Video Games Help People to Connect and Engage During COVID-19
Many people turned to video gaming as a way of connecting with others during COVID-19 lockdown.

The isolation of COVID-19, especially during the early stages of the pandemic, has forced many people to turn to alternative methods of communication and engagement, such as video games, speakers noted during a Thursday event, organized by video games industry associations.

At the event, panelists discussed the role of video games on health and well-being, and the potential for video games to be used as a positive force in the field of mental health. The event was hosted by the Interactive Software Federation of Europe, in collaboration with the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), and other video game associations.  

People found solace in video games during the COVID-19 pandemic, as players used the medium to share and keep in touch with peers while playing together, said panelist Andrew Przybylski, director of research at Oxford Internet Institute, who led a recent study that exampled the impacts of video game playing on well-being during the pandemic.

Other recent research has found that video games can be used to reinforced connections between parents and children, when they play together during pabdemic lockdowns. 

“Video games proved their relevance with its audience, facilitating a medium to connect and share experiences,” said Eduardo Mena, Research Director at the UK-based Ipsos Mori, another one of the panelists who appeared at the event.

But while video games have become a dominant source of entertainment for children and adults alike, the industry itself continues to be misunderstood. Media continues to rely on old research,  stereotypes, and broad generalizations to report on this hobby, resulting in the misinformed engaging with video games in a “uniform, monolithic way,” said Gene Park of The Washington Post, moderating the event.

“[Video games] remains woefully understudied as an industry,” said Park.

Pandemic Interrupted “Circadian Rhythm of Play” 

Andrew Przybylski, Director of Research, Oxford Internet Institute

The pandemic interrupted the “circadian rhythm of play”, leading people to play video games more on a daily basis, especially online multiplayer ones, when national lockdowns first began in the UK in 2020 when compared to 2019. 

A study, conducted by the Oxford Internet Institute, examined the top 500 games on Steam, a video game distribution service, and compared daily play data for 2019 and 2020, to determine whether the COVID-19 pandemic was related to an uptick or change in behavior for players worldwide. 

Typically, video games engagement is subjected to what Przybylski called the “circadian rhythm of play”, with people normally playing during weekends, or on days of rest. However, the pandemic interrupted this circadian rhythm, prompting a “weekend effect” that led to increased gameplay. 

“The pandemic erased the weekends, leading people to play more year-round,” said Przybylski.

While the heightened video game engagement led to concerns of possible addiction, the study also found that when lockdowns eased, the engagement also waned again, although some aspects of the ”weekend effect” persisted, when people continued to work from home.    

Video Games May Contribute to Well-Being, Says Ground Breaking New Study

A previous study, also conducted by the Oxford Internet Institute, examined industry data on actual play time for two popular video games, Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville and Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

This groundbreaking study suggests that experiences of competence and social connection with others through play may contribute to people’s well-being. 

The experiences during play could even be more important than the actual amount of time a player invests in games and could play a major role in the well-being of players. 

Przybylski sees these studies as an opportunity for the video game industry to go further in understanding the connection between video games and behavior and health, as opposed to jumping to “fast, cheap narratives that miss the big picture.” 

“We need to take care not to forget the basics behind human behavior and how we understand health, in light of the digital world, in light of video games.”

He emphasizes that going forward, industries and researchers alike should collect data that “acts as a rising tide for all ships.” 

“If you want to understand how human collaboration plays into specific types of narratives, feeds into the human story and into mental health….it means you have to dig a bit deeper. Players themselves need to be part of that process.” 

Supportive Role of Video Games During the Pandemic 

Around 30% of players appreciated the supportive role of video games during pandemic restrictions, the number increasing with those who played multiplayer online games.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated video game engagement, with players appreciating the supportive role of video games during pandemic restrictions, another new study found.

This study, conducted by Ipsos Mori, examined the impact of the pandemic on people who play video games. 

Around 30% of surveyed players said that playing video games helped their mood and allowed them to feel less isolated as they stayed in contact with friends and family, this number increasing to almost 50% with multiplayer online games. 

One in four players also improved their perception about the link between video games and mental health. 

There was also an increase in parents who played video games. Parents who played video games with their children found the experiences helpful in connecting with their children and in facilitating their learning. 

Normalizing Mental Health Discussions Through Video Games 

Cornelia Geppert, CEO of Jo-Mei Games. Jo-Mei Games is a German game developer of Sea of Solitude.

The video game Sea of Solitude allowed players to normalize mental health conversations through an active form of storytelling, leading many fans to say that the game “changed their life for the better,” said game developer Cornelia Geppert, CEO of Jo-Mei Games.

Many have written to Geppert, saying that they now “hope to have a better future for themselves, for the first time in decades. They now want to seek therapy and feel hopefully [in overcoming] their own issues.” 

The game tells an intimate story of a young woman’s emotional journey to overcome loneliness. 

Several different manifestations of loneliness are depicted throughout the game – from bullying, family, relationships and mental health issues. The main character, Kaye, turns into a monster as she suffers from strong feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. 

Players experience what she and the other characters are going through as they help her turn back into a human, with the key message of the game not only to chase joy and happiness, “but to embrace all your angles, to bring all your emotions into balance,” said Geppert.

“[Sea of Solitude] shows that sometimes it is most important to focus on your own well-being first.” 

Image Credits: MaxPixel, ISFE, ISFE .

Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.