Why I Bought a Video Game to Cope with Coronavirus

How video games can help in a period of isolation

Posted Mar 23, 2020

When I learned I’d be working from home for a few weeks, I immediately bought a multiplayer video game.  

The mental health agency I work at decided to close all offices and move to phone or video sessions shortly before Governor Pritzker issued a shelter-in-place order for all of Illinois.  So I bought Animal Crossing: New Horizons.  

The game is perfect for a lockdown; it’s relaxing and has a lot of content to explore, but more importantly, it has a multiplayer mode, which is a natural way to stay in touch with friends.  One of the game’s producers acknowledged this in an interview: “...we hope that a lot of the Animal Crossing fans will use this as an escape, so they can enjoy themselves during this difficult time.”  The game’s director agreed, “It’s the kind of game you want to enjoy with other people, and talk about it, and share the experience with your friends and family.”

The Onion even joked about it with the satirical headline, “‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ Developers Confirm No One Can Hurt You Here, No One Can Make You Scared.” 

Because I live alone, my ability to see other people will be significantly restricted for at least the next few weeks.  Social isolation has significant implications for mental and physical health; one meta-analysis estimates that over time, loneliness is as physically detrimental as obesity or smoking.  

Of course, a few weeks at home alone is not the same as the stress associated with years of loneliness.  But for people who have depression or who already feel lonely, this will be an especially challenging time.  

In order to stay connected, I’m spending more time talking to loved ones by text, Skype, and by phone.  But, curiously, none of those real-life interactions feel as natural as running around a virtual space together with a shared goal.  I even find myself rushing to tidy up my island when I know a friend is about to see it.  

This is something I’ve heard from friends and clients alike; people all over the country are using video games not only as something to pass the time, but also to stay connected.  For many, especially adolescents, it’s the easiest way to stay in touch. It’s simply not realistic to expect that a typical fourteen-year-old will have long phone conversations with his friends.  

However, in the same way that parents might go to a poker night with their friends, it’s healthy to bond with people over video games.  I’ve written about this previously in greater detail.  

Seeing their children play video games for hours often causes conflict at home, as many parents would rather their children read, practice musical instruments, study, or develop a skill.  These are valuable, but solitary activities.  

It’s important to negotiate a balance between activities which will help one’s children grow into well-rounded people and those, like video games, which can help create lasting friendships.  

With luck, the shelter-in-place order will be lifted soon and they’ll be able to go back to seeing their friends at school.  But for now, the best option for many is to play video games online.  

So, I’m at home playing Animal Crossing - digging up fossils, fishing, catching bugs with a net, and creating a home for digital villagers.  And sharing all of that with my friends.  

Until I’m able to stop being an island, I’ll keep building a virtual one with real friends. 

Note: I have no affiliation with Nintendo or any of its subsidiaries.  

References

Fishman, A. (2019, January 22). Video games are social spaces: How video games help people connect.  Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/video-game-health/201901/video-games-are-social-spaces

Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T.B., Baker, M., Harris, T., & Stephenson, D. (2015).  Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: A meta-analytic review.  Perspectives on Psychological Science 10(2).  Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273910450_Loneliness_and_Social_Isolation_as_Risk_Factors_for_Mortality_A_Meta-Analytic_Review

The Onion. (2020, March 20).  ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ developers confirm no one can hurt you here, no one can make you scared.  Retrieved from https://ogn.theonion.com/animal-crossing-new-horizons-developers-confirm-no-o-1842424849

Webster, A. (2020, March 18).  The creators of Animal Crossing hope New Horizons can be ‘an escape’ in difficult times.  Retrieved from https://www.theverge.com/2020/3/18/21185608/animal-crossing-new-horizons-nintendo-switch-coronavirus-escape-interview