Data from Australia’s Interactive Games and Entertainment Association found that in the week of March 16-22, when lockdown began, digital download purchases of video games doubled. Other market figures found that sales of physical games and consoles spiked by almost three times in that week.
And there have been some unusual shifts among the most popular titles, says IGEA chief executive Ron Curry, suggesting the already large gaming demographic (the last Digital Australia report stated that two-thirds of Australians play video games) has widened during the COVID-19 crisis.
You can be alone in your loungeroom but still be connected, whether to your friends or family or to the world generally.
Ron Curry, Interactive Games and Entertainment Association CEO
“Last week we saw Uno and Just Dance 2020 in the top selling games, which tell us people are both playing differently and different people are starting to play,” Curry says.
JB HiFi gaming specialist Sachi Fernando agrees: “I wouldn’t be surprised if people who weren’t thinking about gaming before are now considering it.”
Dr Steven Conway, a Swinburne University gaming researcher and lecturer, isn’t shocked that video games have been in high demand, but he has been surprised by “how enormous the leap has been”.
“It’s incredible and tells us how deeply as humans we have these in-built psychological needs.”
By that, Conway means video games offer more than pure entertainment. They have been able to provide people what the pandemic took away: social connection, personal tasks and a sense of achievement.
Fernando says there has been a “huge uplift” in demand for games that involve playing with others, including games such as FIFA 20, NBA 2K20 and AFL Evolution 2 for forlorn sport fans.
And, of course, the Nintendo Switch’s enormously successful Animal Crossing: New Horizons has sold a whopping 13.4 million copies globally in the six weeks since launching in late March. Even actor Elijah Wood and model Chrissy Teigen are fans.
Curry believes multiplayer games have been a perfect solution during social distancing. “You can be alone in your loungeroom but still be connected, whether to your friends or family or to the world generally.”
Conway points to an interesting rise in multiplayer games that involve “soft” interaction. Unlike shooter titles like Call Of Duty or Fortnite which are centred on competition, gentler games like Animal Crossing allow users to simply be around people, almost like sitting in a cafe buzzing with strangers, except in an online world.
“We enjoy that feeling of being in a community but not necessarily being responsible for interacting with a group,” Conway says.
The other big benefit of gaming during the pandemic is it has given people clear and concise goals to pursue – and yes, video game missions, with their specific instructions, timeframes and virtual rewards, do count.
“That is enormously rewarding when you’re in a situation that lacks clarity and lacks a beginning and end,” Conway says.
Conway hopes the rise in video game use during the coronavirus crisis will help, once and for all, erase the outdated “gamer” stereotype.
“Games are a mainstream activity enjoyed by millions of Australians, [they] are part and parcel of everyday life.” And if you’re not gaming yourself yet, well, now’s the time.
Sophie is Deputy Lifestyle Editor for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.