Sports Suspended

Sports came to screeching halt in light of COVID-19 pandemic

By Ben Farrell

On the evening of Wednesday March 11, Utah Jazz starting center and reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert tested positive for novel Coronavirus, and within weeks, almost every major sporting event for the foreseeable future had been postponed or cancelled because of the virus. For some, these cancellations have caused the sudden disappearance of much-loved pastimes. For those whose livelihoods rely on sports, the situation has been far more dire. 

Wide ranging effects have altered the lives of journalists, from dashed coverage plans to lost wages, jobs and health insurance. According to Colten Bartholomew, and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter covering the University of Wisconsin football team, advertising revenue for Lee Enterprises, his publication’s parent company, tanked dramatically as a result of nationwide shutdowns. Executives at the media conglomerate took pay cuts across the board. On top of that, Bartholomew and other full-time employees are required to take two week-long furloughs over the course of the coming months.

Though it is hoped that these spending cuts will keep the publication afloat, Bartholomew remains cautious regarding his future employment. “If things continue like this, or get bad in any way, sports is obviously the first thing on the chopping block, on the local scale especially.” Because football is a fall sport, Bartholomew’s work has remained relatively unaffected by the quarantine thus far. “Lucky for them and me, Badgers players got their pro day in just before quarantine began,” he said.

The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team and media members covering it weren’t so lucky. WSUM Sports Director, Badger’s Wire and USA Today contributor and Locked On Badgers host Asher Low’s lifelong dream of calling the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament was dashed. “It killed me to do this,” said Low, who is graduating from the University of Wisconsin this spring, “but on March 1, the day the Ivy League canceled, I said to myself, ‘look, we’re not going.’ It’s my favorite event in sports, and that was my last chance as a Badger to call it.”

With Badgers men’s basketball slated for an above-average performance this year, Low felt this could’ve been his single shot at a dream-like run with his classmates on the team. “I bet we would’ve gone to the second weekend too. We were looking really, really good,” he said. Low also detailed the adjustment of  producing current and newsworthy college sports pieces for the USA Today-owned blog Badgerswire, in the absence of meaningful sports news outside of the NFL Draft. “Ninety percent of what we’re putting out right now is the kind of stuff we know will get clicks anyway. Season in-review pieces, Badgers where-are-they-now pieces… but not having March Madness is just a huge adjustment that we weren’t ready for.”

Though media organizations that rely on small markets  are particularly vulnerable, COVID-19 related financial concerns have also led to furloughs at the national level. Mike Prada, former NBA editor at SB Nation, a leading blog in niche sports reporting, received word on April 15 that a three-month furlough, from May 1 to July 1, was on its way. Vox Media, SB Nation’s parent company, made the decision to furlough 20% of its editorial staff in light of COVID-19 related financial concerns.

Prada said the announcement was jarring, but he wasn’t completely taken off guard. “Sometime around mid-February, I began to sound the alarm to friends and family about what it would mean for the NBA and for the U.S. in general, that this was going to really mess things up,” he said. Prada attributed his foresight to the industry he works in. “Well, we cover sports, but this stuff clearly matters. The NBA claims that they were ahead of the curve as the first professional sports league to shut down, but the fact is they were planning before that, so it kind of came across in our work as we were gauging their response to all this.”

As of right now, Prada doesn’t have much to cover outside the NBA Draft. Usually this time of year would be chock-full of playoff basketball. Instead, the season was cut short on March 11. Most teams had played  62 to 65 of t—heir regular season games, leaving the 2020 championship vacant.

The postseason is an extremely important part of the NBA’s season, both symbolically and financially the crescendo at the end of the NBA’s lengthy regular season. To compound these concerns, television revenue from the playoffs is crucial to the league’s financial success. If the NBA does not finish its season, players, owners and executives stand to lose millions. “There’s a good chance they’ll try [to finish playoffs]. This league is all about money, so it’ll probably take some sort of government moratorium to stop them,” Prada said. 

