The Little Things Helping Kotaku's Staff Keep It Together During Isolation

By Ethan Gach on at

Covid-19 has turned things upside down. The first-order problems of the pandemic have left millions infected and nearly 200,000 dead. The others have led to school being cancelled, the closure of non-essential businesses, and social distancing measures becoming second nature.

Below are some of the sources of pleasure and distraction members of the Kotaku staff are turning to during the pandemic. And no, none of them include guzzling bleach.


Ian Walker

I recently bought the first three Picross S games in anticipation of Picross S4. Whenever I feel stressed out, I grab my Switch and finish a nonogram or two. There’s something really therapeutic about putting my head down and focusing on some static numbers for a bit.

Nathan Grayson

I’ve been coping in precisely two ways – no more, no less. Foremost, I recently started playing Final Fantasy XIV and have been enjoying the heck out of my semi-regular adventures with friends. I’m not just talking about monster bopping, twisting, pulling, and passing, either. FFXIV players are some of the most creative I’ve ever encountered, and they use the game’s housing functionality to regularly throw parties and put on concerts. It may not be an IRL night out with friends, but with some whiskey on hand and another player ferrying us about in their Dragon Ball Z Capsule Corp-ass hovercraft, it’s an adequate substitute.

Last week was my birthday, and we stumbled across a masterfully coordinated live show put on by a travelling troupe of Moogles. It was legitimately one of the best birthdays I’ve had in years:

The other, more important way I’ve been coping is by eating oranges THE WAY I LIKE, free of the general public’s PRYING EYES AND JUDGING GLARES:

Stephen Totilo

What’s helping me cope? Inventing new games with my kids. When you’re self-quarantined in one spot (in our case, a home that we were able to temporarily move into in a small town) and you can’t go to playgrounds or art class or dance class or the museum or the toy store or....well you can’t go anywhere because of the “special rules,” then you’ve got to figure out how to make the most out of playing with what you’ve got.

For half the day, every day, it’s my turn to take care of our three-year-old twins, and so, for half the day, every day, I’m cooking up new ways to keep them happy, curious and active. Three days ago we used a bunch of big sticks outside to make a small house and then had mac and cheese lunch in it. Two days ago, we tied a bunch of rideable cars together to make small trains. Yesterday we turned some boxes into a garbage truck and then “drove” through the house picking up trash. Bonus: Every day I get a good workout from throwing them in the air. And, get this, they still don’t know that video games exist.

The kids have no clue about what’s really going on right now, other that there are a lot of people who are sick. I think they think this is just a weird, long period of time with no nanny, lots of mum and dad and new games every day. If putting myself in a plank position between two beds, declaring I’m a “Daddy bridge” and having them giggle their heads off as they crawl across me makes them happy, then that’s what I’m doing (as long as I’m smart enough to mute the phone if I maybe not so hypothetically have to do that while on a work conference call). Keeping them happy keeps me going during the toughest days.

Ethan Gach

Without close contact with friends or family I’ve struggled to stay grounded these last few weeks. Being incredibly online for both my job and based on my natural instincts hasn’t helped at all and if an anything has made it worse.

In times like this where almost everything sucks I find myself taking refuges in the past and future. On the one hand that means a lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which is an old show that’s also about a far-flung and much more hopeful future. My partner and I watch it every night. We find the characters’ familiar and predictable ticks comforting, and the incomprehensible techno-babble soothing.

When it comes to games I find myself drifting back toward the PS1 and PS2. My PS2 Slim can play games from both eras, letting me slip deep into some of the best and densest JRPGs ever created, and best of all it doesn’t hook up to the internet. There’s no discourse to grapple with reminding me that my Animal Crossing island is trash or that I don’t have the best loot. Just me, the controller, and the distant memories stored on an 8MB memory card.

Currently at the top of my retro-pile is Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne which I finally picked up at the end of last year. It’s a poster child for the type of JRPG I’d heard stories about back in the early aughts but never had the chance to get my hands on: stylish, heady, and emo as hell. Playing it is like time travelling back to a version of my life I’d sometimes day-dreamt about where I had a PS2 in my room and no shortage of nights to sink into the most niche games. Nocturne even comes with a trailer for the equally intriguing Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga. It’s full of demons, destruction, and heartfelt embraces, stuff meant to be unnerving on its own but which set me at ease when accessed from the main menu of a 17-year-old disc.

