Although gaming is now a more mainstream activity than it has ever been, it’s a medium that devotees often feel is not given quite the respect it deserves.
But perhaps Covid-19 is changing all that. Across the industry, video-game publishers have marked soaring player numbers, and in some places, consoles like the Nintendo Switch have been entirely sold out (at the time of writing, the console is unavailable on Amazon, Argos, Very.co.uk, Currys, eBay, and more.)
Of course people are spending more time at home than perhaps ever before, so time is probably one factor. But there may be other things at play, too.
“Gaming is a great way to escape from our daily lives in much the same way as books and movies,” “ says 35-year-old video-games journalist and author, Chris Scullion, “but the added interactivity means we can still challenge ourselves and feel good about overcoming those challenges.”
In fact, Scullion is such a passionate believer in the restorative powers of games, he has made it his mission to make them accessible to NHS staff, the hardest workers on the frontline, as a way to offer them some escapist fun.
And, what started as a one-off gesture has snowballed into almost a full time job.
“One of my Twitter followers sent me a message saying he had a spare code for a game and asked if I wanted to do a giveaway on Twitter,” explains Scullion. “Another follower suggested it should go to an NHS worker, which I thought was a great idea. Unfortunately, three or four different NHS workers asked for it, meaning I had to let some of them down.”
It soon dawned on him that making games accessible to NHS workers could be a way of doing his bit during the coronavirus crisis.
“So I reached out to my contacts in the industry to see if any of them had spare game codes they weren’t using.”
As it turned out, a lot of them did.
The codes are simple enough. Once players receive one, they can type it into the online store on their console of choice and the game will automatically be downloaded.
As a veteran games journalist, having worked in the UK video-game scene for over a decade, Scullion had plenty of contacts in the industry who were keen to help. Soon codes were piling up for games varying from Fifa 2020 to the brand new Doom Eternal to give away. However, he was beginning to realise that, given the number of people signing up, the challenge of verifying them would mean that distributing codes would be one hell of a job.
“Thankfully, I then got in contact with Ukie, the non-profit trade body for the UK games industry who offered to take over the code-acquiring process and used its extensive contacts list to get more games than I could have ever managed to get alone,” Scullion explains.
Ukie also enlisted the services of Keymailer, a specialist game code distributor who offered their help for free, offering to launch Games For Carers, an online store where NHS workers, once verified could browse through the games on offer and pick one they liked the look of.
NHS workers must simply enter their name and their NHS email address to be allowed to access the vast library. From there they are allowed to select one game per person, on a console of their choice (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and mobile games are available) and the code will be sent to them automatically.
With a library of 85,000 games to give away from around 65 publishers, there’s plenty on offer and the uptake has been enthusiastic. “The site crashed shortly after it launched, which sort of says it all,” notes Scullion. Ever since, he and the team at Ukie have been adding new codes to the site daily to make sure everyone has a chance to get their hands on the games they want.
“My assumption was that most big publishers would have already had plans to contribute to COVID-19 relief in some way or another and therefore wouldn’t be keen to get involved with our project too, but to have so many of them come on board was fantastic,” says Scullion. At the time of writing, huge publishers such as Xbox, Electronic Arts, Konami and Codemasters have got involved with the scheme alongside independent studios which form the heart of the British games scene.
Plans are underway for a second wave of games from developers who were too late to jump on the initial bandwagon. And more games from those that did are also developing. There has also been some interest in broadening the scheme to healthcare workers from the rest of Europe.
“Gaming is more important at the moment than ever: for many the continued lockdown can lead to thoughts of hopelessness and a fear that things around us are steadily being taken out of our control,” says Scullion. “Video games can give back that feeling of control, if only for a little while, and help take our minds off the events unfolding outside the door.”