So, you're stuck at home, voluntarily or otherwise, while COVID-19 roams the globe. On the one hand, you want to escape from the world of empty store shelves, political posturing, and increasing anxieties about what fresh hell awaits you and your neighbors.
On the other hand, you know that games, like any good form of media, can help you cope, giving you the mental boost you need to survive and come away from this particularly trying time at least as well off as you were when you started. The question is, what titles would be really helpful in that regard? Below are some recommendations, both recent and classic, which could do the job for you.
You might not be able to get through all of the games during whatever enforced isolation period you might be going through, but there's certainly enough to keep you occupied for a while.
Wait, a Dungeons & Dragons game?! Since when does that deal with pandemics? The first act of the game puts players in the midst of a city locked down by a disease known as the Wailing Plague and charges them to gather up the ingredients needed to come up with a cure. Said ingredients are not easily found, and some of them need to be harvested off living, and highly dangerous, creatures.
In classic BioWare fashion, the fact there's a plague on gives players the chance to interact with characters who are trying to get by, and some who are making things worse. By the end of that first act, you'll have stopped the plague, but you'll have bigger problems to occupy your time beyond it.
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
It's almost tempting to put down the more obvious Naughty Dog title, The Last of Us, for this sort of thematic recommendation. But the first Uncharted game hides a story of ancient plagues and the lengths to which some people would go in the past to try and contain them or weaponize them. If for no other reason, Nolan North's characterization of Nathan Drake gives players plenty of laughs, even a bit of gallows humor now and again.
If Death smiles on all of us, it doesn't hurt to chuckle back at him with a good quip or two.
At first blush, this one seems like an oddball choice. Yet the city of Dunwall is most definitely one which is afflicted with a mysterious plague, and that state of affairs is what is driving so many of the characters to commit the sometimes terrible deeds they do in the name of saving the Empire.
What's even worse is that you as the main character can potentially affect the spread and effects of the plague, depending on how much chaos you cause as you exact your revenge. By the same token, it can reward you, in an odd and roundabout sort of was, for keeping your distance from other people.
Tom Clancy's The Division/The Division 2
This one is sort of on the line, but I'm including it mainly for the seemingly endless collectibles which litter the game, most of which deal with how people survive (or don't) in the social breakdown of a pandemic. Some of them are short and sweet, moments in time captured for players to examine from multiple angles. Others are more involved, a scavenger hunt that leads you through strange corners of major cities to combine fragments of story into a complete (and sometimes disturbing) narrative.
For those of us who like crunchy lore in loot shooters, this series certainly delivers the goods.
A Plague Tale: Innocence
It's right there in the title. OK, there's more to it than that, but this lovely little stealth-oriented adventure definitely takes a narrow and deeply personal viewpoint on how we conduct ourselves when disease runs riot.
Admittedly, we're not burning people at the stake anymore. But when you see people hoarding TP and hand sanitizer, you have to wonder what they would have done when something worse than a coronavirus hit.
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
If you think this is a stretch, think again. For starters, players have a chance to contract any number of dangerous and debilitating diseases. If you're not able to cure them, the NPCs in Vvardenfell's various towns and cities will absolutely react to your obvious illness, and warn you from getting too close. But the game's main storyline hinges on you contracting a disease which is affecting the people of Morrowind's "religious preserve," a plague which is reviled by many and revered as a "divine disease" by a small cult of infected madmen.
That's all on top of the usual quest lines to contract and cure both vampirism and lycanthropy.
The original, and still the best, in the series, may generally be noted for its relationship to every conspiracy theory under the sun. But those who've played remember the main character operated in the shadow of the pandemic known as the Gray Death, and how shipments of a treatment called Ambrosia had been intercepted by terrorists.
If nothing else, it gets you to think carefully both about how to conduct yourself during a pandemic and about the distinctions between "treatment," "vaccine," and "cure." It's also useful to help one mentally prepare to deal with the mindset behind conspiracy theories, and how to contain the most pernicious disease of all: a bad idea.
One of the many theories about the cultural origins of the vampire is they are a stand-in for the concept of disease. Sunlight destroys them, garlic wards against them, they shrink at the sight of a cross held by a true believer, all of which certainly fits with medieval European medical concepts (and two out of three ain't bad in real life). But Dontnod's vampiric adventure, with the player taking on the role of plague and plague victim all at once, bends that idea around the real pandemic of the Spanish flu right after World War I with some interesting results.
It's a different look at the vampire myth and one which mixes the pre-Stoker concepts of vampirism with modern ideas of medicine quite deftly.
I was a little on the fence about this one, since it's technically set well after the pandemic for the most part. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to fit. The key difference that sets this game apart from other "post-zombie apocalypse" games is how the disease remains present in the consciousness of the characters. It's never a case of "welp, guess this area's off-limits till we die of old age." It's still around, and there are still people trying to figure out how to beat it.
Of course, things are not quite what they seem, whether you're a survivor or one of the afflicted.
To round out the list, one simply has to have this title. An entire city, known for blood transfusions, suddenly devoured by a plague carried through the very same blood which made it famous. The themes of disease, healing, and transformation through medicine are appropriately oppressive and fit with the environments like a tailored suit.
Some might shrink from the difficulty involved, but it's not quite as punishing as From Software's Dark Souls series. But it's certainly worth digging into and exploring every dark and decaying corner of Yharnam.