Online gaming has been on the receiving end of a great amount of criticism in the past few years. Right from the possibility of getting bullied online, identity theft, credit card fraud, to a diversion of focus, online gaming has always traveled on a rocky road. Even social interactions among kids have dipped due to online gaming.
However, come 2020, the pandemic has changed this narrative in many ways. The online gamers diaspora has a range of different personalities. Whether you play online games while commuting or with your friends over a beer, online gaming has taken different forms. Even a lot of parents have shown considerable interest in online gaming.
But the main question is that whether online gaming has emerged as a social lifeline. While there was already a sizeable gaming community even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the event has given online gaming an impetus.
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How has the arrival of COVID-19 influenced the online gaming community?
A lot of avid gamers spend great amounts of time tied to their screens. Contrary to popular belief, online gamers are not isolated entirely. In fact, they are far from it. With the rise of social media, online gamers, especially the Gen Z crowd have mastered the art of creating a vibrant and dynamic online gaming community. These gamers do not just compete with strangers on the internet, but also build enthralling friendships. This is why many online gamers are of the opinion that online gaming has become a social lifeline for them.
For the past few months, long social distancing and lockdown stints have had a negative impact on people’s mental health. Online gaming has emerged as an effective tool that has enabled gamers to overcome their issues associated with mental health. While a lot of industries suffered during the pandemic, the gaming sector witnessed noteworthy growth.
The increasing adoption of gaming is a testament to the fact that it has emerged as a social lifeline during the pandemic. While humanity was confined, gaming was a saving grace for a lot of people.
The gaming industry in 2021
Regardless of how you want to look at it, the gaming industry has grown from strength to strength in the past decade. As mentioned earlier, the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly played its part in fueling the growth of this industry. In fact, due to the remarkable surge in interest, the global revenue generated by the gaming industry is likely to break records in 2021.
According to multiple experts, the gaming industry is likely to grow by an impressive 23% in 2021 . Even game developers have acknowledged that multiplayer gaming has picked up momentum in recent months.
Among Us, a game that revolves around finding a traitor in a space crew was streamed by US congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez in October 2020. Her stream amassed a whopping 400,000 concurrent viewers and went on to become one of the watched streams in Twitch’s history .
When we talk about Nintendo Switch, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is one of the most popular games in 2021. Nintendo’s profits have increased threefold since the launch – for a game that was not tipped to do so well in the market, it has surpassed all expectations.
Will engagement with games continue beyond the pandemic?
This impressive growth of the gaming industry is expected to continue even when the pandemic is over. A lot of critics of the online gaming industry are gradually recognizing the true value of video games. Today, video games are not meant only for entertainment, but also offer a social lifeline.
Although a lot of people will also find new ways to spend time away from games, online gaming will have a place in the social space. Online gaming is vogue particularly among the younger generation (Gen-Z) around the world.
Apart from playing video games online, even watching video games has become mainstream in some parts of the world. The esports live streaming audience is expected to cross the 474 million mark by the end of 2021 .
Gaming has evolved and gone past just playing games, owning expensive peripherals, and viewing live streams. A lot of gaming aficionados watch their favorites play games on platforms such as YouTube and Twitch. Besides, they are also staying on top of all the recent developments in the gaming world via podcasts, videos, news articles, and more.
Innovative channels such as Discord, ResetEra, and Reddit encourage gamers to contribute to discussions on various topics related to gaming. A lot of gamers are also having these discussions with their peers, friends, and family. This developing ecosystem is a clear indication of how gaming has become an integral part of the social life of millennials.
Looking at the unique ways gamers are engaging, even publishers and brands are reaching out to them in different ways.
Are online games a short-term substitute for real-life play?
By now, we can agree that online gaming is not as bad as it sounds. It has its own share of benefits. Some games also emulate real-life play. Communication and extracurricular activities are as important as academics. Gaming offers a perfect space to unwind and relax.
Studies show that online gaming facilitates self-regulation, memory, identifying shapes, and oral language. Online gaming promotes social development. There is little doubt that online gaming cannot replace traditional sports. However, there are some aspects associated with gaming that provide the same benefits.
Having said that, there is no real substitute for physical exercise and sweating it out in the gym. Although online gaming stimulates areas of the brain similar to physical activity, they cannot be long-term substitutes for each other.
Online gaming is a boon for some and a bane for others. It is all about finding the balance between real and virtual life. The arrival of the pandemic compelled the human race to stay indoors for a major part of 2020 – fueling the growth of online gaming. Online gaming has offered a helping hand to people who were looking to interact with other human beings during the pandemic. In addition, it has also contributed to the overall well-being of millions of people around the world, particularly the millennials.
While there are downsides to online gaming, the pros outweigh the cons. As online gaming continues to gain mainstream popularity, it is safe to say that it has emerged as a social lifeline especially during the ongoing pandemic.
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 Wijman. T (2021) “Global Games Market to Generate $175.8 Billion in 2021; Despite a Slight Decline, the Market Is on Track to Surpass $200 Billion in 2023” Newzoo [online] Available from: https://newzoo.com/insights/articles/global-games-market-to-generate-175-8-billion-in-2021-despite-a-slight-decline-the-market-is-on-track-to-surpass-200-billion-in-2023/ [accessed October 2021]
 Forde. M (2021) “Among Us has generated $86 million on mobile in nearly three years” PocketGamer [online] Available from: https://www.pocketgamer.biz/news/76710/among-us-has-generated-86-million-on-mobile-in-nearly-three-years/ [accessed October 2021]
 Takahashi. D (2021) “Newzoo: Engagement with social games will continue beyond a pandemic” VentureBeat [online] Available from: https://venturebeat.com/2021/06/03/newzoo-engagement-with-social-games-will-continue-beyond-pandemic/ [accessed October 2021]