In April, the number of hours watched on the Amazon-owned service nearly doubled compared with last year, to 1.5bn, according to the streaming services company StreamElements.

The video games industry has also built up political capital during the crisis. The ability for friends to stay connected, but remain socially distant while playing video games has turned sceptics into admirers.

Two years ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) tightened its focus on the industry when it classified video game addiction as an official mental health disorder. Since lockdown, the UN agency has struck a more positive note.

Raymond Chambers, the WHO’s ambassador for global strategy, teamed up with video games companies in March to launch #PlayApartTogether: a publicity drive urging gamers to connect online at home, while following the WHO’s guidance on social distancing and handwashing.

For David Braben, chief executive of Frontier Developments, the lockdown has shown how online gaming can be a force for good.

In his eyes, it helps combat isolation by helping players to make new friends. It is one reason why he expects the rise in engagement to remain beyond the crisis. “I suspect those friendships will last way past lockdown,” he says. “A lot of the new audience will persist.”

Frank Sagnier, chief executive of Codemasters, the London-listed developer behind the official Formula One game, is also buoyant about the future. He believes there has been an “awakening” to the industry in lockdown, which will only continue.

“Six months ago, we were being attacked and people were saying gaming is like gambling,” he said. “We felt like we were the bad boys. And now, we feel like the nurses and the carers: we are the good people.”

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Retaining that positive impression will be a challenge.

The darkside

Jonathan Jones, a recovered video game addict, believes lockdown will have caused gaming addiction to fester. The 23-year-old, from Bellevue, Washington State, USA, poured hours into games when he was struggling with anxiety. It led to isolation and uncontrollable spending.

He spent more than $40,000 on games and loot boxes, the virtual chests containing random items for characters. At the height of his addiction, he spent $1,000 to get one item on Rumble Fighter, a free-to-play combat game, which makes money from in-game purchases.

“The lockdown reminded me of how it used to be,” says Jones, who recuperated at the reStart internet addiction clinic in Washington State. “[When I was addicted] I wouldn’t have cared about quarantine: it would have been a good thing because I would have sat at home and played games all the time. So, if you are really trying to quit now, it will be difficult.”

Dr Hilarie Cash, chief clinical officer at reStart, shares his concerns. She is bracing for cases of internet and video game addiction to spike post-lockdown. “What I know is gaming and gambling are merging,” she says. “And there are absolutely no protections for children or addicts.”

In the UK, there is a growing awareness of the problem. In October, the NHS opened a specialist clinic to treat young people struggling with video game addiction.

The gaming disorder service – part of the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust – received 22 referrals between October and February. Graham Beech, chief executive of Action on Addiction, is also expecting the issue to get worse during lockdown. He said the crisis was fuelling addiction at a time when charity finances were under pressure.

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“There will be more demand and less treatment available: we are almost facing a perfect storm,” he says.



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