Has the pandemic turned the tide on gaming?

Joe Tidy, presenter, event moderator, keynote speaker Joe Tidy – the BBC’s Cyber-security Correspondent on the pandemic’s impact on gaming.

I’ve got the worst memory of anyone I know, but I still remember the day I got my first games console.

Me and my dad went to the nearest Computer shop on the Slough Trading Estate and he brought me a Nintendo 64.

It was 1997 and it was my 12th birthday.

I remember craning my neck to look up at all the different games they had on offer. Dad l said I could get one game to go with the console.

I wanted ‘Doom 64’ – the ultra-violent and mega exciting new ‘grown up game’.

Wisely he sold me on the idea of ‘Super Mario 64’ – a game I must have ploughed 200 hours into over the next few months and a title I still count as one of the greatest games ever made.

But when I wasn’t jumping around collecting stars in the cartoon worlds of Mario I was playing another game which brought me even more joy and fun – Goldeneye 64. I loved everything about this game, the graphics, the music, the story. But the best thing about it was that it wasn’t actually my game.

It was my mate James’ who had, rather tragically, only been able to buy the game on its own as all the consoles had sold out. So for months until his parents got their hands on an N64 he’d come over with his precious cartridge and plug it in so that we could both take it in turns pretending to be Bond.

Very early on I learned that video games are best played socially and the pandemic has once again made me relearn this lesson.

Any feelings of boredom or isolation from my mates evaporates when I put the head set on for a late night session whilst the family is asleep upstairs.

I think this has been the experience of millions of people like me around the world and I think even non-gamers are starting to see it too if they haven’t already.

It’s not just our appreciation of video calls and WhatsApp groups that have ballooned, our appreciation of the power of gaming has blossomed.

Gaming is truly transporting whether playing yourself or watching others play. And who hasn’t wanted to be transported out of the monotony of lockdown or the away from the anxiety of the news headlines?

As a life-long gamer it’s been heartening to see these sorts of headlines:

Gaming is now a global, social culturally important and dare I say it – healthy – part of modern life. But the fact that these stories above are rare and the fact I even have to write the above sentence shows that there is still a part of the world that considers gaming to be a lazy addictive habit that will melt brains and waste muscles.

This was evident a couple of months ago when the PlayStation 5 was launched and a certain BBC news magazine show decided to do a report on it. Although it looked like a hastily constructed report, and I have sympathy for the production team, a few of us couldn’t help but wince when the reporter brought up the ‘addictive and violent’ side of gaming.

I get it, we can’t just do a 2min advert for the PS5 so there needs to be some sort of counter to the excitement. But these arguments are out of date and display a misunderstanding of an industry that is bigger than the music and movie industry combined.

Yes there are issues in gaming that need to be addressed. For example:

  • We need more girls gaming at high levels to inspire other girls to get into the industry and make it less male-oriented
  • We need to protect young gamers from ‘loot boxes’ and other gambling mechanics that could suck them into unhealthy betting habits
  • We need to stop the practice of ‘crunch’ where the pressure of getting massive games delivered on time falls on the shoulders of overworked games developers

That’s just three problems to consider and some of the things I’m always looking to report on.

Saying games are violent and additive is reducing this mammoth part of life to an 80s tabloid view.

Without a doubt some kids struggle with addiction to gaming and last year clinics for ‘gaming disorder’ began opening up in the UK. Whilst children and their parents are no doubt struggling, there is still a lack of agreement within the global medical community about the specific status of gaming addiction.

There’s a lot more research needed in this and other areas around the benefits and downsides to gaming but I think that the pandemic has been a net positive for gaming culture and understanding.

As for me, my love of games is stronger than ever and 2020 has seen me come around full circle – I’m replaying Doom 64 – sorry Dad!