Our latest instalment on video games and mental health looks into the importance of community
In our last article, we touched upon the various reasons as to why video games are often vilified in the press, however, Dr Jo Twist OBE, CEO of Ukie – UK interactive entertainment – argues that while we cannot deny the existence of risk, gaming has many positive benefits. These range from serving as a platform that encourages growth and learning, to the way in which the interactive nature of gaming itself fosters a sense of community and togetherness.
She states, “Gaming has built communities for those who have otherwise been excluded, and those who demonise it are not only lagging behind in terms of cultural acceptance, but are struggling with real social change. Gaming is a space where social bonding is created and negotiated, and it is here to stay.”
During the 2018 Gamescom in Cologne, my impression was definitely that of collective excitement, as both groups of friends and families milled around one of the countless stands, or queuing (sometimes for more than six hours) to have a chance to play the newest releases of the gaming world. Various interviewees insisted on the inherent sociability of games like Fortnite or Call of Duty, where violence is never really the primary objective. Instead, the games are “a way to challenge yourself, to play with and against others,” explained Finn, or a way to blow off some steam, according to Jenny.
Gamers of all ages and genders find in gaming a way to de-stress and connect with others, yet each of the more seasoned gamers I spoke to stressed the importance of balance and moderation in order for it to stay a positive influence rather than become an instrument of isolation and regression.
Yannick described his lifelong experience with gaming as a developing relationship that contributed to his life in different ways, depending on his needs: “There was just something about gaming that enticed me, but I wasn’t necessarily a socially awkward kid . . . It was only after the release of Nintendo 64 and Mario Kart that it really became a social activity, with countless long afternoons among friends, laughing, crying, and eating way too many chips.”
Gaming as an activity can be an incredibly versatile way to occupy time, elastic in its exercise. Depending on what it is you seek to gain from it, you have multiple paths to follow. Jeff, for whom gaming has taken on a consistent role in his life for the past 20 years, echoes this sentiment: moving from educational games on the family PC in the 90s to strategy games such as Empires, Command and Conquer, Counter Strike 1.6, and finally critically acclaimed graphic video games like Life Is Strange, every experience is unique in terms of what is on offer.
“Counter Strike 1.6 especially was branded a 'killing game' in Germany, which completely omits the reality of actually playing it. The people who throw these labels about have probably never even held a console in their lives. For me, and for many others playing games like Counter Strike, the competitive aspect is the main focus. You can only move forward if you have decent tactical skills, if you’re dexterous and level headed. Then there’s the social aspect of the multiplayer games. Not only can you cultivate existing friendships through gaming, but you can build new ones... Games for me are first and foremost entertainment, but it’s also a medium that requires a certain degree of artistry, especially when it comes to storytelling and transporting the player in ways which are both explicit as well as subtle.”
Every person I spoke to emphasised the multiple ways in which gaming can be a thrilling, engaging experience, not only in terms of competition but also in terms of following a narrative, building a world, cultivating friendships and providing some relief from the daily build up of stress. No one can deny the potential risks of gaming, but it is worth seeing and embracing gaming for what it can be: collaborative, engrossing and a feat of artistry in itself.