The COVID-19 pandemic saw an unprecedented rise in video gaming as a hobby, largely due to shelter-in-place orders, allowing for more people to invest their time and money into gaming while at home. South Africa is now the largest gaming market in Africa, with 24 million people regularly playing video games. In fact, the industry is on track to overtake the films and music as South Africa’s most popular forms of entertainment. Some of the most-played games are free-to-play online multiplayer games like League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. As smartphone technology becomes more freely available, mobile gaming is also seeing a rise, since most games are free to play and cater to a casual audience. Video games are also taking over pop culture in other ways for example in 2021 Netflix released Arcane, a critically acclaimed animated series set in the world of League of Legends that has gained many fans who were previously not familiar with the game.

Part of the appeal of gaming as a hobby is its versatility – there are many genres to choose from, in settings ranging from high fantasy to gritty realism. Whether a player is looking for an immersive role-playing game with a deep story, a fast-paced first-person shooter or a chilling survival experience, there is a game to match everyone’s preferences. The versatility of the medium means that it is also a haven for creative talent, with small developers creating popular indie titles (like hugely successful farming simulator Stardew Valley). Several South African development teams have released their video games onto the market, including satirical shooter game Broforce from Cape Town-based company Free Lives, and Indie puzzle game Semblance from Nyamakop, based in Johannesburg. The tittles are proof that with talent and creativity (and a lot of coding knowledge), anyone can make a splash in the gaming scene.

Another reason for gaming’s meteoric rise in popularity (particularly since 2020) is its social aspect. Applications like Discord that allow for real-time communication while playing video games can be used to strategise with one’s team during a high- intensity multiplayer game, or as a hang-out space while playing a relaxing indie game. This caused an explosion in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, where
gaming allowed many people to maintain social connections during the national lockdowns. Gaming is also a good way to wind down after a long day on campus. Several UP students who regularly play video games say that they find the the hobby both satisfying  and relaxing since it allows one to step into a different world with interactive challenges and captivating narratives, and to spend time with friends in an online space.

Gone are the days when gaming was seen as a niche hobby. Today, almost 40% of South African’s are gamers, and the industry is growing fast. As smartphones, gaming consoles and other technology become more widely available, video games are an increasingly important part of pop culture in South Africa, and a hobby worth exploring for those curious about picking up a controller.

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