Playing Games Online has Become an Important Social Lifeline

There’s a community connection with the people who share your screen.

Man playing Animal Crossings on Nintendo Switch.

(Wachiwit / shutterstock.com)

Playing video interactive games, and later computer games, has been a big part of people’s lives ever since the birth of Pong and gaming consoles (like Magnavox) in the early 1970s. But games have progressed steadily since those early days. Now online games are being played worldwide by people of all ages.

While many people tend to think of gamers as people who sit alone on their couches and anonymous to other players, the opposite is actually true according to the BBC. The rise in popularity of games, especially for people in Gen Z, have built communities and friendships with their fellow players. These connections have become a social lifeline during these times of social distancing and lockdowns.

While TV and Netflix help people pass the time, there is no interaction between people like the ones found in gaming and the amount of time people play has seriously increased during the pandemic. In fact, in the US,  gamers are now playing an average of 6 hours and 46 minutes weekly according to a report on online gaming from Limelight Networks. And the numbers keep going up.

Twitch, which is owned by Amazon, where people can watch other people play video games in real time webcasts and can chat with other viewers, actually clocked 5 billion hours of viewed content in the second quarter of 2020, according to the BBC. That was an 83 percent increase from 2019 and a new record.

But this increase in gaming is about much more than just entertainment. “This isn’t just out of boredom but an intrinsic desire to be social. New gaming capabilities allow people to engage with one another virtually,” Nigel Burmeister, vice president of Limelight Networks told USA Today. That’s because humans are hardwired to be social and human contacts are necessary for our mental health.

Rosemary “Nekkra” Kelley, a 25-year-old gamer, told USA Today that she’s spending a lot more time playing games because her work has been curtailed due to the cancellation of live events. In her newfound extra time, she has been playing Pokémon Sword and Animal Crossings on her Nintendo Switch.

The Animal Crossings series fifth title New Horizons, a nonlinear life simulation game,  was released on November 20, 2020 and has outsold all other titles for Nintendo Switch. Kelley said that new titles gave her something to look forward to.

This game is so popular it sold 5 million digital copies in its first month. Lin Zhu, a graduate student in psychology at State University of New York Albany wrote a paper about New Horizons and the connection to the coronavirus pandemic that was published in the journal Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies.

She concluded that the video game brought spiritual comfort and sustenance to its players. The continuing social interaction between the players – old friends and new – was a relaxing and fun way  to stay connected and helps: “get rid of the loneliness caused by social isolation.”

Gamers agree.  “I wouldn’t be able to get through my own self-quarantining if I didn’t have this community of people I can communicate with on a regular basis. That goes from playing games with them to just chatting about what’s going on,” Kelley told USA Today.

Video games have even been used in educational settings too. An elementary school in Japan held a virtual graduation on Minecraft instead of an in-person ceremony due to the pandemic. So, if you are feeling isolated or lonely, try picking up a game controller, portable device, or turning on your computer, and make a new community of friends.

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