Online games provide needed pandemic relief


There’s no doubt whatsoever that the COVID-19 pandemic left a very profound impact on individuals, businesses and industries—and gaming wasn’t left out. However, there has been lots of positive effects from the pandemic on the gaming industry.

With social distancing and lockdown measures implemented in many parts of the world, the number of gamers has grown as more people find ways to keep themselves occupied. Online gaming has risen during the pandemic, reaching both seasonal gamers—those who only play online games occasionally—and those who had previously shown no interest in it.

According to a new survey conducted by American business research firm NPD, four out of five respondents in the U.S. had played at least one video game in the last six months. This is coming at a time where many industries are suffering major setbacks, but with gaming, sales is still booming as global revenue is expected to grow by 20%, reaching $175 billion.

While the pandemic brought a lot of mental health strain, for a long time now, gamers have always had a tool that’s now providing much-needed relief to those who never subscribed to the idea of online gaming. The massive surge of online gaming due to the COVID-19 crisis has definitely shown that many people have now found a new way to get that connection they’ve been craving during isolation.

Once complete lockdown measures were put in place, millions of people all over the world turned to technology to fuel their distractions and stay connected with family and friends. Although the concept of socializing during online games is new to many, since the rise of social media, gamers—especially Gen Z—have been using technology to build friendships and grow a community of enthusiastic gamers.

Today, various free online gaming platforms are now becoming widely popular, offering a variety of games in different categories such as sports, arcade, action, simulation and many more, providing a means to not only compete with other gamers but forge genuine friendships. 

Mark Griffiths—a professor at Nottingham Trent University—who has been studying socialisation in online games for years, showed in a study how most gamers were more intrigued by the idea of forming a connection with other players more than anything else. He surveyed 912 players of a multi-player role-playing online game from 45 different countries who averaged approximately 22 hours of gaming time weekly. Griffiths concluded that based on the amount of time these players dedicated to gaming, it was clear that online gaming is a “highly socially interactive” environment.

“Ten per cent of those in the survey actually ended up forming romantic relationships outside of the game… The idea of socialising in a game is not new at all,” added Griffiths.

When the lockdown started and people had more free time on their hands, they began to explore a lot of things and discovered that gaming was not only an entertaining way to pass time but an avenue to equally socialise.

For example, Nintendo’s record-breaking game, Animal Crossing was the hallmark of social interaction for gamers during the lockdown. The game allowed players to interact in such a way that it was easy to build friendships with strangers and connect with friends. In fact, some players held birthday parties, went on dates and even got married in the game. Some sites hosted online trivia nights and virtual meetups for Animal Crossing players.

According to Daniel Luu, founder of Nookazon, an online marketplace for Animal Crossing players, said the COVID-19 pandemic exposed a lot of people—especially non-gamers—to the interactive part of games and how it can connect people.

An avid gamer himself and based in Washington, DC, Luu says one of the most popular top sellers on his platform is a 50-year-old woman who before the pandemic, had never played online games in her life.

“I think the reason Animal Crossing has become so successful is because anyone can play it. There are tons of cute items, tons of fun characters, tons of customisations,” he said in a BBC report. “It really helped show that video games aren’t just all, like, Call of Duty.”

The pandemic continues to rage on in many countries around the world and millions of people still struggle to deal with the effects of social isolation, but gaming continues to be the unusual lifeline. In fact, these new players may continue gaming even after lockdown and social distancing measures have been eased.

In a survey conducted by Google, it revealed that 40% of new gamers said they would most likely keep playing games even after the coronavirus pandemic. While the social part of gaming has always been in existence for years, the pandemic has now brought it into the limelight.