On Monday (March 30), Alpha-Omega’s Joseph Camarota wrote to get some thoughts on this crisis off his mind, first sharing an update: “We’re OK here in New Jersey. The numbers keep increasing, but the roads are empty so hopefully that means people are finally staying home and we can see these numbers drop. I’m slowly learning how hard it is to keep kids structured during ‘school.’” What he has to say likely mirrors the thinking of a lot of people in the industry, our extended family.
I received my first phone call around March 10th. “They are talking about shutting down our location.” My first reaction was “no way,” they wouldn’t shut down a family location. People still need to get out and enjoy themselves. Then I received another call…and another… and slowly every single location was telling me they were closing.
Shortly after –– or during, it’s all a blur now –– we got a call from the school: “Your schools are closed for an undetermined amount of time. We will begin digital learning immediately.” I thought, “What is digital learning?” and then, “What am I going to do with these kids?”
As we all know, it didn’t stop there. “All restaurants can only do take out or delivery.” “All barber shops, nail salons and spas are closed.” “All non-essential businesses must close.”
WHAT?!?! We are in the United States! How did we get here? And what in the world is social distancing?
Unfortunately, that’s a question that can be argued until we are blue in the face. That’s not why I am writing this. I am writing because our industry, the one we love and adore, the one I grew up in, the one that has given me so much, is closed. As scary as that sounds, our industry is SHUT DOWN.
We’ve heard and said it a million times over: “Never in my wildest dreams…” “Never did I think OUR industry…” “This can’t be happening.” But it is, and it’s the grim reality we face. The scariest part is the unknown.
By now, we’ve all made hard decisions, mostly when it comes to employees. The problem is the term “employee” is too generic. These are not just employees. They are family, they are friends, they are people we grew up with, people we planned a future around, people who deserve better.
The other night my wife got “together” with some of our employees –– no, our friends –– on Zoom, and I couldn’t help but hear them talking. It wasn’t really the conversation I heard, but the voices, the voices that were so commonplace just two weeks ago, the voices that I would hear every day, and it hurt. What a strange feeling to have just by hearing my wife and three peers talking. But, that hurt turned quickly into something else, not happiness but an understanding that our society is not dead and that our relationships are not gone, that the people we often spend more time with than our family are still there. They’re still there to talk, listen and laugh with and to enjoy each other’s time.
It also made me realize these relationships are more than just peer-to-peer. The relationships we make at work go beyond our walls, and in times such as these we can still hear each other and understand that together we will overcome this.
Our industry is shut down, but that doesn’t mean it is gone. This doesn’t mean the voices have to become silent and forever gone. It just means that we need to be louder. We need to continue to talk and reach out to see how each other are doing personally. Instead of talking about how new games are doing or what party numbers look like, let’s talk to each other. Let’s ask how people are feeling and if there is anything we can do for each other. The bonds we can make during this unknown period can last a lifetime if only we decide to keep communicating. Ask yourself, have you reached out to your employees just to say hi? Have you called that client you used to talk to weekly to see how they are doing?
Our industry is a different breed. It is one in which we willingly share numbers, secrets and just about anything that can help another member of our community thrive. No one is thriving right now, and people are scared, sad and confused. Let’s keep doing what makes our industry such a blessing to be in. Let’s build on our relationships outside of games, food and parties. Let’s not let the voices go away, but make our voices loud and clear: Our industry may be shut down, but we will be back. We will be stronger and we will always be family.