Theres never been a better time to seek solace in virtual worlds

There’s comfort to be found in exploring virtual worlds when we can’t explore our own. Here in the United Kingdom, we are just weeks into a lockdown that could last for months. We have been instructed to practise social distancing and have been asked to isolate ourselves from the outside world, only leaving the confines of our homes to pick up what could reasonably be recognised as “essentials”. New batteries for my Xbox One controller are surely counted amongst them – otherwise, I’m in some serious trouble. 

It can be all too easy to feel lonely in times like these. As if you are adrift, lost within the stilted stillness and silence born of isolation. For me, these feelings seemed to float away for the first time in a very long time as I took tender steps back into Karnaca. I haven’t returned to Dishonored 2 (opens in new tab) in a long time, but I think of it often. 

The decision to complete a Clean Hands / In Good Conscious / Shadow run my first time through it left a few scars that have been left unaddressed; no kills, no detection, low chaos, and a whole lot of headaches. This time, I have no agenda. I am merely passing through a city I hope I never tire of visiting. I amble around the Karnaca Harbour and investigate the Campo Seta Dockyards; I’m not chasing any objective, I’m standing idly by, watching as the world passes by me without a care. Minutes turn to hours; I’m in a world that is not my own, but it feels like it could be. As if it should be. 

I push into the Aventa Quarter, awestruck by the scope of Arkane’s design and the advance of its vision, the attention paid to detail in this space is effectively unrivalled this generation. It soothes me, and the scope of it all distracts me from the maelstrom of anxiety that is threatening to consume me in these uncertain times. In this city there is a story to be uncovered behind every open window, and a new point of interest to be located for those that are interested enough to go looking for them. For a moment, I consider riding up to the Upper Aventa District to reacquaint myself with the Clockwork Mansion – a self-contained space and mission that is, by every metric available, perfect. But I resist. For once, I am content with playing tourist.  

A tourist in another world

(Image credit: Campo Santo)

There is true solace to be found in visiting the best virtual worlds this industry has to offer. That’s always been true, but it feels especially pertinent now. Even those locales that are imposing and isolating by their very nature. Prey (opens in new tab)’s Talos I, Firewatch (opens in new tab)’s Shoshone National Forest, or the Finch and Greenbriar family residences found in What Remains of Edith Finch (opens in new tab) and Gone Home (opens in new tab), respectively. Visiting spaces such as these may seem reductive – why entertain carefully engineered isolation when it is  so prevalent in our real lives – but I promise you this, there is real joy to be derived from rooting around in the remnants of a life once lived, one that’s disconnected entirely from your own.

It’s easy to forget about the troubles outside of your control when you’re staring out at the stars from the lobby of a space station. When you’re admiring the craftsmanship of otherworldly cabins in the woods, or simply trying to find a reflection of your own self in the mess of an abandoned adolescence. I’ve always appreciated interactive entertainment’s ability to transport us out of our own spaces and into new situations, but never have I recognised their capacity to provide so much catharsis as acutely as I have these past few weeks. 

“The empty expanse of Death Stranding feel utterly freeing now that I’m legally constrained to eight walls across two rooms”

I’m returning to worlds that I had long left behind, finding that my fears wash away within them in an instant. The sprawling enclosures of modern Assassin’s Creed games, Origins and Odyssey, were once a trigger for my anxious brain – the noise of their maps, deafening – I can now see are a bold opportunity to explore distant new lands, unencumbered by any desire but to reach the horizon. The empty expanse of games like Death Stranding feel utterly freeing now that I find myself legally constrained to eight walls across two rooms – the arrival of the long-awaited photo mode letting play at freezing nature in a snapshot of time. Now that the streets outside are empty, I look forward to people watching in GTA 5 (opens in new tab) all throughout Los Santos. I’m eager to begin inspecting the architecture of Raccoon City in Resident Evil 3 Remake (opens in new tab). I’m excited to forget that I can’t venture outside by starting to explore the corners of every virtual world that I can, from Midgar to Verdansk. Developers have worked tirelessly to build detailed and immersive spaces, and as such the opportunities for us to get lost within them are endless. It’s a good thing we’ve got nothing but time then, isn’t it?

In the long weeks ahead, I’m stepping back from being an active participant and into the role of passive observer wherever possible in my favourite video games. I want to find joy in the sights and sounds of these virtual worlds, those created with such care and devotion. Perhaps you feel the same. Here at GamesRadar+, we’re with you in this; we’ll be exploring the ways that video games can give us the space to explore solitude, to learn new skills, expand our horizons, and the ways in which games are able to bring us all together over the coming weeks. Truly, there has never been a better time to seek solace in virtual worlds.   

Struggling to centre yourself and calm your anxiety? Here’s why we need games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons and The Sims now more than ever.

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