Many in and around the league have discussed quarantining participating players, coaches and staff in a hotel and playing the games without an audience. Prada believes that the season should be scrapped due to safety concerns, even in light of what would be the resulting large-scale losses to both journalism and the NBA. “That model of putting guys in a hotel would be a cruise ship basically, functionally, and as we’ve seen, cruise ships—putting a lot of people in condensed spaces and incubating—have lead to some of the worst outbreaks.” 

The NBA announced on April 25 that they were planning to allow teams to open their practice facilities to players and staff beginning May 1, shifting focus onto when, not if the league will try to finish its season. 

That said, the future schedules of almost every sport at both the collegiate and professional levels remain unclear. Bartholomew voiced concerns about lost revenue affecting play in the future. “If college football isn’t played next year, and since we didn’t have March Madness, a lot of these teams might have to consider cutting programs,” he said.

For now, journalists and fans alike will have to wait and see how leagues worldwide address these issues. Prada, though, perhaps the most well known of the three, was most skeptical about the future of sports journalism. “Probably, we’ll see a drop in the number of legitimate NBA insiders, and a clearing out of the middle, of midsize publications.” Though Prada’s words should be taken seriously, nobody can predict what will happen in coming months. Now comes the waiting.

Food Security

Rising demand, lower donations and higher stakes: How food pantries are keeping people fed during the pandemic

By Molly DeVore

Open Seat has moved their pantry from the fourth floor of the SAC to the sidewalk outside Union South.

A line forms in front of two folding tables outside Union South. It looks like a typical campus event, only there is no one else around and the people behind the table are wearing face masks– these students aren’t selling posters or asking you to sign up for their org, they’re giving out pre-packaged bags of groceries. 

Open Seat used to operate out of the Student Activity Center feeding around 2,000 University of Wisconsin students a month, but COVID-19 has changed everything. 

The SAC, along with all other campus buildings, has been closed. Zoey Dlott, UW senior and Internal Director for Open Seat, said they have started distributing a virtual order form where students can sign up to receive a bag of pre-packaged groceries that they can then pick up outside Union South from noon to one every Tuesday. 

Students are instructed to stand six feet apart from one another and Open Seat workers wear masks and gloves at all times. The prepackaged bags are donated by Second Harvest Foodbank, southwestern Wisconsin’s largest hunger-relief charity. 

In Wisconsin, these food resources are essential as about 1 in 10 households in Wisconsin were food insecure before the pandemic, according to the Wisconsin Food Security Project. However, COVID has led to a spike in demand and a drop in donations, forcing Second Harvest to purchase more of its food directly. 

Michelle Orge, Second Harvest’s CEO, said that in the 20 years she has worked with food banks she has never seen a situation as bad as COVID.

“As food bankers we’re just used to trying to fix everything.” Orge said. “But I don’t know if we’re built for this. It’s pretty big and we’re doing a great job and we’re keeping up to some extent, but it’s gonna take more resources to do what we want to do.”

All Open Seat workers must wear masks.

Second Harvest is a member foodbank of Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization. Feeding America reported that almost all 200 food banks in their network have experienced a spike in demand, yet nearly 60% are facing reduced inventory levels.

Orge said Second Harvest is now distributing more than double the amount of food, despite a decrease in donations. 

Because of this increased need Second Harvest has had to focus all of their resources on their Mobile Pantries. These pantries travel across southwestern Wisconsin, though some days they run out of their pre-packaged boxes before everyone has been fed. Orge said that hearing someone had to be turned away is “the worst possible news.”

Second Harvest is not the only food resource that has had to drastically change the way it functions. Barb Luedke, food pantry coordinator for the Keep, a pantry providing food for local students, faculty members and staff, said they had to move their operations from the basement of Luther Memorial Church to the sidewalk out front. 

The Keep also receives their donations from Second Harvest, meaning they have made the shift from self-selection to pre-packaged bags. 

