Whether or not you've been an avid video-gamer in the past, now is a great time to explore the hobby.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has partnered with the videogame industry to promote #PlayApartTogether on social media. The hashtag is meant to promote social distancing, and extend's the WHO's request for people to just stay inside and play videogames.

Games are being played at a record-breaking rate these days, and many have found it a good way to relax, escape, or feel productive. But for those unfamiliar with the hobby, it can seem exclusive or opaque.

animal crossing
Sometimes you just Isabelle's unassailable optimism, from Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Courtesy u/pkbronsonb on reddit.com/r/gaming.

The case for video games

Enthusiasts and experts have weighed in on the merit of video gaming as an entertainment form.

Kristopher Alexander, a professor of video design and esports at Ryerson University in Toronto, explains: "During this time of self-distancing, we can see a revisiting of video games as a pastime for some who have not had the affordance of time to engage with this rich medium. Video games can be a positive activity during this time of self distancing if we can take the time to discover the types of games that are best for you."

Seth Schiesel writes for the New York Times: "The great, challenging thing about games is that you don’t merely consume the entertainment. Any game requires players to make active decisions, often involving other people. You then reap the consequences of those decisions, whether a millisecond or months later. Unlike a TV show or a movie (or much of real life, for that matter), a game allows you control what happens next . . . Games are ultimately about creating your own stories."

How do I start gaming?

Ask a friend.

The best way to get into gaming is to consult a friend who plays. It's easy to feel overwhelmed by all the different systems and accessories and options, but a friend will be a good starter guide. Josh Boykin, founder of Intelligame, recommends talking to a friend even before doing internet research. He says, "If you've got friends who you think have a similar style or similar taste, reach out to them and ask, 'Hey, you know, what do you think I would like?' It's like getting a book recommendation from a friend."

Discover what you like. 

Games are as varied as movies or books, and there's bound to be something that sings to you. People play games for many different reasons—to socialize, compete, explore a new world, master skills, or express themselves. To start, you might think about how other media you like makes you feel, or take this quiz by market-research company Quantic Foundry on "Gamer Motivations". Knowing what you want to get out of a game will help narrow down your search.

Check out gameplay. 

YouTube is a great place to watch people play and review games. There's also Twitch, a streaming service where you'll be able to find just about every recent game being played live.

Find a community.  

Especially in this hour of isolation, community is a big part of gaming. Finding a game to play with friends is a great way to stay in touch, and tools like Discord, a free platform for voice and text chat, make socializing over games easy. A game will usually have its own message-board, subreddit, Facebook group, or Discord where you can learn, share memes, and hang out.

Probably start with a console. 

While you can play games on both a computer and a smartphone, the easiest way to expand your gaming is with a console, like the Nintendo Switch or PS4. Having a dedicated machine is easier than worrying about what your computer can play, and mobile games are often less robust and geared towards getting you to pay a bunch of microtransactions. The Nintendo Switch is recommended as an accessible starting point that supports quality games. 

What's the last video game you played that you really enjoyed? Do games seem more appealing now that we're all stuck inside? Weigh in with a comment!