Updated: Mar 1
Ben James is our RARE Youth Technology columnist. Ben is going to be sharing his insights and opinions into the fast paced, ever changing world of technology and in particular his specialist area of gaming! Ben will be covering everything from inclusive equipment to escapism and how the online gaming community has been a lifeline for finding connection in this dis-connected time.
Ben is kicking off his monthly column as he explores the impact lockdown has had on mental health within the RARE and disabled community and how we are all exploring new ways to stay connected online.
Years ago, I nearly caused a family emergency—not because I was ill or in an accident, but because I had an unexpected phone call from my mum.
When I picked up, she heard people screaming, “Fire! Everyone’s dying!” Naturally, she panicked. More fool her—everything was under control—I was gaming with some friends and we were in the middle of killing a particularly problematic dragon.
Fortunately, when mum told me to grab a fire extinguisher I realised her mistake and explained that I was playing online with friends and not actually burning! Crisis averted.
My mum would never make the same mistake today. Now, gaming has become much more mainstream. This popularity has doubtless been accelerated by the impact of the Covid-19 quarantine. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 19% of the population are suffering from depression. I imagine that number is higher for many of us with disabilities, as the pandemic has worsened challenges of mobility and isolation. I certainly experienced a loss of human inter-connectedness because I could no longer volunteer or see friends and family in a social setting. Gaming friends on the internet became a lifeline.
The lockdown restrictions have meant that gaming has become an integral part of many people’s daily lives. For a lot of us, this is probably the new normal. It provides mental stimulation and social interaction, allowing players to immerse themselves in interactive environments both online and offline.
Considering that so much is out of our control, gaming allows us to regain some of that loss and feel like we’re making progress in some way.
My favourite gaming platform is Steam, which is both a marketplace and a library where you can buy and store your games. The Steam framework allows you to play independently or online with your friends. There are thousands of games available—you are bound to find one that suits your mood. Some let you traverse the wilderness alone or tackle a dangerous land with a friend, others, like MMOs (Massive Multiplayer Online), allow you to join guilds that protect the realms, with people all over the world lending their aid. Gaming enables people like me to take our minds off current events and stay connected with friends, and even to make new ones.
Another platform that I use is called Twitch, a free streaming service that allows people to broadcast their games worldwide. Twitch has seen massive growth during the pandemic, offering ever-increasing numbers of entertaining channels to choose from, depending on the type of games or shows that you might want to watch. Based around tight communities of like-minded people who can meet, chat and watch content, platforms like Twitch have played an important role during the pandemic, connecting people who might otherwise feel isolated and alone during quarantine.
Regardless of whether you’re watching or playing, it’s important to remember to be aware of screen-time and set boundaries—the hours can run away with you quickly!
Also be aware that people aren’t always who they say they are, so you need to be careful and approach new friendships with caution. All kinds of people play games online for different reasons: some will want to play games casually, while others will take matches or missions a lot more seriously.
Many modern games also have micro-transaction functionality, meaning that even when you own the game there can be additional optional purchases. Many of these are cosmetic, but there can be a lot of pressure for players to buy certain options, which can make some micro-transactions feel almost mandatory, and it is easy to accidentally spend more money than you meant to when you are caught up in the moment.
My advice: if you’re trying out a new game for the first time, check the reviews or maybe start a new game with a friend.
We all have different coping mechanisms to deal with this unprecedented change to people’s lives around the world. It’s particularly uplifting to see acceptance for a gaming community that is bringing people together, no matter their physical location or personal challenges. Hopefully, the normalisation of this hobby will give options to even more people, and there really is something for everyone whatever your interests. Although everyone needs to take care when online, my biggest piece of advice is that you should be particularly careful when shouting about fire when your Mum can hear!
Written by Ben James, as part of his new regular RARE Youth Tech column.