Video games made my friends feel close through different cities and a pandemic - Alexander Brown

It started with a crush, as so many things do.

A childlike infatuation, it was built on nothing tangible but led to something beautiful.

We went to the shops, as young people do, and I walked her home where I was politely invited in to sleep on the floor downstairs.

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Saying goodnight, I went to the living room only to find a tall man a little older than me sitting on the sofa where I planned to sleep.

Gaming forged friendships for Alexander Brown. Picture: Getty Images

Introducing himself as Joe, he offered me a Gamecube controller and asked if I wanted to play.

We played all night, laughing, losing and sharing our favourite comic books, sci-fi series, and cartoons.

Introduced to his friends, soon this was all I did. As a primary group of four, we spent most of our evenings together playing Super Smash Bros, a game where you fight as an assortment of Nintendo characters.

Unpopular and unhappy among those in my year, I found kindred spirits who wanted to talk about the best Deadpool writer, recreate entire scenes from Futurama, or stay up late arguing about the Star Wars prequels. I found my people.

We grew up together, and I went from them buying me tinnies for the park to the sadness of seeing them leave for university, to being old enough to do both myself.

Our friendships then became seasonal, returning from our studies slightly older and more aware of who we were but still falling back into place like a perfect Tetris run.

But then we graduated, and things began to change. I moved to London for work, and my friends found a home together in Bristol.

I saw them making memories from afar, nights out, relationships and drinks with people I’d meet once, if at all.

Lonely and jealous, friends in different cities felt like a natural part of growing up I was not ready for.

Living in London on a salary of £65-a-day, I could not afford to even visit, with all my income going to a landlord who already owned multiple properties.

But even then, there were video games to keep us close.

Logging on to play Smash Bros, Rocket League, or others gave me a way to maintain my friendships without being physically present.

There’s stealing a win you don’t deserve, making fun of the friend who always cheats (Hi Ash), and turning off your console so it doesn’t show you lost.

It’s also, for better or worse, an integral part of male friendships.

Rarely will male friends come over just to talk, there has to be a backdrop, a ruse to hide discussing our feelings behind.

It was playing video games I learnt of one friend's divorce, another’s job offer, or Joe’s engagement.

I went to a girl's house and found my best friends.

Even now we go on hiking holidays together, decade long friendships forged and maintained by shouting at each other while pressing buttons.

During a pandemic and well before, playing video games kept me sane and my friends close at a time they could not have felt further away.

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