Riley MacLeod

When things truly locked down in response to coronavirus, I started baking compulsively. Literally: I’d pull a loaf of bread out of the oven, wander my flat in a daze for 10 minutes, then start on some cookies. I had to ban myself from my kitchen for a few days to break the panicked cycle. Even before this, I loved to cook and to think about food; now, stuck at home, cooking feels like one of the few sources of pleasure and newness I have left. Baking and cooking have become less soothing given the stress of going to the store, plus lying awake at night thinking about the effects coronavirus is having on our national foodways, farm workers, and restaurants, but still.

Photo: Riley MacLeod

Earlier this week, walking home in a spring rain with a bundle of food from a temporary farm share, I looked down at a carton of eggs in my hands and burst into tears. I cried over the fragility of these speckled brown things laid by local chickens going about their bird business despite the despair of the human world. I cried about how I had deluded myself that my purchase would help local farmers or offset the damage of factory farming or any million ways we try to turn purchasing into agency. I cried that I could afford food and have a place to cook it in when so many people don’t. I cried about all the delicious things I could turn the eggs into and how happy I would be to eat those things. I wandered home sobbing and dreaming about how I would transform my haul, turning the joy, suffering, and work of people and animals and the earth into apple muffins, parsnip cake, greens on socca, kimchi jjigae.

One thing I love about cooking is how everything – the ingredients, the recipe, the cooking tools – comes from somewhere, how it can feel like practically the whole world combines into something I get to eat. Eating a solitary meal makes me feel, paradoxically, less alone. That’s a hard feeling to come by these days, and I’m grateful for it.

Photo: Alexandra Hall

Alexandra Hall

Hearing “very online” conjures up notions of irony-poisoned 20/30-somethings trafficking in esoteric memes birthed of Weird Twitter. (Basically my friend Norah, bless her.) But I’m another flavor of very online: For 20 years my natural state has been sitting at my PC. Whether working or just zoning out, I spend a large portion of each day sitting here navigating hyperlinks to absorb silly amounts of information via a heavily customised Firefox.

Part of it’s habit. Part of it’s ADD making it hard to switch tasks. And part of it is just that it’s damn comfortable to slip into that (cyber)zone and while away the time until the next RL obligation or bodily need pulls me back out.

Before covid-19 I continually endeavoured to find ways to reduce my “screen time,” which usually took the form of “offline” activities such as reading books. In theory, at least – again, ADD. I had more luck with physical stuff, most of all badminton. I started playing around 5 years ago and hitting the courts with some sporty new friends quickly became a highlight of my week.

But that’s gone for now, as are most of the similar adaptations I’d engineered into my life to pull me away from the cyberbeast. So I’ve adjusted to my newly housebound lifestyle by simply reverting to baseline, clocking in ridiculous numbers of hours at the keyboard. I’m trying not to judge myself too harshly for it, which is challenging since I’m also very good at self-flagellation. (I picked a weird character build.)

For better or worse, this is my comfortable place. When the crisis subsides I can resume those efforts to strike a better balance. I look forward to that. But these days I’m grateful just to be OK. For now, that’s more than enough.

Ari Notis

Um... what if you’re not keeping it together?

I know, a few weeks back, some doctors recommended not drinking, which of course drew a fair share of deserved snark on Twitter and elsewhere. But also: come on! I’m confined to 1,000 square feet with three other humans, two very bad cats, and one earth-shattering crisis. What am I supposed to do, not drink? So, yeah, I imagine many of our colleagues will give you more thoughtful responses. My answer, simply, is bourbon.

I’ve really been getting a kick out of the new flavors: mango, tangerine, watermelon (so refreshing, and will be perfect for summer hangs in 2023), lemon (finally, expanding past lime). There’s also a brand-new pineapple flavour, which is easily the tastiest but also has the lowest ABV. Best of all, each can is under 100 calories? Are you kidding me? Forget the doctors. Next to Final Fantasy VII Remake, bourbon is the best thing right now.

Photo: Zack Zwiezen

Zack Zwiezen

I’ve had a nice little patio at my flat and never used it all that much. We sat out there here and there for dinner or if the weather was amazing. But now, trapped at home day after day after day, I’ve realised just how lucky I am to have a quiet spot outside, where I can sit and just...be out in the world.

I like to just go out there these days and get away from everything inside. The news, Twitter, video games, TV, all of it. Even if only for 10 minutes, it feels like this nice reminder that it ain’t a wasteland out there. The world is still spinning. Birds are still singing, rain still falls and the breeze is still nice. And that’s a nice thing to be reminded of every so often during these dark days.

