Experts: Online video games serve to help cope, socialize through the pandemic

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CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (NEWS10) — In a world that changed drastically during the pandemic, longtime game lover Eric Marsden says at least one thing stayed the same.

“I’m happy to still be online, playing every day with some of the great faculty and students at UAlbany,” says Marsden, a sophomore at UAlbany.

Marsden was one of the first of more than 100 members of UAlbany’s eSports team founded in 2019 and also co-captains the team that competes in Madden. University at Albany and colleges like it across the nation have now taken to video gaming to keep students sane.

“Our game nights Thursdays from seven to nine p.m. give an opportunity to not only play games and have fun and to laugh and be excited and to engage, but to just socialize,” explains Professor of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security, and Cybersecurity Michael Leczinsky. He also serves as the eSports team coach.

“A lot of the freshmen aren’t really used to such things as in this pandemic how to socialize. So bringing them to these game nights each week is a great way for them to make friends,” says Marsden.

Industry leaders say they saw a skyrocket in thousands of new game users buying up every console on the market and joining the 2 billion strong online communities. Data gathered by Safe Betting Sites shows 36.54 percent more video game consoles have been sold in 2020 compared to last year. According to the data, between January and July this year, a total of 22,284,462 game consoles were sold worldwide while in 2019 sales stood at 16,319,770.

“From this April to last April, we are seeing that double-digit growth which is unusual in that season. We continue to see that growth month over month,” explains Troy-based Valen Studios CEO Karthik Bala.

Bala and Valen Studios pitched the concept for Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, which will now launch through Nintendo in October. He says adjusting to work through the pandemic has been a challenge, but the surge in video game interest has been a huge encouragement.

“One of the most powerful elements of video games is that it’s an equalizer. It doesn’t matter who you are and where you live, what kind of abilities you have, in gaming it’s really about coming together in the virtual world. Games like Mario Kart put smiles on peoples faces, you know it’s a positive experience playing together, competitively or cooperatively,” he says in a video interview with NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

Bala goes on to say even at home, he’s recognized how much games have helped his kids stay close to their friends while socially distanced and keep stress levels low.

“This is the way they connect. Games have become the digital playground to hang out with friends, and it’s a way that they are able to socialize and have some downtime together,” he says.

Organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics have long labeled gaming as ill advised, citing studies that correlate violent video games and an increase in outward aggression and suggest a plausible correlation to adolescent depression. However, a recent independent study by GetCenturyLink shows team building and competition games like Mario Kart help more than 50 percent of users build positive relationships.

“I feel like gaming has made me a better person overall. While it does have the negative implications that some people decide to put on it, it really shows that through gaming I’m able to still make friends, still compete at that same level that I was able to do in high school sports, and I’m still able to grow,” Marsden says.

“The same skills that go into setting up your matches, working with other teams, working together with your teammates who are distributed in a variety of areas, are the same skills that we are working on in the classroom,” adds Leczinsky, “Our students develop leadership opportunities, they develop teamwork, communication, strategy and problem-solving, critical thinking. The positive benefits of gaming, as well as competitive gaming and the eSports area, are really wonderful.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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