Online Gaming Platforms - An Effective Tool For Children During COVID-19

Children, Pandemic and Mental Health : It’s not just about survival, but about remaining happy healthy and well adjusted

Children constitute 28% of the world’s population, which means more than 2.2 billion children. 16% of the population is aged between 10 and 19. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the lives of people around the world in an unprecedented manner and children aren’t safe from this either. Many of them battered, abused, isolated, despondent, alone, vulnerable and sometimes completely helpless these children at times  do not even have the right words to express what they are going through, unlike adults. As the most common strategy deployed for the prevention of COVID-19 has been isolation and social distancing, educational institutions and activity areas have been closed down, temporarily or permanently. Many of them have not met their classmates or their teachers, they haven’t even seen the inside of an actual school in their crucial formative years. With over 168 million children currently out of schools and confined in their homes, the possibility of many of them never going back to schools also looms large. Singapore has also decided to shut schools over the number of rises cases due to a new variant. Many experts have warned of a possible third wave, that is likely to target children even more than ever before, resulting in restrictions unlikely to be lifted soon. The pandemic has set us back by several years on the development of children and their rights, claims a recent UNICEF report.

As the inoculation drives prioritize older age groups, children will likely be indoors for safety reasons, for the foreseeable future. The lack of interaction and extracurricular activities means that the children risk being the most adversely affected, amongst all age groups; their lives have been turned upside down. The impact of this pandemic will be lifelong for some of them and thus it is important that extra attention is paid to their needs during this time. 

The impact on the emotional and mental wellbeing may be dependent on numerous factors such as the developmental age, support system at home and engagement activities available to them. Healthy coping mechanisms are no longer an option, it is a dire necessity. While the classrooms are moving online, in a bid to ensure that learning doesn’t stop, children are missing out on the activities and physical interaction that is critical to their development. Online skill-based gaming can be a suitable alternative to such activities by providing a platform for children that engages them and offers the excitement of real-life sports through fair competition and recognition for success. Online skill-based gaming platforms are also increasingly being used for social interaction, which has been a dire need during isolation. Games which help children in enhancing their motor neural ability, their hand eye coordination and bring with them the comfort of a safe space and happy childhood memory are being increasing used by young adults as well to bring them respite and reprieve. 

The online gaming market in India is growing at a tremendous pace, owing to the surge in use of digital technologies. The revenues doubled between 2014 & 2018, reaching INR 43.8 billion by FY18, according to a KPMG report. The number of online gamers in India grew by 20% in January 2021 (from July), crossing 50 crores. 90 percent of those gamers used their smartphones or tablets to play. According to a BARC & Nielsen report, Indians now spend 218 minutes playing games, as compared to 151 minutes before lockdown. The increasing interest in gaming has also meant increased interest for startups and investors. There are currently more than 400 gaming start-ups in India while investors put in around $173 million in the sector in CY2020. This has resulted in the online gaming becoming one of the sunrise sectors, with tremendous potential for growth. With supportive policy frameworks and support from all stakeholders, this sector will generate tremendous employment opportunities and add significantly to the economy of the country. Placing skill based games and gamification of education and learning at the centre of online and distance education can solve for both upskilling as well as bridge the capacity building gap. 

While young adults and gamers are currently spoilt for choice with thousands of games available for download there is a need to enhance the options for children as well as redesign games for good. India accounted for 17% of total global mobile game downloads in the first three quarters of 2020. With games available across genres such as arcade, strategy, skill, sports, etc., these games require participants to have requisite skills, knowledge, strategic thinking, logic, attention, practice and nimbleness to win. Playing such games overtime can also help improve these attributes as well. If the engagement of the online games could be brought into education, through gamification, this would be a transformational event as it will change the way the children learn and improve. 

Gamification of learning and education

Apart from the introduction of computers, Education in India has not seen a lot of widespread innovation in the last century. Gamification of the curriculum, mental exercises and assessments could be revolutionary. Instead of 10 hours of gruelling study, we could be looking at engaging, interactive and entertaining ways of teaching and learning. Gamification can also help create customized solutions for target groups, such as, people with learning difficulties, economically weaker segments and users in remote locations. This will be especially beneficial for children with learning disabilities who find it difficult to learn through orthodox learning methods. Gamification would have further applications in healthcare, governance, strategy, and corporate among other industries, and could be used to improve learning and skilling of the youth, as India looks to unleash the workforce of tomorrow to meet the global demands for skilled manpower in the emerging technology fields. 

While the pandemic has highlighted the positive impact, online gaming can have in engaging and entertaining children, there is no reason why this shouldn’t continue and keep advancing post the pandemic. 

The pandemic is pushing families into poverty and is reducing access to open public spaces creating an adverse impact on the mental health of both children and young adults. There is a need to address the developmental needs of children during this lockdown, in addition to ensuring that they have healthy coping mechanisms that help through isolation. Online gaming should not be looked at as a distraction anymore, rather, it is time to incorporate it in the development strategy of our children in the best way possible. If there is a way to make learning fun and engaging for the children, especially during this time, it would be irresponsible not to do so. We owe it to our children to give them a happy and healthy childhood and any constructive coping mechanisms that give them a sense of normalcy should be both welcomed and encouraged in the right mix and proportion. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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