CONNECTION IN ISOLATION: ONLINE GAMES AS VENUE FOR SOCIAL INTERACTION DURING THE PANDEMIC
When the pandemic struck, we were robbed of the spaces once available to us. As social creatures, we had to adapt and satisfy our need for social interaction. The lockdowns brought by the pandemic have highlighted the connection that the gaming community builds, so much so that even non-gamers have begun to appreciate what online games can do in bringing people together. In this issue of The Feed, we put the spotlight on this venue for connection in isolation.
Before a plague from Pandora’s Box was released in Wuhan, China, we had all the spatial avenues to socially and physically interact.
We had classrooms, libraries, and coffee shops to study… sometimes gossip. We forged friendships and special bonds in schools, playgrounds, and on the streets. We started romances in parks, restaurants, and museums. We went on dates and attended family gatherings. We travelled for work or leisure. We were living in a world of social and physical interaction, practically without any limitation.
Then, came COVID-19 with its ugly stepbrothers ECQ, MECQ, GCQ, and MGCQ. This prompted a 180-degree turn for most, if not all of us. We became “prisoners” in our own homes; the places which used to be surrounded by people became ghost towns. While the dreaded virus is busy laying waste to our land, we became socially paralyzed. Suddenly, isolation became the truth and our current reality.
During this unprecedented time, many industries plummeted to its lowest levels. But the gaming industry not only endured, it skyrocketed. Take the game Among Us for instance, which was released in 2018. A year after its release, the outer-space saboteur mobile game reached one million downloads. But this number was dwarfed when the pandemic struck. Its number of downloads rose exponentially and have reached approximately 100-million downloads to date.
Another proof is the record-breaking Switch game Animal Crossing: New Horizons which tripled Nintendo’s profit in 2020.
Noticed anything? These are games that involve multiplayer cooperative gameplay.
Humans are social creatures. We find ways to adapt but our need for social interaction is non-negotiable. During the first wave of COVID-19 in 2020, we saw the emergence of online gaming as a way to cope with the lack of social and physical interaction. Online games became the venue where we can do some of the things that we used to do in “the land before time.”
According to Twitter Gaming Insights, the Philippines ranked ninth among countries that Tweeted about gaming in 2020 alone. In its recent data, the country rose to rank six just behind Japan, United States, South Korea, Brazil, and Thailand in the first half of 2021.
Our favorite games so far? Genshin Impact, Valorant, Roblox, Minecraft, and Among Us. If you have not been recently playing any of these online games, where have you been quarantined? The data shows how online gaming became our lifeline to escape this claustrophobia-inducing environment.
These online games keep humans connected during this challenging time. It goes to show that our need for social interaction transcends even into virtual interactions. These games fill the void that we continue to suffer and allow us to create and reinforce bonds and friendships, even in social seclusion.
Some games even encourage communication between players by making it an integral part of the game. For example, in Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, Valorant, and other team strategy-based games, having to play with friends and turning on the voice chat is beneficial to win the game. You have to act together strategically and come up with a plan to beat your opponents. This form of communication not only strengthens its purpose to win the game, its utmost importance is the reinforcement of the bond between friends. At the end of the day, it’s not solely about the game but whom you play with.
The Filipino gaming community is not new. In fact, gamers have successfully built communities, clans and guilds for a long time now. If there is a silver lining in this one big social science experiment, that is, gaming communities have nurtured genuine and enduring friendships.
The lockdowns brought by the pandemic have highlighted the connection that the gaming community builds, so much so that even non-gamers have begun to appreciate what online games can do in bringing people together.
As of writing, we are still under ECQ – pleading for this nightmare to end. But we are not as isolated as we may think. Even though we are being robbed of interaction, we are able to cope somehow. We have transposed our energies, passions, and wits for social interaction in cyberspace, maximizing technology which we may have taken for granted before.
As we are stressed, burned out, and pushed to the limit during these trying times, we have a little space where, together, we can breathe, take a break, or vent out our frustrations. Thank God for Call of Duty, PUBG, and Fortnite.
We can only hope to retrieve the spaces we once freely roamed. But for now, we, social animals, have this space where we can survive this pandemic together. A place where we can exist as a community, have fun interacting with each other, alone in our homes but not lonely. For now, we find solace and try to survive in this new venue, a connection in isolation. Game on.
Cover art by Divine Grace Espina