Video Games and Quarantine

By: Raúl Sosa 9-III

Video games continue to evolve in their storytelling capabilities, art, and emotional complexity. The millions of people who already game know this — and now, under quarantine, the rest of us are catching up.

According to a report released on March 17 by Verizon, American video game use has increased by 75 percent since social distancing guidelines were put into effect nationally. By April 9, Verizon announced that the number jumped to 115 percent. You probably know someone who has bought a Nintendo Switch or PS4 or someone who plays the massively popular game Animal Crossing: New Horizons — a particularly peaceful game that’s having a moment — after going into self-quarantine.

Why are so many people suddenly drawn to games? A researcher, Ph.D. student, and the author of the Psychology and Video Games series who goes by PlatinumParagon tell that this sudden video game attraction phenomenon can be explained by three factors.

The first is the fact that video games are immersive and interactive experiences. The experience of playing is akin to taking a “mental vacation” from the 24/7 news cycle and the constant scroll of social media. Second is the fact that video games have historically been stereotyped as a “waste of time.” Now, we seemingly have a lot of time. This time can be spent indulging in something we’ve perhaps been made to feel guilty over.

This is the perfect time to be kind to yourself and unwind with a video game, and the evidence seems to support this, as PC gaming is experiencing a record high and retailers are struggling to meet the demand for Nintendo Switches. furthermore, video games keep us connected with our friends and loved ones. We are lucky enough to have a robust video game industry that can connect us with so many people. We can use some games to play with our younger siblings, our parents, or even our grandparents, then go to our computer and raid with our college friends in other (rather popular) video games.

Video Games are “breaking the internet” during quarantine

It is also discussed very frequently that video games are breaking the internet these days because they are using more bandwidth than anything else. This discussion was due to a post on twitter a month ago or so by a user called Dave Vescio: “Video game players are urged to play at ‘reasonable times’ to avoid putting an extra strain on internet networks during the coronavirus outbreak. Online gaming is ‘the biggest threat to internet bandwidth’ these next few weeks.”

Obviously many gamers were outraged about it. I agree with most of them. The problem with this statement is the suggestion to “play at reasonable times”. Playing at different times won’t help, and to prove it a chart was replied on this tweet very frequently

At the end of the discussion it was proven that Netflix used more monthly bandwidth than any videogame at all, and just for the sake of showing you how much Fortnite by 21.85GB total.

How games like Animal Crossing can help us get through quarantine

Animal Crossing is a game associated with anecdotal positive mental health experiences, and gamers, along with critics, have long noticed this. In her review of Animal Crossing Jen Glennon writes that the “straightforward, laid-back gameplay rhythm is also a welcome distraction in scary times.”

Animal Crossing also encourages in-game prosocial behavior, which research suggests actually boosts out-of-game prosocial behavior as well. When people help and support each other in non-violent ways, that behavior tends to extend to other relationships. It also factors in small victories and goals — a particularly helpful aspect considering present times. Perhaps the best example of this pro-social behavior in Animal Crossing was a recent wedding held within the game.

While more research is needed, mental health specialists are increasingly excited about the potential of games to help people. Studies already show that puzzle games like Tetris and Bejeweled can reduce depression, stress, and prevent traumatic flashbacks. Scientists agree that games could potentially complement other forms of therapy; studies just need to catch up to what players report anecdotally.

“The world is quite a chaotic place right now and bad news is very common, so it would be nice to return to a simpler time when it was just you and the video game,” PlatinumParagon, researcher Ph.D. student.

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