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It's Saturday night, and like so many others, I'm in the middle of the longest April of my life. I'm currently going through what feels like my hundredth Zoom quiz in just a few weeks. My mum and two of my sisters peer out at me through my laptop as we go through the same questions I've answered time and time again, my enthusiasm for the whole thing clearly visibly waning as I take a sip of wine.
"What's the name of the fictional hospital in Scrubs?"
"Who played the 10th Doctor in the BBC sci-fi series Doctor Who?"
"Which actor played James Bond for the longest stretch of time?"
Ugh. Ugh. Ughhhhhhhh.
Don't get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against the virtual pub quizzes we all took up during lockdown. They were as good a way as any to see friends and family, but after a few dozen of them? The entertainment value afforded by the quizzes themselves were starting to wear a little thing. I mean, a quiz is a quiz. You kind of know what you're getting.
Video games, on the other hand, were giving me exactly what I needed. Among Us provided plenty of fun for myself and my friends. Hell, there was even a period where I finally got over my life-long aversion to Call Of Duty to play Warzone with a group of mates almost every night for two months. It kept me in touch with the people I loved, and gave me something to do with them that I actually enjoyed. Win-win.
The only problem with gaming as a way to stay connected, at least in my experience, was that it wasn't something parents and elderly relatives really wanted or knew how to deal with. It was enough of a battle making sure they knew how to get set up with Zoom - the idea of trying to teach them how to play Red Dead Online wasn't something I'd ever considered.
And yet, as I've discovered over the last few months, video games have proven themselves to be an essential part of the lockdown experience for plenty of older first-time gamers. Single-player games have helped to keep grandparents and older relatives occupied during a time of unimaginable isolation, while multiplayer romps have proven themselves to be outstanding substitutes for those dreaded Zoom quizzes.
"My niece and I both have PlayStation so when lockdown began we started playing online more together to keep in touch and keep me company as I live alone," gamer Lynsey Harlond, 33, told me over Twitter.
I first got in touch with Lynsey as a result of a previous article we'd written on a 65-year-old gamer who'd beaten Red Dead Redemption 2 well over 30 times. While I'm sure many of us consider stories like this to be an adorable anomaly, Lynsey told me she'd actually used lockdown as an opportunity to get her 59-year-old mum into video games.
"My mam was left out," she continued, "so I talked her into getting one and reassured her it would be fun. Once she bought the PlayStation she didn't like the headphones that come with it so I put her in the direction of a proper gaming headset. She has better kit than me now!"
Like so many of us, Lynsey and her mum, Carol, gave Zoom quizzes a go and quickly decided it wasn't the best way to stay in touch for lockdown. " After we were done with a quiz, all there was to talk about was COVID and lockdown," Lynsey explained. "At least with online gaming we're talking and laughing about the game and what's going on - it really has been a lifeline."
Amazingly, it seems there are plenty of families who have come to the same conclusion since the first lockdown. A recent study commissioned by Cadbury Heroes found that over half (58%) of families now use video games as a way to bring them closer together.
Moreover, an impressive six in ten parents acknowledged their child would have really struggled without the social space afforded by playing online with friends and relatives, and 56% of parents are spending more time than ever before gaming with their kids.
According to the same study, an amazing one in five grandparents are also really starting to see the appeal of gaming - not just as a way to keep us all connected, but as a fun hobby in its own right.... Is it safe to say we're starting to see a real shift in attitudes from older relatives who might not previously have "got" gaming?
"Parents really saw it as this bad influence, or they didn't necessarily understand video games," Dr Lynn Love, a Lecturer in Computer Arts at Abertay University explained to me over the phone.
"They're now getting involved, and they're seeing it as a good way to connect. Cadbury's research shows that it's not just parents, though - it's also grandparents, they're getting involved, so there's this cross generational interaction."
I think it's fair to say that quite a few of us would never have expected to get parents and grandparents into anything more complicated than the occasional game of Just Dance or Wii Sports, but with mums and daughters like Lynsey and Carol playing everything from GTA V to The Last of Us, it's clear that something special is happening.
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"Gaming provides a great sense of escapism when there is so much bad news in the world at the moment," Carol told me. "It's kept me sane, and being able to spend time with my daughter and granddaughter virtually has really kept me going. I'll still continue playing once things get back to normal though - it's my hobby now!"
While lockdown seems to have been the crucial push for Carol - and plenty of others like her - Love believes that this changing relationship between older generations and games was always coming... lockdown just gave things a bit of a nudge.
"I think that us being at home during lockdown has led to an acceleration," Love explained.
"We're indoors more, so we're having to find ways to pass time. But what we're also finding is that games are everywhere in our lives! it's starting to become ubiquitous.
