Video Games and Mental Health
Some of you may or may not know that I’ve been a huge Mental Health advocate for the last 10 years; this is because I suffer from OCD and Bipolar Disorder. As a 30 year old, avid video gamer, I’ve heard it all. “Video Games are addictive”, “Video Games are going to make you fat and lazy”, “You’re too old for Video Games”. I beg to differ on all of these statements. Over the last few years, there have been many studies showing the benefits of playing video games and mental health.
While I am no expert in terms of Mental Health nor Mental Illness, these are subjects that I am extremely well versed in for obvious reasons. I’m a researcher by nature and thus have take a lot of time out of my life to learn about my conditions and psychology as a whole. However, I cannot speak from a professional point of view, but from a personal one.
I have been a gamer for as long as I can remember. I remember playing Mario Bro’s (and that weird simpsons game) on the NES and Super Mario World and MarioKart on SNES. My love of video games only grew from there and with it, my parents annoyance of video games. My parents always saw it as an addiction and a waste of time and even now they don’t quite see the positive impact that video games have on my life.
Now, lets get a few things straight: Video Games are no more addictive than, say, hiking and eating. I don’t see anyone ceasing those activities because of a mild risk. Video Games can’t make you fat (since they have no caloric value) nor can they make you lazy (since it has no bearing on the wiring of your brain). And no, I’m not too old for Video Games. I’ve never seen a game that has an age limit.
I spent many years turning to video games whenever I was sad, anxious, upset, or angry. No one understood why it was my first go-to or why I even played the games. Yes, I play them for the fun and joy of it, but there is so much more to it than that.
I suppose I wasn’t the only one who thought about this, because in the Fall of 2014, researchers Adam Eichenbaum, Daphne Bavelier, and C. Shawn Green published an article that shows the long-lasting positive effects of playing video games and basic mental processes such as perception, attention, memory, and decision-making.
It goes even further than that. When I am feeling depressed, getting out of bed can seem like a chore and brushing my teeth feels like an impossible task. Since I am primarily a handheld gamer, I always have a video game nearby. Some days, all I can do is reach for my Switch or 3DS and play a game. Lately, I’ve been playing StarDew Valley. This game plays on the positives of Harvest Moon and Rune Factory, but gears it towards a more adult audience (I won’t spoil parts of the story line, but if you can make beer in a game, I doubt it is meant for children). Each day, you have a variety of tasks to complete; watering your plants, feeding your animals, catching fish, mining, completing quests, and the list goes on. These may seem like meaningless tasks and goals, but when you are under the clutch of depression, even completing a virtual task, that really doesn’t mean anything in the real world, can make you feel really great about yourself.
Sound dumb? Maybe it is, but all I know is that it helps boost my self esteem and self confidence for the day. It can give me enough of a positive mood to get out of bed and brush my teeth. And if that’s all I do on those days, then that’s okay.
Boosting my mood during a depressive episode isn’t all, though. I also suffer from OCD, which primarily presents itself as rumination (think of a broken record but in your head. Repeating the same thing over and over and over and…well you get the point). Recently, I have been under a great deal of stress due to some things happening in my personal life; as such, the rumination has been horrendous.
This is where playing video games has come in quite handy. Using StarDew Valley as an example again, there are a multitude of tasks that you have to remember and focus on each in-game day to complete quests and achieve goals. It’s a lot for your mind to focus on…which is great for someone like me. It distracts my mind from the anxious ridden thoughts playing on repeat and, in stead, focus my thoughts on what I am currently doing in-game. Mindfulness anyone?
StarDew valley has been a blessing the last month or so. Since I always have my Switch by my side, I always reach for it when my anxiety starts to peak and my thoughts begin to spiral.
I’m sure there are many more applications for video games in relation to Mental Health, but I can only speak from what I know and what I have experienced.
I would love to hear from you and any experiences you have had playing video games. How has it helped you? Let us know in the comments below or on any of our social media!