“Babe, come cuddle!”
“Not right now, the boys need me in COD.”
This sentence has become a common theme on Tik Tok, joking about men who love Call of Duty Warzone (COD) more than their girlfriends. While a joke, our lack of interaction in recent months has led to many people turning to video games for their “socially distanced” life. For the most part these games have been about hanging out with friends, but they have also helped people create new relationships and have even created a few celebrities. Games like Fortnite and World of Warcraft, with their heavy focus on playing with others, have been the dominant games of the pandemic so far.
COD has been one of the most successful games of the pandemic. Its well-known game play formula and brand, easy matchmaking, fun combat, and free to play model have made it the most downloaded battle royal ever. The constant updates and competitive nature have many friends playing the game almost nonstop. Some companies have launched competitions that allow your average players to compete for prize money. Meanwhile the companies make money by charging other enthusiasts to watch the games online. The popularity of the game has created several new streaming celebrities, and Warzone even has an entire section of the YouTube home page devoted to related videos.
COD is not the only game keeping people occupied during the lockdown; it shares the pandemic stage with other popular games, such as Among Us. Within these game playing groups, subgroups have been forming based on other common interests, with political affiliations leading the way and with their own language terms and practices for teaming up with new people. One significant contingent of people has joined the TRUMP and MAGA groups in COD, allowing people with similar worldviews to play the game together. It’s not uncommon to encounter players using the platform to campaign while playing.
Social battle games such as Among Us have spawned both mass social followings and political action. Reddit and TikTok have been flooded with memes and videos telling stories from the game, and the game is even changing our language. For example, the term SUS, short for suspect has entered our cultural lexicon because of this game. Similar to COD, Among Us has been a connection point for some major politicians. Jagmeet Singh and AOC have even partnered up to play the game together. The relevance of Among Us comes partially from its setup: an unknown infected imposter hunting and killing the other players. Sound familiar? The affordability of Among Us, (it costs just 5 dollars), the ease of play, the large number of players, and the hilarious situations that unfold, have made it the essential game for friends. It is the perfect example of a viral game taking over and creating a moment of connection between millions of people. Its connectivity in both small social circles and to a larger group of people, creates a pathway for change as more political campaigning and business marketing occurs in video games.
The time where video games were a separate part of our modern culture has passed. Once viewed as something just for bored teenagers in the basement, they have become truly part of the mainstream. The fanfare around the release of big video game titles like God of War, COD, and Cyberpunk 2077 has become as intense as other cultural events. With our isolation continuing and an expectation of reduced social gatherings for the next year, we can probably anticipate game developers will have some more social game ideas brewing to keep us entertained well into the future.
Jonah van Driesum is the senior editor of Link, and co-host of our the MicroLink podcast!