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Online Gaming: Staying Connected During Times of Social Distancing

During these unprecedented times, people are learning to leverage online gaming to come together while being asked to be apart.

Unprecedented. It's a word that I didn't quite grasp the meaning of until a few weeks ago. Not until I saw and experienced a genuinely unprecedented set of circumstances did the actual weight of the word become clear. And sure, living in unprecedented times isn't quite what I imagined (you spent a lot more time at home), but the heaviness of these times is still felt in a profoundly human fashion.

One specific way these times are being experienced is through the isolation many are experiencing across the globe. As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads globally and pushes communities throughout the world to work together to slow its growth, the world has turned inwards to self-isolate. Due to the stay-at-home measures occurring globally, it's perhaps more important than ever to find ways to connect even if we are sequestered indoors. 

We've already seen people leveraging technology solutions such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom as we learn to adjust to a work-from-home environment. Yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the most prominent people connectors in the age of social distancing has nothing to do with productivity at all: online video games. 

In Italy, the first western country to institute a national stay-at-home policy, internet bandwidth usage has shot up exponentially with a massive increase in online video game playing spurring on the rise. During an analyst call last week, Luigi Gubitosi, chief executive officer, Telecom Italia, reported seeing a massive spike in bandwidth from games like the ever-popular "Fortnite."

"We reported an increase of more than 70 percent of internet traffic over our landline network, with a significant contribution from online gaming such as 'Fortnite,'" says Gubitosi in a call with analysts, picked up by Bloomberg.

Telecom Italia isn't the only place seeing a surge in video game-related bandwidth usage. According to a report from StreamElements that was picked up by The Verge, viewership of the live video game streaming platform Twitch was up 66 percent in Italy since the stay-at-home order was implemented last February. 

The increase in online gaming-related bandwidth usage also looks to be happening across the globe as more regions institute social distancing methods. Tom Wijman, senior market analyst for games and esports analytics provider Newzoo, reports an early rise in time spent with video games and revenue in the industry due to the containment measures.

"The imposed quarantine as a result of the virus has had a positive effect on playtime and money spent on gaming," adds Wijman. "Simply put, people spend more time playing video games during isolation, which leads to higher spending."

Aside from just the statistics, though, online gaming is having a personal effect on players around the globe. People are using the connective experience of playing a video game to share time with friends and family who are separated as we all work to flatten the curve of the pandemic. While not being physically together in a room, video games are allowing individuals to be heard and bond together during these stressful times.

Since its invention, the internet has connected people in a revolutionary way. Now more than ever, its helping people join together and destress during a time of mass uncertainty. While it might not be the same as playing games together on the couch, it is a viable alternative in the unprecedented times we live in today.

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