There has been a significant boom in gaming since stay-home COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions began, according to a new report from Alienware, Dell Technologies’ premium gaming brand.
The Alienware Gaming and Social Distancing Survey found that more than 762,000 Australians began playing video games since lockdowns came into effect across Australia.
Conducted from June 26 to July 1, 2020, more than 1000 Australians over the age of 18 took part in the survey which explored changing habits and sentiment around gaming.
It discovered while more than half (55%) of respondents played video games before the stay-home restrictions, gaming has increased in popularity during social distancing and is regarded as a safe and sociable activity for the majority of Australians.
The survey found that because of its ability to connect people through a common cause or activity, gaming is an ideal outlet for many people during this time and has been acknowledged as a healthy means of physical distancing and social connection amid the pandemic.
It also found gaming has had a positive impact in helping to manage mental health and relieve the isolation felt during social distancing.
“Recent months have shown us that people all over Australia have been turning to gaming to find a genuine connection and sense of community,” Dell Technologies ANZ general manager – consumer and small business, Ben Jackson, says. “Its ability to connect, entertain and educate means gaming is now a mainstream activity for a community that is becoming more diverse and widespread every day.”
A new community appears
Last year, IGEA’s Digital Australia report found that the local gaming community was becoming more diverse than ever before. The Alienware Gaming and Social Distancing Survey supports this and goes further. It found nine per cent of respondents started playing video games during the stay-home restrictions.
According to Dell, this proportion is four per cent of the Australian population, meaning that 762,000 people took up playing video game players have been in the last few months.
On average, Aussie gamers spent six hours per week playing video games during the stay-home restrictions, up from 4.9 hours pre-stay-home restrictions, according to the survey.
Those who gamed prior to stay-home restrictions played for an average of 6.2 hours per week during stay-home, while those who started during restrictions averaged 3.9 hours.
Fifty-seven per cent of pre-existing and new gamers expected their gaming habits to remain at the current level of game play once stay-home restrictions are lifted; 18% expected them to increase.
“The survey finds that 44 per cent of Aussie gamers consider gaming to have a positive impact on their community, which is something those of us in the industry have known to be true for some time,” Jackson says.
“Our previous research in the 2018 State of Gaming Survey showed that almost 30 per cent of gamers in A/NZ had made new friends through gaming and almost a quarter had become closer to their real-life friends. This latest research proves this sentiment still holds true and is even more important during social distancing.”
A positive outlet for mental health
Australians, like many other people around the world, have been social distancing for six months, in an effort to flatten the curve. However, while a vital tool in tackling the pandemic, not having enough social interaction may affect a person’s wellbeing.
The Australian Government Department of Health notes social distancing can make people anxious, stressed and worried, three conditions that playing games helped alleviate, according to the Alienware Gaming and Social Distancing Survey.
In fact, among gamers 78% of respondents claimed gaming was a positive outlet for them during social distancing, while 59% said the social element of gaming had helped with their overall wellbeing.
Overall, the majority of respondents (57%) claimed gaming was a positive outlet for them during stay-home restrictions, with two-in-five said gaming helped keep their mind active (42%) and relieve stress (41%) while at home.
The ability of gaming to bring people together is a key driver of the positive sentiment for gaming during social distancing. Whether through online groups, multi-player games, or watching streaming sites like Twitch, the survey found 59% of respondents believe gaming can aid in building social connections.
“We found that the majority of Australians consider gaming to be ‘social’ or a social activity, and it is this sense of a sociable community that brings people together and unifies them at a time such as this,” Jackson says . “The gaming community provides a way for people to come together and form genuine connections and, in recent months, this has become more important and valuable than just playing for fun or ‘playing to win’.”
The survey found half (50%) of Australians believe playing to socialise is as important or more important than the actual game play. T also found that 44 per cent of video game players personally use video games to socialise and stay connected with friends and family, while 20% of all respondents said gaming helped them connect with friends during social distancing.
For gamers, the sense of camaraderie is important to sustain relationships with both their online and in-person communities, with 39% regularly playing online with their real-life friends during social distancing.
Parents getting into the game
As well as being a vital tool in keeping friendships together over the last few months, the Alienware Gaming and Social Distancing Survey found gaming was also an important tool for engaging families. The survey found that 13 per cent of Aussies saying gaming helped them connect with family, suggesting that more than 2.5 million people were brought together with their families by gaming during social distancing.
This is not the only relevant finding to the family unit. In fact, the survey discovered Australian parents’ attitudes to gaming has undergone a transformation since social distancing began, with 73% stating they see video games as a safe, social activity for their child to connect with friends during social distancing.
These figures are even higher among parents who already identified as gamers, with 87 per cent saying video games can be useful for educating their children, and 85 per cent who say video games are a safe social activity for their child to connect with friends.
“Gaming is an interactive and educational source of entertainment that can engage kids and families while in isolation,” said Jackson. “Half of the respondents stated they have always thought video games have an educational element and recognise that it’s more than just ‘playtime’.
“We know from our previous research gaming can help us become more strategic thinkers, improve hand-eye coordination and increase reaction times. Some even stated that gaming can help improve their teamwork and leadership skills, which can be beneficial to gamers in other aspects of life.”
As well as helping children stay in touch with their friends, gaming is bringing Australian families together in the home. More than two-in-five (44%) parents and caregivers say because of the stay-home restrictions they now play online games with their kids and 43 per cent said their children had taught them how to play a video game.
Registered psychologist and cyberpsychology researcher, Jocelyn Brewer, says, “The pandemic has shifted our attitude to many things, and our use of technology and the value of games to engage and connect communities is one of them. While many have felt the effects of being ‘Zoom’ed out’ and the drain of video conferencing fatigue, video gaming has provided energising and stress relieving ways for people to manage the ‘new normal’.
“The stereotype of a gamer has shifted over the last several years to become much more mainstream and the opportunity of games to occupy our minds, manage stress and uncertainty while helping to ‘flatten the curve’ has accelerated this.
“With more mature audiences increasingly taking up technology, they’re also discovering the power of games to help bridge face-to-face connections and maintain cognitive function with a range of strategy games. Video gaming is a platform that can help provide social glue and shared experiences across generations, with more active engagement than simply video calling nanna and gramps. The divide is closing between the digital natives and those new to the digital community as adults build confidence to explore online space and play games.”