Staying Social in the Era of Social Distancing

As people strive to stay social during a time of physical distancing, online gaming is seeing a boom in users. With a user base growing each day, and people looking to not only kill time, but remain social, what better way is there to stay in touch with friends and family during a period of isolation than video games?

We’ve already seen people leveraging technology solutions such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom as we learn to adjust to a work-from-home environment. Yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the most prominent people connectors in the age of social distancing has nothing to do with productivity at all: online video games.

Thanks to online services such as Xbox Live, PlayStation Plus, Nintendo Switch Online, Steam, to name a few, we are now connected to millions of games but also millions of people. During this pandemic, the closure of movie theaters, the stoppage of professional sports and the general state of quarantine means that leisure and socialization is limited to what is found at home and online.

Numerous studies suggest that playing video games relieves stress. A 2016 study shows that whether a video game was collaborative or competitive, players’ stress levels declined over time during gameplay. Another study found that video game players reported turning toward games after stress, and that they were able to recover from stress as a result of play.

Fostering Connection During Social Distancing

The Oculus Virtual Reality devices for example have a free feature that allows people to connect around the world in a virtual movie theater. Brothers in New York and Colorado can watch a movie with their father in Florida, chatting and commenting during the show. Multiplayer games are available as well, but all parties must have an Oculus device and the same game to play together.

Most video game systems have multiplayer games available. These are a great way to connect with other people while keeping a safe distance. Even better is using headsets to talk in real time with other players. It is an opportunity to defeat the enemy or solve a puzzle with friends but can be a way to meet new people from all over the world. Chatting with others, making friends and building long-term relationships are some the social activities that happen in online gaming.

But online gaming is not without its issues: homophobia, racism and sexism are prevalent challenges. Some online gaming communities have developed a toxic behaviour: one which includes cyber-bullying and general game disruption. This is why it’s important for youngsters to be monitored on their gaming habits.

While not being physically together in a room, video games are allowing individuals to be heard and bond together during these stressful times. Since its invention, the internet has connected people in a revolutionary way. Now more than ever, its helping people join together and destress during a time of mass uncertainty. While it might not be the same as playing games together on the couch, it is a viable alternative in the unprecedented times we live in today.