Video games help keep people of all ages connected during the pandemic

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Video games are now a billion dollar industry. With massive mergers, tournaments with millions of dollars in prize money, new next-generation consoles that push computing power further, advances in technology, and new genres seemingly every day, it’s no wonder that video games are now part of people’s lives.

But the days of the stereotypical “grownup guy playing video games in his mom’s basement” are long over. Women and men of all ages are turning to games of all kinds — some with recognizable names like Fortnite, Call of Duty, and Madden — to deceptively simple and more niche games, like JackBox, or Among Us!.

This newfound explosion of video gaming, as well as its positive social attributes especially during a pandemic, doesn’t just come from the big money and advertisements, or the marriage of gaming and academia; it comes from the core of gaming.

Shared interest, and inclusivity.

Gaming, the big picture, academia

“The shared interest is a big thing,” said Lyndsay Herkimer, a Senior Staff Assistant, with the School of Interactive Games and Media. “Being able to share common interests, share, talk about it, and play. They’re really connecting that way.”

David Schwartz, Director at the School of Interactive Games and Media, also adds that video game developers and their consumers have a unique relationship, which helps make video gaming an interactive medium, even after you step away from the controller.

“No matter how much we talk to our friends, or write letters to the writers, producers, TV shows are going to do what they want to do,” he said. “You can talk about what happened, what you would have done in that situation… It’s still a shared experience, but in video games, you have agency. Your actions in a game changes something, a friend’s action changes something… Games afforded a chance to change outcomes. Whether you do things differently or the same, that became a group activity.”

The other advantage gaming has is the ability to simultaneously play over distance. Board games or movies mostly require close contact with another person to enjoy simultaneously participation, but many digital video games already have that built-in.

This shared experience also has a way of building social bridges, similar to TV shows or books. Now that video games and gaming are becoming more mainstream, the world is even seeing celebrities come out and get involved.

It could be Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez breaking a streaming views record by playing Among Us!, or Henry Cavill of “Superman” and “The Witcher” fame, showing the world him assembling a computer with only a tank top on, or Brie Larson saying it’s a great way for her to stay connected.

Schwartz said in a word, why this is so important:

“Legitimacy.”

He also says that with this legitimacy, come more opportunity. If people see that gaming is cool, more people will join in, which will not only make the games themselves more inclusive, but also offer more opportunities. That way, if you want to play any kind of game, there are more options than ever before.

Another change in the video game landscape over the past five years — let alone ten — is the prevalence of organized events.

Herkimer says that RIT regularly hosts game nights, where players can play together over a game and see each other over Zoom. The schools also hosts many other gaming-related events, like game jams and hackathons, (where game developers get together and make simple video games in a concentrated time frame), and training boot camps.

But of course, organized gaming events happen outside universities. Tournaments for Fortnite and League of Legends draw millions of viewers and millions in reward money.

But local and smaller tournaments still host tournaments and events, but more with a community focus.

Local gaming: Community and care

“We’re doing online tournaments, we’re streaming between my five employees and myself,” said Steve Drexler, of PlayerzZone. “We’re able to to do a lot more in the join us. If you want to play with us, join us.”

PlayerzZone is a video game lounge in East Rochester. Drexler says it’s the only one in Rochester, and one of the few anywhere. They had the unfortunate timing of opening up in February, and while they weren’t prepared for the first shut down, they are prepared for the second.

“We’re doing everything virtually so we can have some impact on the community,” Drexler said.

Fortunately in the meantime their tournaments have been enough to keep them afloat. Some have cash prizes of $1,500. Drexler says they are aiming for a reopen in the spring of 2021. They host tournaments for some of those household names — like Call of Duty — but like what Schwartz at RIT said, they are listening to their community to figure out what they want to play so they can host the right tournaments.

“Everyone is playing Among Us! right now,” he said. “We even play that on our Twitch stream from time to time.”

Drexler says that it’s hard to predict where the gaming field is going, because what gamers want to play is an individual choice, and since there are more ways to play to than ever — especially with the release of the next generation consoles, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X — new games are going to be thrown in the mix.

That said, he says that “pandemic gaming” will trend more in the direction of games like Among Us! (which simply put is a game where all the players on a spaceship and they have to figure out who the imposters/ bad guys are) and Fall Guys, where the skill threshold is lower. With fewer gameplay mechanics, and possibly a slower pace, these games are easier to enjoy while chatting with friends.

“Everyone has fun, and you don’t lose right away,” he said.

Drexler also says that these platforms like Twitch, Dischord, and online games also offer a new community support tool.

“You can build amazing friendships over gaming,” he said. “I made friends over games that I only know through gaming… Even though you can’t see them personally, you know them. You can build those over years.

“If anyone ever needs help, just reach out through our Dischord or Facebook pages,” he said. “Mental health status can be pretty detrimental these days. If anyone wants to hop on and game and chat, we’re there to get anyone through.”

From a gamer’s perspective: Simple and streaming

You may remember Alexa Amoriello, one of the whiz kids and RIT students behind the incredible Minecraft replication of the RIT campus.

“It brought together something in community that everyone knew,” she said. “It brought us together in a place that we wanted to be in, but we couldn’t be in fully.”

That Minecraft took hundreds and hundreds of work hours collectively in her group, EGS, or Electronic Gaming Society at RIT, but that creation is not the only gaming activity occupying her world.

She has been playing JackBox and Among Us! because they offer both simplicity, and a different outcome each time. She says that the typical “AAA developer games” all have the same flow, a very linear approach, whereas JackBox has random prompts and games.

This randomness leads to short games, but way more conversation long after. Unlike a AAA game, where after you beat the mission, it’s over.

Amoriello also casually suggest that people can “make a game” if they want something simple, but says that simple games are also less expensive.

Another free alternative if you want to be in the gaming world is streaming. Simply put, streaming is where you can watch someone playing a game. Amoriello says the appeal ranges from being able to see the game played by a master, introducing games, engaging and chatting with the streamers (some of whom are famous and broadly known in the gaming community), and they can even have a relaxing effect.

“You can watch it like a movie,” she said.

EGS also hosts weekly game nights, and Amoriello says that gaming is a perfect way for her work-weary friends to get together, relax, and forget about the day.

“You don’t have to think, you just relax and do,” she said. “Who wouldn’t want to step into another universe?”

It also builds some incredible memories that stay with them for a long time.

“You can go back on those moments on your lowest of lows, you remember all the good times, and gaming gives you that,” she said.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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