Some people – or indeed, most people some of the time – have always struggled with feeling lonely and isolated in society. The pandemic has undoubtedly worsened this, as lockdowns and social distancing have reduced the number of opportunities for physical contact with family and friends. Even as life begins to open up again, many of us feel unsure and uncertain about re-entering social situations.
If there is a positive to lockdown, however, it may be the way that it has brought the subject of social isolation into the spotlight, as well as the way that it has forced us to learn new ways to stay connected when we can’t meet up in person. One of the most fun and widely adopted methods of bringing people together virtually was video gaming. As not everyone feels ready or able to attend physical get-togethers again, gaming communities will remain valuable social spaces for people of all backgrounds and needs.
Games are inherently social and have been used to bring people together for thousands of years. For as long as human society has existed, gaming has provided a framework for creative, enjoyable, voluntary interaction outside of work and other duties. Games have always been a way to relax, meet new people, catch up with old friends, and strengthen social bonds.
Throughout history, board games, card games, sports, tabletop role-playing games and, latterly, video games have acted as social tools as well as fun diversions. They can foster collaboration, competition, teamwork and initiative. They teach us life lessons and help build confidence and resilience. Perhaps most importantly, however, playing together is a bonding experience like few others.
Highs and lows
There’s no doubt that it is possible to get a huge amount of satisfaction from our jobs, but too often, the working day can consist of boring drudgery. We don’t get to choose our co-workers, and even if we do get on with them, we may associate them with a part of our lives that we don’t particularly want to think about outside of office hours.
Playing games is different. Here, we go through emotional highs and lows together, feeling adrenalin and endorphin flowing as we win, lose, laugh or cry. Alright, not all games are that emotional, but they are something we choose to keep coming back to. There’s certainly a buzz to getting the best casino welcome bonus or winning big on an online slot. We naturally bond with the people we share these fun, memorable moments with, and feel more connected and confident as a result.
Video games and online gaming can be safe spaces for vulnerable people. Not everyone is able to go out and meet others, even without a pandemic, for a variety of physical or mental health reasons. Those who have trouble forming close relationships, who suffer from depression or social anxiety, or are on the autism spectrum can communicate and socialise online and especially while gaming in a way that they struggle to do in other situations.
Being able to communicate without the pressure to respond immediately, and without needing to be in the same physical space, can be a lifeline to many people. Online games don’t require you to make eye contact or read body language, which can be stressful and confusing. The actual act of gaming can also bring together people with different backgrounds and beliefs, uniting them in a common interest and encouraging empathy and an appreciation of alternative perspectives.
Parents often worry that their children spend too much time alone and indoors playing video games when they could be outside with their friends. This point of view is increasingly an outdated cliché, as often that moody teenager who seems to be staring passively at a screen is, in fact, playing online with friends and communicating via in-game messages. What’s more, those in-game messages are often positive and emotional: compliments, thanks, moments of shared appreciation or humour.
Groups of friends have long got together online for regular gaming sessions, with multiplayer video games and old-fashioned role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons being popular choices. Lockdown saw many more adopt this pursuit, and plenty of online gaming meetups will continue even as regulations are relaxed.
One advantage of these online games is that they let friends and family who live a significant distance apart get together regularly. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have much to talk about – playing a game is a great ice-breaker.
From getting together in lounges, bars and cafés to online, games have long been a favourite social activity. It’s true what they say about winning or losing: it really is the taking part that counts.