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 Table of Contents  
BRIEF COMMUNICATION
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 37  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 335-339

Impact of the lockdown following COVID-19 on online interest for digital gaming in India: Findings from a google trend study


1 Department of Psychiatry, Patan Academy of Health Sciences, Patan, Nepal
2 Department of Psychiatry, National Drug Dependence Treatment Center, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India

Date of Submission12-Aug-2020
Date of Decision02-Sep-2020
Date of Acceptance06-Sep-2020
Date of Web Publication30-Sep-2021

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Yatan Pal Singh Balhara
Department of Psychiatry, National Drug Dependence Treatment Center, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/ijsp.ijsp_266_20

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  Abstract 


There has been increased interest in media and the World Health Organization advisory regarding digital gaming. We did a Google Trend study using relative search volumes (RSVs) for the keywords identifying with different themes related to digital gaming. It was seen that there was a significant increase in RSVs in the Indian population for the keywords identifying with online gaming, reward-seeking, and genres or types of games. Although online gaming is an easy way to engage during the lockdown, the risks due to excessive engagement cannot be ignored. We recommend balanced and effective approaches for gaming during lockdown for physical and psychological well-being.

Keywords: Gaming, Google trends, COVID-19


How to cite this article:
Sharma P, Singh S, Balhara YP. Impact of the lockdown following COVID-19 on online interest for digital gaming in India: Findings from a google trend study. Indian J Soc Psychiatry 2021;37:335-9

How to cite this URL:
Sharma P, Singh S, Balhara YP. Impact of the lockdown following COVID-19 on online interest for digital gaming in India: Findings from a google trend study. Indian J Soc Psychiatry [serial online] 2021 [cited 2022 Jun 28];37:335-9. Available from: https://www.indjsp.org/text.asp?2021/37/3/335/327295




  Introduction Top


India imposed a nationwide lockdown on March 24, 2020 in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.[1] The fear of COVID-19 and concern about its potential negative impact on the future is on a rise.[2] In addition, as people had ample time and limited sources of recreation while being confined to their homes, it became conducive to engage in digital gaming and related behaviors. India has an estimated 560 million Internet users with 40.9% Internet penetration rate.[3]

There have been media reports on the increased interest in online gaming among people during the lockdown period in India.[4] Also notably, the World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed concern about increased engagement in online gaming during the stay at home.[5] There has been a rise in the prevalence of gaming disorder, especially among young adults in India.[6],[7]

Google Trends has been used as a reliable and valid method for monitoring web-based activity of the population[8] and accurately predicting the pattern of actual behavior in previous studies.[9],[10] We conducted a Google trend analysis of the keywords to examine the changes in online search interest regarding “digital gaming” among the Indian population before and during the lockdown period in the COVID-19 pandemic.


  Methodology Top


Google trends was used to extract the data. Search query data were collected directly from http://www.google.com/trends.[11] Google Trends provides data on Internet search patterns by analyzing a portion of all web queries on the Google Search and other affiliated Google sites. The portal determines the proportion of searches for a user-specified term among all searches performed on Google Search. The outcome variable used for this study was relative search volume (RSV). RSV measures the total number of searches conducted for a selected query scaled to the total number of Google searches conducted at that point in time. The time period with the highest relative number of searches conducted for the selected query gets assigned a value of 100. Other time periods get assigned a value relative to 100.[8],[12]

The preliminary list of digital gaming related search queries was prepared considering five broad themes: (1) general theme of digital gaming; (2) gaming accessories or gaming gears; (3) reward seeking (level of engagement in digital games); (4) different types of games; and (5) help-seeking and acknowledging the problem with excessive gaming. The initial list was prepared by one of the authors (PS), which was finalized before the beginning of data extraction by the process of consensus among all three authors (qualified psychiatrists with clinical and research experience on behavioral addictions) based on the face validity of selected search queries.

The four Google Trends options of Region, Category, and Search type were specified as India, all categories, and web search, respectively. For the purpose of the present study, data for 28 days pre- and postlockdown day were used (i.e., February 26, 2020–March 24, 2020 and March 25, 2020–April 21, 2020). The daily RSV values for selected search queries were downloaded for the specified periods in separate.csv files. The data were entered in the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences software (SPSS for Windows, Version 23.0. New York, USA, IBM Corp.). The data were checked for distribution by Q-Q plots and a comparison of mean RSV was done as applicable. The results of the Q-Q plots and Kolmogorov–Smirnov (K-S) test showed almost all variables to have nonnormal distribution. Furthermore, the log transformation could not correct the skewness. We performed nonparametric tests to compare the mean ranks (Mann–Whitney U test) with P < 0.05 considered as statistically significant.

The information used in this study involved data related freely available in the public domain and no person was approached directly in this study. Thus, no ethical permission was required.


