are exceptions, the typical definition of this is a younger person below 30 years of age appearing to live a rich and famous lifestyle (or at least trying to convince others they are doing so) while supposedly representing a brand or product of some kind in order to influence people to buy. As most realize, their representation of said product is weak at best and horribly devoid of any coherent message at worst.
If you need any proof of my assessment, check out these links:
Currently, the world appears to be turned upside down as 19-year old financial "gurus" tell us how to become millionaires, the unemployed tell us how to make $1,000/day with a blog, YouTube stars walk us through their (supposed) multi-million dollar homes, and barely post-pubescent teenagers show us into their offices overlooking Central Park. All of this in the name of content. Yeah OK...
Enter the Content Creator. Behold the person who contributes nearly nothing to society. Here we have a being whose sole purpose is perfect lighting, interesting camera angles, MacBook Pro editing, and a personality that they are carefully manicuring to hopefully go viral. Companies are lining up to pay YouTube to put ads on these videos while getting almost zero in return. It has already been proven that social media influencers bring almost zero return on investment for companies, yet it seems to be part of every large company's marketing budget because all the other companies are doing it. Again, the world is turned upside down...
We as gamers are just as guilty. We are just as selfish most days as we grind out the next champion or hero we need at the expense of the welfare of our families or friends in real life. We are toxic in games where our teammates do not perform up to our expectations and we spew profanities in general chat and whisper threats across the internet for no good reason other than our own ego is currently being threatened in some small way. We are exposing what little is left of our private lives in exchange for Twitch followers and subs. What are we thinking?
How does all of this have to do with the COVID-19 virus?
Well, first, at least for a moment, we have a break from the cacophony of Generation Ego. For now, social media is preoccupied with health and safety warnings, images of empty store shelves, and even some actual concern relayed to others across the pond in Europe and China and wishing them the best. It is a much needed transition from the "me" to "us".
Second, we are beginning to speak to each other again. I was in the grocery store yesterday and there was no panic, no craziness, and surprisingly, I saw almost no one on their device. But there was communication. I spoke with several people and several others spoke with me. There was friendliness among strangers, even if just to smile and laugh at the craziness of it all.
Just as we did on 9/12/2001, we are coming together again as communities. We are beginning to see each other again. We are not simply ignoring those around us as we go about our ultra-busy lives checking our email, Facebook or text messages on our devices. I dare say many of us are beginning to be interested in others again, especially as we consider our parents who might be older and our neighbor who is alone and might need some encouragement. It is an amazing and wonderful thing to see, if only for a short time.
As for us gamers, for a moment we are less interested in winning, and more interested in how our friends online are doing. How are our guild mates coping in their part of the country, or in their part of the world? Right now we are more interested in how the virus has spread and where, and less interested in whether we have enough gold to afford our epic mount or what our ranking is on the ladder. We are communicating on a very basic level in the way the internet was actually intended. I dare say it is beautiful.
I pray that this Coronavirus does not become the scourge some authorities are saying it might. I hope that we do not see hundreds of thousands of deaths in the wake of this. The world has seen things like this before and much worse. The Black Death killed killed over 100 million people, to be conservative, in the 1300's. 1918 brought the Flu Pandemic and it killed between 20 and 50 million people. HIV/AIDS killed over 30 million just over a decade ago.
If the Coronavirus does achieve that level of destruction, we will all be changed. But if in all of this, we somehow find a way to come together again and build communal bonds that have broken because of all of this technology and the separation it has wrought, and learn to notice the hungry person on the street or the elderly person who needs help with the groceries like we used to. If we remember that "we" is more important than "me", and if we learn to genuinely love again, it might all be worth it.
I trust that as we practice Social Distancing (that's a new term...) and spend more time at home whether it be alone or with family, we will consider these things and the impact we might have on the future as gamers and members of the local and world community.