The Importance of Challenge: Gaming During Lockdown

As we get used to our new, socially-distanced reality, I think it’s fair to say that we’re starting to adapt to being at home more often, spending most of our time ensconced in pandemic-shielded domesticity.

For those that aren’t so fortunate, and who are keeping our nations running, just know you’re doing an amazing job and we appreciate you.

Personally, I find sitting down to do my research particularly difficult these days. For that reason, I’ve had to break my day up into smaller chunks of productivity in order to capitalise on this free time. I mean, to date, I’ve decorated two full rooms, built two beds, tinkered with a new desktop computer and repotted most of my orchids… and that’s not to mention my new exercise regime.

To say that procrastination has been taken to a new level is an understatement. With that said, I’ve written more than usual and my PhD is suprisingly progressing despite the strange times we’re now living in.

I used to work part-time, three days a week. I’d work through my PhD on three of my days off and give myself a day off on Friday if I felt I’d earned it. Working on something completely disparate to my research allowed me to ponder my work throughout the mundanity of my work. It also gave me a good excuse to get away from it all and come back to it with fresh ideas and a renewed sense of motivation.

Now, I’m furloughed.

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A visual representation of being furloughed.

Furloughed workers have gone from working regularly, to doing comparatively nothing in a relatively short space of time. Our jobs were important until the pandemic surfaced – we now find ourselves at home for the safety of ourselves, our colleagues and the people we engaged with. While we’re all grateful to still have an income, the furloughed can’t get on board with the #WFH movement as our jobs are very much on hold.

With that said, what on Earth do we do with our time?

Naturally, parents have their hands even more full occupying their little ones’ time. Most kids in the UK, besides those of key workers, are home from school, off-timetable (despite everyone’s best efforts), and looking to their parents for something to do. From toddlers to teenagers, it is near-impossible to keep them motivated all week. There’s only so much Joe Wicks PE and bribery that you can deploy during this pandemic. Thankfully, there are alternatives. Once the kids are zoned out watching Disney+ or building that new Lego set (that Argos/Amazon could actually deliver), what then?

Parents don’t have the escape of work, or the solitude of the school day, anymore.

Equally, college and university students, many of which will still have assignments and essays to think about, may find that their work ethic (and motivation) has wandered out on its government-approved jaunt and is, without a doubt, MIA.

How do we fill this void of productivity? There’s only so much Netflix you can watch, especially now that we’ve all seen Tiger King.

Enter: video games.

Once considered novel, time-wasting and violence-inducing; now, repurposed, as necessary, time-fulfilling and peace-generating.

Well, you know that is not entirely true.

If you’re against video games, you’re against them, I won’t preach otherwise. What I will do, however, is draw your attention to the benefits of gaming during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Popular titles such as Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, or even older titles such as Grand Theft Auto: V, all have an underlying, often overlooked, feature that can enrich your life right now. Challenges come in all forms – from NookMiles to headshots – but their defining feature is that they attempt to focus your attention on one aspect of the game for the duration of the challenge.

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Most games these days, whether in-game or platform-based, also have achievement systems – virtual rewards for your hard work and dedication. Modern video games today, particularly the likes of the aforementioned, implement daily, weekly and even monthly challenges available to all who pick up the game. Most of these are entirely optional, and you can carry on playing as normal if you wish.

If you do indeed sign up, however, the benefits can gain are numerous.

The main benefit they offer is some well-needed structure to your virtual wanderings. They keep our brains ticking over and engaged in a task – something undeniably more fun than choosing when to tackle your eternally-busy, socially-distanced supermarket. Playing the same game, often, can lead to a feeling of repetition or boredom as your near completion. Without challenges, we can’t be fully engaged in play.

Our brains are wired to thrive in challenging situations. Professionally, we see the benefit of challenges and setting ourselves goals all the time. Getting out of our comfort zone forces us to find creative ways to develop our skills and is often the best way to find out what we’re capable of. When we’re encouraged to stay at home, it can be difficult to set yourself tangible goals when you’re feeling the pressure to reinvent yourself, learn a new language or become a productivity guru overnight during this pandemic.

What you can do, however, is seek challenges already embedded in your routine. If you log onto a game regularly, why not complete a challenge this time around? Achievement hunting typically requires a lot of time, and you’re likely to have a lot of it these days, so why not make the most of your game-time and truly achieve something.

The reality is, most of us aren’t going to reinvent ourselves overnight.

We’re not going to become fluent in a new language, master yoga or rise to TikTok fame (insert eye roll) during these locked-down months. Wouldn’t you rather look back on this time and appreciate that extra time you had with your family, your loved ones or flatmates? Even if you’re stuck inside with your pets, there’s value in achieving the smallest of challenges that you set yourself.

If all you did today is complete an in-game achievement, then it’s still an achievement – a challenge you set your mind to and you completed.

I find a lot of people are virtually inhabiting social media sites a lot more. This, while perfectly fine for keeping in touch with friends and family, can often lead to feelings of inadequacy when you inevitably end up comparing yourself to Social-Media Sally’s practically perfect life online.

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In reality, what works for you and your mental health is the only routine you should strive for right now.

Remove that pressure to thrive in this situation.

If you’re healthy, have a roof over your head and are socially distancing, you’re already winning. You’re keeping yourself and your community safe. If the most you do every day is fend off the coronavirus and level-up in a game, then that’s awesome. It’s something.

You’re not wasting time playing video games, honestly. I may be a little biased in saying that, but the facts are there. In playing video games, you’re engaging your brain, you’re challenging it and you’re keeping it active for when you return to normality.

Your mind needs as much exercise as your body, and what better way to stretch that cerebral cortex than to virtually wander a beautifully-crafted world filled with challenges, feel-good vibes and dopamine-inducing activities.

Pick up that controller, you’ll feel better for it.

– Thanks for reading! Stay safe.

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