The global gaming industry is a multi-billion dollar business, a behemoth which has made Hollywood look like a poor cousin in recent years, even before Covid-19 forced cinemas to close.
Globally, gaming has gone from a $53 billion business in 2012 to a staggering $131 billion forecast by end of 2020. Meanwhile, in 2019, global box office revenue for films hit a record $42.5 billion.
There’s a lot of dough at stake, and a lot of big players doing everything in their power to attract what is already one of the largest leisure industries on the planet.
But while the growing industry is immune to coronavirus, it has faced accusations of damaging young players’ mental health. Meanwhile, others claim the benefits of gaming have come into their own in the pandemic, giving gamers an opportunity to connect with a like-minded community around the world.
Here, we get the personal take from young men on either side of the argument.
Friends Chris Gates and Ryan Hubbard, both 24 and from Los Angeles, California, have experienced the positive effects of gaming in different ways.
PLAYER ONE: CHRIS GATES
Looking back, the first video game that had a massively positive effect on me was ‘Kingdom Hearts’. The game is about a kid who has been displaced from his home world and thrust into the many different worlds of Disney. While at first it may sound childish, the story has a surprisingly mature element, perhaps adding to what made it stand out so much in my childhood. From the opening credits, this game is clearly a surreal dreamlike adventure bound to create wonder in the minds of all who play. However there was one moment specifically that stood out to me in the game when I was around five or six. In the game you are asked to fight Cerberus from the movie ‘Hercules’. What sounds like a typical task for most video games actually ended up becoming a memorable learning moment in my youth. On my first attempt to slay Cerberus, I remember being scared as this massive three-headed black dog with red eyes readied itself to fight me. Up until this point, I was fairly comfortable with the game and had been able to beat quite a few challenges — but this was something else altogether. Upon my first attempt I died instantly, and then again on my second and again on my third.
I still remember day after day of playing, always losing to this massive beast. It would feel at times as though Cerberus’s glare was staring at me mockingly as I tried over and over again, not even coming close to defeating the monster. I also remember the tears of frustration that came with this as a child. I eventually decided that I had to beat this creature no matter how long it took. Every once in a while, over the course of the next few months, when I picked up the game with the intention to beat Cerberus, I was also practicing my patience and problem solving skills. I felt myself getting more and more composed each time. I soon started developing strategies, attacking from behind where he couldn’t reach me, and hitting his face to do the most damage. Eventually, with the addition of a cool head and earned confidence, maybe a year later, I finally ended up beating the beast, with a final slash of my weapon across one of his heads.
This moment stands out to me because it was a challenge set by myself, for myself and finally completed by myself. As weird as it sounds to give this credit to a video game, this really was one of the first memories of achievement I had felt at such a young age. Through all the tears and frustration, I learned that if I just stuck with something long enough and had enough patience, I would be able to achieve my goals. It was a small lesson at the time, that I of course hadn’t even realized that I had learned, but it’s something I look back at now as a teaching moment.
Games throughout the rest of my life have helped me develop skills that I use daily now. During a winter many years ago, my family watched me play through a Spider-Man game. I was tasked with collecting 750 tokens scattered throughout the games rendition of New York City. Over the course of three days I had created my own schedule, a set amount of tokens I promised myself I would get each session. It was an activity my whole family was in on. I remember my mom, dad, and siblings shouting out tokens I missed as I swung through the city. To this day still, my father often reminds me of this moment when I have a deadline coming up, “Go at it the same way you did in Spider-Man”.
When we separate ourselves from childhood too much, I believe we begin to lose essential pieces of who we are. This is part of the reason I continue to play games so avidly. These games have always been so important to me because they are, in a way, a fundamental part of my problem solving skills.
Today games have become an almost meditative like outlet for me. So often, after a stressful day, have I found myself swinging through New York City in Marvel’s Spider-Man, almost on autopilot, while I process my day in my head. Feeling the wind rushing by you and the tension of the web-line as you reach the apex of your swing is a calming feeling for me. I’ve found that the fluidity of the character’s movements and the problem solving skills it takes to traverse construction sights or low rooftops, help my mind stay at ease and gives it something calming to do. Creating a flow and momentum in this game also helps me create a flow and momentum in my mind whether I’m in between work sessions, brainstorming creatively, or when I’m stressed out and need to feel like I can accomplish something that satisfies me.
PLAYER TWO: RYAN HUBBARD
Due to Covid-19, my girlfriend of over two years had to leave the country and return to England and her family to make sure everything was OK at home. Long distance always sucks — we’ve done it before — so to spice up the experience, I gave her one of my old PlayStation consoles to take back to the UK with her. I’d been teaching her to play a couple of games in Quarantine – ‘Rocket League’, ‘Call of Duty’, and ‘Grand Theft Auto’ were the ones she enjoyed the most. Wouldn’t it be cool if we still got to play these games together, even when she was thousands of miles away? So that’s what we did.