Chris Person

I’m coping with the quarantine by getting mental about computer projects like I’m 16. My cramped desk is covered with about 3 different interfaces, a mic stand and lights now. I wall mounted my monitor, my speakers, a black magic camera, and am about to wall mount my PS4 Pro. I set up my computer to have 5 gigabit LAN for no discernible reason and turned it into a hackintosh dual boot that crashes a lot. Why the fuck do I know what a kext is now? Who let me create a custom USB SSDT without an intervention? I don’t fuckin’ know. “I’m considering switching from Clover to Open Core,” I mutter to an uncaring god.

We got DDR mats a while back and my roommate has set up every depraved stepmania pack known to man. I finally set up room-scale VR and a friend is creating a deeply awful model humanly to put into Beatsaber as an avatar. I’m actively considering learning unreal engine just to fuck around with compositing. You don’t even WANT to know the kind of horseshit I’m planning with Docker. By the end of this, I will be gaming floating like Baron Harkonnen, surrounded by monitors like in Serial Experiments Lain, an Intel RealSense Depth Camera piping AR information into Unity and then back into OBS via NDI just so I can stream while wearing Joker makeup. You are witness to a great becoming.

Also! Really good oolong tea. I highly recommend Mao Xie or “Hairy Crab” as it’s also known.

Maddy Myers

The past year was pretty stressful for me even before the covid-19 pandemic. Now that we’re in the midst of a pandemic, dealing with that personal stress has not gotten any easier. Then again, I’ve been in deep states of depression before, so I am at least familiar with the sensation of nothing feeling fun. This is just another one of those times. It feels bad. But I know it will pass. Or at least I have to tell myself that in order to get through it.

Due to all of that, I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m “enjoying” Final Fantasy VII Remake. But the experience of playing it allows me to briefly feel just a little bit of neutral nothingness. I get to think to myself, “This is not actively bad. This is not harming me.” And that’s a relief in its own way.

One big reason why Final Fantasy VII Remake can provide me that sense of neutral comfort is Cloud’s face. Sure, Tifa’s gorgeous, Aerith’s adorable, and have you seen Barret without the sunglasses? What a knockout! Everybody’s hot in this game. But Cloud’s beautiful face takes the cake. His sad eyes hammer home his story of recovering from trauma and learning how to love again. Maybe that’s why I like looking at his face so much right now. Cloud is in pain; I’m in pain. I don’t look as good as he does while I’m doing it, but that’s okay.

Photo: Luke Plunkett

Luke Plunkett

Having worked from home for so long, I’ve already got loads of little rituals that I build my day around and help me schedule stuff. Making coffee is the best of those, but over the last few weeks I have got very into making nice ramen too. Slicing the spring onions and sprinkling them on top, making sure I get the boiled egg just right, turning fridge leftovers into gourmet little additions, it not only gives me a little zen-like break from work (and kids being home, kill me), but is starting to taste real damn good as well.

Heather Alexandra

I haven’t read anyone else’s entry because I don’t give a damn. Someone’s probably mentioned their cat and I bet someone’s had the gall to be like “I’m playing a AAA game,” even though that’s what we already do for work. My answer is not creative though: the thing I’m doing to really get by is cooking.

A lot of folks think you need tonnes of practice to cook great food but the answer is that you mostly need to risk a trip to the supermarket, grab some fresh stuff, and follow your heart. Eggs are pretty versatile and if you want to leave this quarantine up a waist size, pasta has limitless possibilities. The internet makes learning good recipes stupidly easy too. My recommendations? Andrew Rea at Binging With Babish cooks food inspired by your favourite movies – we’re Twitter mutuals but I won’t make a fuss about it. NBD, NBD – and restaurateur J. Kenji López-Alt is stuck at home and uploading stuff on the reg. He is an astoundingly smart chef and his recipes are easy to emulate. No knead bread, egg drop soup, hardcore smash burgers, arepas guajiras. You name it, he’s got a quick and easy way to make it.

Give it a try. Fuck it, you can star by adding chives and goat cheese to your scrambled eggs You might be scared the first time you break down a chicken or whatever but after a week or so, you’ll be the MVP of the flat.

Brian Ashcraft

I do miss going to arcades. Even though I can play ports of a lot of my favourite arcade games at home, I miss the sights, sounds, and smells of walking into an arcade here in Japan. Techno World, a game centre in Iwate, Japan, has posted over four hours of ambient noise from its arcade. You can hear the different sounds and music the machines make, and I’ve found it comforting. While working, I’ll play the clip as background music. When this is all over, I cannot wait to visit an arcade.

Featured image: Screenshot: Square Enix

Tags: