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1. Killer Games
For the average person, the biggest difficulty of the pandemic and its required social isolation was finding ways to stay occupied. People were bored out of their minds, especially when they couldn’t really see their friends or family members.
However, gamers didn't know they'd been preparing for this moment their entire lives. While they were games for very different audiences, both Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Doom Eternal became early breakout hits of the pandemic.
And the pandemic also helped breathe new life into older games, too. Among Us actually came out back in 2018, but 2020 made it internationally famous as players sought new ways to connect with their friends online.
2. Built-In Social Distancing
The early messaging about COVID-19 was very clear: social distancing was required to protect yourself and others from the coronavirus. But this was easier said than done, as countless businesses, schools, and other organizations had to rearrange large spaces and label floors and walls to facilitate this kind of distancing.
However, “social distancing” is already built into almost every multiplayer game. The days of couch co-op are long behind us, and most titles only let you do multiplayer online.
In any given year, the slow death of couch co-op would be pretty annoying. But in 2020 and beyond, it meant that gamers could connect with friends and family with great online games, and all without leaving the house.
3. Safe Socialization
It seems like the gaming community is constantly hosting arguments between hardcore gamers and casual gamers. But one interesting side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it converted plenty of people to casual gaming as a way to safely socialize.
Perhaps the best example of this has been the meteoric popularity of the assorted Jackbox games. All it took was one player who owned the games to stream them via Twitch, Zoom, or some other method. After that, friends and family could tune in and play by using nothing more than their smartphones.
These aren’t exactly hardcore games, of course. But by offering a fun and safe way to socialize online, these simple games helped bring even more people into the gaming community.
4. Imaginative Spaces Within Games Game developers quickly noticed how many players were using video games to socialize as much as to play. And they ended up responding to this growing popularity in some unexpected ways.
One of the weirdest examples of this is games like Fortnite becoming host to virtual concerts. In a world where he couldn’t safely perform in person, Travis Scott hosted an insane 15-minute concert in Fortnite that combined interactivity, psychedelic visuals, and heart-thumping music.
Some games also became the nexus of civic responsibility. The nonprofit Rock the Vote actually used Minecraft to help young people learn about both the process and the importance of voting.
In short, gaming spaces were increasingly used for more than just video games. And this helped both developers and players learn about the potential future of game development.
5. From Dreams to Streams
Do you like to watch streamers play games? Or maybe you’re something of a streamer yourself? In that case, the COVID-19 pandemic was surprisingly great for streaming.
But maybe we shouldn’t say “surprisingly.” Stuck inside with little else to do, many discovered streamers to follow. And the more popular streamers also came with their own communities (such as Discord servers) where new fans could make new friends.
According to research by Polygon, streaming viewership very nearly doubled during the pandemic. Whether you like to stream or just like to watch, 2020 ended up being a banner year for almost every streaming platform.
6. New Online Communities
Online communities have been around as long as the internet has been around. The BBS systems and Usenet groups of yesterday eventually became the subreddits and social media platforms of today.
And these online communities have only grown during the pandemic. In gaming, the biggest success story in this regard is Discord. According to CNBC, 56 million people actively used Discord at the end of 2019. Now, there are over 140 million active users.
Obviously, not all of these users are gamers. Plenty use Discord for everything from watching and discussing TV shows to buying and trading for rare items. But at least 70% of the users are using Discord for gaming purposes.
Basically, whatever games you’re into, there is likely a Discord out there for you. And it is super easy to create your own server to stay connected with friends, which is exactly why Discord became so popular during the pandemic.
7. More Online Events
This last point may be divisive, but one positive thing about the pandemic has been that it made major gaming events more accessible online.
Previously, major shows like E3 and Blizzcon would have a physical event and then a small smattering of online events (if they even had those). But due to the pandemic, many of these events became online-only, including an all-virtual E3 2021. This makes it easy to virtually attend for those who didn’t have the time or the money to fly out to these events.
With more people becoming vaccinated, we are likely going to see a return to in-person gaming events. But with any luck, these events will continue to have a major online component for eager gamers who otherwise would be unable to attend.