A video game moment: Why online play is booming
If you have been playing video games for hours lately, you are not alone, said Matthew Ball in The Economist. Verizon reported a 75 percent jump in video-game internet traffic during the first week of coronavirus-related social isolating, compared with a modest 12 percent increase in video streaming. And such bounces in business, which came before the World Health Organization began promoting the #PlayApartTogether campaign, “have helped highlight the growing but underappreciated cultural role of video-gaming entertainment.” Even before the crisis, more than 67 percent of Americans played video games, and consumers worldwide were pouring $120 billion into gaming each year—roughly three times what they spend at the box office and four times what they spend on recorded music. The steady growth of the industry has been fueled meanwhile not by single-player games but by the social aspects of gaming. In that sense, said Anthony Palumbi in The Washington Post, we gamers “have a lot to teach the rest of the country about how to survive the current pandemic.”
My advice is not to rule out solo play, said Peter Suderman in The New York Times: If you’re home alone, perhaps out of work and anxious, play any video games you like “and don’t feel bad about it.” Sure, there are more productive ways to spend free time when homebound. “But games are more than just empty time-wasters. In periods of pain, boredom, or personal emptiness, video games can serve as palliative care for both the body and the mind.” They provide puzzles to solve, places to explore, simulated forms of work to be done, and a corresponding sense of reward when the work is done.
Gaming’s bonding power might be its greatest asset right now, said Todd Martens in the Los Angeles Times. For many Americans, gaming is “already a powerful way to connect,” which is why Fortnite is “as much a social media platform for friends” as it is a competitive battle game. But the game that this month has “taken a homebound nation by storm,” said Ani Bundel in NBCNews.com, offers the perfect combination of camaraderie and escape. In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a Nintendo Switch release, each player lives on an island inhabited by cute animals, and friends can orchestrate trips to visit one another and help build each refuge into an even more pleasant place. Collaboration is the game’s secret sauce, and in this time of social distancing, “it turns out that a trip to a calming island, where there are no demands on your time other than building a few houses and planting some trees in a virtual paradise, is exactly what many of us need.” ■