Isolation gaming: addictive or therapeutic?

With restrictions and social isolation continuing, people have turned to a different way to remain social through video games.

Online games have become a means for people to continue to socialise with friends while also escaping the sometimes bleak reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, with some even saying it can be therapeutic at times.

With its sense of escapism, Animal Crossing has become popular during the pandemic.
Source: Bryant Almonte.

Christian Mendoza, administrator of the Perth Gaymers Facebook group, says socialising through both video games and the video game community program Discord has genuine benefits.

“It is emotionally relieving to be able to talk to each other and hearing each other’s voices, especially after two months of isolation,” he says.

Mr Mendoza also says video games, like Animal Crossing, give a sense of escapism and allows the player to not feel alone or lonely, while party games, such as the Jackbox Games, allows people to play with others online, while at home or in isolation.

Psychologist Shantelle Botha says online video games, along with social media, have allowed people to remain connected socially in a time when people are disconnected physically.

“It can be beneficial short-term as a tool of escape and boost your mood and keep socially connected with others,” she says.

People answer why video games are important to them during the COVID-19 isolation period.
Video: Daniel Hocking.

Curtin University Associate Professor in Internet Studies Tama Leaver says video games have always been a means of being social with friends and other players.

“[Online video games] have never just been about the game themselves, they have also been about social experiences,” he says.

“It’s not a huge shock to think that people are going to be doubling down on that with the social side [of video games] being more important than the game side, for people at the moment, because it is.”

However, in turn, due to isolation and players’ reliance on video games to escape reality and avoid boredom, there have been concerns about gaming addiction cases increasing and the therapeutic benefits becoming more of an addiction.

Energetics Institute representative Richard Boyd says people are more likely to develop a gaming addiction during the pandemic period.

“People are bored, people have time on their hands and this technology is ubiquitous.”

He says the accessibility to electronic devices and video games, along with the compelling experiences video games can give, can also be a factor to why people could be more likely to get addicted now.

Ms Botha also says there is a higher chance of developing a gaming addiction during isolation with psychological distress, such as the pandemic, being a key factor for the development of an addiction.

“Keeping entertained and avoiding boredom are two key motivators for people playing online games, along with escaping reality.”

She says long-term reliance can lead to both negative psychological and physical effects and, along with Mr Boyd, says boundaries and balance between gaming and other activities are needed to avoid becoming addicted.

“Make sure to spend time on other things too, such as interacting with family at home and making sure you take time off from playing video games,” she says.