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

RELATED ARTICLES:

Foundation phase teachers confront the unexpected

Foundation phase teachers in South Africa have been left reeling after new teaching and learning adjustments, varying from school to school, were made as a consequence of the covid-19 pandemic and nationwide lockdown. 

Embattled teachers have found themselves under fire in the front line of a unique crisis – and in general they have individually risen to the challenge by finding ways and means to win the battle for the welfare and education of their learners. 

Since the beginning of the lockdown, I always say, ‘I have survived depression’. It was a lot,” said Reabetsoe Motsoaledi, a grade three teacher at SPARK Theresa Park, an independent school in Pretoria North. 

Foundation phase teachers, who teach grades R to three, were left on unstable footing after the covid-19 pandemic forced a national lockdown, and closure of primary schools across South Africa, in late March.  

“I had submissions every day. I found myself crying out of nowhere because I was just so drained. I even lost weight from all the stress. It really put a strain on me,” said Motsoaledi as she sat at a desk in her empty classroom, her face mask pulled down to her chin.  

A toll on their mental wellbeing

The South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH), a non-governmental organisation that advocates for accessible mental health care, stated in an article published in October: “One in four people will be affected by a mental health disorder at some point in their lives. 

Lloyd Ripley-Evans, a psychologist based in Johannesburg, explained to Wits Vuvuzela that the covid-19 pandemic would naturally have an impact on an individual’s mental health 

“This [covid-19] has been a prolonged trauma that the world has experienced and it has created so many knock-on effects,” said Ripley-Evans. “Pandemic aside, if somebody is going through something difficult on a personal level, it’s going to affect them in a work space because it can be quite consuming. Their capacity to be present can be impacted.”  

Foundation phase teachers are no less at risk than other frontline workers of having their mental wellbeing compromised. According to Ripley-Evans, this could also influence their relationship with their learners.   

“I think it has been significantly harder for foundation phase teachers to engage with their students effectively,’’ he said‘’Their ability to engage and connect with their students to the same level as before has significantly been impacted. 

Motsoaledi explained that adjusting to a new way of teaching onlineat the start of the lockdown, came with some unforeseen anxiety.  

“You have to keep in mind that parents are going to be in your video and watching you,” explained Motsoaledi. “Now you get even more nervous because you need to make sure everything is correct and you have to be the teacher that doesn’t make mistakes. But that’s not fair, because teachers do make mistakes.”  

found myself crying out of nowhere because I was just so drained. I even lost weight from all the stress. It really put a strain on me

SPARK schools have made use of an online programme, known as AskNelson, throughout the covid-19 pandemic. AskNelson is an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), free of charge to the teachers and designed to provide them with immediate emotional support. Teachers can rate how they are feeling on any given day and are put in touch with a local counsellor if they need help.  

The teachers at SPARK schools are able to use the programme at their own discretion and do not have to disclose its use to the school, confirmed SPARK Theresa Park assistant principal, Tshegofatso Diale.  

Motsoaledi said she had found alternative ways of dealing with her mental health instead of using the AskNelson programme. “I have always just tried to be strong and move on. Besides just praying, just talking to someone because we’re all going through the same thing as educators. And venting to family members or partners. I’ve never taken any bigger steps to deal with what I’m going through,” she said.  

Although being a foundation phase teacher is demanding, Motsoaledi said she loves her job and teaching is something she has always wanted to do. “I wanted to make a change to a child’s life, to develop a child, to be in the upbringing of that child. I wanted to make a difference,” she added positively

Protecting themselves and their loved ones

Mental health struggles have not been the only fallout of the covid-19 pandemic experienced by foundation phase teachers in South Africa.  

Odel David, a grade R teacher at Shari Crest Primary School in Lenasia, said she found it really tough to balance the need to stay at home with the demand to be at school, as a substitute teacher, for the grade seven learners 

“It really has been concerning mentally, because at home I am concerned about my family, but being at a government school, you also need to be available to the students. It is stressful when your emotions are weighed like that. You don’t know what’s going to happen and you are just preparing yourself for the worst situation,” said David.   

Odel David shows Wits Vuvuzela a photograph of her son, who has a comorbidity and is at risk of serious illness if he contracts the coronavirus. Photo: Laura Hunter.

She said she felt the pressure to adjust her teaching style to match the demands of an older grade: “Although I am a foundation phase teacher, I still have to fill in that gap. It is rather stressful because I am so used to the foundation phase and now I have to go teach the intermediate phase.  

Before showing Wits Vuvuzela around the dust-laden grounds of Shari Crest Primary School, with its colourful walls and palpable loving atmosphere, David mentioned that after a group of teachers at the school contracted covid-19, she felt pressured to remain at home. She has a 12-year old son who has a comorbidity, and is at high risk of contracting the coronavirus

“Being a mom of a special needs child, I know it’s very easy for him to contract covid. The beginning [of lockdown] was quite challenging because I wanted to be at home, because of the safety of my son, but then I was also thinking of the safety of my learners. It was better for us to be away from one another,” said a torn David.  

