Video games remind me of the people I’m most thankful for

Reflecting on video games with a found family

Finding family in unlikely places

Video games have always been a way to escape, but recently, they’ve become my favorite way to leave everything behind for a while. That interactivity is pretty strong stuff, because of late I find myself much more immersed in game narratives than those of other media. I’m thankful for the distraction — these days, I really seem to need it.

Like everyone else, I’ve had a rough go of it the last year or so. Every part of my life went through some really significant changes, and many of them for the worse. It’s kind of ironic that games were both the catalyst for that change — my desire to work in the games industry got me to move across the country and confront my own rose-colored ideals — and now what I use to help me cope with it.

This Thanksgiving is causing me to get a bit more introspective than usual, I find, because I’m spending it away from my family. My family has always prioritized spending the holidays together, but recently, things have shifted, and circumstances have changed. I find myself feeling somewhat alone, because well, I am. My house is not bustling with familiar voices and the smells of delicious food cooking. It’s just me, my cats, and my delivered meal from a restaurant I’ve eaten from twice already this week, and I can’t help but acknowledge the contrast.

Stardew Valley is a video game with one big (mostly happy) family

So how do video games fall into this depressing mix? Well, they’ve actually helped me remember what I’m most thankful for — the people in my life who may not be my biological family, but make up almost the entirety of my support system.

I think back to games that I’ve played that are special to me because of the relationships they depict — The Last of Us, Tales from the Borderlands, Life is Strange: True Colors, and Stardew Valley come to mind most immediately. These games all depict a version of characters finding solace in the relationships they create with people who were once strangers over the course of their respective runtimes. Not only are their storylines so moving and comforting to me, but the act of playing these games versus reading or watching them made me feel all the more endeared to these characters.

For a long time, I used these fictional relationships to make up for something I felt I lacked in my real life. I’m such a sucker for found family stories, and now I’m realizing it’s because my found family is one of the things I value most in my life.

Tales from the Borderlands depicts a great found family

I also appreciate games because my relationship to them in the real world is what helped me craft those relationships with others. The people who are now closest to me are the people I met at my various jobs within the industry, or even the people I met while playing multiplayer games online. I even went to one of my online friends’ weddings a few years ago, with that day being the first time (and as of now the only time) we ever saw each other in real person. It’s a silly thing, but I can’t help but be grateful for games that I have loved and played in the past for existing, because without them I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t have these people.

So I may not be back home with my family, but I have my Friendsgiving to go to this weekend. And you can bet your bottom dollar that I’m going to be jumping online to wish my Call of Duty friends a happy Thanksgiving.

For me, the most difficult part of becoming an adult was how much everything changed, but if I can find happiness in these fictional stories, I can find them without a controller in my hand, too. And at least I know that no matter how tough things get, my favorite games will be there waiting for me, just as I remember them.

Story Beat is a weekly column discussing anything and everything to do with storytelling in video games.

Noelle Warner