Students and workers alike are practicing social distancing at home to reduce the spread of COVID-19. It’s left people who have countless hours on Instagram and Netflix to explore a new avenue they’ve never considered: video games.

Single-player, multiplayer, first-person shooter or role-playing adventure, video games are a way to connect people of all ages all over the world. Even in the midst of this pandemic, gamers can communicate regardless of their physical location. Through bluetooth headsets and chat apps like Discord, it’s never been easier to remain in contact with friends and family.

Dmitri Williams, an associate professor at USC who teaches courses on technology and games, believes that video games help loved ones connect in a time of uncertainty.

“People want human contact and that’s a form of it,” Williams said in a phone interview with Annenberg Media.

As news outlets flood audiences with pandemic coverage, Williams believes video games not only provide a distraction, but provide a time for imagination.

“There’s definitely a form of creativity and escapism that are really welcomed distractions when confronting a steady media diet of bad,” he said.

Not only does it provide an escape for people to pass the time, but there’s evidence that suggests video games are effective at reducing stress levels, too.

Playing video games, similar to going on a date or hanging out with friends, releases dopamine, the “happiness hormone.” Whether they’ve played video games or are just starting to, students look to video games for setting aside the fears and frustrations of social distancing.

Researchers even discovered a correlation between the total amount of hours playing video games and lower amounts of stress stemming from work, according to a 2014 study from University College in London.

Allen Leavitt, a USC student majoring in Law, History and Culture, never quite grew attached to turning on an Xbox or Playstation. But the lack of things to do around his house this semester left Leavitt to spend time with his brother in front of a television screen.

It gave Leavitt time to play; something he never had time for due how much of the day high school and college took up for him.

“School got hard around high school because I wasn’t a big gamer to begin with,” Leavitt said in a phone interview with Annenberg Media. “It really hit the back with priorities, so I stopped playing around high school and college.”

Now that he's one of thousands of students who are back home during the pandemic, he sees the free time as a chance to bond with his brother.

“I’m home now and because I’m not a gamer and my brother is…he was always encouraging me to play with him,” Leavitt said.

Not only has Leavitt connected with his brother playing Fortnite or shooting hockey pucks on NHL 19, but it's provided him an outlet for normalcy.

“It’s a way to block out the world because when you think about it, in a video game, you’re entering a virtual world where you can do anything,” Leavitt said.

In a time of unease, games like Animal Crossing - a quaint life simulator - offer an opportunity to delve into another world; one that isn’t bombarded with negativity, but rather entire hours spent simply raising a farm.

“I think that’s probably the video game ‘chicken soup for the soul’ that a lot of people are looking for,” Williams said.

Stephanie Kreirmerman, a USC student majoring in Design, grew up playing Animal Crossing before school work took up too much of her time. Now that she has free time on her hands, she still deals with stress over adapting to online classwork.

“Whenever I’m in my online classes, my mind starts racing of all the things I should be doing or that I could be doing instead or things that I’m worrying about,” Kreirmerman said in a phone interview with Annenberg Media.

In an effort to give herself time to not think about all of her stresses, video games such as Animal Crossing and Mario Run on her phone and Nintendo 3DS have been crucial to calm down.

“When I start playing video games, it’s such a quick turn off of all my worries and all my stress,” Kriermerman said. “It makes me forget about the world that I’m living in.”