COVID-19 & Gaming: A Gateway To Psychological Troubles?

COVID-19 & Gaming: A Gateway To Psychological Troubles?

Coronavirus pandemic or Covid-19 has created a crisis across the globe. The danger to public health has led the government to ensure a complete lockdown across countries, forcing people to stay indoors. The lockdown also made the brick and mortar businesses and a large part of the e-commerce to pull down the shutters. But certain companies which have a complete online presence are using the opportunity to increase the reach of their products. One such case is of the online game stores. They realized lockdown as a golden opportunity to make attractive offers on their products. Certain online stores are selling famous and relatively heavy on pocket games (costing around 60$) completely free of cost in anticipation of huge sales and market capture. The popularity of these games is so high that the stores’ websites crash due to overwhelming downloads. Such sales and freebies are a ‘competitive strategy’ move to capture the market, in the cut-throat competition of this multibillion-dollar gaming industry. But it could have a downside for the customers, especially in these vulnerable times. The dark side to the free and cheap availability of the games is the risk of falling prey to online gaming addiction.

A lockdown situation is an unanticipated event in the lives of humans, and being at home for months creates a void of the unfulfilled need of social connectedness and super boredom. Apart from taking up hobbies such as cooking, painting, or making mandala art, video games are also a ‘go-to’. The average age of individuals engaging in games is around 25 years, and gaming is not associated with only kids anymore. They promise individuals a fun experience along with meeting some of the personal desires of connecting with others. Games today have reached new hallmarks of detailing in designing and visualization creating a worthy experience. Certain games such as ‘massively multiplayer online role-playing games’(MMORPGs) and ‘Sandbox role-playing games’ (SRPGs), allow players to create their e-alter egos online and live alternate lives, and given the online nature, they also allow interactions including chats with people across the world on the platform. It helps in exploring a lot in these games because of the detailed experience, that one could spend hours and even days at a stretch exploring them. Game developers conduct extensive research, even make visits to the actual landmarks and cities to create a game world which seems closest to reality. Many of the games also have an engaging storyline and plot that could make the players stick to their computer screens for long hours. But, all these fascinating features of the games also bring with them certain social and psychological issues. These issues are largely overlooked for two reasons, one is of the lack of awareness leading to psychological side effects and also research on gaming and its effects are at its nascent stage.

There is the whole line of research on gaming addiction, its causes and effects, and it has been seen as a compelling issue by researchers in mental health, psychology and other related disciplines. How does lockdown aid in increasing gaming addiction? Studies have suggested that social isolation, need for virtual friendship, stress, fear, and the lack of entertainment are few of the many reasons that cause gaming addiction, and the current lockdown situation could be a perfect ingredient for all these. Individuals are in coerced social isolation since months (many are stuck alone, away from family), apart from the social media there is very less possibility to connect with people in the outside world, the crisis situation coupled with the exaggerated news from certain media channels which has fuelled fear and paranoia in the masses about the whole issue. With a good internet connection at disposal, gaming seems a feasible and uniquely immersive choice of entertainment. All these conditions could facilitate a dangerous affinity towards games. Ramifications of gaming addiction are serious and long term including several comorbidities. Lockdown could have multiple psychological effects.
Gaming addiction is not a new issue when it comes to India. Last year, Gujarat government directed all the schools in the state to ban a very popular game belonging to the ‘Battle Royale’ genre of games, which could be played on mobiles phones as well as PC and is available free of cost. The fear was that students might get addicted to the game, which would hurt their academic performance, and also increase instances of cyberbullying. Currently, with no outdoor activities to go for, and lack of attention from parents, children, and even adults could fall for gaming as a choice to spend time at home, and addiction might come in the picture even before they know it. Gaming in itself is a fun activity, without bounds of age, but certain situations, such as the lockdown could take an individual to a completely different trajectory, leading to compulsive behaviour or addiction. It is important for us to not carry the baggage of the current crisis into a post-pandemic world, and thus be aware of what negative influences any such activities could have over us and thereby limit our exposure to them.

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