Note: I initially wrote this piece for a class and liked it so much that I decided to publish it here. Also, one of the interviewees asked to be identified by first name to protect his identity. Read on, dudes and dudettes.
The week before spring break at Murray State University was fraught with uncertainty. At a time when the idea of a global pandemic was still yet forming, the question on most everyone’s minds was if classes would resume as normal.
Then dropped the news from MSU president Bob Jackson via email March 17: Online instruction would continue through the end of the spring semester.
This abrupt transition imposed itself on all in-person activities, the Gaming, Animation and Manga Enthusiasts (G.A.M.E.) club included. Club president Sarah Mars had no choice but to cancel further anime and game nights, as well as capture the flag and murder mystery events.
“I was not surprised that they called off in-person instruction and shut down the school before [the end of the semester],” Mars said.
Club member Tyler Pratt was out of state when word of the COVID-19 shutdown came. On one hand, he was flooded by reassurance knowing that an upcoming test had been pushed back. On the other hand, he was swarmed by unprecedented feelings of not knowing what might happen next.
“My concerns about club meetings were mainly focused on the fall semester, especially as the summer moved along,” Pratt said.
Another member, Toby, was also not surprised when in-person learning was called off. Leaving campus actually provided some relief for various stress and mental health issues that he had relating to class at that time. That didn’t stop him from missing his club comrades.
“It was sad not being able to see anyone, as the club was my main source of socialization outside of work/class,” he said.
The existing G.A.M.E. Discord server enabled members to stay connected in conversation despite being miles apart, with some playing online games together in lieu of traditional meetings.
“Somehow we’ve even gained new members during our ‘hiatus’ from face-to-face meetings, which is impressive in my opinion,” Pratt said. “I’ve always struggled with staying in touch with people, but that’s something I’m working on about myself. The G.A.M.E. Discord has been a great help in staying in touch with the people I know who are also in the club. The memes are always fresh, too.”
Toby seconded the importance of this channel of discussion.
“I personally wasn't on much during the months we were off, but I do know people would still message and send updates about each other and such,” he said.
Even with the benefit of virtual communication, club participants reflected wistfully on congregating with their friends pre-pandemic.
“What I miss most is getting to see everyone and hangout. We always goof around, but we’re also pretty chill, since we’re all introverted,” Mars said, laughing.
“There were plenty of fun things we did,” Pratt said. “I usually played Magic the Gathering. We also had ‘Bob Ross nights’ where we could spend the evening doing artistic activities, such as painting, sketching, weaving or whatever you wanted to do artistically. Those were the most popular, and the ones I miss the most.”
Yearning for socialization proved a common theme among club participants.
“I missed just being around them. I mostly seemed to leave it feeling happy. Or at least better. There would always be dumb stuff happening but it was always great,” Toby said.
Now, as COVID-19 continues to alter the college climate, the future of G.A.M.E. proceedings is up in the air. Meeting in-person again would depend not only on current state and campus guidelines on group gatherings but also on each member’s level of comfort.
“I’m not sure if things will return to normal,” Mars said. “The officers have been discussing doing virtual meetings and setting something up.”
“I’m comfortable now as long as everyone else is,” Pratt said. “As for what I’m looking forward to, it’s catching up with how everyone’s been while playing games or doing something artsy. Those are some good memories, and I can’t wait to make more, hopefully soon.”
Because of the ever-evolving nature of the coronavirus pandemic, it seems that the uncertainty many students felt during the spring semester hasn’t completely subsided. How G.A.M.E. will adapt long-term is something club officers are still discussing.
This is a community not easily severed.