Staying plugged into your interests can feel like an uphill battle during a pandemic. The drain of Zoom fatigue hasn’t slowed down and stay-at-home restrictions are just starting to lift in California. In a time marked by increased online activity and little social interaction, some fans have found ways to make this year-long new normal work.
Sophomore Amitai Segev joined USCord, a student-led server on the social messaging app Discord, during the fall 2020 semester. At first, he said he kept a trial period mindset. He prefers to connect with people in person. He said talking to someone through a screen can feel like “there’s like a wall in between” each person.
“I didn’t know if I would fit in here,” Segev said in an interview with Annenberg Media. “[But then] you just start talking and kind of integrate yourself with it.”
The server boasts more than 1,400 members. To chime in, people have multiple channels to pick from including ones focused on fandom topics like K-pop, anime and tabletop gaming. Segev says during the pandemic, being active online is the easiest way for him to connect with people who share his interests.
“This is a big way for people to kind of just forget about COVID, forget about being online, and talk to people,” Segev said. “That’s something that a lot of people are missing in their lives right now. They don’t have anyone to interact with or to meet. So I think having this option is really good.”
Before COVID-19, some of the most popular ways for people interested in fandom culture to connect in person would be at conventions like San Diego Comic Con (SDCC), which draws international attendance topping 130,000. But the convention is remote for a second time this year, with a small event in the works for November, according to a press release.
joan miller, a doctoral student in USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism studying fandoms and geek culture, said that major conventions like SDCC are important pillars to fandom communities, including herself.
“The idea of being able to go to Comic Con was like traveling to Mecca,” miller said in an interview with Annenberg Media, noting that she’s as dedicated to her fandoms as people can be to religion.
During miller’s first visit there, she met a stranger who told her going to SDCC was like “going to a party with 150,000 of your closest friends.”
People have missed experiences like this for more than a year. As California counties continue to move to less restrictive tiers, there’s hope conventions will return at some point this year, but it will be up to each company once restrictions are lifted.
If they can’t, self-described social people like Ryan Bowdre will continue to feel a strain. Until the pandemic, he ran gaming tournaments for Super Smash Brothers, a popular Nintendo fighting game. Bowdre is a talkative and energetic person and said remote conventions break his heart.
“I don’t even attend the virtual [events]. For me, it almost makes it worse,” Bowdre said in an interview with Annenberg Media. “I want to be really feeling the impact there physically. So just watching different things from a screen, it’s kind of just like a tease.”
He’s been involved in the anime, gaming and Marvel communities for years. At conventions like Anime Expo, Bowdre enjoyed connecting with friends in person where they could sign up for video game matches, attend panels and peruse the crowded halls of artist alleys.
“I can see a lot of different people from all different backgrounds and places in my life in one place. It’s like a reunion,” Bowdre said. “All this stuff being shut down is a big, huge bummer for me.”
He’s tried to adapt by watching people who stream games on Twitch and even joined a few Discord servers, but he says it’s just not the experience he needs.
“However helpful these online communities have been for me, it’s still not ever going to satisfy,” Bowdre said. “Whenever I’m talking to people online, [when] we finish playing the game or whatever activities that we were doing, it always ends with ‘man, that would have been more fun in person. I can’t wait until this is over.’”
After more than a year of health officials urging people to limit social interactions and barring in-person events, that’s understandable. Research conducted by Nielsen in February shows that 67% of people surveyed are eager to attend in-person events.
“There’s always going to be a benefit to finding new ways to allow more people to participate remotely,” miller said. “But I think, you know, the fandom will do its best to persevere. They’ll innovate. They’ll challenge the status quo.”
For people feeling the strain of online life, miller recommends two solutions: Share your interests with your social bubble or explore a new one with them. She says the process can be enrichings and it can help deepen relationships with your family and friends.