Friday Night Gaming, the Corona Virus, and Well, Everything

I have known my friend Dave for almost 50 years. I think about that often. Fifty fucking years. We met on the first day of kindergarten. We haven’t stayed in touch all those years. There is a period of time, like most friends, we lost touch. But, up through college at least, we had a regular gaming group: Dave, Mike, Paul, Kenny, and sometimes Kenny’s brother. We were fast as thieves. It was rare to see one of us and not the others.

Usually Kenny’s messy bedroom, or Dave’s dining room table, was our congregational point. Kenny’s was fun because you could drop a die on the floor and come up with 5 bucks in loose change and your wayward d20. We played a ton of D&D, Traveller, Axis and Allies, and the old Avalon Hill board games. The Losers Club from IT? That was us, man, with our own version of the Barrens.

After high school I went off to college, Dave joined the Marines. Mike joined the Guard and did a tour in the first Iraq war. I lost touch with them and missed them. Then, life took a weird turn. My wife at the time was petsitting for a woman who lived in a duplex. The next door couple also needed a petsitter and during the initial talk my now-ex is asked, “Hey, any chance you are related to Mark Crump from Natick?” It turns out it was Dave’s brother. Dave was getting married in a few weeks. The bachelor party was at a paintball place and I was invited. Dave and Mike still got together on Fridays to game. After that, I also joined in.

This was about fifteen years ago. Life is full of chance moments. I mean, what are the odds that my wife’s petsitting business would hook me back up with my high school gaming group? It’s one of those plot points a reader would roll their eyes at and mutter, “yeah, right” under their breath. The wife is gone; the friends remain.

Since then, most Fridays we still get together. The congregational point has changed. Instead of Dave’s, it’s Mike’s. We still act like it’s the high-school D&D group. It is not a time for deep, reflective conversation about the plight of the common man. Instead, it’s a lot of, “that’s what she said.” It’s the escape from life that we need.

For a few years we’d also try to have a computer game night mixed in there. Sometimes it was playing D&D on Roll20 or whatever MMO we wanted to try. We had a few board games on Steam, but board games were usually reserved for Fridays, in person, moving physical pieces around while Mike and I kept an eye on Dave because Dave is cheating bastard. Some Fridays we would play online — usually when a blizzard hit. The preference, though, was in person.

The virus changed, well, everything.

Now the congregational point is Skype. Instead of a table, we use Steam. We don’t need to police Dave since cheating in an online game is functionally impossible. We don’t wonder who shuffled this fucking deck when five red cards come out in a row in Ticket to Ride. It’s not the same, but, yet it is. We don’t move physical pieces around. Our game options are smaller. We tend to stick to a few board game equivalents on Steam since playing an MMO has a lot of waiting for someone to catch up, or doing a quest twice because someone forgot to grab the fucking quest. There is still a lot of “that’s what she said.”

The virus changed, well, everything.

We are all in this weird Groundhog Day House Arrest mode. Monday through Friday, I get up, plod down the hall to my home office. Traffic these days is a jackknifed cat in the hallway. I look out the window at the woods and my monitors and, well, work. Weekends…. I get up, plod down the hallway and sit in the same chair looking out the same window at the same backyard at the same woods at the same screens and, well, not work. The only difference is my work laptop is now in my bag instead of on my desk. I will think: I don’t want to fuck up my sleep schedule but why bother? Everything is fucked up. My viewport to the world hasn’t changed in three weeks.

The virus changed, well, everything.

Friday nights, though, while a different congregational point and a different medium, are still a sense of the Before Times. Before the virus. Before I haven’t left the house in three weeks. Before toilet paper of all things became a rare resource. Before sneezing and coughing clear out a room faster than a Taco Bell-infused fart. I miss, well, everything but I can still have what passes for the normalcy of a Friday night gaming session.

That’s what she said.