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Combating loneliness through gaming

Mhairi Winfield on the how British Red Cross are using online gaming communities to raise money and fight loneliness

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Image Credit: The British Red Cross

For a lot of people, video games have a terrible reputation. Parents worry that their children are being taught to solve problems with violence; partners worry that it distracts their significant other from spending time with them. But for players, they are a way to escape. With everyone having been stuck inside for almost a year now, video games have supported people in connecting with others online and taking them out of their environment into ones where they get to build their own island such as Animal Crossing: New Horizons, or organise a mission to take out enemy players in Call of Duty.

Animal Crossing and Call of Duty have two very different player bases, but both are games where people can hang out with their friends online. The art style, bright colours, and community of Animal Crossing have people feeling happier. By working on their island and inviting their friends to visit, it creates an atmosphere similar to what we all so wish we were able to do in person, albeit on a small screen. Yet, this game isn’t for everyone. Some of the activities you are required to complete take time, and with the clock operating in real-time, it means one or two days before more can be completed in the game. For some people, this takes too long and is somewhat repetitive.

This is where games like Call of Duty come into play. Out of a lot of games, COD seems to be one that gets the worst rep. It holds links to violence and anger, but it is also a game of teamwork and interacting with your friends. I have personal experience living in a house with someone who plays COD at all hours; watching my brother play as a backseat viewer wasn’t the most entertaining experience. Still, he was enjoying himself because he was able to forget what was going on outside and focus on hanging out with his friends. With university assignments and nothing else to do, the escape that playing COD for a few hours provided was crucial to not feeling lonely.

These two examples illustrate the value of video games despite the negativity that seems to surround them, and this stigma surrounding video games may be slowly changing. The British Red Cross started Operation Anti-Loneliness in November last year, finishing at the end of February. The challenge is to stream playing a video game for 20 hours to raise money towards fighting loneliness during the pandemic with people sponsoring you to play, a bit like a charity run. A campaign of this kind by such an influential humanitarian organisation shows just how popular video games are and how vital they have been for people. It suggests that they are becoming more mainstream.

These games have offered people a form of entertainment inside that has not been achievable in any other media. The participatory aspects of games, unlike TV or books, have players feeling like they are a part of something. It is a helpful way of combating loneliness in a time where we are all trying to figure out ways to look after our mental health. While we can all agree that this pandemic has been a horrific event in our lifetimes, I think it has also had a positive impact on demonstrating the value that video games have for those who play them.

A link to the charity page: https://www.redcross.org.uk/get-involved/fundraising-and-events/operation-anti-loneliness##.

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