The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic brought the entire world to a standstill. With businesses closed, lockdowns imposed, and distances growing ever more, the dearth of social interaction and economic activity has dealt a severe blow to all sectors of our communal enterprise.
However, as always, even in the most turbulent of times, humanity persisted by resorting to virtual means such as gaming to bridge the aforementioned, ever-prevalent social divide.
The Significance of Gaming Within the Pandemic
As soon as the pandemic hit, there was a 39% global increase in the time spent playing games. Since most of the population was confined to their homes, it was quite natural for individuals to resort to some sort of activity to pass their time.
Because of the all-encompassing and captivating essence of gaming, it is a natural and effortless avenue for leisure. Yet, beyond its function as a mere pastime, gaming also fulfills a supplementary role as a conduit for social engagement.
And, for most, gaming was the only outlet for these individuals to interact with their friends or have social engagement whatsoever. To that extent, multiplayer games have gained the most headway during the duration of the pandemic.
Primarily, this is because these games acted as their own integrated universes wherein players felt like they were part of a community, a nostalgic memory for most who were confined in their houses for months on end.
Consequently, over 41% of EU gamers agree that playing multiplayer games during COVID-19 has helped them throughout the lockdowns. Moreover, gaming acted as a more inclusive activity compared to other avenues such as TikTok dances, Zoom workouts, classes in Teams, etc.
So, individuals from all walks of life are able to indulge in various genres that suit their particular interests. For instance, during the pandemic, Chess saw a major rise in popularity on the popular streaming platform, Twitch. On the other hand, primarily single-player games were also brought back into the limelight. As an example, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was Nintendo’s top-selling game for FY 2021, a testament to how every genre gained popularity during the pandemic.
Video Game Addiction: A Harmful Side-Effect
While games acted as an effective outlet for a large majority of the population, many couldn’t assimilate back into their lives after the lockdowns were lifted. Particularly, children were the most susceptible to the effects of addiction during the pandemic.
However, blaming children or their parents for that matter in circumstances like these doesn’t address the root cause of the concern. Primarily, children who played video games used it as a means of escapism and to counter-act feelings of isolation. Their feeling of autonomy and competence in games starkly contrasted with how they felt in real life, locked up in their houses.
As such, over time, it was natural for these children to develop a tendency to prefer playing video games over trivial day-to-day activities. The same premise applies to adults too. While many delved back into the realm of normalcy after lockdowns were lifted, some required external aid to function normally.
A Change in the Landscape
With the advent of the pandemic, the landscapes of entire businesses were changed in an instant. Many had to improvise, adapt and develop new ways of transitioning into a primarily online space.
In these turbulent times, the online world acted as a medium where enterprises could function with some semblance of normalcy, and relevant infrastructure was already available in lieu of gaming, requiring high-speed internet, a relatively beefy computer, and some technical knowledge.
Ultimately, the pandemic brought gaming to the mainstream. Individuals who may not have shown interest in gaming were seen to have picked a controller up for the first time in their lives. In fact, gaming acted as a great social bonding activity within households as well, thanks to Co-Op / Split-screen games.
We also see the incredible growth of eSports during the pandemic as well with the popular streaming platform, Twitch seeing a 70% increase in viewership in 2020. Moreover, almost every major gaming tournament set all-time records for concurrent viewers throughout the pandemic.
With lockdowns lifted, these companies are still reporting higher engagement levels than pre-pandemic levels. In essence, COVID-19 ushered in a new audience to the realm of gaming, one that would not have tried their hands at it if it weren’t for the lockdown and social isolation that followed.
The Rise of Gaming: Is COVID-19 the Reason?
To answer briefly, no, COVID-19 isn’t the only reason we saw a drastic rise in gaming in the past few years. While it did play a major role in bringing gaming to the spotlight, the sector was also booming before the pandemic. For example, video game revenue peaked at $43.8 billion in 2018, a year before the pandemic.
So, the presumption that COVID-19 is the sole reason why gaming increased in popularity is inherently wrong. However, the pandemic did help expedite the process where many individuals who might have ended experienced games a few years later did so in the comfort of their homes.
Ultimately, the sheer number of newcomers to the gaming market amidst the pandemic, coupled with old-timers logging back in to pass their time, led to unprecedented growth in the entire sector.
The pandemic brought about social isolation, leading to crippling mental health issues. However, gaming helped many connect with communities worldwide. Through technology, virtual connections became lifelines, offering an escape from reality.
Gaming inherently provided joy and laughter, but also a reminder of our inability to connect physically. As we emerge from the pandemic, we must remember the importance of human connection, both physical and virtual. Gaming indeed was not just entertainment, but a beacon of hope in a world filled with despair, allowing us to connect, laugh, love, and heal.