Due to the lasting impact of the pandemic, we’re starting to spend more time at home now. Our options for leisure and social activity have significantly been limited, even as we have to grapple with an uncertain world.
Video games offer not only an escape from the stress of reality but an alternative form of social interaction. But there’s a difference between the casual gamer who takes their device to a computer technician to have it fixed and the hardcore player who invests in a powerful rig.
How much can you indulge your gaming hobby? And do the potential social benefits in today’s world justify the time and gear costs?
What research says
Although video games have been around for a few decades now, the gaming experience has changed over the years. Technology has come a long way since the days of arcade games and the first bulky household computers.
Dedicated portable consoles, and mainstream devices like laptops, tablets, and smartphones, allow us to play games on the go. And as we’re connected all the time, the best games have evolved to become a truly social experience.
As of 2019, over 1 million video game titles had been released across different platforms. There have been many attempts to study the effects of video games on players. But due to the breadth of genres and playing styles, as well as differences in player profiles and the ever-evolving nature of the industry, it’s hard to be conclusive.
Thus far, a survey of various studies in this field finds that video games do have a significant effect on player behavior. But your mileage can depend on several other factors.
Online behavior shifts
Perhaps a better general indicator of how gaming can shape your behavior is the nature of online communication in general. While video games are more widely played than ever, they still don’t have the reach or pervasiveness of social media and other messaging apps.
It’s easier to observe how that sort of exposure can influence our interactions. It can carry over to video games because they rely on the same basic technology to enable player communication.
People behave differently over the Internet because there is little or no visibility. Even on a video call, you can’t tell if the other person has multiple apps running on their screen. Nonverbal cues go missing due to glitches in connection and the limited frame of a webcam.
The overall effect is termed ‘disinhibition.’ Over the Internet, we can open up to others, even strangers, more than we would in person. On the flip side, we can also feel free to unleash unsavory behavior on others because there are few consequences, if any, in real life.
Thus, even though formal research is still lacking in this area, a predictable pattern seems to emerge. Video games put you in an environment far removed from reality. Like social media and other online communications, they allow you to replace in-person socializing with a more disinhibited form.
In a toxic setting, you can expect player behavior to turn nasty. This element could come from the game itself or the players involved. People are more likely to feel like they can get away with malicious behavior if they are playing with strangers. Ground your gaming among people you know in real life, and you’re more likely to reinforce positive behavior.
Finally, cooperative gameplay has also been demonstrated to offset the aggressive behavioral influences found in violent video games. Players who cooperated with teammates were significantly more likely to reciprocate the behavior, even towards those on the opposing team.
Finding the right balance
This picture is quite heartening for most gamers. The hobby has long struggled with the perception that it’s an idle waste of time, possibly with a negative impact on our social skills.
With the right choice of gaming partners, platforms, and titles, you can use your leisure time to enjoy your favorite hobby. And in the process, you can take an intentional approach towards communication in the virtual realm, thereby getting better at socializing online.
How far should you take this approach, though? When you consider that team sports are well-known to improve social skills and confidence among youth, could e-sports offer the same benefits?
The short answer is, it depends. E-sports engage players, fostering collaboration and strategic thinking. But they also require dedicated and coordinated training. And you might need some serious hardware upgrades if you don’t want to be a liability to your team.
In the right environment, you can reap further rewards from competitive gaming. But even if you limit your activity to recreational purposes, gaming can still be an excellent new way to bond with friends, family, and co-workers in this age of distancing.