HEALTH & WELLNESS
Video games and mental health: The benefits & risks
Video games and their impact on people and youth have continuously become a topic of conversation in the public arena. Many argue that video games can have detrimental effects on individuals, but often these viewpoints are clouded by a general lack of understanding of gaming.
The reality is that gaming is like any other hobby and it has its share of pros and cons like anything else people do. Hobbies like sports have the pro of giving you exercise but also the con of increased risk of injury. Football for instance is a high-impact and somewhat violent activity, yet there are very few news-breaking stories about how football is contributing to youth violence like video games supposedly are.
Because video games are relatively new to society, there is a relative resistance to accepting them. While the development of esports has helped to legitimize the gaming community to the public, it still comes with its fair share of scrutiny.
Gaming has both pros and cons and understanding these can allow people to make a more informed decision with their gaming habits. Below is a closer look at the pros and cons of video games on your mental health and wellbeing.
How video games can potentially improve mental health
Video games have a fair share of upsides. Allowing people to connect around the world while working toward a specific goal or achievement (even virtually) has several positive implications on mental health and well-being. While video games have an unnecessarily bad rep, understanding the benefits can allow you to better understand how they can potentially benefit you and your health.
Video games have evolved throughout the decades to become more and more of an interlinked community. Pong, which was one of the first two-player games, shows that video games have brought people together from their inception. With these first games the two players needed to be in the same physical space, but with the power of the internet gamers can play with one another from virtually anywhere.
Today video games have become a medium for people across the globe to meet and enjoy an activity together. Many friendships and long-lasting connections have been created all within the digital sphere.
In a time like COVID, the power of video games to bring people together shows one of its most beneficial aspects of improving mental health. Feeling like you are part of a community and have people to interact with can help to ward off feelings of loneliness, especially during a global pandemic that requires you to be socially distant.
Problem-solving is at the crux of nearly every video game available. Many people enjoy the mental challenge as it gives them something to work towards and feel good about accomplishing.
Problem-solving has been shown to be effective in helping to treat a number of different mental and physical issues through technical problem-solving therapy (PST). Video games aren’t exactly like PST, but they do provide a mental challenge that can be motivating and satisfying for people to undertake.
Another benefit of video games is that they can be good practice for effective communication skills. Many co-op and multiplayer games today allow players on teams to talk to one another and strategize together to win.
With the ability to talk to fellow gamers, people can practice good communication skills that can carry over into real life. Describing a plan of attack, a situation, or concern to your teammates in a quick and effective manner could mean the difference between winning or losing. Over time, many gamers develop their own effective communication skills.
Another benefit beyond being able to convey messages is that many people learn to listen and comprehend to a greater capacity. When playing a game, your teammates could be providing important intel about enemy location or some other vital component to beating a level or round.
Listening and effective communication skills are vital to facilitating social interactions on and offline. With an easier time in social situations, it can be easier to develop lasting relationships which can help improve people’s mental health and social wellbeing.
How video games can potentially harm mental health
While video games have their fair share of benefits, there are aspects of them that can be detrimental to your mental wellbeing. Isolation, negative peers, and the possibility of developing poor coping mechanisms represent some of the negative aspects of gaming on mental health.
Isolation and loneliness can be extremely difficult on mental health. Humans are naturally social creatures that require social interaction to stay in a sound state of mind. Video games can be social events, but they can also be a place of solitude.
Some alone time can be good to decompress, but extensive alone time could lead to loneliness and isolation.
While the gaming community can be a place that fosters groups of like-minded people, it can also foster toxic environments. Like any digital media outlet, gaming can be a place where negative people congregate and spread hate or negativity.
While some negativity or criticism is unlikely to cause any ill effects on mental health, verbal and online abuse can have significant impacts. Online bullying is a real threat that can pose a direct threat to mental wellbeing.
Verbal assaults can be incredibly damaging to self-confidence and mental wellbeing. Some gaming communities, in particular, are more toxic than others in this regard, and in some instances, it is just better to find a different game to play.
Many video game moderators work to create communities that are fun and inviting to players of all skill levels. Sadly it simply isn’t possible to get rid of every toxic player on the platform.
Toxicity in gaming communities is one of the largest risks when playing on multiplayer platforms to your mental health and steering clear of the negativity is one of the best things you can do to mitigate its impact.
Poor coping skills
A common reason many people play video games is to escape reality for a few hours and decompress.
In the short term, this can be a good coping skill to calm down and be better prepared to deal with a stressful situation. While it can be beneficial, it can also lead to ill-adjusted coping skills that never allow people to deal with their problems.
Video games as a long-term escape from reality and problems is an example of how video games can promote poor coping skills. Rather than ever getting a resolution, gaming can cause people to run away from their problems and distract themselves. An overextended period of time could lead individuals to a position in which they are unable to adequately cope with stress which could lead to mental health issues.
Gaming can be a fun pass time or even career for people, but it can also be addictive and maladaptive. Addiction is typically characterized by an impulse to take something or perform a task in a routine manner.
Video game addiction is closely related to impulse control disorders, which involve the inability to resist the impulse or urge to do something. In the case of video games, this would mean that a person would have an urge to go play video games, and rather than determining if it was an appropriate time, place, or situation they would simply go play the game.
While the exact line for when video game habits become a concern is blurred, there are some general ways to determine if an addiction is present. The most basic determination is if gaming interferes with your daily life and responsibilities.
Falling behind in school, poor work performance, poor hygiene, and even failing relationships may be an indicator that the video game habits are maladaptive and that an addiction may be to blame.
Gaming addiction is more common than most people think and a large reason is that doing well in video games signals to your brain that you are doing something good. This perception correlates to the release of the feel-good chemical dopamine which further reinforces the behavior.
Over time if left unchecked, it can be easy to become addicted and look to video games for a quick and easy dopamine fix and ignore other more important aspects of your life like relationships and responsibilities.
In summary, video games are an excellent pastime that involves skill, strategy, effective communication skills, and problem-solving. All of these attributes make games a great hobby for your mental health and wellbeing.
The risks of gaming include isolation, online negativity, developing maladaptive coping mechanisms, and a chance of becoming addicted.
Being aware of the benefits and risks can be helpful to ensure that you get the most benefit from your gaming experience and notice the signs of the negative aspects before they are too severe.
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