Could computer games ease lockdown stress?

It's been a hard year for us all, but video games have the potential to make it easier.
22 December 2020

Interview with 

Drew Cattanach, University of Westminster


A person holding a controller in front of a TV, playing a car racing game


For a lot of us, this has been a tough year, COVID has kept us isolated in ways we weren’t ready for. But for some people, especially children, video games may have given them a lifeline. Chris Berrow spoke about all of this with Drew Cattanach, from the University of Westminster...

Drew - Video games on a basic level, they act as a distraction. Spending time engaged in a game can act as an escape from a world around you, especially if there's been a lot of change and uncertainty, as it has been this year. For younger children, a game is a way of improving hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills and spatial awareness. Whereas older children and young adults can use social games as a way of reaching out and communicating with their friends, or even building alternative social networks away from the playground and games like this, offer a sense of agency and offer a sense of control. You can control who comes into your world. You can control what you do in your world. I mean, it takes that sort of playground environment and it brings it into the virtual environment.

Chris B - Bringing it into the virtual environment and, you know, a game like Minecraft, for example, which I think is one of the most popular games amongst kids, and Fortnite as well. They're both very different, in Minecraft you're building, but in Fortnite, you're sort of going head to head in teams and, you know, shooting the other people. So does the kind of game make a difference here?

Drew - Well, yes it does. And I think from a point of view of a parent, I mean, it depends on what you are comfortable with. If you went for something like Minecraft, I mean, Minecraft has a lot of benefits. There's a lot of learning. There's a lot of skills that can be gained, both socially and also cognitively, as you are solving problems. And this is a way of helping children and young adults sort of, explore the world around them, and through play. Something like Fortnite, I mean, Fortnite is a shooter game. It's a last man standing game. There is some question about where it's suitable. I mean, it would be more suitable for maybe younger adults and older teens, but then, you know, I mean that again is a way where you can work, and you can join your friends. You can compete together, you compete against each other. I mean, at the end of the day, it's a one man standing game. So yeah, you're going for that achievement, and achievement is very important in games, creating achievements, being able to use them as bragging rights, giving yourself a little bit of self-esteem for maybe getting further up the ladder than you had done previously, maybe being awarded a badge and the games are very good at that. They know these are important.

Chris B - One of the most must have gifts at the moment, which you almost can't get hold of is the PlayStation starter bundle for the virtual reality headset. I know loads of people have been looking out for that at the moment. And virtual reality is one of those things where I sense people will start to move into that world, especially with lockdowns continuing, you can meet people in a virtual space. Is that something that you sense will help people to tackle lockdowns and things like that?

Drew - Yes, of course. I mean, obviously there is a certain amount of money you need to outlay before you can start playing with virtual reality, but once you've got it, I mean, it's a way of opening up a new perspective. You lose that sort of, connection with the computer that you aren't focusing simply on one flat screen, you're focusing on a three-dimensional world and that is far more compelling. It's far more involving. And I mean, you know, the more you can share with your friends, and with other people, meeting other people the better really.

Chris B - And they're designing entire cities now in virtual reality, which I think sounds good to me. I don't know if that's a worrying step towards the Matrix though, but what do you think?

Drew - It's funny that we had the Matrix so long ago, and we think that it's all going to go horribly wrong. I mean, we are going to be developing virtual environments and we are looking at ways of having a virtual self. I mean, it's very possible in years to come, we will have a second personality, which is purely virtual. We already do to a certain degree. I know for myself, I've got a pseudonym. I've got two in fact. For playing online around that.

Chris B - Dare I ask you what is it? Or are you going to hold that. Mine's Cold Marine. I'll tell you that now. From when I was a kid, so I can reveal that exclusively here, but dare you tell us yours?

Drew - Because I'm a lecturer, I'm going to keep my private pseudonyms for myself. It's important. I mean, these things are certainly important. I mean, you create an identity online and the benefit of that identity online is that it can be different to who you are. People who are playing in these virtual worlds, they will effectively start adopting the personality traits of the avatar that they are playing. You know, so for example, if your avatar is, you know, large and muscular and burly, you'll probably be more dare I say, aggressive or forthright.


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