By Madison Bratley, Editor-in-Chief
Last year, Justin Woo ‘21 and his friends enjoyed getting food together in Chinatown and taking the train home together after school. Now, social media and video games help him maintain those connections.
“Everything is different,” Woo said. He plays volleyball during the regular school year which he said kept him out of the house, but because of quarantine, he’s now home all the time. After school, he either attends an Asian American Club meeting, watches Netflix, or plays video games with friends. His sleep schedule shifted so that he now goes to sleep at midnight or around 1 a.m. instead of around 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. as he would in a normal year, and he hasn’t been with his friends as often. He said he has a “pretty big friend group” and they can’t all be in-person together at once, so he only meets up with one or two friends at a time and they usually stay inside of a car when they’re together.
When remote learning first began he said people had their cameras on more often so he could see peoples’ reactions during class, which made school more entertaining, but fewer people turned on their camera as time went on. “Literally everyone would have their cameras off except for the teacher,” he said. “That’s when I guess I kind of cared less about school.”
He said he and his friends often have their cameras off during Google Meets and therefore they don’t talk with each other in class, but after school, he usually plays “Valorant,” a multiplayer video game, with his friends. When they play late at night, Woo said they like to play “Jackbox,” a trivia game, “Among Us,” a video game that surged in popularity in the fall, or “Minecraft,” an explorer game. He said he “gamed a bunch” before quarantine but recently has played more frequently because he and his friends have had more free time. Woo credits the game “Among Us” with bringing most of his friend group together. “We’d sometimes have 20 people who wanted to play and we’d only have 10 spots to fill,” he said. “It was hard to find games where all of us could play at the same time, but eventually we were able to just form a big group and just play a bunch of different games like Jackbox games.” He adds that he and his friends don’t play seriously and instead use the games as an opportunity to “catch up.”
Sometimes not enough people would want to play a game so either he or one of his friends would find someone else they knew and introduce that person to the rest of the group. “We made such a big community,” he said. “These are people that I met during freshman year but never really talked to. They’re really great people that I never would’ve talked to if I met them in-person, so by playing games with them online I was able to really get to know them and I was able to meet these people that I did not think I was ever going to talk to.” He said extending the friend group was a “really cool experience” that he “definitely didn’t” expect.
Woo uses Twitch, a streaming platform popular with gamers, so he can have a video recording of the games he plays with friends. That way, he can rewatch funny moments and send those clips to people. Twitch allows anyone to watch Woo and his friends play video games live. “Eventually, I started to grow a bit of a following, and it’s a way for me to expand my community even more,” he said.
He also posts on Tik Tok, where one of his videos went viral within the first month of quarantine. In the video, different parts of the audio describe distinct personalities and Woo attaches those personalities to different high schools in Chicago by embodying those attitudes and lip-synching the audio’s words. “Saving all the turtles with my straw and Hydro Flask,” the audio said when Woo represented Payton.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God,’ and then everyone from Chicago pretty much saw that video,” he said. “I just kept making more videos, and then more views would just keep coming out, and my following just got bigger and it was crazy. I didn’t expect that to happen.”
In another Tik Tok video, Woo plays on one of the platform’s popular jokes where people, more commonly girls, ask if their significant other would still date them if they were a worm. In Woo’s video, he eats from a bag of gummy worms while on his phone and said his girlfriend wasn’t picking up her phone anymore, implying his girlfriend became a gummy worm. YouTuber David Dobrik liked that video. “When that notification popped up on my phone, I was freaking out because I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is a YouTuber I’d watch all the time,’” he said.
Woo said he tries to post relatable content to Tik Tok and made an account to create videos with his friends, express himself, and make people laugh. “I love making people laugh,” he said. “It makes me happy when I see other people happy.” His account doesn’t have a theme and he said he posts whatever is on his mind.
Before the lockdown, Woo filmed videos of himself and his friends dancing together. He still incorporates his friends in his videos during the pandemic. In one Tik Tok video, he guesses his friends’ scores on a popular online test measuring life experience. The video attracted over 690,000 views. Woo said two of his friends featured in that video later texted him saying someone recognized them from that Tik Tok video and wanted to take a picture with them, and he said that he has had similar experiences. “I was like ‘Oh my God that’s crazy,’” he said. “I never thought it would get to that point.”
Tik Tok was Woo’s main source of entertainment when quarantine started and he said it changed his style and personality. “If quarantine did not happen, I don’t think I’d be the person I am today,” he said. “[Tik Tok] gave me more confidence, I guess.”
Woo received his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine and said he looks forward to hanging out in-person with more of his friends again.