A woman connecting with others playing and online video game

Gaming - a cure for isolation and loneliness?

21-Jul-2020

When video games burst onto the scene in the early 80s adults across the country said that they would rot our brains. As the years passed, they said video games would rob us of our ambition, our social skills and would lead to violence.

Instead, in the last 40 years, video games have exceeded all our expectations in ways in which we couldn’t possibly have ever imagined. Today, gaming has integrated into our lives and provided those with a controller in their hands countless hours of cinematic storytelling that rivals many major blockbuster. They’ve opened up our hearts and imagination to pulse pumping fantasy worlds and in many ways, more importantly, gaming has connected players all across the world both in communication and also in adventure.

Video games have evolved and changed with the times in such a significant way that they’ve become a major social network for people with a common hobby.

Modern video games have come along way since the two-player experience of Pong in some arcade somewhere. Nowadays, you can sit on the couch in the privacy of your own home, log in, put a head set on and be connected with gamers from all over the world. As gamers have evolved, so has the gaming experience. A game is no longer simply one player battling another (although, there still is plenty of that!). A player can now log in and become a part of a team. Not only can they play together, they can also chat via their headsets and message via their controllers. Video games have evolved and changed with the times in such a significant way that they’ve become a major social network for people with a common hobby.

What the gaming industry didn’t anticipate all those years ago, was that their products would help the growing social and mental health issues of social isolation and loneliness.

So, what is Social Isolation? Let’s take a little bit of a closer look. Social isolation is something that is objective. This allows researchers to define and identify it, by looking at the nature and size of a person’s social network.

Social isolation refers to conditions that result in physical isolation:

  • Geographic isolation
  • Lack of mobility (due to disability or illness)
  • Legal or financial barriers to driving
  • Language barrier
  • Irregular work hours
  • Difficulty in communicating (physical or mental conditions)
  • Lack phone or internet access[1].

Social isolation can be pretty sad and can lead to all kinds of other mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and loneliness.

This is because as people, we have three psychological needs:

  • Autonomy is about feeling you have choices, can act in accordance with your values, and pursue meaningful goals.
  • Competence is about feeling effective and capable of overcoming problems.
  • Relatedness is about feeling connected to others[2].

If we start denying ourselves any of those needs, either willingly or unwillingly, we’re at risk of developing further mental health issues.

So, getting back to video games. In times when social isolation is more and more prominent in our society for a number of reasons, it’s important that we stay connected. Even if that connectedness is via exploring foreign planets with your gang in Destiny, racing your buddies in Need for Speed or capturing the flag in the pulse-pumping Call of Duty series.

In a recent press release, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick was quoted as saying, “It’s never been more critical to ensure people stay safely connected to one another. Games are the perfect platform because they connect people through the lens of joy, purpose and meaning.”

Gaming has the potential to meet those three psychological needs. Games such as Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption where players can roam a massive open world can provide you with autonomy and choice. Then, with the common nature of completing tasks and passing missions, fulfill that need of competence which we desire. The need for relatedness and connection can be fulfilled by playing with friends online, and chatting through your headsets.

When it comes to video games, choice is in abundance. You’ve got open world games like Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto where the player can roam a massive open world and play the game any which way they want. There are sporting games like FIFA, Basketball and Football that simulate regular sporting seasons. Then there’s adventure games full of history and exploration such as The Nathan Drake series and Assassin’s Creed. There’s horror, crime, science fiction and strategy. In short, there’s something for everyone.

All you need to do is sit back, login and hang with your friends. It’s not about just escaping reality, it’s about escaping reality together.

 

References

[1] Understanding the differences between social isolation and loneliness. SuicideLine Victoria.

https ://www.suicideline.org.au/blog/understanding-differences-between-social-isolation-and-loneliness/

[2] Centre for Self Determination Theory.

https ://selfdeterminationtheory.org/theory/

 

If you or someone you know is struggling with loneliness or social isolation and want to speak to a professional counsellor, SuicideLine Victoria is available 24/7.

Call us on 1300 651 251

If it is an emergency, call 000.