Social Gaming: Playing for Your Health

COVID-19 is here. All across the country “shelter in place” orders have rolled out and “social distancing” guidelines are becoming more and more strict. Some places have locked down their streets entirely, hoping to curb the spread of the coronavirus even if it means restricting their populations to a temporary lifestyle that exists entirely in the home. For many that also means social interaction and stimulation have been cut to almost none. The online communities and experiences afforded by modern gaming have never been more important than it is today.

( Animal Crossing property of Nintendo )

Whether on their PC or their home console, players are tuning in to their favorite gaming communities at a gradually increasing rate. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the gaming habits of Verizon subscribers have increased by 75 percent. While major gaming conventions like E3 have been cancelled in the wake of the coronavirus, sales and trends as a whole have been on the rise. Animal Crossing, a Nintendo-exclusive title which launched on March 20th, is now predicted to be among the Top 3 selling games of all time for its native console. With a focus on building an island community and sharing that experience with other players online, games like Animal Crossing are providing a chance for self-quarantined individuals to continue spending time with their friends and loved ones. It goes without saying that benefits like those are invaluable during times like these, but for the skeptics, the research has already been done.

In 2014 the American Psychological Association reviewed the benefits of gaming from an objective standpoint, removed from the decades-long bias that had long claimed video games were inherently bad for their consumers. Games were found to improve players’ moods, to encourage their relaxation, and to help them cope with external anxiety. As far back as 2011, 70% of all gamers spent their time playing with friends. With uncountable millions of people currently following “shelter in place” instructions, that time now means more than ever. Not all games are meaninglessly violent and nonsensical after all, although there’s still a place for them in the recreational time of a gamer. There are titles focused on mental health awareness, addressed by Bradley University, and even on education.

( Civilization 6 property of Firaxis Games, 2K Games, and Take-Two Interactive )

Games like Civilization 6, which focus on the management of resources and societal well-being as players aim to guide a settlement of people from the foundations of mankind all the way to modern-day. The latest installment in the Professor Layton series, Layton’s Mystery Journey, is an investigating game built around conversational inquiries and complex puzzle-solving. And while there are countless titles currently available to be played online and with friends, it’s also worth mentioning that some single-player experiences have had just as much impact in the field of mental health. There are plenty of lists out there chronicling which of these titles you should play.

In a year that will surely be defined by a pandemic, I’ve seen a lot of changes in my home. My son no longer attends pre-school. Instead, he spends a few hours each weekday learning primarily through educational games and activities hosted on ABCmouse. Instead of going to the theater, I jump in a party chat to watch movies together on whatever streaming service my friends and I have delved into that day. When I need a break from the stress that’s culminating on the streets outside, I retreat to my Animal Crossing paradise and share screenshots of the fish and insects native to my island. When none of that seems appealing, there’s an entire backlog of games just waiting for me thanks to Microsoft’s GamePass, and I know there’s a handful of titles awaiting Sony gamers thanks to PlayStation Plus. Everything might be changing, but games haven’t. They’re still here and they’re still helpful.

Without further ado, here are a few gaming recommendations from the ComicBook Debate staff that are sure to help pass the time:

( Gears 5 property of The Coalition and Xbox Game Studios )

Gears 5

Available on Xbox One and PC. “Featuring both a stellar co-op campaign for up to 3 players and a wide selection of online multiplayer game modes, Gears is the perfect stress-relief. Drop-in and work as a team to defeat rival players or the hordes of computer-controlled enemies. Gears also feature a multitude of accessibility options, accommodating players with a range of sensory or physical disabilities. This was one of my favorite games of 2019.” — Jesse

( Disco Elysium property of ZA/UM )

Disco Elysium

Disco Elysium is an RPG developed by ZA/UM, available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. This is “…an incredibly unique detective story with a gorgeous art style, with some of the best writing in gaming where your choices matter.” — Ander

( Borderlands 3 property of Gearbox Software and 2K Games )

3. Borderlands 3

“Borderlands 3. I think it’s a fantastic game with a sad, yet hysterical storyline. I’ve enjoyed playing it while in isolation because Borderlands is all about grinding. Fighting the same bosses over and over just to get unique loot such as guns, etc. Especially since there is a new DLC next week, I think a lot of people will be playing.” — Aleana

Kingdom Hearts 3 – Square Enix

4. Kingdom Hearts 3, NBA 2K20, Pokemon Sword, Animal Crossing

“With more time to spend at home, I have been finding myself playing games like Kingdom Hearts 3, NBA 2K20, Pokemon Sword, and most recently Animal Crossing. With so many of us at home, practicing social distancing or simply staying safe, games like these help the time go by.” — Sheraz