She brought her console back to London, and we managed to connect and play together in addition to our FaceTime dates and phone calls. It added, and still adds, another layer of depth to our relationship, another thing that we both find hilarious and fun that we can relate to one another over. It is a tool that we use to help deepen and strengthen our relationship.
For her birthday I got her a Nintendo Switch. This console is a lot more accessible to those just foraying into the video game space. The issue with larger consoles is multilayered, and the Nintendo Switch tries to cut out what is controversial about video games. Most of the games on the switch contain no blood, some cartoonish violence, and lots of adorable activities and opportunities to play with your friends and community. One of our favorite FaceTime dates now is getting into an intense tournament of ‘Mario Kart’ — and, of course, she’s become much better at it than me, so I’ve got to play my best or be left in the dust. But it’s given her another thing to be passionate about in an increasingly sad world.
When someone tells me that video games rot your brain, or that they are a distraction from real life, I point out to them the success of young YouTube presences like Tfue, Ninja, or PewDiePie — these people have committed their lives to gaming with an audience, and have become so successful and good at it that they’ll be making money for the rest of their lives. Clearly the ‘brain rot’ symptom is not universal. As for being a distraction, well, clearly it assisted these three in creating their fortunes. I also ask if they ever played, or had a fond childhood memory of playing. If so, I’d point this out as what we’re all trying to connect with when we game, that sense that only a child can have of truly submerging yourself in another world in the untethered imagination. But if not, and I find that this person has a purely intellectual opinion on the matter, I think I’d tell them to look at the people who benefit positively from video games. What do they have to say? I doubt the CEO of a hugely successful video game company abstains from playing them, and I doubt that said CEO would be affected negatively by playing their highly successful games.
The function of video games in our society is changing just as we are. Now more than ever it’s important for humans to connect, to try to understand one another in an increasingly divisive and intolerant world. We seek the familiar and the comforting not only through video games now, but a host of different digital mediums. It will be fascinating to see where games can take us in the future.
Will Cross, 22, from Yorkshire, England, has suffered from the negative side of dueling with distant rivals in competitive video games.
PLAYER THREE: WILL CROSS
There’s a fine line in gaming when in comes to mental health. Across the internet you can time and time again read about how certain video games have provided players with a much needed escape from their own difficulties in life. The vast worlds, endless adventures and ever growing online communities have helped forge new, life long friendships that otherwise may not have existed.
Occasionally however, the experience can take a turn for the worst. When I was in a teenager I fell in love with gaming; I just couldn’t wait to get home and get back into the world I left behind that previous day. Much like any hobbyist, I wanted to have the best possible equipment, so I scraped together any birthday and pocket money I had to buy myself a gaming computer. Before long, my best and closest friend got one too and the pair of us would religiously spend ten or more hours a day clicking away at the pixels. For me, it was an escapism — like most teenagers, things at home weren’t perfect and, in that world, I had control… at least I did to begin with.
Not much later, a couple more friends had made the leap to PC and we found ourselves with enough players to delve into exciting world of competitive gaming. This brought out the worst in many people, and it certainly became a painfully toxic environment to me. To be candid, I’m a rather passive person and, frankly, a rather terrible player, so I often found myself at the mercy of my friends’ frustrations. Every wrong move, every loss and every bad call would be met with viciousness and anger. Even if the mistake was theirs. The verbal torment began to cause me great anxiety which, in turn, made it harder and harder to play well. With the ongoing ten or so hour sessions, the constant torment became borderline abusive. Like any team sport, the pack mentality fell into play and sooner or later the others fell in line and began to mimic the ring leader’s behavior — prey on the weakest link. Of course online, the ring leader doesn’t need to be the bigger, faster or stronger person. They just need to be the most feared.
I remember constantly watching tutorials to try and make myself a stronger member of the team. It all seems so silly now, but back then I was genuinely afraid to play. I returned every day as my whole social life revolved around this environment.
At around 17, I had to cut myself off. The anxiety of it all became too much and I realized the affect it was having on my mental health. I think in turn we all did. I just stopped showing up online, made excuses whenever I could about why I couldn’t come on. After a while, they stopped trying to get me online and it all went away. I’d go back every now and then, but by then we’d all kind of grown up and moved on to the next big thing for that age.
I have new ways of dealing with my anxiety now, and in turn it’s given me a priceless gift of being able to help others with theirs. Something that is growing ever more important in this digital world we log in to every day. Every beep and whistle can trigger something in somebody.
These days, I’m great! I skateboard and surf when I can. I like to stay excited and engaged in new things. I enjoy the adrenaline rush of boarding and just really love looking out for new things to learn and do. I’ll just never forget how genuinely frightened those times made me feel.