Video games often get a bad rap, especially first-person shooter games, which are regularly criticised for their violent content. However, there are so many different styles of video games available that you cannot simply brush them all off as a dangerous and pointless waste of time. In fact, playing video games has helped many people manage their anxiety levels throughout the pandemic. Not only is playing video games not inherently bad for your mental health, but you can gain a lot of positive benefits from playing them.
There are different views on the effects of playing video games, but for this particular piece, we are focusing on the potential benefits to our mental health that can be gained from taking a healthy and positive approach to playing video games.
What are the mental health benefits of playing video games?
There are many misconceptions surrounding how playing video games can impact your mental health. Throughout the nineties and early 2000s, playing video games garnered a bad reputation, with many people believing they would raise a generation of social outcasts, unable to interact with society.
In reality, time has shown that playing video games brings many benefits to people, including developing complex problem-solving skills and promoting social interaction through taking part in multiplayer online games.
A whole industry has risen around building interactive and fun video games that are a great way to stimulate your mind and improve your mental health.
Benefits of video games
Playing video games can improve your mental health by allowing you to relieve stress and engaging your mind in several creative ways. The benefits of playing video games include:
It can be very frustrating to lose when playing a video game. However, these games encourage you to learn to cope with failure and help you develop the emotional resilience to get up and try again. This is such a valuable skill to learn at any age.
Video games reward you for your achievements. When playing a game, you will be given goals and targets to meet. When you achieve these targets, you are praised and rewarded for doing so, which brings you a lot of satisfaction and feelings of accomplishment that help to boost your mental health and overall wellbeing.
Mental health recovery
No matter what style of video games you like to play, participating in them can help you get through a tough time and help with trauma recovery. We all know how distracting video games can be, but this can be a welcome relief for someone recovering from mental trauma. Playing video games can help people better cope with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
One of the most positive benefits of playing video games is how they make you think. Playing a video game puts you in charge of the action instead of sitting and watching a TV show where the information washes over you. It engages almost every part of your brain, which helps you achieve higher-level thinking.
Video games are engineered to become more complex and challenging as you master each level. You will need to think, strategise, analyse and make decisions quickly. Playing video games connects with deeper brain parts that help improve your development and critical thinking skills.
Multiplayer games are perfect for encouraging you to engage with a worldwide community of other like-minded people. These games are excellent for social interactions where you can build strong relationships and learn to rely on and support each other in a fast-paced game setting. You learn to cooperate with others and realise the value of being part of a supportive team.
Over the past couple of decades, we have seen that playing video games is a great way to improve your mental health. Even if you can only play for an hour after work, playing can boost your mood, release stress, and is a great way to spend some time with your friends, either virtually or playing together in the same room.
How modern video games are being used positively
Isabela Granic is a psychologist at McMaster University in Canada and the director of the Games for Emotional and Mental Health Lab. According to Granic, the research she and others have undertaken has instead found consistent evidence for cognitive, motivational, emotional and social benefits.
Playing first-person games where you are a character navigating a landscape can help players to increase their ability for spatial reasoning and cognition in general. It is already well-known that playing games can improve hand-eye coordination, problem-solving and concentration levels.
Granic claims that there are already a good couple of decades of solid research showing gaming has many cognitive benefits.
Building self-motivation and resilience
The whole concept behind video games is to reward you for your persistence and effort. Whether solving puzzles in Train Your Brain games, which aim to keep your brain healthy as you get older, or simply getting to the next level on Candy Crush, you are rewarded with prizes and praise that makes you feel good and proud of your achievements.
Each new set of puzzles or levels in your game is a little more challenging, which is a good thing as this helps to keep your brain engaged and stimulated. The key to keeping your brain healthy as you age is to learn new things, and playing video games is a very accessible and fun way to do this.
Even if you fail a level or your character dies in the game, you are encouraged to try and try again until you eventually succeed. This encouragement can help bring significant benefits outside of virtual games in real life.
Playing games allows you to challenge yourself, figure out puzzles and overcome obstacles that can lead you to succeed in a career that values effort and problem-solving over innate ability.
How gaming can help us cope with grief
Many people assume that video games are all about entertainment. But nothing could be further from the truth. Video games offer us a way to escape from life’s pressures and allow us a safe place for self-expression and engagement with others, no matter where they live.
Escaping into a virtual world can help us explore and manage real, complex emotions, such as grief. It is no surprise that game developers have long recognised the potential of playing video games in releasing pent-up emotions and encouraging positive behaviour such as connecting with others for support, friendship, and social acceptance.
An ever-growing library of video games tackles and addresses many social and cultural topics, including grief and bereavement. People turn to video games to help them through very painful and complex feelings. This was perfectly demonstrated during the pandemic lockdowns that made coping with grief extremely difficult for many people.
For example, during the pandemic, games such as Animal Crossing had a massive boost in players because the game has the potential to provide emotional support, connect to communities, and memorialise lost loved ones virtually.
The game has seen growing communities of players use the platform in creative ways to cope with grief and bereavement, including conducting funeral services and building memorial gardens.
How gaming helped a parent cope with his loss
Daniel Lipscombe tragically lost his three-year-old daughter in a road traffic accident in 2007. He wrote an account about how losing his beloved daughter took him to a very dark place but how playing video games and writing about them gave him the lifeline he needed to carry on.
Daniel used gaming to help him deal with the grief of his bereavement after going through a deeply traumatic period following his loss, where he felt directionless and wholly lost.
After reaching out to his online gaming friends for some support and distraction, he initially struggled to reconnect to his previous passion of more than 20 years. He knew he was still in the deep grip of grief at the loss of his daughter and even let the feelings of guilt overwhelm him after experiencing any brief few moments of light and enjoyment.
Daniel explains in his article that grief feels different for everyone. But it is relentless, and no matter how you experience grief, it will never let go. He spent a few years in this state where he lacked the motivation to do or want anything, despite still having his wife and second daughter by his side.
Finding Isaac’s Eternal Journey
Daniel goes on to explain that after discovering a game called The Binding of Isaac, he eventually allowed himself to be released from his grief. The Binding of Isaac is a game played in small chunks that Daniel found not too demanding of his time and effort.
Playing the game proved very cathartic for Daniel and has become an almost daily routine for him in the past eleven years. The game was inspired by The Legend of Zelda, although he states it is not at all family-friendly!
But what all these types of games have in common is that your character can control their own destiny. As you build your character and overcome the many challenges thrown your way, it gives you a way to have pseudo-control over death.
As Daniel explains in his piece, besting death in video games is about more than success, it’s about retaining our growth, abilities, and progression. By crafting a character and slowly building its strength over time at his own pace, Daniel was able to get back a feeling of control that he lost for so many years after his daughter’s passing.
There is no doubt that playing video games can offer us solace in times of grief. They can also help us rebuild our lives by taking baby steps and slowly building up our resilience over time.
There is ever-growing evidence that playing video games is helping people to get through difficult times. Gaming allows us a place where we can work through difficult and complex emotions around grief, stress and anxiety in safe, virtual, interactive spaces.
These days gaming is being celebrated for the positive effect it can have on our mental health. Escaping to a virtual world is somewhere you can express a range of emotions honestly. No matter what style of video games you gravitate towards, there are many positive benefits in engaging your mind in them.