How Games Let Me Travel When I Couldn't Otherwise

Coming off a year where I experienced both personal and professional turmoil, 2020 was going to be the year I turned it all around. I decided that as much as I traveled in 2019, I was going to do even more in 2020. Not just that, but I was going to do more in general: I couldn’t wait to set up more times to meet up at bars and restaurants with friends, and I was even planning to throw a house party or two. Unfortunately, as we all learned, 2020 was not the year any of us expected, and nearly all of my plans were put on hold.

We know the story of 2020 all too well, but with travel such a key component of how I planned to heal from a 2019 that, quite frankly, left me emotionally upended, I was left to my own devices. Thankfully, while 2020 was an often terrible year, it delivered a ton of awesome games that provided escapism. As I played through the various adventures the year brought us, I came to a realization that I was experiencing so many of the destinations I love through the real world in the virtual world.

Even fantastical locations I could immerse myself in became mini vacations; say what you will about Cyberpunk 2077, but Night City is a big, colorful place to lose yourself in. The same could be said about worlds like Midgar and the Golden Isle in Final Fantasy VII Remake and Immortals Fenyx Rising respectively; I know those aren’t based on real places, but they were worlds I could fall into without much effort.

Oddly enough, I didn’t spend very much time with the game that perhaps would have been the best way to cope with a lack of travel: Microsoft Flight Simulator. Not only would that experience allow me to visit any place on the planet with photorealistic visuals, but also the joys of travel itself, complete with seeing the gates of my most familiar airports. You would think this would almost serve as an unexpectedly comforting reminder of the most mundane moments of the trips I hoped to take, but to be honest, since relocating my primary workstation to my gaming PC at home, it has been so difficult to force myself to sit at my computer any longer than I need to for the workday. I’ll revisit Microsoft Flight Simulator when it comes to Xbox or when I’m able to work in our office again – whichever comes first.

I’m still desperately hoping to be able to do some travel in 2021 – I miss my family and friends, plus the sheer wonder of getting lost in an unfamiliar city. But as I reflect on the gaming experiences delivered by developers throughout 2020, so many of them brought experiences similar to the ones I felt were missing from my real life over the majority of the year. For that, I’m beyond thankful to the creators of those experiences.

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