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Rutgers community discusses rise of online gaming during pandemic

Rutgers Esports Center Director Michael Fay said online gaming is more interactive than traditional forms of media like films, books or television, which could help people feel less isolated.  – Photo by Courtesy of Michael Fay

With stay-at-home orders issued in response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, people have increasingly turned to online gaming. The ability to bring people together through collaboration toward a common goal makes video games effective for fighting the psychological effects of isolation, said Rutgers Esports Center Director Michael Fay in a press release.

Video games provide a virtual environment that resembles the real world in that people share resources, efforts and experiences, which creates a feeling of connectedness, Fay said. Actions like donating to community causes, signing online petitions and watching Netflix with others, while worthwhile, do not create such an environment, he said.

“Video games are unique from other forms of media because it's one of the few media that allow for simultaneous interactivity,” Fay said. “Other forms of media such as books, movies and television may provide people with a distraction or escape where we can feel close to the fictional characters, but no medium offers a more real-time interactive experience with other people, real or fictional than video games — particularly online video games.”

Online video games serve as a virtual “third place,” a location separate from home and work for community building, in place of real-world third places such as parks, coffee shops and restaurants that have closed, Fay said. Third places help community members establish a sense of belonging and increase civic engagement, effects that online video games bring to the real world, he said.

Fay said online gaming may be increasing because it helps people maintain a sense of belonging with loved ones through an interactive online community better than any other digital medium. David Dai, a Rutgers Business School first-year, said he plays League of Legends with a group of friends and Stardew Valley with his girlfriend.

“For both of us we picked the game up as a result of quarantine, and this has definitely reduced our boredom significantly,” he said. “In conclusion, gaming has brought us together and kept a strong community of friends together and has been an outlet for people including me to talk, interact and hang out with others.”

Spencer Chan, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said while he plays his usual video games by himself, he consistently plays video games with a real-life friend and an online friend.

“As for socially engaged, it really only feels that way when I play with people I know,” he said. “Playing online multiplayer usually is a toxic cesspool, so playing with people I know is really the actual social interaction I value.”

Fay said everyone should try online gaming in whatever manner appeals most to them, whether that be online party games over weekly video calls with friends or more immersive games like role-playing, survival and building games, which can offer a stronger feeling of connection and a more palpable shared experience.

“Participation in play is fundamental to our feelings of connectedness with others,” Fay said. “As children, games and play are what allow people to remove themselves from the serious world to develop their emotional and social capacities in the context of our peers, ultimately developing our first friendships. It's second nature to us. In a time like this, the opportunity to return to a game even if we are playing in a virtual environment is a fantastic way to preserve and improve those connections with our loved ones regardless of distance or physical boundaries.”

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