In my corner of the Bronx, March 2020 felt like the end of the world. A statewide state of emergency was declared on March 7, and the city was locked down 13 days later as the number of cases increased every day. Before the lockdown, I went to an esports venue almost twice a week to play in Super Smash Bros. tournaments, but that quickly fell out of my routine. I had also just received a library card to have more time to read. Now the map was useless and road trips became rare. Once I set up a plan to become productive, the world pushed me back in.
Sitting inside wasn’t as bad for my social life as you might think. I spent more time on Discord, looking for new channels and new people. Some of them were streamers, others voice actors – all people I probably wouldn’t meet offline. Some of them became my best friends, making me even more anxious to find new ways to connect and spend time with them.
Finally, my friends from college introduced me to: parsec. In simple terms, Parsec is an application that allows you to share your PC with anyone you want. By linking to your Parsec, you can let another Parsec user see and interact with your screen, a step beyond the basic screen shares in apps like Zoom and Discord. Linked Parsec users can even virtually connect keyboards or controllers to the host system and the app treats them as locally attached peripherals.
Put it all together and it becomes a new way to play online games. Many games from older systems, such as the GameCube and Wii, did not have online functionality, but did have built-in local multiplayer. Combine Parsec with an emulator like Dolphin and a whole new world of console games opens up – games I never would have been able to play with someone who wasn’t in the same room.
We started with Mario Party, which led to some hilarious moments. (You’ve never really seen a player break until you’ve seen all of his winnings given to someone else through Chance Time.) We also played the older generation of Super Smash Bros. games before moving on to Mario Kart: Double Dash and GoldenEye. Parsec became a way to relive the aesthetics of an earlier generation of games, with raw, harmless fun without an overloaded story or gestures relevant to the real world. So many rivalries were born and so many friendships were tested.
I used to play with friends from college most of the time, and those games became some of the best memories I’ve shared with them. I’d known most of them for over a year, so we already had a good rapport and an idea of how much smack we could talk over each other. We kept a Discord channel open while we played for the sole purpose of throwing jabs.
The biggest limitation of Parsec is that both the host and the remote user must have strong internet connections. If either one is not confused, it can cause delay on that side of the game. Host-side lag is particularly bad as it causes downstream issues for everyone in the session. (I highly recommend connecting an Ethernet cable to whatever system you’re using, as a slight delay can cause a lot of embarrassment.) Since I was on a wired connection, I’d usually host. But occasional issues on my end still caused an entire game to stutter. Still, that’s the only real issue with Parsec, and it’s more of a general cloud gaming issue than a software-specific issue.
Parsec is a one-track app, focused on a simple goal: remote multiplayer gaming. In some ways, it’s an easy problem to solve, but getting it right gave me great luck during what was otherwise a very difficult year. Whenever I wasn’t writing or scouring the internet for content to watch, I’d end up booting up a game and trying to get a Parsec session going. It happened almost every day. When I think of my favorite moments from 2020, many of them were run through Parsec, where we played an older generation of games with new friends — and felt, if only for a moment, that we were all in one room together.