The Keep gives out 10 lb bags every Thursday afternoon, including non-perishables as well as produce and dairy products when they can get them. So far they have had enough food for everyone who shows up, though Luedke said the situation changes day-to-day. 

“The word is flexible these days,” Luedke said. “Everything is subject to change is the second term we hear so often.” 

Both Second Harvest and the Keep have had to operate with less volunteers as many have been asked to stay home due to their advanced age and therefore, increased vulnerability to COVID-19.

 According to Feeding America, member food banks across their network have shown nearly a 60% decrease in volunteers. Orge said that due to this decrease, Second Harvest has hired 15 laid off service workers as additional temporary staff, another unforseen added cost. 

While some food resources are scrambling to meet the growing need, others have had to stop operating entirely. 

The Campus Food Shed, a student organization working to address campus food insecurity and reduce food waste, had to shut down mid March. 

The Food Shed stocks a fridge in the SAC with unsellable food from Fresh Madison Market and Madison Sourdough. This food is available to any student for free. Now that the SAC is closed, they have had to stop. 

Kayva Ayalasomayajula, a junior at UW and Campus Food Shed team member, said she is worried about the impact this loss of food will have on students, as according to a study published by the College and University Food Bank Alliance, one in five students in the U.S. identifies as food insecure. 

“Many students are out of jobs so they’re more worried about paying their rent than buying fruits and vegetables,” Ayalasomayajul said. “Nutrition is so important for mental health and immune functioning, that’s something that we’re worried about especially because it’s already such a stressful time.”

This rise in unemployment is impacting food pantries across the country. According to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, the number of unemployment applications filed on March 30th was 24,664, more than 20 times the amount filed on this date last year. 

According to Feeding America, this rise in unemployment paired with school closures could result in an estimated 46% increase in the number of  people experiencing food insecurity nationally.

Dlott said Open Seat is prepared to serve this potential increase in hungry students. That if campus reopens this fall they will be able to double the amount of food they order each week.

“The pandemic has impacted everyone in a different way but what a lot of people don’t understand is that the pantry is how most students who use the pantry normally get the majority of their food,” Dlott said. “With people being out of jobs… it makes now even more important than ever that we provide this service.”

Dlott and Luedke urged those who are financially able, to donate money to Second Harvest, and those who are healthy, to volunteer.

Orge said that without their current volunteers and donations they would not be able to stay open. Second Harvest and other local food resources will continue to need this community support, because as Orge said, the demand will not be going away anytime soon.

“Don’t forget about us once this subsides because we’re still gonna be here feeding people and even more people than we’ve fed before,” Orge said, “It’s not gonna be over when it’s over for people who are still food insecure.”

Impact on DNC

How COVID-19 pandemic will impact upcoming DNC, November election

By Harrison Freuck

Voters in Wisconsin were outraged about the decisions by Evers, Wisconsin legislature leading up to a poorly-planned election in the midst of a pandemic

Photo courtesy of Tamia Fowlkes

On Tuesday, April 7, all eyes were on Wisconsin as hundreds of thousands of voters emerged from their homes to vote after a late response from Gov. Tony Evers (D) to delay the Spring General Election amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, a decision that was then overturned by the Republican-controlled state Supreme Court.

The failure to delay the election by Evers and then the Wisconsin Supreme Court upset voters statewide, resulting in era-defining images like this one from Journal Sentinel intern Patricia McKnight.

Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) was a candidate for Milwaukee County Executive, running against David Crowley, who would win the election by an estimated 1,039 votes out of more than 192,000 ballots cast.

“Initially, Evers thought there were easier ways to solve the problem, like pushing vote by mail,” Larson said. “But as the election got closer, I think they realized they hadn’t accounted for a lack of poll workers and the public’s willingness to actually go out and vote. There were a lot of people who were upset that they were forced to go out and vote and put their lives in danger.”

