Game Pass, and the pandemic-pummelling joy of gaming with friends

At the end of last year, something magnificent happened: I got an Xbox Series X. The experience alone was enthralling, but the real joy is how my relationship with it has shifted. It’s moved from being a solo entertainment machine, to an adored social tool. And that’s all down to Game Pass.

If you’re unaware of Game Pass, it’s a monthly Xbox subscription from Microsoft that allows you to play online and access a library of over 100 titles. And I mean good titles. This has Halo, FIFA, Forza, Gears of War, and so much more. It’s crazily stacked.

I’ll put it this way: after a couple of months with the Series X, I’m still in awe of what’s on offer on Game Pass.

One of the (many) negatives of the pandemic has been the social isolation. This is tough by any measure, but one of the things I’ve found hardest is not being able to return to my home country. While in a normal year I’d go back to the motherland a few times, it’s been a while since I’ve been over there and seen friends and family.

Because of the joys of our connected age, I can ring and have conversations — which I appreciate massively — but it’s been tough to partake in my favorite activity: hanging out. Not doing a big catch-up, or having to talk through things, just… chilling.

And this is where playing online and Xbox Game Pass comes in.

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Okay, online gaming isn’t exactly a new thing, but it can be easy to forget about amidst the explosion and hype of things like Zoom. There’s also an element of thinking of online gaming as something like Call of Duty — an intense and furious experience, rather than a relaxed and laid-back one.

For some reason it took me a little while to realise there are a gamut of titles where you can play against or with a friend that aren’t so… serious.

fifa game pass
This is the level of skill I display while sat on my sofa, slack-jawed, and staring at the telly.

This is the point where the beauty of Game Pass comes in. One of my favorite things to play with friends is FIFA (because I’m better than them at it), but it’s quite tough to convince people to shell out $50+ for the game (because I’m better than them at it). With Game Pass, this stops being an issue. The only thing they need is hard drive space. And a high tolerance for being embarrassed.

I just used EA‘s soccer simulator as an example, there are so many goddamn titles on Game Pass that finding something relaxed you can play together is a breeze.

In this way, I manage to partake in a couple of short gaming sessions a week — often 15 minutes, rarely longer than an hour — where I genuinely hang out with a friend. We don’t have to properly catch-up or give big updates, we can just chat shit with minimal amounts of pressure. And I love it.

So, thank you Game Pass, for helping keep the informal parts of my friendships alive. You’re the real MVP.

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Published February 18, 2021 — 14:45 UTC

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