As 2020 draws steadily towards an almost thankful close, I think it’s suffice to say that Covid restrictions have had an effect on all of us. As I’ve started my final year at university, I’ve been looking at how students are being affected.
Back in March, I had made a spur-of-the-moment decision to go back home, three days before the first lockdown was formally announced. At the time, I had very few (if any) classes, as the pandemic had occurred on the tail end of a strike by the Universities and Colleges Union. That ended up being a particularly stressful week; the university had made the formal decision to close the campus, but since the strike was still going on, there was no contact from many lecturers with regards to upcoming assignment deadlines. Furthermore, all the societies were announcing that they weren’t meeting up, meaning that my social life disappeared in the space of a week. Fortunately, the university eventually announced a blanket two-week extension and extra credit to compensate for the loss of teaching. Furthermore, my accommodation provider gave me a window to move things out of my room and hand over the keys, waiving my last rental instalment for the year once these conditions were met.
I was ultimately at home with my parents for six months, and struggled to cope even as the pubs re-opened. One of the major difficulties I faced was that I don’t have many friends back in my hometown. Being a mature student (at the time of writing, I’m 27) means that most of the people I grew up with finished university long before I started, and are living elsewhere now. Even if they aren’t, they’re busy with full-time jobs and some have even got kids. Pandemic or no pandemic, summer gets lonely.
I found things especially difficult after handing in all my assignments, as that had been the main thing I’d been working on while at home. With social distancing bubbles in place, I wasn’t able to celebrate finishing our second year with classmates. I felt like this dampened the sense of achievement I’d usually get from finishing the year. Things became worse with the announcement that Swanwick was being cancelled this year. That’s normally my biggest summer social for the reasons mentioned above, and the fact that it wasn’t going ahead meant that a significant loss of contact with people. While some virtual events were held in the week, I still missed the adventure of it all.
One of my biggest platforms for contacting people has been Discord, which combines the services of Zoom and Facebook Messenger in a neat little package. The platform consisted of three main social activities: table-top roleplaying games, film streams, and Jackbox.
With table-top roleplaying games, most people had moved their games online, using Discord to handle voice chat, and running the games on a virtual table-top such as Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds. I found it especially useful, since I run my games in what is arguably a niche system, so I was able to find players online who were familiar with it, and join other games to experience it as a player.
With film streams, I’ve joined several Discord servers in which someone puts on a film and shares their screen on the server, allowing other members to watch it. I watch the film full-screen on my laptop, and then use Discord on my tablet to provide a running commentary in the text chat so as not to disrupt the film.
Finally, Jackbox is a series of virtual party games which can be hosted with a similar setup. One person runs the game on a laptop and shares their screen, and everyone takes part via a tablet or phone by going to a website and entering a code. It’s often a good way to determine people’s senses of humour.
Since going back to university, I’ve found that there’s been a move to online teaching. This can take the form of either pre-recorded lectures or live workshops and seminars held via another virtual platform. Granted, I don’t have many actual classes this year anyway, since the bulk of the year is taken up by my portfolio (my course’s equivalent of the dissertation). One of the modules being offered was scrapped as the faculty was unable to guarantee access to computer labs, and another module which utilised specialisms within the module was expanded to accommodate more students. This module had one on-campus workshop every other week, during which everyone had to wear masks and sign in with a QR-based Test and Trace system. I have to admit, sitting in a classroom for two hours makes it difficult to read stuff on the board when my glasses are steamed. I’m just glad the workshop wasn’t a 9:00 am, since I haven’t figured out a way to drink coffee beneath a mask. However, I only had one of these workshops, and then it moved online.
Societies have also moved online or simply aren’t happening. Even virtual events are thin on the ground, but I’m trying to have some regular ones to give my week some structure. Overall, it’s difficult to drum up interest when everybody’s online. As such, the restrictions have had a severe impact on my mental health, especially when I haven’t had any takers for virtual events. At the same time, I’ve found that I haven’t really been leaving my flat except to go shopping, and that has made me somewhat uncreative lately. It’s been suggested that I go out every day for a stroll, so I’m going to try and do that.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ll be glad when this is all over.