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WHO’s pro-gaming stance during pandemic could redefine video games’ role: Winnipeg expert

A Nintendo Switch console.
A Nintendo Switch console. Troy Harvey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused people around the world to find new ways to stay busy and entertained while in self-isolation, but the latest activity endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO) may come as a bit of a surprise: video games.

The WHO — the United Nations’ public health organization — has put its support behind a gaming industry initiative called #PlayApartTogether, aimed at keeping people socially active while remaining isolated.

That WHO support may come as a surprise to some gamers, based on the organization’s past criticism of the industry.

READ MORE: Two enthusiasts bring Winnipeg video game community closer

‘Lee the Gaming Guy’ of Winnipeg’s PNP Games told 680 CJOB he’s happy to hear that gaming is being taken seriously as a way to keep people connected, but there’s a bit of hypocrisy in the WHO’s move.

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“Video games are a punching bag when it’s convenient for them to be,” he said.

“The WHO worked tirelessly last year to classify video games as an addiction… as a mental health disorder. Now it’s suddenly the healthiest way to stay connected and pass time.

“We’ll let them go on that.”

Lee said most of the backlash against the format comes from people who assume gaming is strictly a youth-centred activity. The median age of gamers, he said, continues to rise, and there are numerous games on the market that can be enjoyed by adults of any age and even whole families.

“They look down upon playing a video game for four hours straight, but binge-watching an entire eight-hour series on Netflix is some kind of joke or meme,” he said.

“I think we need to remember video games and what they offer when these weird times end.”

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One of the things they offer, said Lee, is an escape from coronavirus anxiety and a way to take a break from life’s woes, especially in such difficult times.

“You’re not thinking about your taxes, what someone said behind your back, you are focused on the task at hand, and games have that comfort,” he said.

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Among the high-profile gaming companies involved in the campaign is Ubisoft, which opened a large studio in Winnipeg’s Exchange District in early 2019.

In a release earlier this week, Ubisoft pledged its support for #PlayApartTogether.

“We applaud our competitors and partners who are also supporting the WHO COVID-19 relief fund or other organizations helping in the fight against the coronavirus.

“We encourage everyone to play together, play your part, and play at home.”

Video game giant Ubisoft to open office in Winnipeg
Video game giant Ubisoft to open office in Winnipeg