Despite the fact that the election went on in the midst of a pandemic and in-person turnout was way down, the number of absentee ballots cast were way up, accounting for 71% of total votes compared to just 10% in the spring election of 2016, according to NPR.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has had negative impacts on nearly everyone, the pandemic has also made many question how it will impact Election Day in November.

“I think now we have more of a runway leading into the November election,” Larson said. “That gives us a lot of time to look at how to push people to vote from home. It gives candidates and supporters of candidates time to look at how to reach voters. It gives clerks the ability to account for getting [absentee] ballots out in time and they can anticipate that’s likely to happen.”

Larson added that since it is virtually impossible to meet face-to-face with voters, new candidates will face an uphill battle in terms of collecting signatures to get their names on ballots, as this step can now only be done via mail and email. This will also force new candidates to rely on cultivated relationships instead of new ones.

Larson also said there is a strong chance the November election will be entirely or at least primarily run via absentee ballots.

“There’s a number of bills that are trying to change the rules for absentee ballots for the November election,” Larson said. “There are moves to make that part of the next package of relief bills for COVID-19. It would need to be a nationwide effort because each state has its own laws that govern absentee voting.”

While the November election is still months away, the bigger concern for Democrats and the state of Wisconsin right now is the Democratic National Convention which was set to take place in Milwaukee in July before being postponed to the week of August 17-20.

Larson’s brother, Dave, served as the senior director of hospitality for the convention before being laid off in mid-April as much of his role was eliminated with the convention likely to shift to a virtual shell of its usual self.

“The event was supposed to bring 50,000 people to town,” Dave Larson said. “Realistically, there’s no way that can happen now. They’re still working on a number of scenarios but the best bet is it will be virtual.”

While Dave Larson discussed the logistics regarding visitors and guests of the convention, Chris Larson talked about how Milwaukee was unlucky with the timing of the virus.

“Milwaukee basically got screwed out of $200 million of economic activity that we should have got out of the DNC,” Chris Larson said.

With many DNC events already cancelled and the rest of the convention delayed by at least a few weeks, the DNC planning committee has turned their attention to making the best of what they have, figuring out how to integrate technology with the events and keynote speeches that were set to happen at the convention.

Dave Larson also talked about the November election, directly relating it back to the questionable decisions made in Wisconsin in April.

“A lot of people will look at what took place in Wisconsin a few weeks ago to determine what’s the best way forward for November, including the political arms of both parties,” Dave Larson said. “The DNC and RNC will try to figure out the best way to engage their voters. Voting by mail is the one that makes sense but politics will determine how it will take place.”

While there are many uncertainties about the November election, it is all but guaranteed the COVID-19 pandemic will play a role in election protocols and how the election takes place, as well as an impact on election outcomes.

International Students

“Safer at Home” far from home

By Philip Klinker

Willie Zhou of Guangdong, China in his Madison apartment

A month ago, everyone in America’s life was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison never returned from their spring break, and classes have remained online ever since.  

Many students were scattered over the country in their hometowns. Others elected to stay at apartments in Madison they would be paying rent for anyway. But students from foreign countries studying at the University of Wisconsin did not have a choice.

Interstate travel is strongly discouraged and international travel is a near impossibility.  Students intent on returning to their homes in other countries were suddenly stranded in Madison, sometimes a world away from where they’re from.  

The housing situation has been relatively stable for most international students.  Jeff Otieno, a sophomore and finance major from Kenya, has been staying safe and sheltering in place at his apartment in Madison, so little has changed for him as far as housing.

When in-person classes ended, most students in University Housing had to go home. International students in University Housing were the largest exception, and additional accommodations were made.  “I think we have been fairly accommodated, especially due to the generous Emergency Aid,” said Farai Chinamo, a sophomore from Zimbabwe who lives in a residence hall.

