How I Found Best Friends Gaming Online in Lockdown

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Last year’s lockdowns were brutal — but for some, like Maddie-May Tumanic, it was the start of something beautiful: friendship.

During Sydney’s third lockdown Maddie, like many people, was worried about her mental health.

“When the latest lockdown happened, I had a pit of dread in my stomach at the idea of being locked in our home again without socialisation,” the 30-year-old told POPSUGAR Australia. “After a long history of struggling with my mental health, I was the best I’d been in my life, and I felt like that lockdown would be a turning point for the worse.”

Maddie confided in her longtime friend Matija Squire, who expressed similar concerns — as did many of Matija’s other friends. Sharing similar interests, like gaming, K-pop and anime, they all decided to chat together online throughout the lockdown.

“Once we were all together online, we realised we had a lot in common. It felt like we’d been friends for years,” said 28-year-old Matija. “Li, one of my friends, invited us to join their Discord, and from there, we ended up jumping online frequently to play Genshin Impact and talk about our days. We felt comfortable enough with each other that we were able to be honest when we were having a rough time, and that brought us closer together.”

Before long, the group of six — including Maddie, Matija, Li, Anne, Jess and Ryoko — decided to make things official, and named their group the Sakura Shoujo Circle. And for Maddie, it was a breath of fresh air.

“Women and non-binary people aren’t represented as much in the world of video games, so having others who were just as excited about gaming as you created a safe space to express our love and interests,” Maddie said. “We find that each time we mention one of our interests, there are two or more members who also share that interest, and this just creates more space to bond with each other.”

“In the past, I didn’t really have any other female friends who enjoyed video games, which was quite lonely. I often wished I had someone to discuss these things with, or enjoy these things with, and now I do.”

In a time characterised by unease and isolation, this group of friends found connection — deeper than any of them ever expected. It was more than friendship: It was a support system.

“All of us, at some point, have struggled with our mental health, and we feel like we have so many people we can turn to now,” Maddie said. “They make me feel safe, accepted, and able to be myself in every way.”

“This group was honestly what kept me going all through lockdown — we looked out for each other,” Matija added. “I think we have all influenced each other in a really positive way, whether it’s through allowing ourselves to be vulnerable with each other, or remembering what it’s like to just enjoy ourselves, and not care about what others think.”

“I can honestly say I’ve never felt safer or more loved in a group before. Our group was the best thing that happened to me during lockdown. I can’t imagine where I’d be without them now.”

During lockdown, they’d game, chat, and even watch BTS concerts together online. They’d send each other small gifts as a reminder that they were there for each other — even if they couldn’t physically see each other. Group member Anne even kept the group fit during lockdown by hosting online dance sessions, which they were able to continue in-person when lockdown ended.

For 34-year-old Ryoko Suda, who was the last member to join in on the online gaming, the group was a lifeline.

“It kept me sane, and was my form of self-care,” she said. “I eventually joined in on Genshin Impact and couldn’t get enough. Our group would go online at night, and chat in Discord about our day, work and disasters of the week, while playing Genshin together.”

“The group was my safe place. We were there for each other’s good and bad days, and we helped each other. Some of us with partners knew that when the clock hit 9pm, it was Genshin time.”

“It fueled my sanity, reminded me to love myself, inspired me to be my authentic self, encouraged me to try new things, and reminded me every day it’s okay if you’re not okay — all while playing games together. It was more than help: it was home.”

In November last year, after Sydney’s lockdown ended, the group was able to meet for the very first time.

“Some of us had never met in person, but we all embraced each other and spent the day with zero awkwardness. It was like we’d known each other our whole lives,” Maddie said.

The group sometimes finds it hard to believe they found such deep friendships through gaming — but they sure are grateful.

“I would have never thought that at 34, only having recently moved to Australia, that I’d find such true friends,” Ryoko said. “They are like shooting stars: rare, bright and once-in-a-lifetime.  I am just so thankful they are shooting stars that are here to stay, and I have them in this lifetime.”

Zoe Simmons is a journalist, copywriter and editor with a passion for making a difference through words. She loves telling stories with heart, and is currently writing a book on her hometown’s survival in the Black Summer Bushfires. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn for more.

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