Video Games While Social Distancing: An Antidote to Isolation But Also a Risk

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Photo Courtesy of Esther Cull-Kahn

Pictured: A Minecraft player’s screen.

Esther Cull-Kahn and Oscar Benedek

While the world we live in has already been coined the digital age, lockdowns and quarantines across the country and world have given new value to the term. Live video chat has suddenly disrupted many facets of life for everyone, including school, work, and normal day-to-day socializing. But one regular aspect of many teens’ lives has not gone away and if anything has increased: their use of video games. Already a hobby for many people under 20, video games have now become a primary form of communication for teens cooped up at home. An increasing number of gaming platforms are expanding their direct messaging interfaces, leading to more interactive experiences. In addition, companies offering products similar to Apple’s FaceTime are prospering as more and more people connect with their friends online. While the increased access to telecommunication has helped quarantined and socially distanced teens feel less bored and isolated, the lasting effects of excessive screen usage can be damaging to young brains. Although video games help maintain social contact, the effects of staring at a screen for eight to ten hours a day can have serious implications. 

Because screen addiction is a relatively new phenomenon, research on the long term effects of screen addiction is limited, but new studies into video game addiction have allowed the medical community to create a more accurate diagnosis and treatment plan for people who spend long hours playing video games. According to Elizabeth Hartney, Ph.D., as many as 15% of video game users could be considered addicted. Addiction can lead to increased stress levels in many other areas of these people’s lives. During this lockdown, many video game users’ reliance on the games will increase, which means they will be more vulnerable to addiction when they are allowed to physically interact with others again. Another effect of screen addiction is underdeveloped social skills for those who intentionally limit their social interactions to spend more time online. Studies have recently been released showing that screen addiction has similar effects on the brain as cocaine addiction, leading many people in the medical community to call more serious gaming addictions mental health disorders. 

During this lockdown, many video game users’ reliance on the games will increase, which means they will be more vulnerable to addiction when they are allowed to physically interact with others again.”

Before the coronavirus outbreak began, many teens used their phones during social gatherings habitually, without giving much thought to their behavior. While teens are stuck at home, the only method of communication they have in most cases is technology, which could make the problem of cell phone addiction even worse and more widespread. As the capacity to talk to your friends over a video game increases, the ability to have in-person conversations can diminish. The growing reliance on video games as a form of communication could change how teens interact with each other for years to come. The effect of this new mode of socialization is unpredictable, which is why it is important in this stage of social distancing to not lose sight of the value of in-person interaction. To try to combat the consequences that digital communication can create, unplug, and talk to a family member about your online schooling or how you have been passing the time. Even though video games are a fun and relaxing way to talk to your friends, it can be unhealthy to rely on them for all social interaction. Call a friend and talk about your worries for the coming months or your predictions for the future of the virus. If you find yourself talking to one of your friends while playing, take a step back, turn the camera on, and have a virtual face-to-face conversation.