  Results Top


As seen in [Table 1], there was a significant increase in the RSV of three major themes of Internet gaming, i.e., terms representing the general theme, terms identifying with reward seeking, and terms for the type of gaming. However, there was no significant change for terms for accessories related with gaming and terms representing help seeking for excessive and problematic gaming including gaming disorder [Figure 1].
Table 1: Comparison of the mean rank of relative search volumes pre- and postlockdown for each theme

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Figure 1: Chart showing relative search volume of different online search terms for 28 days pre- and postlockdown in India

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The results following the analysis of individual keywords are presented in [Table 2]. Out of the 32 keywords, 12 keywords showed a significant increase in search trends, whereas three keywords (”simulation game,” “strategy game,” and “gaming keyboard”) showed a significant decrease during the lockdown.
Table 2: Comparison of the mean rank of relative search volumes pre- and postlockdown for all keywords

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  Discussion Top


The current study examined the changes in online search interest for keywords related to gaming behaviors among the Indian population before and during the lockdown period following the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the five major themes explored, there was a significant increase in the keywords related to online gaming in general, gaming rewards, and different genres/types of games. This observation is in line with media reports and scientific literature citing an increased interest in online gaming during the lockdown.[4],[5],[13] However, there was no change for the keywords representing accessories or gears used while playing digital games. This is understandable as during lockdown, there was an embargo on both online and offline shopping of nonessential items across the country, and hence, people had limited interest in searching for the same. This hypothesis is further supported by a significant decrease in the RSV of the term “gaming keyboard.” Interestingly, while there was an increase observed in RSV of keywords for games like “shooting game”, there was no significant increase in the online search for “quiz game” and “educational game” during the lockdown period. There is evidence to support that different gaming genres have different addictive potential, with first-person shooting games (usually multiplayer online) having a higher addictive potential as compared to educational or quiz games.[14] Furthermore, the terms representing the reward seeking while gaming had a significant increase in RSV indicating an actual increase in the online activity of gaming. The terms such as “online games,” “PC games,” and “multiplayer games” also showed a significant increase in RSV during the lockdown. These results suggested that the interest in the digital gaming increased during the lockdown in India.

The WHO's recent recommendations have cautioned against excessive gaming and screen use in the COVID-19 times. However, there has been an ongoing controversy regarding the online gaming during the past few weeks. The #PlayApartTogether initiative has been erroneously identified as a WHO campaign recommending gaming as a possible solution for tackling mental stress due to COVID-19 and resulting lockdowns or social distancing norm sin place. Furthermore, there are news articles that are debating whether the WHO has changed its stance on the inclusion of gaming disorder in the list of diagnosable mental health disorders. Interestingly, there was no change in the keywords related to help seeking for excessive and problematic online gaming including the term “gaming disorder” observed in the current study period. This might be because people engaged with excessive gaming during lockdown might not have realized the harms associated with their gaming pattern. Gaming might be considered as normal response to cope with the stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The lockdown restricting the movement of people outside their homes, shutting down of school and offices, and other usual avenues for socializing might be some of the alternative explanations for considering excessive gaming behaviors during the lockdown as normative behavior by the people in general. While majority of those engaged in gaming are non-problematic gamers, with some studies reporting gaming to even have beneficial effects in such kind of gamers.[15],[16] It is important to note that an increase in gaming behavior among the vulnerable individuals can lead to the emergence of gaming disorder. Furthermore, change in daily routines centered on excessive engagement in gaming during the current times might make it difficult for these persons to make the necessary changes as the life returns to normalcy in the weeks to come. In view of the potential adverse consequences of excessive engagement in gaming behaviors, the need for precise and unambiguous public health messages on gaming has been identified.[17],[18] It is well known that addiction to digital games may affect the quality and quantity of social skills among the children, and greater degree of problematic gaming behaviors has been reported to be associated with a lesser degree of social skills in them.[19] Furthermore, social online play corresponds with smaller, lower quality, offline social circles with an overall negative impact on the social health of a significant proportion of heavy gamers.[20] Hence, this study could be important from the social psychiatry perspective.

There are certain limitations of the current study. While we used only one search engine, it is the most commonly used search engine in India representing 98.5% of the total search traffic for the month of April 2020.[21] The use of search queries was restricted to the English language only. It does not account for other online sources of information seeking and sharing. One of the major limitations of this study could be the representatives of the theme by all the selected keywords. Since the keywords were selected by expert consensus based on their face validity with a broad gaming-related theme, it is possible that some other important keywords were missed and few not so relevant keywords for a particular theme would have been analyzed. Another important aspect which needs to be considered is that the actual gaming behavior and online search behavior might not be fully concordant, and the methodology used provides an indirect evidence of the same. However, there is ample evidence to suggest that monitoring of online information-seeking behavior assessed using Google Trends is a reliable and valid method for predicting actual human behavior.[12],[22] The methodology used in the current study (RSV analysis from Google trends) may be of particular significance for the behavioral addictions involving the use of the Internet. Furthermore, such an approach is relevant at the time of restricted movement of people and face-to-face interactions, and conventional research methods would not be feasible currently.


  Conclusion Top


There has been a significant increase in online interest for digital gaming among the Indian population during the lockdown period. We recommend further studies on gaming behavior among specific population groups using similar methodologies. Furthermore, we recommend engagement in online gaming in a nonproblematic pattern and to be cognizant of the adverse consequences associated with excessive and problematic gaming.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
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    Tables

  [Table 1], [Table 2]



 

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