Gen Z experiences loneliness to an extent that older people didn’t when at the same age, but now there’s a way for brands to craft experiences that can help tackle the problem, says We Are Social’s Lorenzo Perosino.

One of the most transformative announcements in the gaming world happened recently with the integration of Unreal Engine 5, one of the most powerful game design platforms ever created, into Fortnite Creative, the sandbox tool used by Fortnite gamers to build custom maps and game assets.

This enabled gamers to hack traditional game design, turning previously impossible ideas into reality through Fortnite. You could race Mario Kart on F1 tracks or play out Call of Duty campaigns with Halo characters – or, for that matter, characters looking like your friends and family.

This was a creative win, absolutely, but it potentially served an even more important purpose – it highlighted the opportunity for brands to aid Gen Z in their generational struggle with loneliness.

The loneliness of the long-distance gamer

Gen Z’s struggle with loneliness is striking and there’s a reason they’ve been called the ‘Lonely Generation’. According to Psychology Today, a staggering 73% of Gen Z individuals admit to feeling alone either sometimes or always. In stark contrast, only 24% of Baby Boomers reported experiencing such levels of loneliness at a similar age. 

Similarly, research quoted in Business Insider last year further revealed that 60% of Gen Z had felt the grip of loneliness within the past 12 months. Additionally, an alarming 30% of young people confess they are unsure how to make new friends, heightening their feelings of isolation. 

So where do they find connection? The answer is video games.

Video games, once seen as a form of isolation themselves, have become a prime source of connection, interaction and immersion. Gamefluencers have played a crucial part in this shift, transforming the connotations of the term gamer from ‘loser’ and ‘nerd’ to ‘streamer’ and ‘content creator’ – which, to Gen Z, are terms synonymous with ‘celebrity’.  

And because online communities foster strong interpersonal relationships built on a shared interest, they reinforce social relationships with the streamer and between viewers. That’s why 71% of Twitch users say that watching a stream during a difficult period of their lives has helped them cope; while, according to Bloomberg, 84% of respondents believe that video games help them establish close connections with like-minded individuals.

These virtual spaces provide a sense of belonging and camaraderie, enabling gamers to forge relationships beyond the boundaries of their physical environment.

What this means for brands

For good or ill, the words ‘Gen Z’ get marketers salivating. But beyond that, brands can capitalise on this shift in attitudes and thinking by aligning with gaming culture and using Unreal Engine 5 to craft authentic experiences that tackle Gen Z’s very real issues of isolation.

Video games have become a social safe space for Gen Z to connect, a place where they can get away from stress and anxiety and feel more self-confident. They’re a digital sanctuary where Gen Z can temporarily detach themselves from their worries and become immersed in captivating worlds or engage in new social connections.

At the same time, they want entertainment, which can come from brands provided it is content that’s relevant to their interests. Many also want information on how to use products.

Brands can start to play in this space by looking at their values, finding strong links to the culture and values of gamers to co-create experiences that are authentic and purposeful. Well-executed activations in this world have the potential to build brand awareness and drive sales, truly resonate with players, and connect with an audience that has otherwise proven to be extremely hard to reach. Unreal Engine 5 could open that door.

For example, by powering Fortnite, Unreal Engine had a hand in the game’s collaborations with Moncler, Balenciaga, Jordan Brand and KAWS, creating spaces for brands in digital worlds previously unavailable to them.

More recently it served as a powerful tool for Timberland which created its own virtual world in line with the game and the brand, offering a new exciting map for gamers to interact and enjoy together.

PUMA, Balenciaga and Gary McQueen have also used Unreal Engine to create CGI fashion films, and it has powered NFTs from studios like RTFTK, which was acquired by Nike at the tail end of 2021.

But regardless of the format, what’s vital is that brands keep their ideas grounded on the three core values of gaming: community, joyful interactions, and inclusion. If they can do so in a way that also helps fight disconnection and solitude, they will find their Gen Z audience is a lot more receptive than they might have thought.