There's nothing like a global pandemic to put an end to a tradition that's been 15 years in the making. And listen, I know that there's a lot going on in the world right now, but I'm feeling many of the micro alterations to daily life more acutely than I am the macro. I'm beginning to get my head around the fact that I'm only allowed outside for groceries and a single government-mandated walk a day, but not being able to see my friends and colleagues? That's what's hitting me the hardest.
I'm in a position of luxury here, this I know and appreciate – many of you have loved ones that have been directly impacted or are working on the frontlines to combat COVID-19. I think I speak for all of us when I say that we're in this together, and we're looking to entertainment – video games, movies and television – to help us through it. This weighs heavily on my shoulders, but for some reason I can't stop thinking about how, tomorrow, I should be making the 80-mile trip to visit my best friend, so that we can sit down and play through Resident Evil 3 Remake.
I should explain, ever since 2005, when I was able to import an early copy of Resident Evil 4 from the United States – having spent months staring at screenshots in the pages of a variety of Nintendo magazines, unable to wait the extra two months for it to arrive in the UK – me and my best friend have played through Resident Evil games together. No matter where life has taken us, as we've chased after life, love, education, and adventure across different cities, we've always reconvened for Resident Evil.
Resident Evil is best enjoyed with friends
I say we. I play, and he watches. In our younger years, he found the process deeply hilarious on account of how afraid of horror I was and remain to this day. He learned his lesson about engineering jump scares after I instinctively launched an Xbox 360 controller at the side of his head as we played through Condemned: Criminal Origins – kids, don't leap back at somebody when they are attempting to simultaneously stifle tears of fear and navigate an abandoned shopping mall filled with enemies masquerading as mannequins. 15 years later, it's a routine that has held firm. I play, he watches, and when the tension reaches breaking point the game gets paused and we argue over switching roles until I am inevitably forced to continue. It's easy to face your fears when you are goaded relentlessly into doing so.
Anyway, I digress. Let's get back to the great connector: Resident Evil. When the fourth instalment dropped, we played through it in a single sitting and immediately started a replay the day after. The President's daughter, Ashley Graham, penchant for leaping into trash cans around the Castle to avoid monstrous cultists would entertain us endlessly. On reflection, our love of The Merchant's one-liners and Luis Sera's ridiculous Red9 handgun bordered on obsession, and Leon S. Kennedy's total lack of self-awareness when faced with pure terror outfitted in a sailor's costume never failed to summon a smile. This was a friendship solidified by a video game. Having moved city and to a new school shortly before this, aged 14, it was sorely needed – I'll always love Resident Evil 4 for that.
From there, we got our hands on Resident Evil remake and Resident Evil Zero for GameCube. The former summoning fond memories of playing them in our respective childhood homes on PS1 and the latter treated as a welcomed opportunity to get more information on what happened to the S.T.A.R.S. Bravo Team up in the Arklay Mountains; we're still attempting to make sense of the tangled timeline to this day. We whipped through Resident Evil 5, and even gritted our teeth through the mess that is Resident Evil 6.
Resident Evil 6 was, in fact, such a slog that I never thought we would make it through another game in the series again. By the time Resident Evil Revelations arrived on console it could barely hold our attention, and the less said about the various spin-offs the better. Thankfully, Resident Evil 7 was so god damned revolutionary for a series so in need of resuscitation that we resumed old habits, tearing through it in a single 12-hour sitting. So engrossing was that experience, that neither of us realised that his kitchen had set on fire as Jack smashed and crashed after us through that old house with reckless abandon. For a passing moment, the smoke billowing all around us felt like it could be a part of it all, the atmosphere transferring from the Baker residence to his living room. It wasn't, and that was a nightmare to sort out at 3am with already shot nerves.
The end of an era
When I accepted the Features Editor position on GamesRadar towards the end of 2018, I moved 80 miles away. The first time my best friend was able to come and visit just so happened to coincide with the release of Resident Evil 2 Remake a few weeks later. We should have been out exploring a city that was new to the pair of us, but instead we settled in for a long weekend of exploring Raccoon City instead. By the time we'd run through Claire and Leon's campaigns, it was time to say our goodbyes.
We're both in our 30s now, and time isn't as easy to come by as it was when we began our tradition of playing through every Resident Evil game together as 15-year olds. Tomorrow, we should be playing through Resident Evil 3 Remake together. The long-standing rule of "I'll bring the game, you bring the beers" in place as it has been from the start. Given everything that's been going on in the world, it only dawned on me this morning that self-isolation has put a pin in that plan.
There's a lot to be said of the way that video games can bring people together. That's especially important in these trying times, and in many ways easier than ever thanks to the stability of services like Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, not to mention the arrival of cross-platform play. We talked about me live streaming a playthrough with him on a video chat, but it just wouldn't be the same. There is no online service that can replace or replicate the experience of being goaded through hours upon hours of pure terror with a buddy by your side. For the first time in a long time, I'm going to play through a Resident Evil game on my own – I'll be shocked if I make it past the main menu.
Given all that's going on right now, there's never been a better time to seek solace in virtual worlds.