**Abstract:** Do people use games to cope with adverse life events and crises? Research informed by self-determination theory proposes that people might compensate for thwarted basic psychological needs in daily life by seeking out games that satisfy those lacking needs. To test this, we conducted a preregistered mixed-method survey study (n = 285) on people’s gaming behaviours and need states during early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic (May 2020). We found qualitative evidence that gaming was an often actively sought out and successful means of replenishing particular needs, but one that could ‘backfire’ for some through an appraisal process discounting gaming as ‘unreal’. Meanwhile, contrary to our predictions, the quantitative data showed a “rich get richer, poor get poorer” pattern: need satisfaction in daily life positively correlated with need satisfaction in games. We derive methodological considerations and propose three potential explanations for this contradictory data pattern to pursue in future research.