There was a popular Medium piece floating around last week about how some people are finding refuge in gaming during the still-raging COVID-19 pandemic. That’s not news, of course: When people are stuck at home without much flex money and a desire to be social and hide out from the news, of course they do it in online video games, and as we’ve seen, the gaming industry is making swimming pools full of money from our isolation. But the piece argues we’re not just happily passing time but instead using games to “recreate” a sense of agency and pattern and occupation.
Now, I suspect that our writers and readers might not be entirely typical since we were already the kinds of people for whom online games were part of our identity. We weren’t rediscovering games as some of the subjects in the piece were; we were already here. But I thought it would make an interesting jumping-off point for this week’s Overthinking as we ponder how the pandemic has changed our gaming habits. Has it? Are we playing more or less? Are we playing different types of games, or doing different things in them than we did before the lockdowns and stay-at-homes?
Andy McAdams: I’m definitely gaming more. The time when before I would have been driving to go to the store, or going out to dinner or any number of other out-of-the-house tasks are now spent gaming. Don’t get me wrong, I still leave – but it’s not nearly as often. In my headcanon, I think I’ve started to equate logging into WoW as “going out,” and most of the time I’m OK with the mental model. In the past I used MMOs and WoW in particular as a proxy for having a meatspace social life as I was working a ton and traveling a ton. Azeroth was more constant than my location in meatspace. I think the outcome from COVID is the same, but for different reasons.
In terms of my overall gaming habits, I would say I’m more chatty in guild chat than I normally am striking up and having conversations where I wouldn’t have before. I’m a lot more tolerant of grinds too. I’ve literally had the thought “ugh this grind…” immediately followed by “well, yeah, but what else were you going to do anyway?” to which I acknowledge my own point, and then file away a note that having debates with myself might be an indication I’m still not being social enough even in Azeroth.
There are any number of possible causes to this, but I’ve noticed the WoW community be less insufferable now than it has been in the past. I still run into the e-peen heroes who think that your DPS in a leveling dungeon where you are facerolling everything is wholly indicative indicator of your value as a human being, but they aren’t the majority anymore. On a night of dungeon runs, there seems to be fewer of those types. I dunno whether it’s due to so many people using Azeroth the same way I am and being a little more compassionate to others or not, but I’m choosing to believe it is because it makes me feel better in the long run.
Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): I don’t know that my habits changed all that much, although without kid’s activities/practices and driving to work every day, I certainly had more time to grind. Now that practices are starting up again, my evening schedule has started to fill up again, so I might miss a daily or two along the way.
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): A few years back, I started tracking everything I do every day for GTD purposes, so I have several years of data regarding my daily gaming habits, and I can see quite clearly that I am not actually gaming much more than I have been in the last couple of years, which is not what I expected (but it’s also why I started tracking – to find these invisible patterns!). My gaming is actually about the same as last summer, which was so different from this summer that it feels like a life that happened to someone else. My interpretation is that I am making the same amount of time to game, but my “extra” time beyond gaming/work/family – like days we’d have spent at amusement parks or at the pool or going shopping – is being spent on other things, other hobbies and time schooling my kids and endlessly worrying and so forth.
Anecdotally, I think what the pandemic did for my gaming is shifted how I game when I am gaming. It’s made me cling even more tightly to my comfort MMOs, like SWG Legends, where I’ve put even more (if that’s possible) focus on crafting and building a home. And it’s recently driven me into Lord of the Rings Online, which I hadn’t played seriously since my kids were newborns, and now I’m deep in it and even subbing. LOTRO in particular feels like comfort food to me, plus it’s riddled with exploration and tasks and fiddly chores that keep my brain occupied. I just can’t imagine playing anything darker than that right now.
Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): As someone who worked a second job that had to shut down for three-odd months when the pandemic was locally raging, I definitely found my spending habits changing as I looked through my backlog and double-clicked those unused desktop launchers to stretch my gaming dollar.
I also leaned in hard on the community of friends in my Final Fantasy XIV guild, engaging with them a whole lot more and enjoying more events with them in a bid to keep distracted and sane. They helped me through a lot of malaise and made a worrying time less worrying.
But no, I can’t say that the pandemic has changed much in the way of gaming for me. It’s not a refuge for me so much as my normal end-of-day stress relief and fun time. I will say that when the world felt like it was going topsy-turvy there in March and April, it was nice to have some part of my life remain stable, including gaming.
MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I don’t feel like my habits have changed much; I’d already been gaming less due to health before the pandemic started. I was already largely a homebody as well. I already use games and gaming groups for social outlets, for mental stimulation, or for mindless relaxation — whichever I need at the moment. I hopped between activities and games depending on what mood struck, and that is still the case. If I had to pick a direction, I’d say gaming may have dropped off just a smidgen more during this time, but then that is mostly attributed to buying a house, sorting, and packing!