Culture Clips: We’re All Playing Games

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on print
Share on email

As our coronavirus-addled country does its bunny hop toward some semblance of normalcy and takes stock of the economic wreckage, some industries would say that COVID-19 has been good for business. At the front of the line? Video games.

According to Nielsen, 82% of folks worldwide have played games or watched video game content during the spring lockdowns. Nearly half of the respondents to Nielsen’s survey say they’re gaming more than they did before COVID. Nielsen also found that use of Twitch, a social media hub that allows users to watch livestreams of other people’s  gaming feeds. has exploded in popularity. In fact, usage on the platform more than doubled between the beginning of January and the end of March, growing from 13 million hours watched per day to a staggering 31 million hours.

The NPD Group tracked other barometers of gaming usage during the early days of the coronavirus. Gamers in the United States spent a record $10.9 billion on gameplay in the first quarter of the year—a bump of 9%. And some experts say that’s a good thing. “Video games have brought comfort and connection to millions during this challenging time,” said Mat Piscatella, games industry analyst at the NPD Group. “As people have stayed at home more, they’ve utilized gaming not only as a diversion and an escape, but also as a means of staying connected with family and friends.”

And indeed, studies suggest that youth could use a little diversion. Some kids are having nightmares about sickness and death, which some experts say is a big symptom of PTSD. Teens’ sleeping patterns are being disrupted, too, and a new study found that a teen with poor sleeping habits is a teen more likely to be depressed. Some youth are sick of the whole COVID thing and diving out into the world again with their friends—which, obviously, increases the chance they’ll get sick in a far more literal way. (Interestingly, young evangelicals may feel particularly immune to the coronavirus. Believers under the age of 35 are far less likely to wear a mask in public than their more secular peers.)

So you can see why folks might’ve turned to video games as a balm—turned to them with such enthusiasm, actually, that Nintendo Switch Lites are actually sold out.

Why, Carly Kocurek, an associate professor of digital humanities and media studies at Illinois Institute of Technology, told the Los Angeles Times that games can provide a welcome relief from the stress many of us feel:

We’re in a tough time right now. We’re all trying to find ways to keep ourselves stimulated. … [Video games] are especially appealing because they offer a safe way to socialize. For many of us, the world feels really small. In games, the world feels really big.

But those video game worlds still can reflect real-world issues. In the wake of the death of George Floyd and calls for police reform, it seems as though Fortnite, the wildly popular online shooter, has garaged all the game’s police cars.

Video game cars are far from the only thing being shelved during our national conversation about race. Quaker Oats is dropping its Aunt Jemima mascot (though the families of two models who became the faces of Aunt Jemima would rather the mascot stay on the syrup bottle). At the request of 30 Rock star Tina Fey, Amazon Prime and Hulu have both removed episodes of the comedy that feature blackface. And while HBO Max has reintroduced Gone With the Wind in its lineup with some historical caveats, Queen Latifah would rather the Oscar-winning film not see another day. “Let Gone With the Wind be gone with the wind,” she told the Associated Press. Late-night host and reported Emmy MC Jimmy Kimmel has come under fire for performing in blackface in the past (for which he has recently apologized for), and even the fandom of the show My Little Pony are reckoning with racists in its midst.

But even as some cultural mainstays are changing or even leaving, we’re also seeing some stuff coming back.

Take drive-in movie theaters, for instance. As we’ve mentioned before, these fixtures of mid-century Americana are making a comeback, and USA Today is telling readers just where they can go to see a big-screen movie from the comfort of their own vehicles. Cult favorite Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is making a return to the big screen itself this August (in time for the movie’s 10th anniversary). And rumor has it that a movie based on the young adult sci-fi book series Animorphs may be in the works, too.

And in an effort to jumpstart movie theaters in Great Britain, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is … well, back itself—this time in 4K resolution.

Oh, and since we’re still on the subject of the best Star Wars movie, let’s close this edition of culture clips with this little tidbit.

Galactic bounty hunter Boba Fett was officially introduced to the world in the (fairly horrific) 1978 Star Wars Christmas Special, and he had a pretty important (though fairly quiet) role in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back. In between, the toy manufacturer Kenner created the very first Boba Fett action figure to sate what it assumed would be an adoring fanbase.

But like the real Boba Fett, the toy came with an edge. The little projectiles the toy’s prototypes fired were considered a choking hazard, so Kenner shelved the prototypes in favor of a less-dangerous version. But Mr. Fett is a wily one, and somehow, some of those prototypes escaped Kenner’s tractor beam and landed in the hands of collectors. One of them just landed on eBay. It can be yours for the low, low price of $225,000.

Outlandish, you say? Not so fast. The last one that landed on the market sold for $185,850.

Just call him the Moneylorian.