How can gaming positively impact our mental, social and emotional health? And what’s with all the bad press surrounding gaming?
One thing that I possibly advertise much is my love affair with the gaming world. That and my dark hankering for true crime. While I’m not playing hit games like Call of Duty or Halo, I do enjoy my fair share of JRPG’s, simulations, and the occasional platformer. Some of my fondest memories are spending time with my best friend or cousin playing Crash Bandicoot on the Playstation One. There were many rainy summers spent in my Grandmother’s living room, four or more crowded around the TV, each begging for their turn on the controller. Those really were better days.
My love of gaming hasn’t changed much. Even in my late twenties, I’m still excited for the next installment of Pokemon or Animal Crossing. I can’t tell you how many hours have been ‘lost‘ on The Sims while I create hundreds of complicated character arches. It’s how I decompress and sometimes gaming is the only way I can silence my persistent anxiety. Even with all my new ideas on self-care, gaming is still my ride or die to the bitter end.
But if gaming can be so beneficial to our mental health, why does it get such a bad rap?
I don’t want to start into a discussion about the benefits of gaming without also addressing the concerns. While I appreciate and agree that games should be regulated using an age rating, I don’t feel that video games fully deserve the backlash they often receive.
One of the most recent statements on gaming comes from comedian, Joe Rogan. He used his platform to inform us of the unproductive nature of video games, using his own experience as an example. Rogan was particularly concerned about the influence that gaming has on children and the productivity of life. He was met with backlash in the comments stating that life isn’t all about being productive all and that gaming was a justified use of time, some even arguing self-care.
I personally have to agree with the majority of the commentators on this one. Gaming has been essential to my self-care routine. While being productive is great, you don’t have to spend every waking moment of your life trying to reach the next big thing. That’s how burnout starts, with the inability to slow down. Would the same be said about reading a book? Quite often I’ve found myself lost for hours in the pages of a murder mystery which inevitably means that the laundry hasn’t been put away. Would that also be considered unproductive of me despite the fact I’m decompressing while also stimulating my mind?
But of course, we can’t mention the ‘negative’ influence of gaming without discussing violence.
President Donald Trump used video games as a scapegoat in 2018, stating that they encourage mass violence and shootings. This opinion has been circulating since the early nineties and that’s exactly where it should stay. Although there are plenty of violent and gory games to point the finger at, there is still no hard, scientific evidence to back up this claim.
Former editor of The New York Times, Philip M.Boffey had the following to say on the matter.
“Focusing on violent video games as the cause of mass shootings almost certainly distracts legislators and government officials from the pressing need to deal with more fundamental causes. It is a moral imperative for federal and state legislators, government officials, and all others concerned with lethal violence to confront the underlying problems and not take symbolic refuge in blaming violent video games.“
How do video games impact young people? Are they a safe hobby for them to have? Find out more here.
Can gaming be a positive influence?
As a longtime gamer, I’m obviously going to hold a biased opinion in regards to the benefits of video games. But don’t take my word for it! A recent study of 2,003 people carried out by Lockwood Publishing, found that gaming has been essential to many for maintaining positive mental health throughout COVID-19 lockdown.
The study found that 40% of people experienced negative mental health impacts during the course of lockdown. Non-gamers were found to be the worst affected, with approximately one third (29%) reporting an increase in symptoms of anxiety and isolation. However, two thirds (66%) of gamers interviewed felt that video games had a positive part to play in keeping them relatively sane throughout the whole ordeal. Not only that, but they feel that gaming has been a positive influence on their mental health throughout their lives.
Top 5 Mental Benefits of Video Games.
Creates social connection.
COVID-19 has created many changes, one of which is a distinct drop in our social lives. Despite our usual coffee dates being put off, during lockdown, I was able to hang out with both my partner and best friend using the wonders of multiplayer. We even got involved in a few virtual quiz nights and Mario Cart tournaments! Most video games come with the option of multiplayer, with some even being cross-platform. Provided you have a reliable Wi-Fi connection, you can find hours of fun on games such as Animal Crossing, World of Warcraft, and, of course, Minecraft.
None of your mates playing video games? No worries! There are plenty of safe communities where you can meet like-minded players. One great place to check out is Gameress, a gaming community specifically for women, or those who identify as such.
Improves our ability to solve problems.
Many video games come with multiple puzzles and challenges. Whether you’re going solo or you’re attending a raid in WOW, there are always obstacles to overcome that require brainpower. This means each player is required to think clearly, quickly and deliberately depending on the goal. But some games can be more challenging than others and may require the player to go the extra mile.
Instead of shying away from problems we can’t solve, which is sometimes the default human response, we’re taught to persist and resolve. These skills are essential for not only video games but everyday life.
Helps to reduce stress.
While there are many games that can help induce stress, there are also those with the opposite effect. As discussed in my Animal Crossing post, many players found that playing it helped reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. The same can be said for various other games in different genres, not just slow-paced simulations.
Want to know more about how gaming can help manage stress and anxiety? Check out this post!
Can slow down the mental ageing process.
According to a study at the University of Iowa, there’s evidence to suggest that video games can slow down the mental effects of aging. The study saw participants given either a digital crossword to a video game called Road Tour. Visual distractions mimicked the challenges that older people face while driving, and as the game progressed so did the visuals. This continued over the course of five to eight weeks.
Six hundred and eighty-one people over the age of fifty were involved. The study found that playing Road Tour for ten hours helped to slow cognitive decline caused by aging.
Reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety.
As if I haven’t mentioned this enough already, but video games are GREAT for helping manage anxiety. There are various studies showing that video games can boost mood and improve heart health, therefore relieving anxiety.
On a more personal note, video games have been therefore me in some of my darkest hours. I remember being in the hospital or waiting at therapy and my Nintendo was all I had to keep me calm. I still feel a sense of relief in knowing that I have something I can easily escape to when I need it most.
But don’t take my word for it!
I asked you guys what you thought on Twitter. Here’s just a handful of the responses I received.
Connecting Cait had this to say.
“Video games have always been a bit like books in that they act as another form of escapism. My favourite type of games to get lost in are good storytelling games, such as Detroit Become Human, L.A Noire or Silent Hill. Anything that allows you to get immersed in the storyline and forget about your own troubles is such a great source of comfort. I also find that little mobile games have been really beneficial in reducing anxiety and providing a distraction. Those that require your full attention are great for this, a silly example but flappy bird was a game where you couldn’t think about anything else but the task at hand. When the game is on the brain can turn off for a while!”
Jenny In Neverland added her two pence.
“Video games are sometimes the only way I can get out of my own head for a while. Getting immersed completely within another world is amazing but what really does it for me with video games is the character aspect. Acting as that character in the video game helps me massively to switch off and focus on someone else’s – albeit made-up – problems for a change, rather than my own. Films and books are great but for the immersion factor, nothing beats a video game for me”.
Vee has similar tastes to my own.
Animal crossing and the Sims helps me escape from the every day struggles. I love reality games because controlling something virtually helps me escape a world I have no control over. In games I can tell a character to walk that way, to eat, to work. In the real world I can’t tell anyone what to do. I can’t control the bad things going on in the world. Having even a tiny bit of control of something makes a big difference to my mental health.
Jasmine added this.
“I’m a huge fan of playing games because they relax me. I’ve a few games that I play on my phone daily that help me clear my mind. However, my actual favorite video game that I’ve been playing for years is The Sims (Sims 4). It helps me out mentally a lot because it does give me a creative outlet and it’s something calming for me to get lost in. I honestly think I like it so much because it gives me some sort of control which a lot of things in life I may not necessarily have control over.”