Critiques of the university lie mostly in the online education system. “In general, the university tried its best, but as for individual professors, some of them are just being really inconsiderate,” said Willie Zhou, a sophomore from Guangdong, China. It’s not all bad in his eyes, though: “I am quite enjoying the fact that I get to sleep more than 8 hours every day.”

Concerns lie largely with their families abroad.  “I do worry [about my family,] but keeping in contact helps and knowing that they’re taking safety measures offers some comfort,” said Otieno.  

Chinamo echoed this sentiment. “I worried for my grandmother and grandfather because they all have illnesses.” Being far from home is nothing new for international students, but it adds another layer of stress in an already uncertain time. “It’s been hard to think of the effect the pandemic is having back home,” Chinamo added.  

Concerns over misinformation are also very real. “I am more worried about my grandparents than my parents because they always believe in rumors or false information spread on the internet,” said Zhou. “This would make them either downplay the virus or use the wrong way to protect themselves from the virus.” In a country hit hard by the virus like China, this can be especially dangerous.

International students also look forward to the day when travel restrictions relax.  Like everyone, most cannot wait until travel restrictions are relaxed and we can all socialize more freely.  “I’m really hoping I can spend more time out in the summer and hang out more with friends once it is safe to do so,” said Otieno. He even looks forward to hopefully seeing his family in Kenya later this year.  Otieno is, “looking forward to possibly spending Christmas together if it’s safe then.”

Even visiting home when travel becomes possible again is not so simple though.  “Monopoly and limited flights between China and the US really gave these giant airline companies opportunities to rip us off,” said Zhou. “Unless the market returns to normal or there is a mandatory evacuation paid by my government, I will stay in my bed.”

Many students feel isolated and separated from family during the nationwide shutdown but international students have the additional problem of being oceans away from family.  Uncertainty abounds for us all in these times, and for international students the world can be that much more uncertain.

Online Music Festivals

While all upcoming concerts have been cancelled, artists move online to provide fans with an at-home live music experience through virtual festivals.

By Hunter Carroll

#1: Digital Mirage

Digital Mirage, organized by Proximity Records, as well as the Los Angeles-based event organizer Brownies and Lemonade, took place from April 3-5. The event was streamed over YouTube for three days and raised over $300,000 for Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, an organization that provides financial assistance to career musicians and music industry workers. The lineup featured popular electronic artists like Louis the Child, Alison Wonderland and Kaskade. Over the three days, the event has more than 1 million attendees, setting a new standard for virtual music festivals to come. 

Pluko | Digital Mirage 2020

Pluko’s set was my favorite of the entire weekend. At just 18 years old, Sam Martinsen, also known as Pluko, has already seen incredible success, including support from the popular electronic group Odesza, who signed him to their Foreign Family Collective in 2018. This set stood out to me because of the use of almost all original tracks at such a young age. It was also fun to watch because he played a live set instead of mixing his tracks, which can be seen in the video link above.

Medasin | Digital Mirage 2020

Grant Nelson, also known as Medasin, has found success in recent years, especially in 2017 with remixes for Portugal. The Man and Martin Garrix. In 2018, he released an album titled “Irene,” and he went on tour for that album as well. Just recently, he released his second album titled “RIPPLS.” His set for Digital Mirage gave off a very chill, electronic vibe, with some of his own music, including one of my favorites from his new album titled “Melody X.”

#2: Room Service Virtual Music Festival

After the success of Digital Mirage, another virtual music festival is set to take place from April 24-26. The event is presented by Andy King, famous for his role in the Fyre Fest documentary on Netflix, as well as Chill Nation and Trap Nation. Proceeds from the event will go towards the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, as well as Feeding America, where $1 provides 10 meals to those in need to help those affected by COVID-19.

Kasbo | Room Service Music Festival 2020

Carl Garsbo, also known as Kasbo, is known for his chill electronic music. He gained popularity in 2013 and has continued this success through today. Like Pluko, Kasbo was also signed to the Foreign Family Collective and has had multiple world tours since then.  

