House of Fun

The rise of online gaming during the pandemic

The past 18 months have been strange to say the least. All over the world people have been forced to work – and play – at home, and as a result housebound forms of digital fun and entertainment via online streaming channels such as Netflix and Disney+ have grown by leaps and bounds. The same can be said for online exercise and gaming platforms. 

As the year has slid past, gaming consoles like Nintendo Switch – already popular and almost always out of stock here – have become increasingly difficult to buy, while the new PlayStation 5, launched globally in November 2020 and in February 2021 in Thailand, has been equally difficult to get hold of. This situation was caused not only by the pandemic’s disruption to supply chains but also by a computer chip shortage resulting from trade sanctions, which coinciding with a spike in demand for computers and other electronic goods created by the stay-at-home lifestyle.

In fact, gaming culture has been around since the 1970s and the advent of the Atari games console. The shift to PC gaming happened a decade or so later with the birth of the Apple IIe and the widespread adoption of Microsoft DOS. Innovation was the main factor in the growth of gaming, driven increasingly by social influence. Games remained limited to single players until the mid 2000's when faster internet and advanced computer technology allowed for multiplayer entertainment. This boosted the culture, giving it an enhanced social aspect.

In Thailand the largest online gaming communities are currently PUBG (Player Unknown's Battle Ground) and Fortnite. Both are competitive "Battle Royale" type of ‘shoot them up’ role-playing games and are played by people of every age and social group. For the uninitiated, there are two different types of gamer based on their choice of equipment, as a dedicated practitioner who goes by the name of “Glyph” explains.

“PC Gaming is comparable to building your own car from scratch. It's a labour of love but the results are rewarding. It can get rather expensive putting your set-up together. PC gamers are also known as the "PC Master-race," since they are at the top of the fastest, most realistic gaming experience possible. They are also known to tweak both their hardware and the game itself to create the perfect rendering environment. 

“Serious console gamers, who are generally 25 and up, like to customize a fully finished suit of hardware and software tailored to their needs. Casual gamers, on the other hand, tend to be in their late teens or younger and more inclined to Nintendo Switch and mobile gaming. In this group most of the games are pick-up-and-play, very little set-up is involved and advanced graphics are not really a concern. Casual gamers are willing to play for free and then pay micro-transactions inside the game for additional content or other incentives.”

Glyph is a regular player in the Assassin's Creed Valhalla community. He is a smart and tough gamer, guiding his character through the various stages, engaging in his missions and combats. Glyph’s alter-ego in real life, however, is a slim and sweet lady, a gentle 40-year-old business owner who says that gaming helps her “stay in the zone”. She prefers to present herself as male online, perhaps to prevent competitors from being embarrassed at being thrashed by a woman. “Aiko” is another of several gaming handles she has used since she got hooked on playing “Defender” on her father’s Atari as a young girl. 

Just as we might while away our leisure hours in front of a screen watching Netflix or engaging on Instagram or Tik Tok, Glyph passes her time in the virtual world of gaming. She cites The Witcher 3 as her all-time favourite game but could just as easily binge on Assassin's Creed Valhalla or Vincenzo, and although she doesn’t have a regular playing schedule, she admits to putting in anywhere from 60-150 hours on a worthwhile game.

“Most important for me is the experience,” she explains. “A game is a form of art, the creator needs to have a point that comes across clearly to the players. Is it a story-based game, is it showcasing a new technology, is it supposed to teach something? When someone plays a game they are investing time in learning how to play it, and they want to receive something in exchange – mainly satisfaction.”

Glyph ranks herself among the top echelons of local PC gamers and is a serious player. She enjoys the challenge of building her own custom machine and tweaking it for the best possible performance. “But PC gaming does require a lot of time,” she says, “and the convenience of a hand-held console or mobile game can override the satisfaction of beautiful rendering.”

She credits gaming for helping her meditate, putting her in a different frame of mind, and satisfying her need to learn new things. “Non-gamers like to say it is addictive but I can only say that anything mismanaged can cause addiction, loss of funds, and waste time. It's like having television or streaming services – too much of something is detrimental. But I prefer to activate my brain, learning how to navigate a game rather than simply taking in a movie. I’m also strict about when and for how long I play.” 

Glyph adds that gaming communities usually use forums like Reddit and applications like Discord to gather. “With Discord you can chat live while playing, so that's a bonus. I have one community per game that I play, and often fade myself out of the community as soon as I move on to a new game.” 

While some aficionados enjoy the social aspect of online gaming – and others earn a respectable amount of money through streaming on Twitch or You Tube – Glyph considers herself a private player who participates for the satisfaction of it and the relaxation it brings at home. “It's my personal opinion that gaming is the only art form that can teach someone to experience life thoroughly from another perspective. TV, movies, radio, books, visual arts, painting, dance... all other forms of art convey information to a passive viewer or reader. Only through a game can you have a fully involved experience, making conscious choices that will affect the outcome. This level of interaction is missing in other types of entertainment. 

“As a gamer, I've made choices that I am proud of and choices that I regret. I have been a Paleolithic hunter taking down a mammoth with only a spear in my hand and the ingenuity of my tribe. I have spared a family in ancient Greece only to accidentally unleash a plague on Athens,” she laughs. “I ruled over East Francia in 843 A.D. and carried out a crusade against the Pope in Rome after he slighted my ally. I have been busy!” Glyph also has precise expectations of the games she plays. “I prefer story-based games, so my wish list usually features packages from publishers who I know will take me to another world, give me another life and role, teach me something new.” 

Because of the pandemic at-home entertainment is bigger than ever and Glyph and her game-playing fraternity isn’t the least bit surprised that more and more people are beginning to discover the fun and attraction of online gaming, not just as a form of entertainment but as a learning experience too.