When Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in March last year that Covid-19 was forcing us into our first national lockdown, it seemed certain that Covid was here to stay.
The pandemic has caused a lot of mental health issues to rise to the surface, such as depression and loneliness. On top of this, millions of people across the country have lost jobs or had to be furloughed as businesses struggled to survive the pandemic.
Therefore, people across the country retreated into their homes to ride out the storm, and it is in this environment that many gamers have thrived.
Now, a new research paper has looked more deeply at the effect that video games could have on people as we continue through the pandemic.
Data from the paper, ‘Playing Video Games During the Covid-19 Pandemic and Effects on Players’ Well-Being’, revealed that, since lockdown began, 71% of respondents said they had increased gaming time over lockdowns, while 58% said that playing games has impacted their well-being, with most responses indicating a positive impact.
Co-author of the paper, Matthew Barr, believes that research such as this is vital as we emerge from countrywide lockdowns. This research could help to remove stigmas around video games and potentially use them as a tool for mental health problems in the future.
“Our research shows that playing video games has had a positive effect on players’ well-being during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Barr told DIGIT.
“Games have provided an enjoyable way of staying in touch with friends and family, helped relieve stress, kept players’ minds active, and offered some escape from the effects of lockdown.”
However, Barr notes, despite the fact that his findings are supported by other research from the field, he says that public perception of video games “hasn’t entirely caught” up with the evidence.
“If video games can have such positive effects on player well-being during a global pandemic, perhaps more should be done to raise awareness of this potential. It may not be entirely unreasonable to suggest, for example, that video games be included in official guidance on coping with the effects of similar lockdown situations.”
Video games have long had the potential to be more than just a pastime for computer game fans. Gaming has already shown to help support soldiers who return to war with PTSD symptoms, whilst a survey in August 2020 carried out by the National Literacy Trust found the games can have a positive impact on the overall health and wellbeing of children.
“This kind of research has the potential to bring some balance to the public discourse around video games, which has generally focussed on their alleged ill-effects,” Barr continued.
“Stories about their potential positive impact can help dispel some of the myths about video games: that they’re antisocial, or a waste of time, and so on. It’s important that we do so: if games can offer benefits in terms of mental health and well-being, then continuing to portray games as harmful is only going to limit access to these benefits.”
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But video games have also me the subject of negative press in recent years. Despite evidence of their positive effects, the media still continued to vilify the industry due to isolated incidents of violence.
Additionally, results from a 2019 research paper titled ‘The Association Between Video Gaming and Psychological Functioning’ revealed a “medium-sized negative correlation” between problematic video gaming and psychological functioning “with regard to psychological symptoms, affectivity, coping, and self-esteem”.
So, does this mean that video games are likely to remain just a hobby? Barr hopes that his research will help to change that: “I think it can help reposition them as something more than just a hobby.
“I’ve already heard about video games being prescribed to patients with conditions such as ADHD, for example. But that could be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to leveraging games’ therapeutic potential.”