SLICE: Online gaming got me through lockdown 

While gaming is not a cure for depression, it helped me to grow into a more social person, to form connections with people more easily, and helped me to feel less isolated.  

During the covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the lack of social interactions tied together with the fear and anxiety driven by fake news and conspiracies around vaccines in the media, caused my mental health to plummet.  

It was my first year of university and before I had had a chance to form connections on campus, we were thrown into a state of disaster and the country was placed on lockdown. I spent weeks feeling sorry for myself, not knowing how to entertain myself nor who to speak to besides my family who I had been locked in the house with for over three months. Eventually I turned on my PlayStation console for solace. 

While there was access to mental health services during the pandemic, many people had physical and mental restrictions that prevented them from seeking help. A democracy survey conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council and the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Social Change and Development revealed that in 2020, an estimated 33% of South Africans were depressed, 45% were fearful of catching the virus and 29% were feeling isolated and lonely. The survey consisted of 19 330 participants of different races and backgrounds, with the majority aged 25 to 59. 

I shared the sentiments expressed in the survey. That is why I turned to gaming to connect and create a reality that was less depressing than the one I found myself in. 

Gaming was my way of coping with the lack of human interaction and fewer entertainment activities brought on by the nationwide lockdown. In June 2021, Forbes Technology Council reported  an increase of 200% in people aged over 60 searching for games, joining the 93% of teens who game regularly, according to research data provided by G2A.com – the world’s biggest digital marketplace for gamers. 

These statistics show that people globally turned to gaming during the pandemic because of the need to find alternative ways to connect and communicate with others amidst lockdown measures. I also wanted to alleviate my newfound depression brought on by harsh lockdown measures. 

I started playing a multiplayer, online game called Call of Duty where I met a group of people that I consider close friends to this day. We began entering e-sports competitions where we could compete in online tournaments for cash rewards. We would do this by signing up on sites such as the African Cyber Gaming League and VS Gaming where you can connect with other people who enjoy the same game as you, and became part of a large community of people from diverse backgrounds and walks of life.

Gaming has helped me overcome social anxiety by allowing me to socialise in virtual chatrooms with people from all over the world, where I have learnt better communication skills and have been able to find people I relate to more. I always struggled to find something I was passionate about as I was not very good at schoolwork and failed dismally at sport. Finding games helped me discover my true passion for e-sports and unlocked a whole new world for me. 

There are, however, studies that have found negative aspects to gaming. The Harvard Medical School reported that gaming can be associated with serious health risks such as sleep deprivation, insomnia, depression, aggression and anxiety. The report also stated that gaming can lead to a “gaming addiction”, resulting in loss of interest in activities and crucial relationships with peers, and can lead to obesity due to increased food intake while gaming. These are real issues that gamers do face, however, a general population sample report from the American Journal of Psychiatry shows that only an estimated 0.1-1% of people suffer from gaming addiction.

An American Counselling Association report also found that gaming could have negative mental health consequences including: negative coping mechanisms, unhealthy lifestyles, loneliness, isolation and depression. However, in my experience, gaming has had quite the opposite effect.

Gaming in moderation is key for absorbing the positive effects such as setting specific times to game and making sure to seek professional help when needed. To avoid the negatives associated with gaming, the Harvard Medical School suggests limiting screen time and engaging in healthy activities such as exercise or socialising physically.

Anxiety and depression are major issues the world faces today, especially after the pandemic as it has altered and changed the lives of almost everyone. Gaming is a great way to alleviate some of the strain caused by these serious mental illnesses. There are many different genres of games, so I truly believe there is a game out there for everyone to play and form connections in.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Georgia Cartwright. Photo: File

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