Whilst many of us panicked about life trapped inside without real life social engagements for months as the world changed in March 2020, gamers were confident that isolation did not need to be a problem. They had spent years with hours in front of the screen, making friends around the world that were very real despite their virtual nature.
As the have become increasingly connected over the last decade, through a combination of online gaming and social media, new tribes have developed with communities that both helped people feel like they belonged and offered support when times were tough. Traditionally, we have relied on communities based on the sharing of a cup of tea or a pint at the pub, but a large number of millennials and even greater numbers of Gen-Z felt just as sociable whilst being online.
The explosive growth of online gaming over the last 18 months has shown that many have found a new outlet for much-needed connection in isolation. These virtual connections have long been dismissed as they are wholly based in the virtual communities, with friendships being forged without ever meeting in person, but for gamers these friendships are very real and have proved enduring when times have been tough.
New gamers may have been looking for a distraction from the monotony of lockdown when they first picked up the controller, but after months where online was the only opportunity for community, many of these people have found a new home where they belong. Whether they were playing Nintendo’s record-breaking Animal Crossing: New Horizons or found their kicks on the communities around online slots, it has become clear that these online communities are here to stay.
Critically, the popularity of games like Animal Crossing have demonstrated that games do not all need to be like Call of Duty or Overwatch to be successful, and have brought with them a new class of player which is more interested in the social aspects of the game than the framerate and graphics. In a recent interview with the BBC, Daniel Luu, the founder of Animal Crossing marketplace Nookazon, said “one of his site’s most popular top sellers is a 50-year-old woman who’s never played video games in her entire life”.
The last year has seen the video game industry finally break free of its image as a place for teenagers, and new players have appeared in droves. In the US alone, 80 per cent of consumers in one survey by American Express said that they had played video games in the last six months, and whilst many industries have been paying people off the games industry has seen its profits soar. Global revenue is expected to jump 20% this year to $175bn (£130bn) and game publishers on the lookout for the next viral social hit. The market for video games was already worth more than the film and music industries combined, and after the growth of the last 18 months, its value is only going to soar.