Whethan | Room Service Music Festival 2020

Ethan Snoreck, also known as Whethan, is a 20 year old producer from Chicago. He is known for many of his songs, including his hit “Can’t Hide” featuring Ashe, as well as his Life of a Wallflower EP that he released in 2019.

Lane 8 | Room Service Music Festival 2020

Lane 8 is known for his progressive house style. He has many popular tracks, including his song “Road,” as well as remixes that he has done for Porter Robinson and Odesza.

#3: Boiler Room: Streaming From Isolation

Boiler Room has been streaming intimate DJ sets from around the world since they began in 2010. They have hosted events from major cities around the world, but hosting sets from artists homes was something new to come out of quarantine for them.

Disclosure | Boiler Room: Streaming From Isolation | #13

Made up of brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence, the electronic music group Disclosure began making music in 2010. They did not begin to gain popularity until 2012 with their song “Tenderly,” which was released in January, followed by one of the most popular songs, “Latch,” released in October. Recently this year, the duo released an EP titled “Ecstasy” which has become popular recently, gaining support from multiple artists. This specific mix features Guy Lawrence mixing groovy house tracks for an hour and a half from his home.

#4: Folamour | Defected Records Virtual Festival 2020

Similar to Boiler Room, Defected Records has been posting sets online for quite some time, but these live stream events during the COVID-19 pandemic have their highest number of viewers ever. This set from Folamour aired on March 27 as part of the Defected Records Virtual Festival.

#5 Marc Rebillet | Quaranstream

By creating all of his music live and on the spot, Marc Rebillet has brought attention to a new form of electronic music.

Eating Diseased Animal Flesh

Despite warnings, Andrew Zimmern, host of Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods,” refuses to stop eating disease-ridden animal flesh

By Nick Rawling

A blood-lusting Andrew Zimmern, about to eat God-knows-what (Original Image Courtesy of Flickr)

While most Americans are adhering to recommendations from epidemiologists and other medical experts to shelter at home, Andrew Zimmern, host of Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods,” is completely out of control.

Despite desperate pleas from family members and close friends to postpone the shooting of the 14th season of his hit show, Zimmern has actually ramped up episode production during the pandemic.    

“Flights are so cheap right now,” Zimmern said. “I couldn’t let an opportunity like this go to waste.”

Zimmern’s team is currently filming in Xiaogan, China, where he plans to dine on pangolin and of course, bat.

“I really don’t buy into the whole ‘you shouldn’t do that, you’re going to give yourself a devastating illness’ thing,” Zimmern said. “It’s really no big deal. I ate bats in Thailand in season 1 and in Samoa in season 3. That’s true, you can Google that.”

Even more astonishingly, Zimmern told me he intends to prepare the nocturnal mammals “extra-rare,” explaining that “it’s just a texture thing, really.”

I also spoke with some Chinese locals, who seemed equal parts angered and confused by Zimmern’s bloodthirsty rampage. 

“First of all, this guy’s goofy round-lens glasses make him look like a shaved Teddy Roosevelt,” a nurse from Wuhan told me. “Second of all, I’ve literally never known anyone who’s eaten bats. You people are psychotic.”

One community restaurant owner, however, is making the most of the situation. 

“I don’t mind the chunky, nicer-looking version of Vin Diesel,” she said. “My business was dried up with everyone staying at home, but this guy comes in and will eat anything. Last night I gave him wet cat food, told him it was a pangolin stomach, and charged him $30.00 for it.”

After his tour through Central China, Zimmern will take viewers to Italy, Spain and finally, New York, because not all strange foods are in far-away places.
“Get this shit,” Zimmern said through a mouthful of bat liver pâté. “In New York they eat pizza with a crust so thin you can practically see through it — and they tell people that it’s good. How’s that for bizarre?”

Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Nintendo’s latest hit

By Joe States

Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Nintendo’s cute, cartoony life simulation game, has become something of an internet sensation in the US since its release on March 20. Twitter is flooded with Animal Crossing content, from screenshots to fanart to long tirades either for or against Tom Nook, a raccoon who the player is in debt to at the beginning of the game.

With the nation under quarantine and social distancing becoming the new normal, video games are now a major part of many Americans’ lives, and Animal Crossing, the best-selling game in the US for March according to The NPD Group, has become one of the most popular games in the country.

The World Health Organization even encouraged people to play video games to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in a tweet from Raymond Chambers, WHO’s ambassador for global strategy. But some feel there are more benefits to video games during quarantine than just aiding physical distancing.

Jasmine Miletic, a sophomore on UW-Whitewater’s esports team, said that the new Animal Crossing game offers her a sense of normalcy and a way to escape during quarantine.

“You have a bunch of goals to do, and with us all being trapped inside the house, having the game there kinda gives you a sense of reality,” Miletic said. “It takes you away.”

Miletic has also made new personal connections through Animal Crossing’s online community.

“I’m in a couple Facebook pages where you can talk to people who also play the game, and then they can come visit your island and you can sell them stuff and trade items with them,” Miletic said. “I’ve actually met a lot of people through that.”

According to Matthew Berland, an associate professor at UW-Madison and the director of the UW Game Design program, video games allow friends to socialize again while still remaining under quarantine.

“I think that a lot of people, including myself, really miss chatting with people,” Berland said.

One popular board game site, Board Game Arena, even crashed due to the sudden influx of people, according to Berland.

“There was just so many people that wanted to play board games with their friends,” Berland said. “I think video games are the same way. I think that a lot of the servers are experiencing high loads because it’s a virus-safe way to have social interactions.”

He argued that games provide a context for the more subtle social interactions of life that many are missing because of social distancing.

 “I think a lot of people underestimate the value of really minor-key, softly-spoken notes,” Berland said. “Sometimes you just need to hear that [your friends] had rice and beans for lunch.”

It’s no secret that the pandemic and quarantine have played a part in the success of Animal Crossing, but aspects of the game itself have drawn in many players, Miletic and Berland included.

In Animal Crossing, the player arrives at an island that they can then explore, crafting items and developing their town for villagers, anthropomorphic animal characters with distinct personalities that live on the island and are “super cute,” according to Miletic.

“It’s delightful, it feels safe, it feels happy, it feels creative, it feels social.” Berland said. “My personal feeling is, when I sit down to play, say with my daughter or alone … my feeling is delight.”

Miletic made one point very clear.

“It’s just a really cute game,” she said.

With so much additional free time though, people may be feeling pressured to be extra productive rather than spend time playing video games. On Twitter, one tweet by singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash about being productive during quarantine was retweeted more than 52 thousand times.

“Just a reminder that when Shakespeare was quarantined because of the plague, he wrote King Lear,” Cash wrote.

But more and more people are turning against this type of thinking. Chris Ferguson, an associate professor at Stetson University, said that the increase in gaming likely has few negative impacts.

“Accumulating evidence suggests that playing video games isn’t really associated with negative outcomes,” Ferguson said. According to Ferguson, as long as people finish their work and exercise, “There are honestly no maximum limits on video game time, particularly as right now there might not be much else to do.”

And according to Berland, the benefits of social interaction and personal connections are important as well.

“Like any media, like books like movies, tv, like anything, you can do it positively or you can do it negatively,” Berland said. “But there’s lots of great ways to play games with your friends … and play creatively with your family, and to keep in touch.”

This is all good news for Miletic, who has been spending a lot of time in her virtual island village.

“Right now I’m already at, I believe, 185 hours,” Miletic said. “And the game just came out not even a full month ago.”

Berland also reflected on his time spent playing games.

“I have two kids and a wife, and keeping everyone happy is job number one for my wife and I,” Berland said. “But in lieu of going anywhere, there is time to play games, which is nice.”