Thomas Pierce ’24, Staff Writer

Photo by John Petalcurin on

No matter where you’re from, everyone agrees with the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it harder to see friends and do what we’d like with them. For me personally, though, it’s been a lot harder to reconnect with the people who I’d consider my closest friends. I graduated from a small Catholic high school in Wilmington, Delaware, so most of my classmates ended up attending college at the University of Delaware. It’s no surprise, then, that I was the only one of my graduating class to attend Immaculata University, a relatively small college in a different state. This would have presented a challenge for my friends and I under normal circumstances, as attending different schools brings about multiple problems making it hard to spend time together. The distance between us, differing class schedules, and different on-campus activities being offered at different times would have made physically hanging out with each other difficult. Couple that with the difficulties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, and you’ve got a recipe for barely getting to see each other at all. 

This is where computer games and messaging applications come into play. These services allow you to message, call, or video chat with your friends at any time of the day, and their notifications are generally unintrusive. Even services like Google Meet and Zoom are useful for chatting with your friend group at times when you can’t meet up. At the beginning of the pandemic, when we couldn’t gather around the cafeteria lunch table and eat together anymore, we would all log into a Zoom meeting during our break from virtual classes to eat together, catch up, and complain about how unnecessarily hard our math class was. When it comes to activities, you can couple these communication apps with video games to simultaneously play with, talk to, and see your friends even while miles apart from each other. For me and my Delaware friends, this has been what we’ve primarily used our computers for during the pandemic. When we log into our shared Discord voice calls and boot up our favorite games, the stresses of college life melt away and it feels like we’re back sitting next to each other at the lunch table, playing against each other in the latest iMessage game or playing games together on our iPads. We’ve even used the video call capabilities on these services to help each other with homework and watch TV shows together. 

The best computer application for keeping up with friends, in my opinion, is Discord, a Skype-like service marketed towards gamers but free and accessible to everyone. Discord lets any user create what’s called a “server,” which is basically a glorified chat room with multiple channels. These channels allow for themed text conversations that anyone can see, read over, or type in at any time, and voice channels that are always available to join, almost like an ongoing phone call. Servers can have anywhere from five members to eight hundred thousand. On the gaming side of things, there are countless distribution platforms that people can download and play games from, with some being free and others being paid. My friends and I typically use Steam, which has been the unrivaled king of computer gaming platforms since its inception.

Steam, like Discord, is free to download, and it serves as a virtual storefront where people can buy and download games (or find free ones). Other popular communication services include Skype, Teamspeak, and even Steam’s built-in messaging system, although that has gotten less reliable with recent updates. Meanwhile, there are countless virtual storefronts that people can buy games through, but you always have to be careful when purchasing from lesser-recognized websites.

My most recent late-night gaming session involved me and one of my best friends from Delaware, Wesley Clark, seeking thrills through galactic conquest in the space civilization game Stellaris. Stellaris is primarily a “story-generator,” a game with a heavy emphasis on freedom, imagination, and wordy descriptions to allow players to create their own experiences and set their own goals. It’s also what I’d like to call a “map game,” a more strategy-focused game centered around politics and empire development rather than action and fighting. This is a game that Wesley and I have played before, and we’ve enjoyed similar gaming experiences together for years. Wesley, a sophomore Physics major at the University of Delaware, has a huge passion for astronomy. He and I have been friends since freshman year of high school. We’ve done drumline, chorus, theatre, and multiple clubs/classes together, and he’s an all around great guy. As such, when we play these games together, we generally work together and attempt to fend off other civilizations controlled by the computer itself through AI.

Booting up Stellaris, I started off cluelessly clicking through text-filled menus, too impatient to read through how the game’s complex and interwoven systems work. Instead, Wesley gave me a crash course on what to do, guiding me through the first couple of hours of gameplay. Me and my friend had played this game before, but it had been over a year since, so I had completely forgotten what I was doing. We started by each creating custom galactic races and civilizations. I handcrafted a race of sentient robots and cyborgs named “The Definitely Not Evil Robot Empire,” while Wesley went for a human-looking race known as “The Delaware Imperium.” 

Loading into the game, I was immediately blown away by how it looked. The stars, suns, planets, and moons seemed almost photorealistic. Upon zooming in I was amazed by how detailed the spaceships were, with my fleet of military and research vessels looming over my homeworld named “EVIL.” Despite our suspicious naming system, “The Definitely Not Evil Robot Empire” was very good-natured and curious, focusing more on exploration and scientific progress than war and diplomacy. For the first few thousand years of my empire, “EVIL” blossomed into a bustling planet, with its capital city of Eviltopia providing thousands of minerals, alloys, and other resources for its people. Eventually, we were ready to colonize, and Wesley helped me to create human-robot cyborgs that went on to colonize five other solar systems.

Source: Twitter @Stellarisgame

Unfortunately, after about two thousand years of peace, both Wesley and I were attacked by an empire of bird-looking people, who launched raids on over ten of the solar systems under my robots’ control. Maybe we had accidentally colonized some of their desired planets, or perhaps I had ignored one too many of their diplomatic inquiries for a thousand years. The world may never know what set them off, but the bird people were out for robotic blood. As their thousands of ships descended upon my poor machine planets, I did my best to evacuate all of my ships and important citizens to the heart of the galaxy, far from the clutches of the birdmen. As I scrambled through the crisis, sending out orders to my ships and space stations frantically, Wesley did his best to guide me through what I thought was the end of robot-kind. At the end of the fighting, I was left with only one planet and a handful of ships, only spared because it would be an overextension of the birdmen’s military resources. A few hundred years later, after my engineers had constructed a new armada, my scientists had uncovered a cosmic entity willing to fight on our behalf, and Welsey’s military was ready to simultaneously strike at the birdmen, we launched our counteroffensive. Wrestling back our territory through a series of hard-fought battles with heavy casualties on all sides, we started turning the tides of the war. Eventually, other galactic civilizations got involved in the conflict, and before long we had started a battle involving so much of the galaxy that we found ourselves in violation of the game’s “Intergalactic Law.”

While this is where our gameplay session ended, the beauty of online services like Discord and games like Stellaris is that these are stories that you can pick up and play with your friends anywhere and at any time. You can save your current progress, take as much time away as you need, and when you come back the exact same game will be there, along with the same Discord voice calls and text channels. Wesley and I are already planning our next foray into the world of Stellaris, and hopefully next time my robots will fare better.  In a time when we can’t always see each other face-to-face or go to the types of events we’d normally enjoy, casual game nights like this are a great way to build lasting memories with friends and create interesting, action-packed stories together. Even if you’re not planning on playing any video games, programs such as Discord are still worth looking into, as they allow for large-scale group chats, voice calls, and Facetime-like video calls. These applications even include calendars so that you can schedule virtual events for everyone in the server to see. Installing and managing these programs is free and fairly simple, and Immaculata even has its own Discord servers for those interested. If you are looking for some games to play with your friends, though, aside from Stellaris I’d recommend games like Left 4 Dead 2, a co-op zombie shooter, Stardew Valley, a relaxed farming simulator, and Among Us. All of these and more are available on Steam, but some other trustworthy game launchers would be the Epic Games store and the launcher.

Source: Rock Paper Shotgun