Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
January 17, 2021

Connecting with friends in a virtual world

By MARVIS GUTIERREZ | November 17, 2020

gutierrez

COURTESY OF MARVIS GUTIERREZ

For Gutierrez, platforms such as Zoom and Discourse have provided a way to connect with friends, despite physical distance. 

I initially had a bit of trouble trying to think of a concept or action that really resembles joy — especially during this quarantine period, it’s much easier to fall back to negative emotions and feelings. Eventually, I realized that what got me through these past nine months and brought joy into my life while I was physically isolated were the interactions I had with my friends online. 

Sounds pretty simple, right? In retrospect, it was actually really hard to even make the effort to reach out to my loved ones and spend meaningful time with them when my mind was also cluttered with intrusive thoughts about the many “what-ifs.” I was worried about my immediate family and COVID-19 infection, periods of job insecurity, my extended family in Puerto Rico and Colombia who are undoubtedly facing a similar and yet fundamentally different experience to me.

It was easy to send the occasional messages to friends as a check-in, but it was harder to reconnect with friends after the intense shock to my system. I honestly can’t be certain if I’ve fully reconnected with all the people I knew prior to quarantine, but that’s ok. We’re all gradually re-establishing ourselves, and at least the excuse of hanging out in the form of group studying has made these first efforts to reach out a little easier.

The platform that’s really kept my friends and I together has been Discord. At first, we tried Zoom get-togethers, but I felt that if I had to spend even more time on that platform, any experience would just not be enjoyable. 

I’m genuinely shocked that a gaming platform can have so many creative uses, but it works. You can video call, listen to music together without much lag and even play minigames through the use of “bots” — think iMessage games but less complex. The call feature has a visual function to it as well that shows who is currently in the voice channel, which makes it even easier to hop in and talk with friends; with my earlier struggle to reconnect, this allowed the possibility of low effort interaction with others. “Entering” a call feels almost similar to accidentally bumping into someone in Brody. 

We initially watched movies together with Netflix Party, but more of the casual calls and organic interactions arose when we found out we were playing a lot of the same games. Final Fantasy 14, a multiplayer online game, has been a serious hook for us all. Being able to do daily missions together during late nights has almost provided a stabilizing schedule in what is an otherwise very chaotic time. 

I could try to recount the progression of games we’ve managed to get through, but in all honesty, I’ve forgotten a lot of what we’ve done. Recently though, we’ve derived a lot of joy from playing Among Us and Phasmophobia together. Among Us became a quick hit during quarantine and I’m sure you’ve already heard about it (check out this article if you haven’t!), but Phasmophobia is a really interesting game that recently came out and I would really suggest that everyone try it. 

As a quick summary, Phasmophobia is a Steam co-op horror game where you attempt to track down and identify ghosts (think Buzzfeed Unsolved) with tools like electromagnetic field readers, spirit boxes and motion sensors. You can play with up to three other people, and there are new, randomly generated haunted locations every time you play. My friends and I all agree that there’s one feature that keeps us hooked; the ghost can at times “haunt” and manifest itself physically, sometimes even killing players. As you can only communicate with others via radio while in-game, it leads to hilarious situations when you hear a cut-off scream through the radio signifying that someone has died somewhere. It’s usually me dying, though.

The game treats itself seriously and does fabricate a horrifying experience when you decide to explore the haunted locations alone. I personally am very weak in scary situations, so I always try to huddle up with my friends. Going to the asylum locations are now pretty much banned when I’m playing since I scream so much in terror every time anything happens (or whenever my friends make a sudden sound to try to scare me).

We’ve had less time to play together recently as papers and midterms are an ever increasing academic burden, but being able to hop on call for a quick 15 minutes to an hour to talk with friends is what keeps me going.

With even more midterms incoming, I’ve also tried to organize study sessions in a different voice channel where we all share our screens and keep each other accountable. Of course, it’s more than likely that we end up laughing at each other and slacking off, but as someone who has always been more productive while being with others and being in the right study environment, this kind of modification to the usual experience is invaluable. 

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