The magic of video games is in their power to foster connections beyond the restraints of geographical borders, providing a lifeline for some Australians.
And in Canberra, the industry is thriving.
Canberran solo game developer Ruqiyah Patel says she hopes to help facilitate those virtual links.
"I want people to feel like they are extending a hand into the void, and someone else is reaching out and taking hold of that hand," she says.
Local video games are flourishing in 2021 as the medium has increased in popularity during the COVID outbreak.
Games help us cope during lockdowns, according to a report by the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association and Bond University, released last month.
A third of survey respondents say they have made new friends through virtual play, while a third of parents say video games help their children endure pandemic experiences.
Thanks to the CanDev community, which brings game developers together, the local creative population is small but strong.
Shy Kids Club co-founder Craig Brown has been involved with CanDev since its inception in 2014.
"CanDev was a chance to bring people together, grow their skills, network, but also not feel so isolated in Canberra," he says.
"Some of the ways we've done that is people bring along their games to meetups ... to get feedback or swap ideas on challenges that they've had."
Although meetings are now held online, the virtual space has meant former Canberrans living in other cities have been able to engage with the community.
The interaction means that these game developers have the opportunity to remain connected to their roots while also remaining active on the Canberra scene.
Carer by day, hobbyist game developer by night, Matthew Sanderson works on games with the aim of breaking into the video game industry.
Like Ms Patel, Mr Sanderson says he would like people who play his games to "develop connections" and "change their perspective on life".
In his upcoming game, The Ocean Will Have Us All, the player can self-indulge in side quests rather than forcibly follow a pre-set main narrative.
"I like that feeling of freedom of not doing what the game tells you to do," Mr Sanderson said.
For Mr Brown, founding the studio Shy Kids Club with his wife Nicole Lawson was a way to combine their creative skills.
Ms Lawson has a background in illustration and music, while Mr Brown had been learning from students at the Academy of Interactive Entertainment in Watson where he was working at the time.
"It was a way to keep making things," he says, "I picked up enough that we started participating in the game jams and we went from there."
The future is bright for the industry with promising projects such as the Academy of Interactive Entertainment's new state-of-the-art facility for film and virtual production due to be operational early next year.
The facility could be a game-changer for video game and film workers looking to work at the highest levels.
Mr Brown would like CanDev to resume in-person meetings soon, but is keen to continue hosting the occasional online event to keep the Canberran expats involved.
In the meantime, he and Ms Lawson are working on their first big commercial game With Friends Like These.
Mr Sanderson and Ms Patel both have their own projects in the works for 2022.
Mr Sanderson is working towards The Ocean Will Have Us All, and Ms Patel has successfully secured funding from Screen Canberra for visual novel Amarantus.
"I love telling stories and I believe that every story has a medium that is the right medium to tell that story in," Ms Patel says.
"I had a story that I wanted to tell and the only medium I could tell it in was a video game. So I started learning how to make games."
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