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Game on! How might video games make lockdown more bearable?

Previously, we talked about how technology is helping us stay connected to one another during lockdown. Today, we’ll talk about the technology behind video games. Video gaming has become one of the most popular leisure activities in the world and have been recorded to be played by:

  • 48% of all Europeans
  • 56% of young-adult Norwegians
  • 97% of Americans aged 12-17

Psychological research on video games often investigate the negative impacts of gaming in the form of gaming addiction. In 2018, the World Health Organisation added “gaming disorder” to the International Classification of Diseases as 1-9% of all gamers across all age groups, more commonly in males, qualify for this diagnosis. However, more recent research has begun to suggest that video games can serve as virtual platforms where players can build and maintain social connections (with 70% of all players playing with others), which is perhaps an especially helpful way of coping with these challenging times.

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In contrast to the potential benefits that video games may instil during these difficult times, our Instagram poll found that:

  • 13% of respondents are living alone;
  • 44% of respondents are feeling more suspicious/hostile towards strangers during lockdown;
  • 64% respondents feel lockdown has them feel less motivated;

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Thus, during lockdown, video games may become an invaluable source of entertainment, a way to build and maintain our social connections, distraction and motivation amidst the stresses of living in the time of COVID-19. In particular, the social simulation game Animal Crossing: New Horizons (ACNH) is the No.1 trending game in Japan, the U.S, Korea, Spain and France and has been hailed as a “conveniently timed piece of whimsy” where players take on the role of a lone human on an island filled with “relentlessly cheerful creatures”. Players are tasked with building a thriving, island society by filling it with shops, bridges and other accommodations to attract other players. ACNH follows a real-time clock and calendar and the game changes from day-to-day, offering players daily rewards and special seasonal content. For the 2020 graduates, ACNH has even become a popular venue for virtual convocations and the subject of over 38 million tweets and many news articles about the game’s ability to provide comfort and social connection in these times of isolation and social distancing.

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Image courtesy of a graduating student from the University of Toronto.

Dr. Romana Ramzan, a lecturer in Game Narrative at Glasgow Caledonian University suggests that the massive appeal behind video games during lockdown is:

  • They allow you to get absorbed into day-to-day activities without the real world consequences.
  • They can be played indefinitely, which is especially favoured these days as there is also no current end in sight for COVID-19.
  • Where we are powerless in the real world, video games and the virtual worlds they provide give players a level of calmness and total control over how the world progresses.

With regards to caring for our mental health in the time of COVID-19, video games may offer a sense of support and community when other means of support are lacking or are now harder to access. Mental health benefits of video games include:

  • Formation and maintenance of social connections
  • Improvement of mood
  • Sense of control and accomplishment
  • Reduction in stress and anxiety

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Therefore, it is not unreasonable to suggest that post-COVID-19, research may increasingly find that video games can have positive effects, particularly on influencing pro-social behaviours and fostering social connectedness. Occasional or moderate playing of video games may in fact come to be recognised as a beneficial activity to take up. However, until then, further research on it’s health benefits will require more stringent research. While we gradually come out of lockdown, you may want to find out more about the kinds of games that are out there, and whether you’d want to start playing yourself. But don’t forget: Take regular breaks from the screen every now and then!

This post was co-written by Ms. Kyleigh Melville (@MelvilleKyleigh), a UCL alumna and Dr Keri Wong (@DrKeriWong).

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