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Video Games Helped Surviving the Pandemic, Study Reveals

Mohsen is a video game enthusiast who happens to be a content writer. You can find him geeking out over different games when not writing.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Before the pandemic, life seemed to be too busy that having time for playing video games was a luxury. But things got a quick turn when the lockdown hit: Gaming became inevitable.

The rapid growth of the industry backs the fact that more individuals became gamers around this time.

  • Ofcom’s annual report on media usage in the UK revealed that 62% of adults played at least one video game in quarantine.
  • Sony and Microsoft released new gaming consoles during the pandemic and sold more than 29.5 million units (combined) before the end of the lockdown.
  • Bloomberg’s report showed a 23% growth in the gaming industry in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But was it all about money? Did the games only make developers richer, or did they actually help gamers?

A 2021 study by Matthew Barr and Alicia Copeland-Stewart from the University of Glasgow, UK, revealed the answer: video games normalized being stuck indoors and kept the gamers sane.

7 Ways Video Games Helped Gamers Cope with the Lockdown

Matthew and Alicia surveyed 781 gamers, asking them questions about the impact of video games on their well-being during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Almost all participants suggested that playing games have been beneficial to their mental health with few feeling guilty for wasting their time.

However, the researchers categorized the positive effects of lockdown gaming into seven psychological aspects.

#1. Time flow.

According to Matthew and Alicia, video games create the Csikszentmihalyi effect, also known as the Flow Theory. They help gamers forget the flow of time and ease possible mental pressures by challenging their skills.

A well-designed game puts you through missions that match your current XP level. So, despite the challenge, you’re guaranteed to win and achieve the goal—something you might not be able to experience during a global breakout.

Players used video games to ignore that they can’t do much about the world’s current state. Meanwhile, they continued to achieve rewards and break records in a controlled fictional environment.

#2. Mental distraction.

While avoiding reality is not a permanent solution, it is certainly a coping mechanism for many. And video games, in that sense, give you an escapism pass.

The study revealed that most of the participants see gaming as a way of ignoring the harshness of reality. One of them described the feeling as “taking time out” from everything that’s happening.

Imagination, daydreaming or immersing yourself in another world as a fictional character might be beneficial to your mental health. So, unsurprisingly, players used video games, one of the best tools to escape reality, to deal with the lockdown. It allowed them to replace an unavoidably chaotic world with desirable fictional alternatives.

Photo by Nicolás Flor on Unsplash

Photo by Nicolás Flor on Unsplash

#3. Cognitive exercise.

“Keeps my mind busy, and sharp,” said one of the study’s participants when asked, how video games affect their life.

Matthew and Alicia believe that most researches focus on the developmental benefits of games. But inadequate studies have been conducted on the cognitive stimulation offered by games.

Gamers report that playing particular titles has helped them sharpen their focus and reduce brain fog during the work-from-home era.

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The study also suggests that gaming might stimulate the brain to crave new experiences while being locked down. A participant mentioned that, “[gaming] is a way to go out and explore, when I’m stuck inside.”

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

#4. Relaxation and stress relief.

According to American Psychological Association, adults reported an average stress level of 5.6 out of 10 during the pandemic. And 47% of them struggled with anxiety in lockdown. However, Matthew and Alicia’s study claims gamers felt less stressed while keeping themselves busy with their favorite video games.

The de-stressing nature of games is closely related to their escapism and Csikszentmihalyi effects. They help your brain produce dopamine while accelerating time flow. So, you’ll eventually feel less stressed and more in charge of your life or surroundings.

#5. The illusion of authority.

You cannot find a game that plays itself. Gamers are always in charge of the gameplay—and sometimes even the story. The phenomenon is known as Player Agency or the player’s ability to influence the events of the game. And, according to the study, it has improved individuals’ mental health during the pandemic.

By default, our brains need to feel competent, autonomous, and relatable. But unexpected crises such as a global outbreak can take all that away.

However, inside a video game, you’re still the person in charge. Your actions give you the illusion of autonomy, your achievements make you feel competent, and other players create a community you can relate to.

Photo by ELLA DON on Unsplash

Photo by ELLA DON on Unsplash

#6. Regularization.

Video games helped normalize the pandemic. The structures and routines some games provide led to a sense of normality in many gamers' daily lives. As one participant of the study points out, “Being able to play them like normal with more time a day for them just lets me maintain a comfortable sense of normalcy.”

Even CDC suggested that individuals should engage in activities they enjoy to normalize the lockdown situation—and protect their mental health.

Video games were painkillers of the pandemic, allowing gamers to carry on and even become productive. One participant said, “I play at the end of the working day, it helps separate work time from non-work, a separation that used to be marked by commuting home.”

#7. Socialization.

One of the interesting findings of the recent study is the gamers’ shift toward multiplayer games. As pointed out by Matthew and Alicia, “Respondents most commonly reported an increase in multiplayer.”

While the lockdown initially separated people, online games helped gamers reunite and feel less lonely.

Players also claimed that they are less likely to play violent games during the pandemic. And games like Animal Crossing, a casual online multiplayer, saw a surge in new players.

Of course, online gaming communities have always given a sense of belonging to their members. But the pandemic forced them to bond even further and spend more time with each other while enjoying their favorite titles.

Photo by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash

Photo by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash

The Only Negative Aspect of Games During the Lockdown

You cannot say gaming is all good and fun because too much time spent on your computer or console might make you feel unproductive. The study indicated that some gamers were not totally happy that they spend most of their time playing games. Instead, they feel guilty about it.

Understandably, misconceptions like “wasting your time by playing games” is affecting the gaming community. So, despite all the positive aspects, it’s still not considered a healthy way of coping with stress or anxiety by many—even some of the gaming community members.

Is It About Time to Drop the Stigma Around Gaming?

Video games don’t cause violence. Based on the recent data, they help individuals cope with their anxiety and become less likely to exhibit any aggressive actions.

They are also one of the safest ways of socializing—especially when regulated by authorities and parents.

So, maybe it’s time to get rid of the stigmas and open our eyes to the benefits of video games.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Mohsen Baqery

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