Well, it happened: you’re stuck inside because of the novel coronavirus pandemic that is raging just outside of your door. If you’re lucky, and you’re a white-collar worker, you’re now doing your job — which, let’s be honest, is mostly email anyway — from home. If you’re in an industry that’s more susceptible to the externalities of a viral epidemic, though, things are probably getting more dire.
And while there have been encouraging signs (like Olive Garden giving their employees paid sick leave), the situation remains the same: the novel coronavirus has begun to fundamentally reshape the ways we interact with each other on an individual level. It means lost income and lost jobs. It means going outside feels charged and maybe even dangerous. It means a sick, gut-level anxiety.
Here in New York, the subways are quiet, and the people riding them are suspicious. We don’t have a picture of what the outbreak looks like here yet, and we probably won’t know what happened until the dust settles. In the meantime, you have to do something to keep your mind off of what’s happening at home and around the world.
That means there’s never been a better time to get into video games — or, for that matter, play those games you’ve been meaning to finish. We’ve put our heads together to come up with an eclectic list of things to play that will hopefully keep your mind off of the virus. Though we can’t promise any of this will work unless you stay inside. —Bijan Stephen
Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield
What better way to deal with being stuck inside than playing a game where you get to leave home and go on a bold outdoor adventure? Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield are the best iterations of the series in years, with great new monsters and a lot of streamlined mechanics. The new Wild Area is a blast to explore, filled to the brim with pokémon to catch and awesome raid battles against giant ‘mons. The gym battles are some of the most epic in the series, thanks to the new Dynamax ability and battles that take place in stadiums of cheering fans. I actually found myself caring about the game’s story — which is honestly a first for me and a Pokémon game.
I loved these games so much that I completed the pokédex, something I haven’t done since I was a kid playing my beloved copy of Pokémon Red. Now is the perfect time to jump into Pokémon Sword and Shield and catch ‘em all — and by the time you do, you’ll probably be ready for the game’s first DLC expansion, which launches in June. —Jay Peters
Where to play it: Nintendo Switch
Being cooped up inside sucks, and things can feel a little grim right now. Sunset Overdrive will solve both of those issues, giving you the super-saturated world of Sunset City to jump, dash, and grind around with an irreverent sense of humor that (while occasionally grating) is just cheesy and over-the-top enough to work.
Plus, the entire game is about working to help stem a virus spread by an irresponsible mega-corporation that accidentally turns people into energy drink-fueled zombies, which also makes it some fun wish-fulfillment for anyone who wishes they could defeat the spread of the novel coronavirus by launching bowling balls out of an improvised cannon at it. —Chaim Gartenberg
Where to play it: Xbox One or Windows (available for free to subscribers of Xbox Game Pass)
Living in New York City, I rarely get to enjoy the simple pleasures of fresh air and wide-open pastures that I took for granted back home in Nebraska. It’s part of the reason I’ve sunk so many hours into Stardew Valley over the past few years. Now that I’m staying indoors more and more because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, I’ve started picking up the game more often.
But it’s more than just my longing to soak up the warm sun that drives me to play Stardew right now. Every time I open Twitter, I’m met with a waterfall of tweets and information about the virus. It’s overwhelming, to say the least, and I’d be lying if I said that that scrolling through my feeds doesn’t fill me with anxiety. Taking a break from social media and turning my attention to menial in-game tasks like planting and watering crops or fishing for snappers is therapeutic. I’m able to turn off the babbling of cable news and listen to Stardew Valley’s calming soundtrack while I complete my farmerly tasks in a relaxing rhythm.
Light a pine-scented candle to set the mood, open the game, and try to forget all about the pandemic sweeping across the world while you milk your cows and decorate your little cottage. —Makena Kelly
Where to play it: Steam, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Playstation 4, Playstation VITA, Nintendo, iOS and Android
I have to admit that I’ve fallen out with PUBG a little bit over the past year. Although there have been some fun new gameplay features (gliders, I’m talking about the gliders), I’ve found myself feeling increasingly alienated every time I log in to play a few rounds, put off by the seemingly arbitrary weapons loadout changes and endless new attachments.
Ultimately, though, PUBG is still the game that almost everyone in my Discord server of friends will jump in to play at the drop of a hat. And when you’re working from home all day, on your own, sitting in your (hopefully washed) jogging pants, playing a game is sometimes more about getting to hang out with other human beings than it is about the actual game itself, gliders be damned. —Jon Porter
Where to play it: Steam, PS4, Xbox One, iOS, Android
Kentucky Route Zero
The fifth and final part of Cardboard Computer’s Kentucky Route Zero launched at the end of January, more than seven years after the saga began. (And it did not disappoint!) That beginning was humble. You play as Conway, an older guy who needs to deliver some antiques to an address that’s on that titular road, The Zero. But things are never that simple — not in video games or in real life.
