The Abstract Podcast

Last of Us 2 controversy reveals the emotional side of quarantine gaming culture

Episode #9: The psychology of video games

Naughty Dog / Sony Entertainment LLC

When local governments began putting social distancing guidelines into effect in mid-March 2020, there was extreme concern. Anxiety about how people would do their jobs, raise their kids, and celebrate birthdays. The timing was bad for regular life. Except if your life included video games. The timing might have even been seen as fortuitous.

In the weeks after, the number of Americans playing video games jumped by as much as 115 percent according to a report by Verizon, the internet service provider, that was released in April 2020. New psychological study has revealed why we choose the games we do, and the effects they have on our minds.

Video games have long been hailed for their storytelling, design, and emotional complexity. But as more people pick up their controller, two key questions emerge: Why are so many people drawn to the world of video games? And who are games for, anyway?

In this latest episode of The Abstract podcast from Inverse, we explore the psychology of video games.

Our first story is about how Nintendo’s Animal Crossing became the quarantine game everyone was playing. The March 2020 release of its latest installment, Animal Crossing: New Horizons came just as many Americans were accepting the idea of self-isolation. It proved to be the perfect “mental vacation” from the 24/7 coronavirus news cycle. As mental health experts become increasingly interested in the potential of games to help people, Animal Crossing continues to reign as the perfect lockdown relief during isolation — and people across the world can’t seem to play it enough.

Our second story takes a closer look at the darker side of video gaming culture; specifically, the latest controversy surrounding who games are made for, and what kinds of people should be depicted in them. After an April 2020 leak of an upcoming video game, speculation that a character in it could be transgender riled up a vocal minority and sparked new conversations about inclusion and empathy in video games. With video games appealing to far more people than are represented in them, what does the process look like to spur a change in mainstream video games, that should be, for every last one of us?

Read the original Inverse stories here:

Where to find us:

Right now, facts and science matter more than ever. That's part of the reason for The Abstract, this all-new podcast from the Inverse staff that focuses exclusively on science and innovation. Three new episodes are released a week, and each covers one theme via two related stories. Each features audio of original Inverse reporting, where the facts and context take center stage. It's hosted by the Tanya Bustos of WSJ Podcasts. Because we're Inverse, it's all true but slightly off-kilter. It's made for people who want to know the whole story. Nick Lucchesi, executive editor, Inverse

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