As we recover from the excesses of Christmas and the world is skidding balls-first into yet another pandemic lockdown, chances are you’re skint, bored, or just desperately looking for something to do other than doomscrolling through social media.
The word gaming usually conjures up one of three things, depending upon your age: one, it’s something kids do; two, it’s something you used to do; or three, you’re like me, you gamed as a kid, and – despite what your parents kept telling you – and never did grow out of it.
- READ MORE: Julian Casablancas and The Voidz on ‘GTA Online’, ‘Alien Crime Lord’ and video game design
The latter people? You’ve got this week off, my friends. Grab your controller, jump online, and I’ll join you next week. Because this week? This week it’s all about the former two categories. So if you’ve been curious about gaming but haven’t been quite sure where to start, here’s a quick guide on the best ways to get involved.
An admission first, though: yes, gaming can be an expensive habit. When my boy was a toddler and the days of pubs and cinema and nights out with friends were nowt but fever dreams brought on insomnia and post-natal depression, I used to justify gaming to myself – and my husband – by insisting it was cheaper than therapy and/or going out three nights a week.
But gaming’s only pricey if you’re always looking for the most advanced toys and gadgets, or the very latest AAA blockbuster titles. If you can make your peace with current-gen systems – of which there are plenty, seeing as thousands of people will have part-exchanged their PS4s and Xbox Ones to offset the cost of the newer PS5 and Xbox Series X/S – and games that are a few years old, you can snag a pre-loved console with a couple of decent games for less than £200.
You might have already heard of games like GTA V and Call Of Duty and figured they’re not quite your thing, but that’s okay; there are thousands of incredible titles that are newbie-friendly. Games like Life Is Strange and Journey are thoughtful, evocative stories that don’t require finger gymnastics, while the Uncharted games, particularly the latter two (3 and 4), are spectacular adventures that are pretty easy for beginners, too.
Horror games Until Dawn and Man Of Medan are good shouts, too. While they require quick reflexes and a little muscle memory of where the buttons are on the controller, they’re essentially interactive horror movies – and brilliant ones at that. You can even play with a crowd of pals and pass the controller around.
If that sounds a little too, er, gamey, then don’t forget about the wealth of games just ready to load onto your phone and tablet, too – no controllers required! Finding the gems in amongst the shovelware is tricky, granted, but that’s what services like Apple Arcade is for. You pay a flat monthly fee to access the full catalogue, all of which have been carefully curated and don’t have any shitty in-app purchases or microtransactions.
Games like Assemble With Care, Little Orpheus, and Cat Quest offer meaningful experiences that are wonderfully simple to play, as does the Nintendo Switch. While not as affordable as mobile games – unlike PC and console games, Nintendo games rarely go on sale – Nintendo’s clever hybrid system offers a host of accessible stories family-friendly games, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons is worth the price of the system alone. Admittedly, that might just be because most of us haven’t seen a beach for the best part of a year, but even without lockdown fever, it’s a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours each day.
Of course, if you’re a lapsed gamer with no need to get familiar with a controller or keyboard and mouse, there’s nothing stopping you installing Steam right now, helping yourself to a dirt-cheap bargain or two, and getting involved that way, too. Same for consoles. There’s plenty of bargains to be had, particularly now as the Christmas rush is over.
And while the industry has slowly shifted to prefer digital releases over boxed physical ones, if you’ve a second-hand games store nearby that isn’t shut due to COVID-19, you might find an idle browse of the pre-owned section worthwhile, too. While most PS4 games are playable on PS5, reducing the appeal of part-exchanging older games – this generation is much more consumer-friendly than the last – there’s still a chance you’ll benefit from someone else’s post-Christmas clear-out. Just avoid the more expensive “gold” or “complete” editions; if they came with additional codes to redeem, chances are they’ve been used up by now.
The only thing you probably shouldn’t do from the off is go full tilt and commit to a PS5 or Xbox Series X/S. Both Sony and Microsoft are still struggling to meet the demand of their next-gen systems, but as both companies have scaled up production, we’ll hopefully see more systems come to market in the next few months… so don’t be tempted to give it to the inflated prices on auction sites in the meantime.
More than anything else though? Find what works for you. Gaming companies always seem to have a particular audience in mind when it comes to marketing but the truth is, there are no hard and fast definitions here. Games give us the opportunity to experience so many different things we might not ever get the chance to do in real life, so experiment wildly and enthusiastically; once you get a taste for a particular type of game, there’ll be no stopping you.