At its heart, Kentucky Route Zero is a story about people sticking together to get by because what they’re up against is the grinding heart of capitalism itself. It’s a story that’s, by turns, absorbing, frustrating, and sublime, set against a magical realist southern landscape. Kentucky Route Zero is the kind of game you want to play during a crisis because it successfully conjures a totally different world, even as it’s a biting critique of the one we live in. —Bijan Stephen
Where to play it: Steam, Switch, PS4, Xbox One
Are you looking for a JRPG with great music, great storytelling, a ton of content, and is free to play in a browser? Good news, this game exists, and it’s GranBlue Fantasy. In the game, you play as either Gran or Djeeta, depending on the gender of the character you choose, the captain of an airship in a world of floating islands. Making parties of five of your crew members, you’ll fight anything from lowly slimes to primeval dragons as you journey across the Skydom in search of the mythical last sky island.
Being six years old the game is full of a ton of systems like multiplayer raid bosses and multistage weapon crafting that can be fairly overwhelming. There are also hundreds of characters, weapons, and summons, each with their own skills and abilities, which can make it difficult to know what it should be doing. Luckily, GBF fans are generally pretty enthusiastic to help whether you want to join a Discord community for it or just peruse the wiki.
I should note it is a gacha-style game, which can be pretty annoying, especially if you are trying to progress normally without concerning yourself with more hardcore mechanics. However, GBF is actually surprisingly generous with how much they give away for free — to the point that you don’t have to think about spending any money unless you actually want to, not because you need to. —Michael Moore
Where to play it: Click here then set the language to English.
Whether you’re just a few days or a few hours into self-imposed isolation, the whole process might start to feel a little suffocating. You probably want to go to the gym, a movie, a bar — anywhere where people are mingling, anything to feel like you still have some semblance of a normal routine. While it won’t exactly feel like the real thing, Persona 5 might help scratch that itch a little.
Set in modern-day Japan, the game follows a group of teen vigilantes who split their time between living as normal students and crawling through metaphysical dungeons. In between saving the world, its heroes spend their time enjoying the little moments in life: reading a book on the train, going to the park, getting dinner with friends — you know, all the things you probably can’t do right now.
For players who’ve already burned their way through the original, Atlus is releasing an enhanced version of the game, Persona 5 Royal, on March 31st. We might be here a while, after all. —Megan Farokhmanesh
Where to Play It: PS4
After Konami canceled Silent Hills, I tried to fill the void P.T. left behind. So, in late 2015 when I stumbled upon a trailer for a game called Visage, it reminded me a lot of what I liked so much about the Silent Hills playable teaser, and I was interested in what the game had to offer.
As someone who plays a lot of horror games, the vast majority of them don’t scare me; however, within the first 45 minutes of playing, Visage managed to get my heart racing. It’s an incredibly unpredictable game, and each time I’ve played, my experience was different. Sure, it has setpieces that are unavoidable as they advance the story, but items and enemy placement are randomized and kept me on my toes. It’s also a very challenging game; if I wasn’t stressing out about item management every two seconds, I was micromanaging my character’s sanity or spending at least 30 minutes trying to figure out a puzzle.
Visage is far from a perfect game; in fact, it’s still in Early Access. But it shows a lot of promise, and it’s only $25. SadSquare Studio has managed to capture a lot of what made P.T. beloved by those who played it, thanks to consistent tension building, incredible sound design, and high replayability. —Taylor Lyles
Where to play it: Steam
Divinity: Original Sin 2
I bought the Nintendo Switch port of Divinity: Original Sin 2 so I could bring the immersive CRPG with me everywhere I go. While it’s more ideal for an airplane trip when you’re seated for a few hours or more, my comparatively brief subway commute has made it difficult to make good progress through the game. After all, you’re responsible for managing inventory, equipment, and individual threads of a story for four characters at the same time.
But now that I’m stuck at home, I love being able to play it on my TV. The graphics aren’t nearly as good as they are on PC, but it’s still just as atmospheric and richly detailed of an experience. The controller scheme might first feel like an abomination compared to the keyboard and mouse setup, but it’s about as good as they come for adapting such a complex game to console. Plus, it supports cross-save with the game on Steam if you already own it. —Cameron Faulkner
Where to play: Switch, PC, Xbox One, PS4