Gaming and Mental Wellness

Justin joins us to discuss how to play video games for the benefit of our well-being!

Every gamer remembers their parents coming in and saying, “You play too many video games! You’re going to rot your brain!” Video games have long had a stereotype of being a terrible medium filled with violent content destroying young people’s minds, but this is not the truth. There is a lot of evidence that video games are beneficial to many people. However, this does not mean you don’t need to keep some wellness tips in mind.

In the Summer of 2016, Pokémon Go was released for download on mobile phones. It was not your traditional Pokémon game and instead featured augmented reality-based gameplay, where Pokémon appeared in our regular world. However, to find more Pokémon, you could not just sit at home. You had to venture out into the outside world, and all of a sudden, parks, museums, city centers, and other landmarks were brimming with trainers trying to catch new Pokémon. People began going on longer and longer walks and hikes to catch Pokémon, and many people talked about how they became more physically active through this game.

Pokémon Go is not the only example of a fun game that got folks up and moving. Dance Dance Revolution, Ring Fit Adventure, and Wii Sports are other popular examples of video games that include physical activity. It is not the traditional way that many people exercise. But what’s different about these games compared to your regular gym activities is that there was a fun gaming component associated with them. Similar to how some people prefer to play a pickup game of basketball as their exercise over lifting weights or running on the treadmill, many have found that these more active games were a more enjoyable way to work out. And gaming technology has risen to meet this demand for fun, active games.

Physical wellness matters, of course, but mental wellness gets often overlooked. Despite what many of our parents thought, video games can actually have a positive and beneficial effect on our mental well-being. A handful of noteworthy academic studies gained attention recently concerning puzzle games like Tetris; these studies found evidence that playing Tetris can help individuals manage stress, anxiety, depression, and even intrusive thoughts from the likes of post-traumatic stress disorder. Other studies have shown that playing immersive games, such as Genshin Impact, Final Fantasy XIV, Guild Wars 2, and other MMORPGs, where one can almost get lost in and have a lot of content, can relieve stress and increase relaxation. In addition, games that promote harmony, kindness, helping, and other similar behaviors have been shown to promote those behaviors in our lives outside of the game.

Something neat in video games is as they are becoming more diverse, it is becoming easier to see yourself in the characters around you. Many studies have shown exposure to diverse characters in video games has increased sympathy for individuals who differ from ourselves. However, something that makes video games unique compared to other media is character customization. Many games allow you to create the main character so they look, dress, and behave just like you. That means that people can create a character that allows them to drop themselves into the middle of a story, where they can be the hero, complete amazing feats, and create a new path for themselves.

There are, however, some concerns to keep in mind while gaming. Games with loot boxes or gacha systems for getting new content (like Overwatch and Genshin Impact) can lead to similar symptoms as traditional gambling addictions. If you are playing these types of games, you must pace yourself so that you do not end up spending a bunch of money on additional loot boxes. It is important, as well, to associate yourself with the symptoms of gambling addiction, and seek out assistance if you feel like you are developing a problem. Some games, such as Call of Duty and other war- and shooting-based games, can increase negative moods in players, especially if you are trying to play them while already stressed. If you keep your own mental state in mind, you can make better gaming decisions that might help your mental wellness at the moment. If you feel your anger or frustration rising, take a break from this game, and switch to one that might help calm you down or get you moving. It might even be good to take a break from gaming and spend some time doing some physical activity.

When playing battle royales and other lobby games, it’s essential to take a step back in between rounds. Take a second to breathe, gather your thoughts, and calm down before jumping into the next one. Drink some water, get a healthy snack, or even take a few minutes to decompress with some soothing music. Unless you are a professional e-sports athlete, the game you are playing is just that: a game. Try to focus on having fun and enjoy the time you can spend gaming. Games can be frustrating, especially when you are not playing as well as you had hoped, but if you are no longer enjoying playing, it might be time for a break.

Many of us can get caught up in our gaming too. We must take a break now and again to drink water and eat a healthy meal. Too much time looking at a computer or television screen can lead to strain on our eyes, so every so often, take a moment to rest your eyes. If you have been sitting on your couch playing your PlayStation or Xbox all day, take some time in the mid-afternoon to go outside for a quick 30-minute walk. And be sure to avoid staying up too late! Most people need at least eight hours of sleep every night.

Gaming can be a great hobby that helps relieve stress and improve our mental wellbeing. Games like Tetris, Pokemon games, and Animal Crossing help many people relax, myself included. But it can be harmful to your mental health if you don’t give your well-being enough attention. Keep yourself in mind while you game and make decisions that are best for you. If you do this, gaming can continue to be fun, enjoyable, and relaxing!

One reply on “Gaming and Mental Wellness”

I love this! I use videogames in therapy with kids that I have worked with and they’ve done wonders. You are so right about the benefits of games for mental wellness. Another aspect I’d add is socialization. Particularly in kids, games can help promote socialization-like animal crossing and MMORPGs where the player base isn’t quite so toxic. But as social animals, there’s a component of socialization that we can benefit from with videogames, as well. Especially in a world where we unfortunately have to shut down every so often.

I love your words and look forward to more of your writing!!

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