People who live in cities appreciate the opportunities for community connections that urban life offers. Public parks, recreational sports leagues, block parties and other events and venues provide the chance to take a mental break from the stress of the modern world. Most policymakers at the state and local levels understand this, which is why they allocate funds to local government activities promoting citizen engagement.
Of course, 2020 was a different story. These activities were largely absent as people were confined to their homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing everyone to find other ways to connect. Internet usage increased, and kids and adults alike flocked to online gaming communities where they could blow off steam and maintain connections with one another despite social distancing. They developed skills like teamwork, interpersonal communication and persistence — the same qualities that citizen engagement activities strive to promote.
Even as the world opens back up, it’s clear that video games will remain a popular means for creating and sustaining community connections. With that in mind, here are three ways that government leaders can use video games to engage and benefit citizens:
1. Partner with the private sector
Partnerships with local businesses promote community building and can be highly beneficial for everyone involved. Companies can foster stronger employee connections through small-scale events or even use gaming leagues as a recruitment tool — think “Mario Kart” Mondays during lunch or onboarding icebreaker events through “NBA 2K.” Plus, a recent study found that teams that game together are significantly more productive on the job.
Meanwhile, government officials can use local video game communities as a platform for citizen outreach. When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez played “Among Us” on the streaming platform Twitch to encourage people to vote, more than 435,000 viewers watched the stream. As video games continue to gain popularity, they’ll become an important outlet for governments to facilitate citizen engagement in person as well as digitally.
2. Provide a touchpoint for youth
According to our proprietary data at Mission Control, organizations that host recreational esports leagues interact with 48% of participants for the first time. This means that some players likely aren’t interested in other activities the organizations offer. After all, not everyone has the desire or ability to participate in traditional sports leagues.
Since local government activities for kids teach critical team-building and communication skills and foster qualities like confidence and persistence, they’re an essential part of youth development. Some parents may be concerned with kids playing too many video games, but gaming in moderation can benefit the character and skills of young competitors. Local government agencies (like parks and recreation departments) can use video games to reach young people who might otherwise lack these development opportunities.
3. Bring together diverse communities
According to Pew Research Center, more than 90% of Americans are now online. Similar to other online communities, people who play recreational esports aren’t defined by physical proximity or prior relationships. Instead, they come from a wide range of backgrounds and share a common interest.
The fact that gaming participation is relatively level across income groups suggests that it could serve as a critical cross-cultural connection point. In a world that seems increasingly divided along political, racial and socioeconomic lines, recreational esports and video games can unite people through shared experiences.
The media historically has dismissed gaming as a mindless form of entertainment, but the tide is beginning to turn. The fact that more people played video games during the COVID-19 pandemic means that more people experienced the benefits of gaming. To develop modern community connections programs and citizen engagement activities, government leaders should explore the untapped potential of recreational esports.
Austin Smith is the co-founder and CEO of Mission Control, a platform for gathering and growing community using recreational esports. Austin is an economist and entrepreneur who focuses on urban policy, social entrepreneurship and esports/sports technology.