May 2020 Executive Blog – The Social Side of Gaming

I am the first executive councillor from the 2020/2021 term tasked with writing a blog post this month. I am used to writing long, academic-style papers on topics involving political and social justice issues. But with this writing exercise, I am struggling. I think we can all use a bit of light reading given the current state of the world, and yet I love tackling polarising and big issues. Therefore, with the objective of keeping this piece light and fun, I have chosen to write about my new COVID-19-induced obsession, which is video gaming. Right now, when I am not representing AU students as VP External and Student Affairs, studying, or parenting, I am drawn to the gaming world.  When researching this article, I was inundated with the negatives associated with video games mainly in the context of children. But I have found myself drawn to gaming since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Connection is important for our mental health; therefore, I would like to introduce you to the wonderful world of online gaming.

I am by no means an expert in this area. Prior to the pandemic, I rarely played games online. I have to admit, I did dabble in the area growing up. But gaming was different, it wasn’t gaming done online as it was an era marked by slow dialup internet. Gaming was done in isolation, so I never turned to the platform as a source of connection.

But when we were all tucked away into our homes for a long spring rest, I found a game called Fortnite and became hooked. The game is a battle-royale style game, which fits with how I envisioned a pandemic would go. I thought when the world shut down, it would mirror what TV and movies told us, that society would begin to look like the one presented within the television show The Walking Dead. We would all be there to fend for ourselves, fight for survival.

Turns out, that isn’t the case. We as a society have pulled together, social distancing for our loved ones, ensuring supports are available for those who cannot work. It is not perfect, but it did prove that the social disarray predicted to be induced by a pandemic was far from what movies and television thought it would be.

While battle royale games have been my way to live out that scenario of the “us vs. them” battle from the comfort of my home, there is another reason why I am hooked on the game at the moment. I am finding more value from the platform than simply being the last person standing at the end of the gaming round. I have found it to be quite social. Not only do I play with my kids as a squad, but I have been playing with friends and family as well. The game can operate across gaming platforms, so PCs, Macs, Ipads, and other gaming consoles can all play together. The best feature is the ability to use voice chat – gaming with my friends feels like we are all in the same room together, working on a common goal.

Connection is so important for our mental health. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) states that loneliness and social isolation can increase one’s risk of depression and anxiety. And they even claim it has the same mortality rates as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. [1] During a time where we are forced into a situation where we are at risk for loneliness, it is important that we check-in with ourselves. If you feel you are at risk, reach out. I will include some links below for you to check out.  

Also, as a fun side note, AUSU is hosting some virtual students socials, and I really hope you join us!  

CMHA says that social connection is the cure for loneliness, which sounds simple enough, but it is difficult to facilitate during social distancing. However, I have found gaming is an amazing way to form connections. It is difficult during a time of social distancing to have conversations about what is happening, especially when we all have this shared experience of dealing with heavy times that this pandemic has induced. But hanging out while gaming is different. It is a welcomed distraction. You have a team; you have goals that you are working towards. Communication transforms to a place where it becomes fun again. You can take an hour out of your daily life and just forget about the outside world for a minute and connect with family and friends. And while it is not as good as ‘real world’ connection, I have found it to be a close second.

Perhaps I failed at keeping this piece light, but I do feel that it may offer value to those who are struggling right now. I grew up in an era where video games were being blamed for the awful things that were occurring in the world, much like television once was. But now I see that it is something that connects us – whether it is reminiscing about a game that you played growing up with peers, or perhaps just gaming now. Connection and what it does for our mental health is so important.

If you are feeling lonely, isolated or stressed, try finding a video game! It has meant that I have not binged watched any Netflix content this pandemic, but I don’t think that is a bad thing. Hope you see you online soon!

Stacey Hutchings
VP External and Student Affairs


Mental Health Resources:

Athabasca University Mental Health and Wellness Program

Government of Canada Mental Health Resources

Wellness Together Canada: Mental Health and Substance Use Support