Gamer mental health

What your support team needs to know about gamer mental health

It is common to think of gamers as enthusiastic, adolescent males. In reality, your Fortnite-loving niece and Candy Crush-playing mother are gamers, too — as are millions of other people. The definition of a gamer has evolved, says Tony Won, vice-president of Client Services—Games with TELUS International. Due to the fundamental nature of play, and the continuing evolution of game development, gamers are more diverse, and active, than ever.

Nielsen reported a 45% spike in video game usage in the U.S. The UK, Germany and France saw increases of 20–38% as well. While COVID-19 accelerated industry growth last year, the positive trend will continue post-pandemic. People who perhaps weren't gamers before 2020 are now finding new ways to entertain themselves at home. There are, however, upsides and downsides to such a big swing in gaming's popularity, to which games companies — and their customer service teams — should pay attention.

Johns Hopkins University's International Arts + Mind Lab (IAM Lab) blog notes: "Video games offer a safe way to explore different worlds and meet up with friends — while providing many social, emotional, cognitive and physical benefits to boot." While the positive effects are certainly present, gaming can also be a frustrating experience, and the player support teams associated with gaming companies often witness particular behaviors firsthand.

"Some games can provide a healthy stepping stone for in-person interactions, but many gamers struggle with loneliness and games are sort of an easy escape," explains Won. In other words, the COVID-related restrictions in place in recent months may have given customers even more reason to fall back on their games. But while numerous media outlets have reported that video games "have become a necessary tether for people to friends they aren't able to see as much, or at all, in person," historically, they've been known to breed loneliness and alienation.

"The pandemic has compounded the problem of loneliness and put a lot of additional stress on people," Won says. "But, gaming is not the solution for that problem. We're meant to be together, so [when it comes to social interaction], gaming isn't a permanent fix."

The state of gamer mental health

Pre-COVID research shows that in the U.S., upwards of 214 million people played video games for an hour or more every week, and three-quarters of all U.S. households included at least one gamer. Overall, 64% of adults and 70% of individuals under the age of 18 played on a regular basis. There are many more playing mobile, console and computer games today.

Loneliness isn't the only obstacle gamers have to face. As entertaining as gaming can be, gamers sometimes encounter issues that require help from others. "A lot of games feature different ways to interact with other players," Won says, noting this can sometimes result in taunting, cheating, and other poor behavior. "This can cause distress for other players." For example, cheating can infuriate gamers who simply play for fun or to unwind, Won adds, "It can interfere with people being able to enjoy the game on fair terms."

This was the case before COVID-19, but coupled with the stress associated with a global pandemic, the mental health of gamers has suffered. Games publishing brand My.Games, mental health nonprofit Take This, the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) and the Fair Play Alliance partnered to conduct an international survey on gamer mental health. What they found was that in-game communication has a big impact on players, particularly at a time when the pandemic is intensifying feelings of isolation, depression and anxiety.

"More than ever, people have flocked to video games to socialize," the chief marketing officer for My.Games told Game Daily. "Due to their immersion, games can bring out our emotions more than any other entertainment medium, and these emotions, especially now, are often shared with each other. Unfortunately, these emotions are not always positive, and the anonymity of the internet environment allows for emotional expression without consequences."

Won notes that these are moments when gamers often reach out for help.

What gamers need from your customer service teams

According to Won, the best thing player support teams can do for gamers is to get them back into the digital experience they enjoy by quickly solving their problems, even if a big part of that may be letting a player express their frustration.

This can be a challenge, though, as many games companies are now dealing with an uptick in queries. Studies show that COVID-19 has led to a global increase in monthly video game spending of 39%. That number is expected to linger at 21% after lockdown restrictions ease. With more potential customer queries, it's important that video game customer service teams can resolve them quickly and effectively, using technology to meet demand at scale.

At the same time, customer support is about turning sentiment around. Teams must know how to manage emotions like frustration and anger, along with potentially volatile or dangerous situations. "We're not asking team members to be full-on clinical psychologists," Won says, "but there's something to be said for people who can make meaningful human connections and help gamers understand and process these emotions."

To better prepare for potential cases where a customer threatens a company, a customer support representative, or themselves, Won says teams should "know the escalation path," both locally and globally, so they can put gamers in touch with professionals quickly. "These serious issues must be optimized for speed so we can address the issue and do a wellness check as fast as possible rather than letting a ticket sit around," he says. In addition to escalating potentially dangerous issues, teams should endeavor to really listen, show genuine concern, and generally avoid negative language.

Support the mental health of your CX team

It isn't just gamers who find themselves suffering from undue stress. Gaming companies must ensure their customer service teams receive the support they need to do their jobs while maintaining good mental health.

"Good training, good leadership and mental health support alleviates the stress on customer service teams," Won says. "The mental health of those contacting us is very important, but it's equally important to care for the mental health of our own team members who are on the frontlines supporting gamers." Won notes this is something that all companies should be more mindful of as many companies do not have a robust system to meet these needs.

At a time when gaming is becoming a multi-generational activity that spans geography and demographics, support teams must be ready for anything and properly trained for the potential of emotionally charged interactions. After all, the mental well-being of both your customers and your team members depend on it.

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