Opinion

Online gaming can help parents bond with children, improve their mental wellbeing

Subi Chaturvedi | Updated on June 20, 2021

As the world commemorate Father’s Day, such games provide a platform for both children and fathers to connect, compete and converse in an interactive setup

The pandemic has triggered repeated lockdowns globally, confining children and families indoors. As a result, this is affecting the mental health of many youngsters as well as their parents. At more than 2.2 billion worldwide, children comprise 28 per cent of the global populace.

Empirical evidence indicates that being cloistered within four walls for long periods can impact mental health and therapists have been reporting that more people are reaching out for help after the outbreak last year.

The Covid-19 prevention strategies have resulted in suspension of classes across academic institutions. Consequently, millions of students have not physically met teachers and classmates for prolonged periods.

More than 168 million schoolchildren are currently missing physical classes. Additionally, uncertainty due to postponement/cancellations of Board Exams are generating intense worry among affected students and their parents.

Interactive entertainment

According to a recent UNICEF report, the present pandemic has pushed children’s development back by several years globally. Meanwhile, as vaccine drives prioritise those 18 years and above only, children may be forced to remain indoors much longer. Yet, as social beings, children, in their formative years, require greater opportunities for extracurricular activities and interactions.

Lack of this can hurt their cognitive and emotional development. And this is putting immense pressure on parents to keep their children engaged through activities while juggling extended work hours and household chores. It was thus no surprise that for some children, the screen time shot up as much as 500 per cent as they looked to keep themselves entertained.

As the world is poised to commemorate Father’s Day, it is important to acknowledge the less talked about role of fathers during the pandemic: constantly finding new opportunities for interactive engagement with the children. Despite mothers sharing the duty, kids predominantly expect their fathers to take charge of extracurricular activities like sports, travel, and gaming, among other things. Such activities are essential bonding exercises between fathers and children, and at the same time crucial for improved wellbeing and emotional development.

As the lockdown measures and lack of vaccination in the under-18 segment are forcing children to stay inside at all times, online gaming is coming up as an interesting alternative to outdoor sports and activities. We aren’t talking about playing video games in isolation for hours anymore. Online, multiplayer games provide opportunities for interaction, engagement and fair competition.

We're in the Golden Age of social gaming and parents, especially young dads, are certainly making the most of it. As online gaming is a de-stressor for older age groups too, fathers can engage with their children through a well-chosen skill-based game.

There is a popular trend in the West, where parents have been playing online games with their children and other than sharing commands and strategies in-game, they have been talking to their children about school, their friendships and everything that is going on in their lives. This gave birth to the popular “Dad Gaming League” that has seen a considerable growth during the pandemic.

Potential benefits

Engagement and interactive entertainment are no more a matter of choice but rather a circumstantial compulsion for emotional and mental well-being of people dealing with isolation. Parents have to be properly involved in the lives of their children to ensure that they get adequate attention and support during these testing time.

While outdoor activities are not possible or feasible, online gaming can be an apt alternative for such activities. Such games provide a platform for both children and fathers to connect, compete and converse in an interactive setup. As online gaming also transcends geographical boundaries, many fathers separated from their children during the lockdown can enjoy an online game with their children on Father’s Day.

For instance, games across genres such as strategy, sports, skill and arcade require requisite skills, strategic thinking, knowledge, attention, logic, practice and nimbleness to win. Playing these games regularly can boost these attributes in players. If online games’ engagement is deployed in education via gamification, it will act as a catalyst, changing the modes of learning and improvement in children.

By offering fair competition and instant recognition for success, online gaming platforms are finding favour among the youth and older generation alike. Such games assist gamers in boosting their hand-eye coordination and motor neural ability – all within the safe confines and comfort of their homes.

Online games can also help in reviving happy childhood memories of children playing indoor games with fathers, testing their mental and intuitive faculties. Time-tested games such as Ludo, Carom and Chidya Udd are being recreated for the digital devices and multiplayer gameplay is ensuring people around the world can play these games with each other.

Rise of online gaming in India

A 2020 report by FICCI and EY on the country’s media and entertainment sector notes that online gaming recorded 40 per cent growth in 2019-2020 while generating revenues of Rs65 billion (2019). As per a KPMG report, online gamers in India grew by 20 per cent between July 2020 and January 2021, crossing 500 million, with smartphones or tablets used by 90 per cent of them. A BARC-Nielsen report reveals gamers in India now spend 218 minutes on online games – up from 151 minutes before the lockdown in 2020.

Not surprisingly, the growing interest in gaming saw a parallel rise in interest from investors and start-ups. While approximately $173 million was invested in the domain in CY2020, there are 400-plus gaming start-ups in the country currently. As a sunrise sector, online gaming holds immense growth potential.

According to KPMG, the online gaming industry is expected to cross ₹290 billion mark with 650 million users. There has been a recent call for industry regulation at a central level to protect the sector and ensure that this growth is not hampered by any unanticipated circumstances.

Light touch regulatory framework under the IT ministry is what the industry needs to ensure better and more uniform implementation at state level and this will surely boost investments, create new jobs and continue the phenomenal growth of the sector that is putting India on the global map as a leader of innovation.

As the ongoing pandemic continues impacting the mental health of children along with their academic prospects, online gaming can transform such scenarios via winning propositions for both society and the economy at large. All it requires is foresight, an open mind and institutional support from policymakers to make this a reality.

The writer is a distinguished public policy professional and a former member of the United Nations, Internet Governance Forum, Multi-stakeholder Advisory Group

Published on June 20, 2021

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