Navigating the digital divide

At Vuleka St Marks, an independent church school of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa in Randburg, teachers and learners have their hands sanitised and temperatures checked before making their way past the modest church and onto the playground.  

Before the teachers of Vuleka St Marks returned to school, they faceanother challenge brought on by the covid-19 pandemic – trying to successfully teach learners online while some learners had little to no access to the internet at home.  

Danielle Lang, a grade one teacher at Vuleka St Marks, said her biggest fear was the effect the pandemic had on the learners access to information, and whether the sudden interruption would cause them to fall behind.  

Danielle Lang sits at her desk marking her learners’ work. Lang noticed that some of her learners’ reading and writing skills had declined over the lockdown period. Photo: Laura Hunter.

“We moved to [Microsoft] Teams in April, but we first started with ClassDojo (an online learning platform) and sent out slides. It was difficult because many kids at our school are underprivileged, so they don’t have access to any computers or phones,” she said.   

Lang reminds us that the covid-19 pandemic has accentuated the digital divide in South Africa. The latest General Household Survey by Stats SA, published in 2018, stated that only an alarming 10.4% of households in South Africa have access to the internet at home. 

“I had two kids who had no access to Teams and their parents don’t have any smart devices. That was the biggest difficulty, because those kids did not get any information for about two months,” explained Lang.  

As soon as she was allowed to go back to the schoolLang printed resource packs for the children who did not have access to schoolwork during the lockdown. And since some of her learners had not been able to practise reading and writing every day, Lang noticed they had indeed fallen behind. 

There was a huge decrease in understanding, especially with writing and reading. That was very difficult, she said.   

Candice Barrett, a grade two teacher at Parkdene Primary School, a public schooin Boksburg, said her primary concern, at the start of the lockdown, was also if her learners would have access to schoolwork while trying to learn at home.  

“At first it was quite a concern because we had to adjust to a new way of teaching. The kids as well. Some didn’t have internet access or data because of the financial strains caused by covid,” explained Barrett. We did have a platform for parents to download the work but, because of data struggles, we weren’t sure the kids were going to do the work or if the parents could assist them.”  

Barrett also noted that her learners are too young to use certain online learning platforms. “We didn’t have Whatsapp groups or Zoom because the kids are only eight years old, so it was going to be a challenge to use that, she said.   

Barrett, who had a covid-19 scare after close family members tested positive for the coronavirus, said her other major concern was the physical health and safety of her learners.    

“I was concerned about the learners health, whether some were going hungry – at school we have a feeding scheme with extra lunches kids can fetch from the kitchen – and if kids were being abused staying with relatives. That’s constantly playing on my mind, because w[the teachers] care so much about them and we don’t know what’s going on,” she said with concern in her voice.   

The learners’ desks at Vuleka St Marks are divided by clear plastic shields in order to minimise the spread of the coronavirus. Photo: Laura Hunter.

 Addressing demands for extra emotional support

Although the health and safety of learners weighed heavily on the minds of the foundation phase teachers, the covid-19 pandemic has also resulted in learners demanding extra emotional support from them.

David, the grade R teacher from Shari Crest Primary, noticed that some of her learners demanded more of her attention once they had returned. She said it has been tricky to provide them with support, given all the physical restrictions existing in her classroom. 

“They have been seeking that emotional support, especially when it comes to physical contact. Grade Rs love hugging! And I am a teacher who loves to show love back,’’ said David‘‘There are certain children I have picked up on that really need that affection. You know they may not be getting that hug at home.   

Lang, whose classroom walls are covered with charmingly scraggy paper portraitssaid she also noticed that her learners need for emotional support increased once they returned to school.  

“A lot of kids we work with are not getting that emotional support from home. It is very difficult for them, coming to school and wanting to do the same things such as hugging or sharing. When you tell them off, you can see they are very upset about it and don’t understand why. There was a lot of strain on them not being at school and not having that support from me,” Lang said sadly.    

Vuleka St Marks has an on-hand social worker, Janet Gibbons, who has worked with all four Vuleka Schools in Johannesburg for nearly six years. When the pandemic hit, Gibbons transitioned her free services online to the learners, teachers and their families.  

“You can’t teach a child who is emotionally suffering,” said Gibbons, who believes all learners across South Africa should have access to emotional support services at school. And, she said, these services should also be extended to foundation phase teachers 

“So many teachers are being stretched. Teaching is very underrated. Not many people understand that until they are in the classroom teaching,” said Gibbons.   

The covid-19 pandemic may have thrown a spanner in the works for foundation phase teachersbut most of them agree this is just the new normal. And whether it is dealing with their own mental wellbeing, the physical and emotional safety of their learners or facing issues of digital access, the unexpected challenges these teachers have faced have only better equipped them for teaching in the future 

FEATURED IMAGE: The covid-19 pandemic has had overarching consequences on foundation phase teachers, who have had to face many challenges inside and outside the classroom. Photo: Laura Hunter.

BACK TO IN-DEPTH 2020 MAIN PAGE.