The Benefits of Video Games During Lockdown

In unprecedented times, the benefits of video games are clear.

A promotional image of Animal Crossing. The most publicised gaming success story of the lockdown so far

Troubling Times

There’s no doubt about it, these are troubling times. Without going into too much detail about events we are all too aware of, recent lockdowns and social distancing measures introduced across the world are having an immeasurable impact on society as we know it. The combination of self isolating, limited outdoor access and the inability to visit family and friends is having a serious affect on people’s mental health and well-being.

In times like these it is essential to keep the mind occupied and engaged. And to remain connected with others as much as possible. Although anybody can get lost in a good book, film or TV show, they are passive activities, and it is easy for the mind to wander back to less desirable subjects. The likes of Netflix and Prime Video are brilliant and wholly worthwhile in their own right of course. But one of the main benefits of video games is that they are interactive by their very nature, demanding a level of participation beyond that of a TV show or film.

An image of the full cover of UK gaming magazine Edge Issue 345 dubbed "the feel better issue". It shows a hand-drawn apartment block from the outside with each window/room showing an image representing a different game.

This month’s issue of long-running UK gaming magazine Edge is just utterly lovely. It was produced during lockdown, and devoted entirely to games that can make you feel better.

Online Gaming and Fitness

The old stereotype that gaming is a solitary endeavour is truly a thing of the past. And the continued rise of online gaming has become a great way to interact with family, friends and strangers alike. The phenomenal success of games such as Fortnite and Minecraft prove players of all ages can keep in touch with loved ones from afar. Fortnite’s Travis Scott Event, for example, was held on April 23rd 2020 and featured the US rapper performing in-game. It attracted 12.3 million concurrent players. What other medium can achieve a sense of involvement in such a huge and shared event on anything like that kind of scale?

Then we have fitness games; the most famous of which was arguably Nintendo’s Wii Fit way back in 2008. The recent surge in popularity of virtual reality headsets such as PSVR and the Oculus Quest (reviewed here) has seen a true resurgence in the genre. VR can take fitness to another level, and the Polygon article Sitting all day ruined my health. VR saved me, detailing writer Shawn Kittelsen’s use of VR to combat his own weight gain is testament to its effectiveness.

The World Health Organisation, who recently (and rather controversially) recognised “Gaming Disorder” as an official illness, have put their full backing behind the industry’s #PlayApartTogether initiative. The UK games industry has gone a step further, it’s ‘Games for Carers’ programme created specifically to offer free games to NHS staff.

Filling the Void

Many people previously uninterested in gaming may currently be contemplating dipping their toe in the water. And there’s a sea of titles out there ready and waiting to pull them in. Video games are varied enough to appeal to any age group and interest. Sports, role-playing, adventure, puzzle, strategy, single and multi-player – there’s a genre to suit any taste.

Nintendo’s Animal Crossing is probably the most publicised gaming success story of the lockdown so far. Enjoyed by gamers of all ages it is successful in providing not only a warm and welcoming place to visit, but also a sense of structure in its busywork and daily tasks. A sense of routine that is currently all-too-absent for many. It offers an idyllic, low-stakes game-world that is always waiting. Happy to accommodate you for anything from five minutes to five hours.

Video games are stepping in to fill the void left by other forms of entertainment currently on hold too. Sports clubs have moved quickly into the eSports space to keep fans engaged at a time when live sport is impossible. And football clubs from all tiers are participating in online tournaments streamed live over Twitch, with famous players from around the world involved.

A promotion image from Sky Sport's ePL Invitational event showing logos of the participating teams and footballers such as Man City's Raheem Sterling and Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold.

The Sky Sports YouTube channel is showing live coverage of the ePL Invitational. A FIFA tournament involving all 20 Premier League clubs contested by players and celebrity fans. Konami are hosting a similar tournament in PES 2020, with 11 clubs involved internationally.

Take Care Everybody

Of course, nobody is suggesting that video games are the solution to the world’s problems. Or that playing games all day (as with watching TV) doesn’t present problems of its own. But these are far from normal times. And any way to distract and engage those struggling to cope with the current situation should be fully explored.

So lets forget the petty squabbles over format wars – of teraflops, frame-rates and GPU speeds – and try to remember why we got into gaming in the first place. The childlike joy of getting lost in another world. The sense of accomplishment at overcoming a challenge thought impossible. The laughter shared with family and friends.

The benefits of video games are many; they have always helped people through difficult times, and they are uniquely positioned to help with this one. So start up a single-player epic; a short visual experience; a family-friendly party game or don your headset for some online multiplayer. Relax, focus, and above all else try to enjoy it. Take care everybody.

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