We8217;re living in unprecedented times; approximately 93% of the world8217;s population currently lives in a country with travel restrictions, with 39% living in countries that have sealed their borders to non-citizens and non-residents. The Covid-19 pandemic means that most of us are living and working at home, unable to go out and see friends and limited to just one outdoor excursion per day (only for necessities).
It8217;s undoubtedly been a massive culture shock, and it8217;s been a struggle to re-acclimatise 8211; but here8217;s how my flatmate Ryan and I have managed to make the best of things, thanks to the tech products we can often take for granted.
When there8217;s some time to kill of an evening, one of our first ports of call is the Nintendo Switch, the versatile hybrid console. It8217;s a great choice for both immersive single-player games and especially for multiplayer fun.
For sure it8217;s good advice to pass the time by picking up a new skill, such as cooking 8211; but we8217;ve taken the (supposedly) easier route and have engrossed ourselves in Overcooked! 2. This is a fun cookery game that8217;s ideal for cooperative gameplay thanks to its production line set-up. It might seem menial to the uninitiated, but chopping up onions, boiling soup, and carrying it off to the serving hatch as quickly as possible under strict time limits and in ever-wackier environments rapidly becomes engrossing.
Related: The best free games you can play right now (on every platform)
At the best of times, it8217;s like a well-oiled machine, with orders and requests passing between you with military precision as you strategise your gameplay to save off just a few seconds here and there. But when your characters fall down the cracks, drop precious orders, or as the clock ticks perilously close to zero, then you can find yourself shouting the kind of creative expressions that would make Gordon Ramsay blush.
On top of playing local co-op games together, it8217;s also been fun to combine games with video calling for more of a party atmosphere. With one friend streaming a game such as the Jackbox Party Pack on PlayStation 4 via Twitch, you can all enter the same session via a code on your mobile phone to feel like you8217;re all in the same room together again.
While games are undoubtedly ideal for bringing friends closer together, they also serve a great purpose for when you8217;re feeling a bit more introspective and just want to retreat to your own little world 8211; quite literally. I8217;m talking of Animal Crossing: New Horizons (also on Nintendo Switch), which has captured so many people8217;s imaginations while we8217;ve found ourselves limited to our own houses. Ryan8217;s legendary turnip-farming exploits have enabled him to pay off his debts and make plenty of comforting home improvements to his island, making it a new home away from home.
When you talk of books with friends, one of the most common regrets is not having enough time to get through all the books on your wishlist 8211; but if there8217;s one thing this lockdown has given us, it8217;s a whole load of free time. I8217;ve been retreating to my Kindle Paperwhite more often, relishing the chance to sit down with a good book. But if you prefer the spoken word, streaming services such as Audible are equally valuable.
I8217;ve found it to be an excellent time to pick up some long reads that you might struggle to fit around your schedule in a typical working week. I8217;m currently reading 8220;The Bonfire of the Vanities8221; by Tom Wolfe, which depicts the public and personal tensions found in the hustling and bustling New York City of the 1980s. At almost 700 pages long, it8217;s a book that I might not typically have had the time to read, but now it seems like the right time to appreciate the contrast. Just as with video games, books can also provide a great form of escapism.
It8217;s not like most of us needed any more encouragement to spend time on Netflix, but this quarantine period has transformed it from a time sink to a lifeline thanks to a wide variety of shows. And with all the Tiger King memes rampaging around the internet right now, you8217;re only going to feel more isolated from civilisation (in a loose sense of the word) if you don8217;t keep up with the escapades of Joe Exotic, Carole Baskin, and friends.
But there8217;s more to life (and to video streaming) than Netflix. Not only are there free-to-watch sites to take advantage of (including BBC iPlayer and All4), but Amazon Prime and Disney Plus are major competitors to Netflix that also offer a large variety of content. If you8217;re looking to expand your horizons a little, check out some critically acclaimed films that you might have overlooked. The more specialist streaming services could be the way to go – including the likes of MUBI, BFI Player, or Curzon Home Cinema.
We8217;ve recently started a subscription to Shudder. This channel specialises in horror and thrillers, and after a long day of stressful working from home, we8217;ve ramped the tension up yet another notch with the likes of gore flicks such as Hellraiser, schlocky B-movies like Demons, mysteries such as Donnie Darko, and a few foreign gems including Audition and Let The Right One In. And if these examples aren8217;t quite high-brow enough, it also provides more intellectually stimulating titles such as Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama.
And hey, when you8217;ve exhausted these online libraries, you could always go back and explore your old collection of DVDs (remember them?). It8217;s a good chance to catch up on the discs you might have picked up years ago, or to finish off some box sets.
Currently, Brits are allowed to go outside the house for exercise once a day, and it8217;s well worth making use of that time to stay healthy and fit, whether you want to take a gentle stroll or push yourself harder and take on a lung-busting run.
We8217;ve set ourselves challenges of increasing long-distances runs, and it8217;s particularly been a pleasure to take advantage of the reduced traffic go past near-deserted London landmarks as you8217;ll perhaps never see them again. We ran right around Trafalgar Square and back home to Stratford, in a 23km run that took in magnificent sights such as St Paul8217;s Cathedral and Tower Bridge on our way to Nelson8217;s Column. But do remember to be careful and leave at least 2 metres between yourself and other pedestrians.
I tracked my runs using the Honor MagicWatch 2, and it8217;s very good for showing speed, and for keeping a record of what you8217;ve achieved. Even though it might be harder to work out now, in some ways it can be easier to keep a close eye on your health, by controlling what you eat and checking the updates from your wearables.
While you8217;re cooped up at home, and the gyms are shuttered, you can also try out some home workouts, such as planks or press-ups, and there are a few apps on the Play Store or the App Store that can help you structure your exercises and build up your abilities over a few weeks.
This is probably the most important of the lot. There are plenty of videocall apps you can use to keep in touch with friends, including Skype and Zoom. This latter one is really popular and straightforward to join 8211; only one member of the group needs to sign up and send the others a link by email, and then you8217;re ready to have multi-video chats with a large group. (But do bear in mind recent security concerns).
In some ways, this situation has helped reconnect more with old friends than I otherwise would have, and it can be very reassuring to see familiar faces on your laptop or phone screen. If possible, it8217;s good to use tools like this to speak with friends or family members who might be particularly at risk of feeling socially isolated, now more than ever.
And why limit yourself to just chatting in your native language? With a bit more time on your hands, now could be a great time to study a foreign tongue, and there are a few convenient apps out there to help you do it ever more easily. I8217;ve recently been using HelloTalk to chat in French with other language learners who are looking to speak English. You can speak in your respective languages and correct each other8217;s mistakes, which not only helps you learn but can also feel very rewarding and can lead to new friendships as well.