"That sort of level of interactivity, we may not even necessarily realise that we're playing a game when we are, and I think we're seeing video games, technology and design concepts, spreading out games, into commerce and in shopping and into advertising and all sorts of different things. So I think it would have happened anyway."
More than just being a way to pass the time together, however, Love stresses that spending time playing video games with family has tangible benefits, including helping to keep relationships strong. For this reason alone, gaming with the fam should absolutely be considered "quality time". No complaints from me.
"It's nurturing that family bond," she continued. "I think it's the problem solving aspect of it, you know, having to problem solve, also that knowledge sharing, because we found that 50% of adults were being taught by their children, and 25% of them never picked up a controller before. Controllers, I think are the big barrier sometimes to gaming, because they're so complex, all the different buttons."
That's a point I'd certainly considered before. As someone who has had to tape over buttons on my grandad's TV remote, I'm well aware that PS4 and Xbox One controllers could be incredibly overwhelming at first glance. I'm sure we can all appreciate that a huge part of the fact the Wii took off in the way it did is because people of all ages could pick up that remote for a game like Wii Sports and instantly understood what they needed to do with it. It's a barrier then, to be sure, but not one that's impossible to overcome, as gamers like Lynsey and Carol have shown us.
"At first my mum thought she wouldn't get the hang of it and didn't know why each game has a different button set up for actions" Lynsey told me when I asked how Carol found getting into the rhythm of using a PS4.
"Even now she sometimes presses the wrong buttons for things, which gives us a great laugh. She was trying to exit a wagon on Red Dead Online, and instead of pressing triangle, she pressed every button but that. She just kept changing seats in the wagon! My niece and I couldn't help her for laughing."
It's not an easy journey for everyone then, but Lynsey acknowledges that her mum "doesn't do it as often now," and that "she's come a long way". But the really good news for any family members still put off at the prospect of picking up a pad and joining in the fun? Gaming is good for you. I know years of tabloid shrieking may have put you off the idea, but it really, truly is.
We've seen countless studies over the years that talk about how gaming from a young age can benefit things like literacy and social skills, but even if you're playing your first game at 40, 50, or 60 years old, there are still so many ways gaming could help you outside of that immediate social and familial connection.
"Feeling connected to people is so important to your well being," Love told me. "And so I think that everybody can benefit from that, especially in these difficult times. Playing games, problem-solving, and achieving things inside a game can also help your wellbeing.
"So it's not just necessarily connectedness, there's other elements to it. There have been studies that have shown people over the age of 16, that actually playing video games have helped them with their spatial cognition, it's helped them with their problem-solving and their creativity, and even their - their short-term memory... isn't it funny that I had to check my notes then?"
Is it too soon to say that there's an entirely new gaming revolution sweeping up generations that might have missed out the first time round? Perhaps.
What I have learned from Dr Love, Lynsey, Carol, and dozens of other first-time gamers out there since lockdown started, is that it's never too late to start playing. It wasn't too late for me to become obsessed with Call Of Duty: Warzone after 26 years of not liking CoD, and it certainly wasn't too late for Carol to get herself a PS4 and lose herself to an array of single and multiplayer experiences.
"If I can pick a controller up after all these years and start playing, anyone can," Carol said. "There are some easier games than others, but if you have family to play with it can bring you together during these strange times - and they can help you learn the game.
"If you're playing alone, it still gives your mind a break from the goings on in the world and you can really let out some stress. It's been a lifeline for me and I would encourage anyone thinking about it to just do it! Besides, no one knows how old you are when you're online so no one judges you, everyone is there just to have fun."
"Just do it," Love agreed. "Gaming is a really great opportunity to connect with people. So if you have people in your lives already, gamers talk to them, you know, ask them what you should play. Ask them what they play. Join in! Even if you don't necessarily enjoy the game, you'll enjoy playing with them and in being able to connect with them through them, being able to teach you it and learn new things.
"And don't be scared by the controller. Don't be scared by the challenge of it. Because you don't have to be good at it to have fun, and you don't need to be good at it to be able to have these really great social interactions. Be open minded. Keep trying and, hopefully, you'll be able to connect with other people through online gaming, because there are other people out there like you."
What more can I add to that, guys? You heard them - get gaming, keep an open mind, and do your part to introduce the sheer delight of modern video games to the parents, grandparents, and other elderly relatives that are missing out. You might need to be patient, but if the reward is a level of connectedness and closeness with family that I think we're all craving right now? I'd say it's worth the effort.
Thanks to Cadbury for arranging the interview with Dr Lynn Love. You can read more about the Cadbury Heroes multiplayer gaming initiative right here.
Featured Image Credit: Bethesda
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